Monday, 3 January 2011


In this video I discuss what is emotivism and the views of Hume, GE Moore, Ayer and Stevenson and the strengths and criticisms of this branch of emotivism. 

Emotivism - Notes

  • It is a non-cognitive branch of meta-ethics which means that it believes we have no moral knowledge. 
  • Emotivists believe that ethical statements are meaningless are they are just opinions.

  • He said the reason why we act so kind and nice to one another is because we genuinely feel compassion for one another not that we are trying to obey some kind of moral law or that our reason dictates us to do so.
  • He to identified that there was naturalistic fallacy that normative ethicists make and that is  that we cannot get an ought (value) from an is (fact).
G E Moore

  • He extended Hume’s views on the naturalistic fallacy by suggesting just like we can replace the term ‘unmarried man’ with ‘bachelor’ we cannot replace ‘pleasurable’ or ‘nice’ etc with ‘morally good’. It simply does not work.

  • Ayer was a logical positivist who belonged the Vienna Circle. These members used a verification principle to try and deduce whether statements were meaningless or meaningful.
  • Subsequently, he believed the only meaningful statements that exist were analytic (true by definition e.g. 2+3=5) or synthetic (they could be verified through observation e.g. the cat is black, we can check through evidence whether this is correct).
  • Hence, he concluded that ethical statements were just emotive responses to our preference, attitudes or feelings.
  • Ayer describes this as the ‘Boo-Hurrah’ theory. By this he means that when we say, for example, abortion is wrong what we are saying is boo abortion and if we were to say charity work is good it is like saying hurrah charity work.

  • Stevenson was an American philosopher who believed just because they were meaningless did not mean they had not purpose.
  • The purpose, he suggested was to manipulated and change people’s opinions and behavior and the effect was obviously that people did this.
  • He went as far as to differentiate between two types of language in order to explain this. The first is descriptive language which simply describes things e.g. ‘she washed her hair’ and the second is dynamic language. Dynamic language is used to express our feelings or to evoke our feeling e.g. ‘I am so tired just if you understood how hard and tiring it is to sort out accounts’.
  • In moral discourse dynamic language is important for several reasons for example it is useful in manipulating your opponent and as ‘abortion is wrong is not a fact’ the only way you can make it seem like one is by the use of emotion.
So why is there so much moral discourse?

  • This is termed ‘moral deadlock’ and what it means is that your opponent is a moral discourse will never agree with your opinion and so emotion is basic human way of manipulating and persuading them.

  • Valid and logical contributions for the 21st century.
  • They raise fundamental question which is good because it is keeping us on our feet!

  • It is not a popular theory.
  • James Rachel says that it is illogical to draw parallels between ‘ouch’ I burnt my finger and ‘abortion is wrong’.
  • Dismissive of all moral discourse which makes it impractical and hence not a realistic theory people should adhere or listen to.
  • Peter Vardy said emotivism is just bizarre as it suggests that moral discourse is just ‘a lot of hot air’.
  • Has dangerous implications for the future - it questions our judicial system e.g. why is it wrong to kill someone?
  • Advertisement, blackmail etc use emotion to manipulate and are not ‘facts’ so does that mean they are meaningless too?
  • McIntyre points out there are times in language were we do not mean what we literally say e.g.‘I am boiling’ does not mean I am literally boiling in a pan and Stevenson does not account for these occasions. 
  • McIntyre also points out that it is hard to find evidence that our primary motive is to manipulate one another.

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