Research Program

Expressivism Generalised: The Scope of Non-Descriptive Thought and Talk

1. Purpose and aims

Moral expressivism is a distinctive thesis about the nature of moral language and thought. The expressivist idea is that moral judgments and statements are not descriptive; they are / express practical attitudes as opposed to beliefs. According to expressivists, a moral statement, such as 'murder is wrong' differs from a descriptive statement, such as 'snow is cold' despite superficial grammatical similarities. Whereas 'snow is cold' expresses a belief that represents snow as being cold, 'murder is wrong' expresses a practical attitude, such as the disapproval of murder or the acceptance of a system of norms that prohibits murder. This is opposed to descriptivism (cognitivism), according to which 'murder is wrong' expresses a belief.

The issue whether moral discourse is non-descriptive is controversial and continues to be hotly debated among moral philosophers. Recently, the debate about expressivism has taken a new turn, in response to the question whether expressivism can be extended to non-moral domains. For example, expressivism has been applied to: (a) probability and epistemic modality; (b) epistemic justification and knowledge (c) modality & logic; (d) meaning & content; (f) truth. These domains cover a large part of everyday thinking and communication. The question whether expressivism generalises outside moral discourse potentially has a crucial bearing on the defensibility of moral expressivism. Some have argued that moral expressivism is untenable because it must be extended to non-moral domains that display the same features as the moral domain, and expressivism in these non-moral domains is implausible or self-defeating. However, others have defended the extension of expressivism to the relevant non-moral domains.

The overall purpose of the present project is to investigate the application of expressivism tonon-moral domains, and to consider the implications of such an application both for our understanding of the non-moral domains in question, and for our understanding of expressivism in the moral domain. The method will be to conduct a systematic an comprehensive examination of extensions of expressivism to non-moral domains. Through surveying and critically assessing recent research on this issue, the specific goals of the project will be to contribute to our understanding of:

(a) each domain of thought and communication,
(b) the features that make an expressivist analysis apt or not apt in a given domain,
(c) the relative defensibility of expressivism compared to similar but competing views,
(d) the relevance of extensions of expressivism to moral expressivism, and
(e) the expressivist framework itself.

Through examining this cluster of questions surrounding generalized expressivism, the project can be expected to clarify and develop theories and arguments in the relevant field of research, and improve our understanding of the distinction between descriptive and nondescriptive language and thought.

2. Survey of the field

The research relevant for this project can be briefly summarized under five different headings:

Moral expressivism, arguments for and against
Discussions of generalizations of expressivism to non-moral areas often take research on moral expressivism as their starting point in. Such research will serve as a background for many of the investigations in the present research project as well. This includes the major defences of moral expressivism (Ayer 1936; Blackburn 1998; Gibbard 1990, 2003a; Hare 1952; Stevenson 1963; Tersman 2006; Timmons 1999). Research on objections to moral expressivism will also be relevant, and especially the so called Frege-Geach problem (Geach 1960; Schroeder 2008a; Searle 1962).

Expressivism in non-moral domains
Previous research on expressivist analyses in non-moral domains are relevant to most parts of the present project: probability and epistemic modality (Price 1983; Schnieder 2010; Swanson 2006; Yalcin 2007, 2011); epistemic justification and knowledge (Carter & Chrisman forthcoming; Chrisman 2007; Cuneo 2007; Field 1998, 2001, 2009a; Gibbard 2003a, Ch 10; Kappel 2011; Kvanvig 2003; Lynch 2009; Ridge 2007b); (c) modality & logic (Brandom 1994); (d) meaning & content (Gibbard 2010 ); (f) truth (Schroeder 2010).

Implications of generalized expressivism for moral expressivism
Part of the project consists in examinations of arguments to the effect that moral expressivism is untenable because it must be extended to non-moral domains that display the same features as the moral domain, and expressivism in these non-moral domains is implausible or selfdefeating (Cuneo 2007; Jackson 2000; Nobis 2004; Parfit 2011; Pust 2000; Tersman Forthcoming-a, Forthcoming-b).

Views different from, but in crucial ways similar to, expressivism
Research on recently developed theories, similar to but distinct from classical expressivism, that have been suggested for moral and other claims, will be highly relevant for the project. This includes versions of "hybrid expressivism" (Eriksson 2009; Ridge 2006), "cluster theories" (Björnsson & McPherson ms), "contextualism" (Björnsson & Finlay 2010; Dreier 1990; Finlay 2009), "relativism" (Brogaard 2008; Egan et al. 2005; Kölbel 2002, 2007; MacFarlane 2005, 2009) and "pluralism" (Francén 2007, 2010).

Relevant views in philosophy of mind and language
Parts of the project concern questions in philosophy of mind and language. For instance: The normativity of meaning (Gibbard 2003b; Hattiangadi 2007; Kripke 1982); Norms for speechacts, e.g., assertion (Grice 1989); Expressivist theories of meaning and the expression relation (Davis 2003; Schroeder 2008a, 2008b; Eriksson 2010b).

3. Project description

As stated above, the general aim of the project is to examine the plausibility of extensions of expressivism to non-moral domains, and thereby contribute to the understanding of these domains and the distinction between descriptive and non-descriptive thought and language. This will be done by investigating a number of more specific (interrelated) subtopics, described below. They are organized under headings corresponding to (a) – (e) in section 1 above (though many subtopics would fit under several headings).

The initials in parentheses indicate which participants plan to work on each subtopic. However, the project aims to be collaborative, so that research on each subtopic can contribute to the others. In order to secure such collaborative effects, the project will have several joint seminars each semester, and organise at least three workshops on different subtopics with both participants from the project and other leading researchers. We plan to write and publish both individually and jointly. Also, in relation to the workshops our aim is to publish a volume of collected papers on generalized expressivism containing a comprehensive introduction surveying and synthesizing the results of the comparative studies.

(a) Understanding non-moral domains of discourse
One important part of the project is to carry out case studies of specific non-moral domains of discourse to which expressivism has been applied.

1. Survey paper and comparative studies (FT, AH, CB, RFO, JE). Part of the project is to write a joint survey paper about expressivist positions in different domains, comparing the views and the arguments for and against in the debate, to be published either as a state of the art article or an introduction to a collected volume. Jointly writing this paper will also function as a catalyst for the collaboration between the different participants and parts of the project, through making explicit relevant connections and generate a common terminology.

This survey paper will build on the comparative studies (described below), which tell us about similarities and differences between the case for expressivism in different domains. This will make it possible to see which features of discourses (if any) make them apt for expressivist treatment in general. Indeed, such investigations may reveal hitherto undiscovered features of discourses which make them apt, or not apt, for an expressivist treatment.

2. Semantic Normativity (AH). In Kripke‘s influential discussion of Wittgenstein‘s rule following considerations (1982), Kripke‘s sceptic asked what makes it the case that a given mental or linguistic representation has the content that it does rather than some other content or none at all. He argued that there could be no adequate account, by appeal to the claim that meaning and content are constitutively normative. In response to Kripke‘s sceptic, some philosophers have defended an expressivist treatment of semantic normativity (e.g. Blackburn 1984; Brandom 1994; Gibbard 2003b). Hattiangadi (2007) has argued that expressivism in application to semantic norms is implausible, but expressivism has been further developed since, and there have been more fully developed rivals to expressivism, such as error theories, relativism and contextualism. (i) Is expressivism applied to constitutive semantic norms selfrefuting? If content is constituted by norms, then there is no content without norms. If expressivism about normativity is combined with either a deflationism or non-factualism about semantic norms, then does it follow that there are no (robust) semantic facts? If there are no (robust) semantic facts, then is there similarly no (robust) fact about the contents of expressions of non-cognitive attitudes? (ii) Is expressivism in application to truth (e.g. Schroeder 2010) defensible? According to one form of deflationism about truth, to say 'what Sara said is true' is to make a normative or evaluative statement. If expressivism is true, then to utter this sentence is not to make an assertion, but to express an evaluative attitude.

3. Epistemic Modals (AH, CB, RFO). Expressivism has recently been applied to epistemic modals, i.e. sentences involving epistemic uses of modal terms, such as 'necessarily', 'possibly', 'might', and 'may'. For example, suppose that Sara says:

(1) Bo might be in the Bahamas.

(2) None of our friends knows where he is, but I know that he was planning a trip to the Bahamas.

Assuming that Sara is speaking the truth when she says (2), she also seems to speak the truth when she says (1) — for all she knows, Bo might well be in the Bahamas. But suppose that Bo, having cancelled his trip to the Bahamas, overhears Sara. Given what Bo knows, (1) is false. This seems like a classic case of 'faultless disagreement'. Though Sara and Bo disagree on the truth-value of (1), neither seems to be at fault. How can the apparent inconsistency be accommodated?

There are various contenders: contextualism (e.g. DeRose 1991), relativism (e.g. Egan et al. 2005; MacFarlane 2009), and expressivism (e.g. Yalcin 2007). In previous work (under consideration), Besson and Hattiangadi considered a similar case of putative 'faultless disagreement' and argued that many of the intuitions can be accommodated by appeal to pragmatic considerations—considerations to do with what makes assertions felicitous and infelicitous. Some of these arguments could be extended to epistemic modals. In light of this, the questions we will investigate in this area include: (i) Which of the available accounts of epistemic modals is best able to capture cases of faultless disagreement? (ii) Can intuitions about faultless disagreement be explained by appeal to pragmatic data alone?

4. Logic, reasoning and normativity (CB, AH). It has recently become popular to claim that there is a normative connection between logic and ordinary reasoning – that logic provides norms for reasoning (see for instance Field 2009b; MacFarlane unpublished). For example, on Field‘s account, validity is explained in expressivist terms: to say or judge that an argument is valid either reflects a commitment to a system of norms of reasoning or expresses approval of the system of norms of reasoning to which one is committed. "Ought judgements" are derivative of judgements of "what we take to be good logic". According to Field, the reason why we need to be expressivists about validity is because cognitivism about logic leads to regresses and paradoxes (Lewis Carroll‘s regress (1895), Gilbert Ryle‘s regress (1946) and Curry‘s Paradox (Curry 1942)). Indeed many philosophers have argued against cognitivism on those grounds (see especially Boghossian 1996, 2003). See (Besson 2010, 2012) for discussion.

Questions to be addressed include: (1) Does a non-cognitivist account of logical validity avoid the paradoxes? Many non-cognitivists about logic think of adherence to logical principles in terms of dispositions. However, as Besson has argued previously (2010, 2012), this is untenable. Does this tell against non-cognitivism more generally? (2) Is expressivism about logic compatible with the rational revisability of logic? And could such a revision ever be justified on an expressivist account?

5. Expressivism and assertion (CB, AH). It is a familiar thought that assertion is constituted by norms. This view traces back to H. Paul Grice, who claimed that assertion is constituted by a norm of truth, such as the following: You ought to (assert that p only if p is true).

On an expressivist account, normative statements look like declarative ones but are in fact not. So some declarative statements cannot be assertions. This raises two questions when it comes to the theory of assertion: One is the question of whether utterances of normative statements could be assertions. There is already a substantial literature on how expressivists can handle declarative normative statements (e.g. Schroeder 2010a; Yalcin 2011).

Another important question, which has received less attention, is what it would be for an expressivist to comply to a norm of assertion such as the norm of truth: given that expressivism is motivated in part by the intuition that there are no normative facts, there also doesn‘t seem to be a fact according to which you ought to (assert that p only if p is true). If so it is not even a fact that any given utterance is or is not an assertion.

Questions to be addressed include: 1. Is expressivism compatible with the view that there are norms of assertion? 2. There is a trend amongst expressivists to explain normative concepts (such that of a rational action), in terms of having a warrant for a given attitude, where the idea is of a warrant is explained in expressivist terms (see Gibbard 2008), appealing to the notion of a credence. More precisely, on such accounts, to have a warranted credence in a given circumstance is, roughly, to plan, for the contingency of being in that circumstance, to have that credence. Can such type of model be at all applied to the norms of assertion?

(b) Features that make an expressivist analysis apt or not apt
A central part of the project is to examine features of domains taken to provide reason to accept or reject expressivism about the domains, and how the domains compare regarding these features. (Features not mentioned here are discussed elsewhere in the application.)

6. Internalism (RFO, JE, FT). One of the main motivations behind moral expressivism, going back to David Hume, is the motivational internalist idea that there is a necessary or internal connection between having moral opinions and being motivated to act accordingly. Given that beliefs do not motivate by themselves or necessarily, the argument goes, moral opinions must be desires (pro- and con-attitudes) rather than beliefs. On the other hand, motivational externalists reject the idea that there is a necessary or internal connection between moral opinions and motivation, and have thus argued moral expressivism implies a too strong connection. One important question regarding the generalization of expressivism to other domains is to what extent views corresponding to motivational internalism or externalism are viable in those domains. This issue has been very little explored (but see (Chrisman 2012)). We will investigate these questions against the background of the recent development in the research regarding internalism and externalism regarding moral motivation, where various new forms of motivational internalism have raised questions about relevance of a defensible version of internalism for expressivism (for an overview, see e.g Björklund et al. 2012).

7. Certitude (RF, JE). It has been objected to moral expressivism that it cannot explain the existence of fundamental moral uncertainty (Bykvist & Olson 2009; Smith 2002). There are some replies to this objection (e.g. Ridge 2007a), but all of them seem to face problems. We plan to examine: 1. Whether the problem generalizes to expressivist views in other domains. 2. If it does, whether a new expressivist response to the objection developed by Eriksson and Francén Olinder (paper under consideration) also generalizes.

(c) The relation between expressivism and similar but distinct views
Parallel to the recent extension of expressivism to new areas, a number of new theories, similar to but distinct from classical expressivism, have been suggested both for moral and other claims. This includes versions of "hybrid expressivism" (Eriksson 2009; Ridge 2006), "cluster theories" (Björnsson & McPherson ms), "contextualism" (Björnsson & Finlay 2010; Dreier 1990; Finlay 2009), "relativism" (Brogaard 2008; Egan et al. 2005; Kölbel 2002, 2007; MacFarlane 2005, 2009) and "pluralism" (Francén 2007, 2010). These theories are often introduced as motivated by the same features as expressivism, while escaping various objections. A central part of this project will be to consider which of various rival theories provides the best account of a given domain.

8. Expressivism, contextualism, and relativism: Intuitions about disagreement (RFO, AH, CB, JE, FT). Considerations about the ways in which we perceive of disagreements within specific domains (e.g. disagreement about moral matters, about taste, about epistemic modalities) have been used as arguments both for and against expressivist, contextualist and relativist analyses of statements and thoughts within those domains. Especially, the idea of 'faultless disagreement' (see above) has played a crucial role.

Expressivism, contextualism and relativism about some discourse share the implication that disagreement in that discourse is not explained by beliefs or statements that describe objective facts in inconsistent ways. One hypothesis to be examined is that the three views do have the resources to explain disagreement in the same ways, but that the different views have to frame that explanation in different technical terminology. One crucial consideration, which has been too little explored in previous research, is that different domains for which expressivism (and contextualism and relativism) have been proposed display different patterns regarding our intuitions about disagreement. For example, most people have much more robust intuitions about moral disagreement, than about, say, disagreements about taste or epistemic modalities (Francén 2010).We shall examine to what extent this difference can, should or must be explained giving different analyses of the statements and thoughts in the different domains.

9. Pluralism and expressivism (RFO). Francén Olinder (2007, forthcoming) has defended a view (moral pluralism) according to which moral judgments are beliefs (as opposed to moral expressivism), but what makes B a belief that, say, lying is morally wrong, is not that B has some specific content (or character). Rather, it is the practical role of B for the believer that matters: roughly, whether she is motivated to act in accordance with her belief (or would be, in normal circumstances). This view has in common with expressivism the idea that what makes something a moral opinion is not a specific cognitive content, but rather the practical, action-guiding, nature of it. But it promises to more straightforwardly explain the belief-like features of moral opinions.

Questions to be addressed include: 1. Can the pluralist idea be plausibly extended to other domains as well, e.g. epistemology, as a competitor to expressivism in those domains? 2. What is the nature of the difference between expressivism, especially hybrid expressivism, and pluralism? Given the similarities, one suspicion might be that they are terminological variants of each other. Another tentative hypothesis is that the choice between pluralism (and perhaps other relativist views as well) and expressivism to a large extent depends on theoretical background theories (such as semantic and theories about the expression relation) rather than on substantial empirical differences.

10. Hybrid expressivism (JE, FT). Metaethical expressivism is the view that moral utterances function to express nondescriptive states of mind. Cognitivism, on the other hand, is the view that moral utterances function to express beliefs. The dichotomy between expressivism (or noncognitivism) and cognitivism has for a long time been cemented in metaethics, but this procrustean choice has recently been challenged. Instead, a number of philosophers have argued that moral utterances function to express both beliefs and desires (e.g. Copp 2001; Eriksson 2009; Ridge 2006). Few hybrid theorists defend the same view and the theories‘ respective virtues and vices may well come apart (Schroeder 2009 Hybrid expressivism). However, hybrid theories do seem to have certain explanatory advantages over their pure dittos. Within the project Eriksson aims to continue developing his version of a hybrid theory. Moreover, we will also examine the prospects and possible motivations for developing hybrid theories regarding the other discourses where expressivist analyses seem apt.

(d) Uniformity, self-defeatingness and consequences for moral expressivism

11. Uniformity (FT, RFO) It is commonly held that if one accepts expressivism on the basis of the traditional arguments then one is committed to being an expressivist about other areas as well, including epistemology, at least in so far as epistemology is deemed to be a normative discipline (Cuneo 2007, Jackson 2000, Parfit 2011). It has also been held that this provides a serious objection to moral expressivism, on the ground that epistemic expressivism is supposed to be 'epistemologically self-defeating', i.e., roughly, such that it entails that it is unfounded (Parfit 2011, Nobis 2004, for a critique of that view, see Kappel 2011). One central task of this project is to examine those claims. The idea that all normative discourses should be treated uniformly is based on the fact that they have certain similarities, for example regarding the types of disagreement that arise in them. However, there are also differences, and one aim is to explore in detail if those differences justify a mixed verdict. Tersman has started working on these issues in (Tersman Forthcoming-a, Forthcoming-b).

12. Self-defeatingness (FT, RFO). We shall also clarify and explore the relevance of the pertinent notion of self-defeatingness to the assessment of the theories.

(e) The expressivist framework

13. The expression relation (JE, FT). One of the distinctive features of expressivist theories is that the relevant domains of language are expressive rather than descriptive. Applied to metaethical expressivism, for example, the idea is that a sentences like 'Stealing is wrong' functions to express a practical attitude rather than to describe stealing as, e.g., instantiating a certain property. Also, expressing a state of mind should not be conflated with reporting a state of mind (Jackson & Pettit 1998). In order to properly understand expressivist theories it is essential to understand the notion of expression, but this notion has not received proper attention – at least not until very recently. Schroeder (2008a, 2008b) distinguishes between a number of different ways in which expressivists have used 'expression', e.g., that expression is a causal notion, that it depends on the speaker‘s intention to indicate being in a certain state of mind, and his own preferred view according to which a sentence expresses a state of mind in virtue of being associated with a propositions that mentions a mental state. Other philosophers understand "expression" as an evidential notion (Davis 2003; Eriksson 2010b, 2011). A number of different questions in relation to this will be investigated. How should expression be understood? Is there a notion of expression that suits the expressivists‘ purposes better than other? If so, why? Also, should 'expression' be understood in the same way across different domains (moral, epistemic and truth)?

14. Expressivism and meaning (JE). Sometimes expressivism is simply understood as a thesis that concerns the use of language, e.g., that 'Stealing is wrong' expresses a nondescriptive rather than descriptive state of mind. However, for at least some expressivists, it also denotes a particular theory of meaning: 'to explain the meaning of a term, explain what states of mind the term can be used to express' (Gibbard 2003: 7). Thinking that ethical terms derive their meaning from the states of mind that they are used to express leads to the charge that it conflates force and content. The most famous argument to this effect is the so-called Frege- Geach problem (Geach 1960, Searle 1962), but the problem generalizes to other embedded contexts. Expressivists have also been charged with having difficulties accounting for negation (Unwin 2001) and attitude ascriptions (Schroeder 2008a). The general strategy pursed in response is to show how a problem can be solved in the factual realm and then mimic the solution in the normative realm (see e.g., Gibbard 1990, 2003). This strategy is also pursued by Schroeder (2008a). Schroeder develops a semantic theory that can solve many of the problems that other expressivist views cannot handle properly, but he concludes that it has problematic commitments, commitments that should lead to skepticism about the prospects for expressivism. This upshot should be of concern for expressivist analyses regarding other domains as well. Questions that will be pursued within the project include the following. Do the arguments advanced by Schroeder regarding metaethical expressivism apply to expressivist analyses about other domains? Is the semantic theory that Schroeder outlines the best one? Given the general strategy one may wonder if not a better semantic theory for expressivist discourses may be available. The most elaborate extant expressivist theory of meaning is due to Davis (2003) (which Schroeder does not consider). One hypothesis to be explored is whether Davis‘ theory can function as the template for expressivist domains of language (this is hinted at in (Eriksson 2010a)).

4. Significance

The suggested project aims to carry out a systematic and comprehensive study of the subject area, which has not been done before. It can be expected to improve our understanding of:

• the large parts of everyday communication and thought for which an expressivist treatment has been discussed and suggested,
• the relative merits of expressivism in comparison to similar but competing views,
• and, generally, the fundamental distinction between descriptive and non-descriptive parts of language and thought.
• which potentially also has a crucial bearing on the defensibility of moral expressivism, and more generally how we are to understand normative thought and language.

5. Preliminary results

All members of the project have previously done research and published within areas of philosophy relevant to the project. Tersman, Eriksson and Francén Olinder have done extensive research about features often taken to count for and against expressivist views, and defended expressivism or expressivist-like theories about moral claims. Tersman has written two forthcoming articles specifically about the generalization of expressivism. Hattiangadi and Besson have published extensively in philosophy of mind and language, epistemology and philosophical logic, and also on questions about the normativity of meaning, beliefs and knowledge. The project will further gain from already established contacts and collaborations with some of the leading researchers in relevant fields.

The project will be based at the Dpt. of Philosophy, Linguistics and Theory of Science, Gothenburg, whose leadership has expressed an intention to give Eriksson and Francén Olinder teaching assignments that enable them to uphold full time positions during the period (i.e., 25% each). At the department, the project will benefit from the collaboration between philosophers and linguists (among others Robin Cooper) (see e.g. ). Also, Arvid Båve was newly appointed lecturer at the department, which facilitates fruitful collaboration with him and his research project ―Expressivist meaning-theory, functionalist content-theory and their applications‖ (funded by SRC, 2012-2014).


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