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Introduction to Ethics Lecture 6 Ayer and Emotivism


Introduction to Ethics Lecture 6 ... Ayer rejects it because it is not self-contradictory to ... or its probable effects in view of the agent s knowledge; ... – PowerPoint PPT presentation

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Title: Introduction to Ethics Lecture 6 Ayer and Emotivism

Introduction to EthicsLecture 6Ayer and
  • By David Kelsey

Ayer and Verificationism
  • Ayer was an Empiricist.
  • He was famously a logical Positivist.
  • As an Empiricist, Ayer wanted all his beliefs
    verifiable by sense experience. This lead him to
    hold Verificationism.
  • Verificationism
  • All synthetic propositions are empirical
  • A claim has meaning (I.e. propositional content)
    and can only be true or false if it is either
    analytic or verifiable by sense experience (or at
    least if it is possible that it is verifiable by
    sense experience).
  • Ayer thought that since ethical propositions are
    neither analytic nor verifiable by sense
    experience that they are meaningless.

  • Ayers view is a brand of Non-Cognitivism.
  • Non-Cognitivism Moral judgments
  • Non-cognitivism says moral judgments do not state
  • So Moral judgments are neither true nor false.
  • So statements of value are not in the literal
    sense significant, but are simply expressions of
    emotion which can be neither true nor false.
  • Non-Cognitivism Moral and ethical terms and
  • Moral judgments dont even ascribe any properties
    at all.
  • So Ethical and Moral terms dont refer to any
    property at all.
  • The function of ethical terms is to express and
    elicit emotions, attitudes or preferences.

Ayer on Subjectivism Utilitarianism
  • Ayer on Subjectivism
  • Subjectivism, according to Ayer, says to call an
    action right, or a thing good, is to say that it
    is generally approved of
  • Ayer rejects it because it is not
    self-contradictory to assert that some actions
    which are generally approved of are not right, or
    that some things which are generally approved of
    are not good.
  • Ayer on Utilitarianism
  • it is not self contradictory to say that it is
    sometimes wrong to perform the action which would
    actually or probably cause the greatest
  • Thus, it cannot be the case that the sentence
    X is good is equivalent to x is pleasant

What Emotivism denies
  • Emotivism normative ethical symbols lack
    propositional content
  • Normative symbols such as wrong or right are
    indefinable in factual terms.
  • If the moral sense of wrong appears in a
    sentence, the sentence doesnt express an
    empirical proposition at all.
  • The presence of an ethical symbol in a
    proposition adds nothing to its content.
  • Pseudo-concepts
  • For Ayer, Ethical concepts are ______________.
  • Ethical concepts lack propositional content.
    They add nothing to the factual content of a
  • Ethical concepts are _____________.
  • They appear to behave like a natural property of
    the sciences and yet arent empirically
    verifiable so they arent really like the natural
    properties after all.

Emotivism and moral judgments
  • What Moral judgments are not
  • 1-Since moral judgments dont express an
    empirical proposition at all and
  • 2-since only empirical propositions are true or
  • 3-so moral judgments are neither true nor false.
  • So Stealing is wrong
  • Has no factual meaning
  • expresses no proposition which is true or false.

What Emotivism asserts
  • What moral judgments are
  • So moral judgments lack propositional content.
  • So they arent true or false
  • And they arent expressions of fact
  • Instead moral judgments are expressions of
  • they express certain positive or negative
    feelings or attitudes about certain objects.
  • Moral judgments express emotion.
  • A feeling or attitude
  • When I say stealing money is wrong It is as
    if I had written Stealing money!!--where the
    shape and thickness of the exclamation marks
    show, by a suitable convention, that a special
    sort of moral disapproval is the feeling which is
    being expressed.

Emotivism on Ethical concepts
  • Ethical terms and concepts
  • Ayer thinks the function of Ethical words is
    purely emotive.
  • Ethical words are used to express feelings and
  • Besides expressing feeling, ethical terms, can
    arouse or evoke feeling in others.
  • This stimulates action
  • Some terms give the sentences in which they occur
    the effect of a command
  • It is your duty to tell the truth

Emotivism on disagreement
  • Emotivism on moral disagreement
  • For in saying that a certain type of action is
    right or wrongI am merely expressing certain
    moral sentiments. And the man who is ostensibly
    contradicting me is merely expressing his moral
    sentiments. So that there is plainly no sense in
    asking which of us is in the right. For neither
    of us is asserting a genuine proposition.
  • Thus, if 2 people make contradictory ethical
    claims, since neither claim expresses a
    proposition neither do the two individuals
    express incompatible propositions.
  • Thus, arguments arent possible.
  • An example
  • if a man said that thrift was a virtue, and
    another replied that it was a vice, they would
    not, on this theory, be disputing with one
  • For Ayer, each man would simply be expressing a
    different feeling.

Problems for Emotivism
  • No Moral disagreement?
  • Emotivism entails that there is no such thing as
    moral disagreement.
  • But surely, as G.E. Moore points out, we have
    moral disagreements all the time.
  • Ayers response
  • He thinks moral disagreements are reducible to
    factual disagreements.
  • When someone disagrees with a moral judgment we
    have made we attempt to show that he is mistaken
    about the facts of the case. We argue that he
    has misconceived the agents motive or that he
    has misjudged the effects of the action, or its
    probable effects in view of the agents
    knowledge or that he has failed to take into
    account the special circumstances in which the
    agent was placed

Does Emotivism lead to Moral Nihlism?
  • Moral Nihilism
  • Says objective morality does not exist.
  • Thus, no action is preferable to any other.
  • Thus, no action is morally wrong.
  • Emotivism entails Moral Nihilism
  • If Ayer is correct and moral judgments are
    neither true nor false then why should we make
    them at all?
  • Why should we even worry about doing the Right
    thing at all?

Emotivism is counter-intuitive
  • Emotivism fails to capture two of our key
    intuitions about morality
  • 1-the objectivity of morality.
  • We all talk as if there are objective standards
    of rightness and wrongness.
  • I did the right thing for example.
  • Yet morality isnt objective for Emotivism.
  • 2-we do seem to think our moral judgments are
    true or false when we make them.
  • Moral judgments appear to behave truth
  • Emotivism says they arent truth functional

The Frege/Geach Problem
  • Moral judgments in unasserted contexts
  • What account can Emotivists give us of murder is
    wrong in an unasserted context like a
    conditional claim?
  • Consider
  • 1-murder is wrong.
  • 2-If murder is wrong, then getting my little
    brother to commit murder is wrong.
  • 3-getting my little brother to commit murder is
  • Of course this argument is valid but can the
    Emotivist say this?
  • It appears not because the meaning of murder is
    wrong is different in 1 and 2.
  • In 1 an attitude is expressed but not in 2.