A Defence of Emotivism

1. Introduction

Citation Information

Allan, Leslie 2015. A Defence of Emotivism, URL = <>.

Two signs displaying Cognition and Emotion

In this essay, my aim is to defend an emotive theory of ethics. The particular version that I will support is based on C. L. Stevenson's signal work in Ethics and Language [1976], originally published in 1944, and his later revisions and refinements to this theory presented in his book, Facts and Values [1963]. I shall not, therefore, concern myself with the earlier and less sophisticated versions of the emotive theory, such as those presented by A. J. Ayer in Language, Truth and Logic [1971] and Bertrand Russell in Religion and Science [1935].

It should be noted that although my meta-ethical views are based on Stevenson's analysis, there are points of difference. For example, I am not too sure that his dispositional theory of meaning is correct and I find his account of personal deliberation as self-persuasion inadequate. So, in the following exposition, where my comments are found to diverge from Stevenson's later views, it should be understood that on these points I have found his analysis unconvincing, although this divergence will usually be explicitly mentioned. Along with my debt to Stevenson, I am also particularly indebted to the many worthwhile insights on semantics made by J. O. Urmson in his book, The Emotive Theory of Ethics [1968], and to D. H. Monro for his clear and perceptive discussions on the psychology of attitudes in his work, Empiricism and Ethics [1967].

Book cover: Ethics: A Very Short Introduction by Simon Blackburn

In this essay, I do not propose to give a full exposition of an adequate emotive theory, except to provide a brief summary of Stevenson's position held at the time of his compiling Facts and Values [1963]. It would be more worthwhile to assume a working familiarity of his developed views, and in so doing leave room for a comprehensive rejoinder to some of the more important objections made by his critics. This is what I shall proceed to do. Significant details of a convincing emotive theory will be developed in the course of the discussion.

Copyright © 2015

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