Cognitivism, non-cognitivism, and skepticism about folk psychology

Philosophical Psychology 25 (2):165 - 185 (2012)
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Abstract

In recent years it has become more and more difficult to distinguish between metaethical cognitivism and non-cognitivism. For example, proponents of the minimalist theory of truth hold that moral claims need not express beliefs in order to be (minimally) truth-apt, and yet some of these proponents still reject the traditional cognitivist analysis of moral language and thought. Thus, the dispute in metaethics between cognitivists and non-cognitivists has come to be seen as a dispute over the correct way to characterize our psychology: are moral judgments beliefs, or a kind of pro-attitude? In this paper, I argue that this distinction, too, is difficult to maintain in the light of a reasonable skepticism about folk psychology. I conclude by suggesting some new possibilities for the analysis of moral language that look beyond this distinction. I begin by briefly reviewing some contemporary positions in metaethics on cognitivism and non-cognitivism, that are intended to emphasize the supposed psychological differences between the two views. I show that the appearance of a clear difference between these views depends on one's having a very strong commitment to the context-independence and completeness of certain concepts of folk psychology. I then argue for a moderate skepticism about folk psychology. I conclude that folk concepts like ?belief? are not sufficiently well-defined to settle this metaethical dispute

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James Harold
Mount Holyoke College

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