Two Arguments for Emotivism and a Methodological Moral


  • Charles Pigden University of Otago



In 1913 Russell gave up on the Moorean good. But since naturalism was not an option, that left two alternatives: the error theory and non-cognitivism. Despite a brief flirtation with the error theory Russell preferred the non-cognitivist option, developing a form of emotivism according to which to say that something is good is to express the desire that everyone should desire it. But why emotivism rather than the error theory? Because emotivism sorts better with Russell’s Fundamental Principle that the “sentences we can understand must be composed of words with whose meaning we are acquainted.” I construct an argument for emotivism featuring the Fundamental Principle that closely parallels Ayer’s verificationist argument in Language, Truth, and Logic. I contend that Russell’s argument, like Ayer’s, is vulnerable to a Moorean critique. This suggests an important moral: revisionist theories of meaning such as verificationism and the Fundamental Principle are prima facie false. Any modus ponens from such a principle to a surprising semantic conclusion (such as emotivism) is trumped by a Moorean modus tollens from the negation of the surprising semantics to the negation of the revisionist principle.



2020-05-25 — Updated on 2023-08-29