Journal of Philosophy, Inc. A Critique of the Emotive Theory of Ethical Terms Author(s): E. M. Adams Source: The Journal of Philosophy, Vol. 46, No. 17 (Aug. 18, 1949), pp. 549-553 Published by: Journal of Philosophy, Inc. Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/2019446 Accessed: 23/06/2010 16:59 Your use of the JSTOR archive indicates your acceptance of JSTOR's Terms and Conditions of Use, available at http://www.jstor.org/page/info/about/policies/terms.jsp. JSTOR's Terms and Conditions of Use provides, in part, that unless you have obtained prior permission, you may not download an entire issue of a journal or multiple copies of articles, and you may use content in the JSTOR archive only for your personal, non-commercial use. Please contact the publisher regarding any further use of this work. Publisher contact information may be obtained at http://www.jstor.org/action/showPublisher?publisherCode=jphil. Each copy of any part of a JSTOR transmission must contain the same copyright notice that appears on the screen or printed page of such transmission. JSTOR is a not-for-profit service that helps scholars, researchers, and students discover, use, and build upon a wide range of content in a trusted digital archive. We use information technology and tools to increase productivity and facilitate new forms of scholarship. For more information about JSTOR, please contact [email protected] Journal of Philosophy, Inc. is collaborating with JSTOR to digitize, preserve and extend access to The Journal of Philosophy. http://www.jstor.org 549 COMMENTS AND CRITICISM heavens above you!" hell. "Never," said Hume, and went back to HANS REICHENBACH UNIVERSITY OF CALIFORNIA, Los ANGELES A CRITIQUE OF THE EMOTIVE THEORY OF ETHICAL TERMS The emotivetheoryof ethical termshas two quite distinctvariations; one being representedby A. J. Ayer 1 and the other by C. L. Stevenson.2 While both are concernedwith emotivemeanings and moral approval and disapproval, Ayer holds that the meaning of an ethical term is the evincing or expressingof the approval or disapproval of the speaker and Stevensonmaintains that the distinctiveethical meaning of an ethical word consistsin the dispositionof the word to evoke the approval or disapproval of the hearer. However,there is this similaritybetween the two positions. Ayer recognizesthat the expression of the speaker's approval or disapprovaltendsto evokethe approval or disapproval of the speaker and Stevenson includes the speaker's approval or disapproval in the non-ethicaldescriptiveor suggested meaning ,ofan ethicalterm. In practice,if ethical words were used consistentlyto express the approval or disapproval of the speaker, they would, in time, come to mean descriptivelythe speaker's approval or disapproval. Also, if they were used to evoke the hearer's approval or disapproval,theywould come to mean descriptivelythe speaker's desire for the hearer to approve or disapprove. Hence, consideringthe lengthof timeethicaltermshave been in use, Ayer's versionof the emotivetheoryof moraltermsreducesto an ego-centricapprobative theory. According to it, "X is right" means descriptively,not merelyevincesthe attitude,that the speaker approves of X. And Stevenson's versionreduces to an ego-centricoptativeapprobative theory,according to which "X is right" means that the speaker wishes or desiresthat the hearer approve of X. Our reductionof the emotivetheoryto formsof an approbative if accepted,for both Ayer and Steventheorywould be sufficient, son to reject it because it would then be seen that it commits Moore's naturalistic fallacy. But even if one should refuse to accept our reductionor should deny, as the present author does, that the "naturalistic fallacy" is a fallacy, there would still be the problemof approbationintimatelyconnectedwith the original -versionsof both Ayer and Stevenson. 1 Language, Truth and Logic (1936), Ch. VI. 2 Language and Ethics (1944). THE JOURNAL OF PHILOSOPHY 550 NeitherStevensonnor Ayer gives an analysis of moral approbation.3 Throughout their discussions often they seem to equate "I approve of X" and "I like X." This mightbe due to a failure to distinguishmoral good fromgenericgood. However,Stevenson does in one place 4 distinguishbetweenliking and morallyapproving and dislikingand morallydisapproving. Suppose that a man morally disapproves of a certain kind of conduct. If he observes this conduct in others, he may then feel indignant, mortified,or shocked; and if he finds himself given to it, he may feel guilty or consciencestricken. But suppose that he dislikes this conduct, as distinct from morally disapproving of it. He may then be simply displeased when he observes it in others,and simply annoyed with himself when he finds that he is given to it. Similarly, if he morally approves of something, he may feel a particularly heightened sense of security when it prospers; whereas if he merely likes it, he may feel only an ordinary sort of pleasure. The distinctionbetweenthese two kinds of responsesis certainly important,especially for an approbative theory. However, it receives little attentionfromMr. Stevenson. He indicates that he considersthe only differencebetween the two to be genetic,that is, the moral response is a highly conditionedresponse in which reward and punishmentplay a great part. The failure to analyze approbation and disapprobation is a fatal weaknessin Stevenson'sand Ayer's treatmentsand whatever plausibilitytheirpositionsmay have springsfromthe ignoringof such an analysis. Failure to analyze approbation enables them to employit, for the most part, as if it meant the same thing as liking, or at least did not differfrom it in essentials, the only recognizeddifference being in the kind of emotiveresponse. With this the onlyrecognizeddifference betweenthe two,the plausibility that X is good (in the genericsense) means that the speaker likes X accrues to the theorythat X is rightmeans that the speaker approves of X or likes othersto approve of it. There are difficulties in this ego-centricinteresttheoryof value, to be sure, whichhave been recognizedsince Hobbes firstproposed it in modern times. However,for the presentwe shall not pause to become engaged in of general value theory. We merelywish to questhe difficulties tion whetherthe plausibilityof such a value theorycan be transferred to an ego-centricapprobative or ego-centricoptative approbativetheoryof moral predicates. An answeris to be foundin an analysis of approbationand disapprobation,whichwe shall now consider. No attitudeis merelyemotive. There is a cognitiveaspect, a 3 4 We shall consider disapprobation by implication only. Language and Ethics, p. 90. COMMENTS AND CRITICISM 551 judgment,whichmediatesthe attitudeand gives it direction. Take away the mediating judgment and the attitude vanishes or subsides into an undirectedgeneral emotionalstate. Approbation is a peculiar kind of attitude. No doubt the particular emotiveresponse,in the case of moral approbationor disapprobation,is considerablydeterminedby the conditioningof the individual. Howbetweenmoral approbation and merelyliking, ever, the difference or having a positive motor-effective attitude,is not to be found exclusivelyin the emotiveresponse. There is a fundamentaldifferencein the cognitiveaspect. The mediatingjudgment is of a peculiar kind. In the case of merelyliking,the mediatingjudgment is that X has properties1, m, n, and this knowledgeevokes the favorable response. Stevenson would have us believe, according to his second pattern of analysis, that the only way that a moral approbation differsfromthis is in the kind of response evoked by the judgmentthat X has properties1, m, n. However, in the case of any approbation,moral or otherwise,the cognitive aspect which evokes and mediates the response is more complex. In judging that X has properties1, m, n, X is subsumed under some accepted rule. This is the case in the approval of a solution to a mathematicalproblem,the approval of the constructionof a 's approval of the medical student's building, or the instructor performanceof a surgical operation. The fundamentaldistinction betweenthese different kinds of approval concernsthe different kinds of rules functioningin the differentapprobations. Moral approbationis so named because the rule involvedis a moral rule of the form:For all X, or formostX, if X has properties1,m, n, X is morallyright. Withoutthisthereis no basis for calling the responsemoral. Moral codes are constitutedby such rules. The meaning of the moral predicate right is still a furtherproblem. But the point withwhichwe are concernedat presentis that there is no moral emotiveresponse withoutthe mediationof the moral judgmentthat X is right. If one should be for X for any other reason than that it was judged to be morallyright,the being for would not constitutea moral approbation. There are many problemsinvolvedwhichneed furtheranalysis. However, if the fundamentalaspects of our analysis of approbation be granted, Ayer's ego-centricapprobative theory certainly mustbe rejected. As soon as one grasps the fact that the attitude of favoringX contained in a moral approbation is mediated by the judgmentthat X is right,one sees that "X is right" does not, and indeed can not, mean that I (the speaker) approve of X. Such a positionbegs the question. Accordingto it, "X is right" meansthat I approve of X, but the approval containsthe judgment 552 THE JOURNAL OF PHILOSOPHY that X is right. To furtherreveal its absurdity,let us substitute "I approve of X" for "X is right." Then our analysis of approbationwould become: My favorable attitudeto X is mediated by the judgmentthat I approve of X and the fact corresponding to this judgment, assuming it to be true (which is required) containswithinit still anotherjudgmentthat I approve of X, and so on ad infinitum. Stevenson's ego-centricoptative approbativetheoryencounters similar difficulties.For him,it will be recalled that the approval of the speaker is part of the descriptiveor suggestedmeaning of the ethical "judgment," but the ethical meaning,the meaning of "right," is the speaker's desire that the hearer approve of X. In the light of our analysis of approbation,it now becomes obvious that the approval of the speaker,in Stevenson's system,would be a favorableattitudetowardsX mediatedby the judgmentthat the speaker himselfdesired that the hearer approve of X. I believe that this will be seen to be palpably false by anyone who reflects upon his own approbations. It mightseem plausible to say that the speaker's desire for the hearer to approve is mediatedby the judgmentthat he himselfapproves,but not vice versa. A similar difficulty occurs in regard to the evoked approval of the hearer. This approval, too, would be mediated by the judgment that X is right, which could only mean, on Stevenson's analysis,that the hearerhas now judged that he desiresthat someone else approve of X, etc. This positionmighthave an apparent plausibility in the light of some instances. It might be that Jones desires that others approve of act X and because of this desire he mighthimselfcome to approve of X. But why would he desire others to approve before he approved himself? The only explanation seems to be that he desired X but did not approve of X, but the approval of others would be an importantmeans towards X's becoming an actuality or towards the achievementof some other end. However, I thinkthat we would all conclude,upon reflection,that in such a case eitherJones would never really approve of X or else he would allow himself to be self-deluded. Perhaps he would approve of X1 because he judged that he desiredothersto approve of X,2 which he already approved of. But even here one would question the genuinenessof the approval. We conclude that Ayer and Stevensonhave completelybegged the question and hence have not touched the ethical problem at all. This is the case even if it is true that everyonewho says "X is right" does in fact approve of X or desires that othersapprove of it. However, it is highly questionable whetherthe judgment COMMENTS AND CRITICISM 553 that X is rightdoes in fact evoke a favorableresponsefromeveryone so judging, which would be required for it to be true that everyonewho judges that X is rightshould actually approve of it. Approbationrequires the judgmentthat X is right,but the judgment that X is right does not necessarilyevoke the favorable response which combined with the judgment would constitutean approbation. We have not solved any problemin ethical theory. We have only indicated the nature of the subject-matterof ethical inquiry. The basic subject-matterwe have found to be moral approbations and disapprobations. This subject-mattermay be studied by sociologistswith regard to the kinds of thingsapproved by people in a given society and the social conditioninginvolved. It may be studied by the psychologist,not so much as social events,but as psychological occurrences. Also the meaning of "moral approbation" may be logically analyzed. It is this that constitutes the fundamentaltask of philosophicalethics. We have only begun the task of analysis. Any completeanalysis would have to reveal the nature of the code-rulesunder which acts are subsumed when they are judged to be right or wrong and the methodology required for their confirmation.Furthermore,the meaning of the moral predicates functioningin the code-ruleswould have to be analyzed. Our analysis has gone only far enough to reveal that there are such rules and such moral predicates presupposed by or involved in moral approbation and disapprobation. This, however,is sufficientto disprove Ayer's ego-centricapprobative theoryand Stevenson's ego-centricoptative approbativetheoryor any exclusivelyemotivetheoryof moral predicates. E. M. ADAMS UNIvIRsiTY or NoRTn CAROLINA IS BEAUTY ESTHETIC VALUE? 1 The defenseof the contentionthat beauty is one kind of goodness and, thus,that beautiful objects mustbe reckonedamong our goods is obviouslyan importantphilosophicaltask. But, although many writersin estheticsregard beauty as identical with positive estheticvalue, it is oftenthe case that no defenseof this identification is offered,and that the definitionof beauty whichis proposed is not such as to make an equivalent definitionin termsof value possible. Either, then, such definitionsof beauty are false, or I An abridged version of the paper read at the tenth annual meeting of the SouthwesternPhilosophical Conference,December 20, 1948, at Norman, Oklahoma.