Plan‐based expressivism and innocent mistakes

Ethics 119 (2):310-335 (2009)
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In this paper I develop an objection to the version of expressivism found in Allan Gibbard’s book Thinking How to Live, and I suggest that the difficulty faced by Gibbard’s analysis is symptomatic of a problem for expressivism more generally. The central claim is that Gibbard’s expressivism is unable to account for certain normative judgments that arise in the process of evaluating cases of innocent mistakes. I begin by considering a type of innocent mistake that Gibbard’s view is able to capture, one that can occur in situations in which our judgments of what it makes sense to do come apart from our judgments of what it makes sense to plan to do. Whether or not such mistakes are possible is a normative question, and I argue against Gibbard that we should adopt a normative stance that rules out such mistakes. This leads me to consider a second type of innocent mistake, one that can arise when an agent is constituted in such a way as to be incapable of recognizing the appropriate course of action. I argue here that our full normative assessment of the situation incorporates judgments that cannot be captured by Gibbard’s expressivism. I conclude by suggesting that any form of expressivism that shares Gibbard’s commitment to account for an intimate tie between normative judgments and action will face a similar problem.
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