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Published on Nov 17, 2008
Pragmatism, Expressivism and the Global Challenge Huw Price & David Macarthur (Sydney)
Expressivism is typically a local view. Thus an expressivist about moral or aesthetic judgments will contrast these judgments to genuinely descriptive claims (such as those of science, perhaps). This contrast comes under pressure from several directions, however.
• Externally, it has been thought to be threatened by minimalism about truth, which—it is argued— leaves no room for the view that ethical claims are not really truth-evaluable. (If truth is thin, then it seems easy for moral claims be truth-evaluable: it is sufficient that X is good is true iff X is good, and who disputes that?)
• Internally, it seems threatened by the quasi-realist program of explaining on expressivist foundations why non-descriptive claims behave like descriptive claims. If these explanations work in the hard cases, such as moral and aesthetic judgements, then surely theyll work in the easy cases, too—in which case the idea that the easy cases are genuinely descriptive seems an idle cog, not needed to explain the use of the statements in question.
As first sight, it may seem as if these pressures push in opposite directions. Doesnt the first threaten to make everything descriptive, and the second to make everything expressive? So a problem for a local expressivist either way, in other words, but a very different kind of problem, in each case.
On closer inspection, however, it turns out that both pressures push in the same direction, towards global expressivism. Moreover, contrary to some claims, the resulting position is not a homogeneous or quietist view of language, unable to make the substantial claims that expressivists wanted to make about the function of particular domains of discourse. What is lost is simply the idea that there is a substantial descriptive or representational function, characteristic of some domains but not others.
In this paper we explore these ideas against the background of some remarks by Simon Blackburn, and relate the discussion to a disagreement between Brandom and Rorty.