One of the more serious attempts to provide an expressivist
semantics for moral terms (broadly construed) is Gibbard’s. The basic idea is that they express
plans. “I should pack” expresses my plan
to pack; “You should pack” expresses a contingency plan for the (unlikely) case
that I am you. “Journal editors should
move papers along faster” expresses a plan for being a journal editor. And so
on. Call this view the Gibbard
Semantics, or GS.
It seems to me that there are other possible semantics along
this line. Consider plans for what I
would have someone do, if I were in control.
For example, if I were in control of the government, I would have the
government give philosophy professors large cash subsidies. If I were in control of journal editors, I
would have the editors accept all my manuscripts without revision. Etc.
Perhaps I could express these plans somehow. Perhaps like this: “The government should give philosophy
professors large cash subsidies; editors should accept all my manuscripts
without revision.” In the normal case, I
am in control of myself, so “I should…” sentences would express normal
plans. Call this the Nietzsche Semantics
for moral terms, or NS.
Clearly, NS is not equivalent to GS. One is likely to indulge considerably more
temptation to exploit others under NS than under GS. For example, if I were in control of my
neighbor, I would have him mow my lawn for me; under NS I would therefore
claim, “My neighbor should mow my lawn.” On the other hand, if I were my neighbor, I
don’t think I would mow my (that is, HW’s) lawn, so under GS I would not claim,
“My neighbor should mow my lawn.”
Suppose that much is right.
My next point is that, if expressivism is true, it is an empirical
question which states of mind people are expressing when they make
should-claims. That is, whether GS or NS
or some other S gives the meaning of ‘should’ and cognate terms, depends on
which mental states correlate with what should-talk.
However, there is no particular reason to think we’re all on
the same page. Some people might express
the plans they have for being journal editors; others might express their plans
for journal editors under their control.
(In general, if you think there is anything to a “hermeneutic of
suspicion” or “ideology” then you should think that people sometimes deploy
NS-ish should-talk.) Moreover, there is
no reason that an individual person should be consistent with all uses of ‘should’
and cognate terms. Sometimes he might
express one kind of state, sometimes another.
And he might have hefty unconscious motives for disguising this fact
All that means, I think, that an expressivist semantics
makes it highly empirically likely that we talk past one another, morally
speaking, much of the time. The journal
editors say, “Journal editors should be impartially rigorous” and the grad
students say, “Journal editors should go easy on young people,” and, if they
are expressing different mental states, there is no disagreement. Similar problems can be generated for
reasoning, especially public reasoning between two people. This is Frege-Geach with a vengeance.
I think the source of the problem lies in the fact that we
normally think that meanings are public, or determined by something about a
whole linguistic population, while an expressivist semantics is committed to
the view that meanings are private, determined by what mental states an
individual is expressing. Given that,
the danger of talking past one another is quite real, whereas we normally would
not think it would be.