I think Heath’s previous excellent post on the problems of expressivism brings up another problem – a version of the Frege-Geach problem, or a new aspect of it, that I hadn’t thought about. I’m sure someone has already spotted this and that there is an expressivist reply to it but I thought this would be worth putting up. It was fun to do anyway.
One of the Frege-Geach problems is how expressivists should understand conditionals like:
1. If Adultery is wrong, then God will punish Clinton.
The way they do this is that they say that 1 is equivalent with:
2. Either adultery is not wrong or God will punish Clinton.
This they say expresses this attitude:
commitment either to have plans where I commit adultery or to believe that God
will punish Clinton.
This commitment on the other hand is equivalent with taking on the two conditional commitments:
4a. If my
plans avoid committing adultery, then I am committed to believing that God will
4b. If I
don’t believe that God will punish Clinton, then I am committed to plans where I commit adultery.
I know not everyone agreed that this account makes sense, but at least it is not obviously faulty. Looks to me like taking on those commitments and expressing them with the conditional makes at least some sense.
But, now, take the epistemological view Heath was addressing in the previous post. In an exaggerated form the idea would be that ‘if p, then I ought to believe that p’. So, if snow is white, then I ought to believe that snow is white. You might think that this extreme view is false. There are too many things one ought to believe and one might have more evidence to believe what is not the case, and so on. But, at least it is an understandable view. It really makes sense, can be argued for and against, and so on. Take then one moral instance of this theory:
laughing is wrong, then I ought to believe that laughing is wrong.
That too makes very much sense even if it might be false. Now, an expressivist would need to find an attitude that is expressed by this claim which many people would make. And, in order to be consistent she would have to do it in the same way as earlier. So, 1* would be equal with:
laughing is not wrong or I ought to believe that laughing is wrong.
This is supposed to express the following attitude:
commitment either to have plans where I laugh or plans where I believe that
laughing is wrong.
I assume that according to the expressivist to believe that laughing is wrong is to have plans that avoid laughing. So 3* would be equal with:
3**. A commitment
either to have plans where I laugh or plans where I plan to avoid laughing
This is where the problems start.
4a*. If my
plans avoid laughing, then I am committed to plans where I plan to avoid laughing.
plans avoid planning to avoid laughing, then I am committed to plans where I
The problem is that having these commitments and expressing them seems very non-sensical to me. I can find no rationalisation or motivation for it at all. How much easier it is for the cognitivist who can say that the content of the 1* is the thought that if laughing has a certain moral quality then something favours me believing that it has that quality. That’s worlds apart from 4a* and 4b*.