How Expressivists Can and Should Solve Their Problem with Negation

Noûs 42 (4):573-599 (2008)
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Expressivists have a problem with negation. The problem is that they have not, to date, been able to explain why ‘murdering is wrong’ and ‘murdering is not wrong’ are inconsistent sentences. In this paper, I explain the nature of the problem, and why the best efforts of Gibbard, Dreier, and Horgan and Timmons don’t solve it. Then I show how to diagnose where the problem comes from, and consequently how it is possible for expressivists to solve it. Expressivists should accept this solution, I argue, because it is demonstrably the only way of avoiding the problem, and because it generalizes. Once we see how to solve the negation problem, I show, it becomes easy to state a constructive, compositional expressivist semantics for a purely normative language with the expressive power of propositional logic, in which we can for the first time give explanatory, formally adequate expressivist accounts of logical inconsistency, logical entailment, and logical validity. As a corollary, I give what I take to be the first real expressivist explanation of why Geach’s original moral modus ponens argument is genuinely logically valid. This proves that the problem with expressivism cannot be that it can’t account for the logical properties of complex normative sentences. But it does not show that the same solution can work for a language with both normative and descriptive predicates, let alone that expressivists are able to deal with more complex linguistic constructions like tense, modals, or even quantifiers. In the final section, I show what kind of constraints the solution offered here would place expressivists under, in answering these further questions

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Mark Schroeder
University of Southern California


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