It's been more difficult to keep up with blogging now that I've begun the semester. I vow to do better.
For those who feared that, with my blog so intermittent, signs of intelligent life from the Lehigh Valley in the blogosphere would be difficult to find, I wanted to recommend the blog of Amardeep Singh, Assistant Professor of English at Lehigh. I admit to not having had as much time as I would like to peruse his blog, but it seems to include literary items, pieces of interest to those working on post-colonialism, and entries concerning contemporary affairs. It's worth checking out.
Since an upper-level epistemology seminar at a liberal arts college would achieve an enrollment of under 3, I decided to work through Russ Shafer-Landau's Moral Realism: A Defence with my students. I'll be posting random thoughts/criticisms related to that book here, as they present themselves to me.
This first criticism may not be entirely fair, since Shafer-Landau merely reviews criticisms of expressivism that he finds promising, without fleshing them out in great detail. Nevertheless, I found his confidence in the following criticism puzzling. He writes:
If expressivism is true, the essence of any moral statement is the expression of a fundamentally non-representational attitude towards some natural state of affairs. If, as it seems, we convey and mean something slightly different when we say of an action that it is virtuous, right, mandatory, supererogatory, kind, ... then non-cognitivists must explain this by citing a different attitude that receives expression in each case. But our attitudes don't seem nearly as diverse or fine-grained as the predicates we standardly employ in moral assessment. Cognitivists straightforwardly account for these differences by referring to different meanings, contents, or properties that are exemplified when these different assessments are true. Expressivists must either deny that these predicates signify different assessments, or identify a different attitude for each predicate. Neither route seems very promising. (25)
So Shafer-Landau sets up a dilemma for the expressivist here: either (a) moral predicates, despite appearances, in fact signify very few discrete assessments or (b) each distinct moral predicate corresponds to an equally distinct attitude.
I see the problem with (a). However, I don't see why the expressivist shouldn't embrace horn (b) of the dilemma wholeheartedly. Shafer-Landau suggests that the fine-grainedness of our moral predicates poses no difficulty for the cognitivist because the cognitivist can simply refer to the different "meanings, contents, or properties" exemplified when the assessments containing those predicates are true. That is, "is saintly" picks out the property of saintliness. Fine. However, while it's certainly clear that expressivists can't appeal to property talk, it is utterly mysterious why they can't say that the use of "is saintly" expresses the attitude corresponding to that predicate.
The point is this. If, as the expressivist claims, it is the case that the use of moral predicates derives its force from the attitudes to which they give expression, there is no reason why the expressivist can't claim that the multitude of distinctions contained within the moral predicates is not simply proof of the fine-grainedness of the attitudes that they express. Indeed, the cognitivist has no other proof of the fine-grainedness of moral properties than the fine-grainedness of the predicates that, he claims, pick out those properties.
Indeed, there is some evidence that Shafer-Landau is, in the passage above, placing an explanatory burden upon the expressivist that no cognitivist would be capable of carrying. He writes that expresivists must explain the diversity of moral predicates "by citing a different attitude that receives expression in each case." I don't know of a cognitivist who can cite a different property picked out by each of the myriad of moral predicates -- other than, in most cases, by using those very same predicates themselves. If this is the case, however, it would seem a very strange criticism of the expressivist that she cannot cite an attitude for each predicate, other than by citing the predicate itself that expresses the attitude in question.