Theses on ethical eliminativism

First thesis. Premise: the universe is purely physical. All apparently non-physical properties are either reducible to physical properties or are eliminable from the schema. There are no “nomological danglers”.¹

Second thesis. Scepticism about the status of moral properties resulting from first thesis. Diverse attribution of moral properties by different speakers (natural phenomena, non-natural phenomena, divine command, ergon for a telos, etc.).² Moral properties as metaphysically and epistemologically queer.³ Denial that moral properties are mind-independent; denial that moral properties obtain. Moral properties eliminated from the schema: anti-realism.

Third thesis. Scepticism about the status of moral judgements resulting from second thesis. Moral judgements as radically relative between speakers.⁴ Moral judgements as metaphysically and epistemologically queer.⁵ Denial that moral judgements are truth-apt. Essential character of moral judgements not of the form “X is Y,” but “X !!,” ‘where the shape and thickness of the exclamation marks show, by a suitable convention, that a special sort of moral disapproval is the feeling which is being expressed’.⁶ Moral judgements reduced within the schema: noncognitivism.

Fourth thesis. Ethics as containing four questions:

  • (a) the emotional state of the speaker;
  • (b) the underlying social relations, and more fundamentally, physical relations which determine the ethicist’s emotional states: biology, the superstructural forms of the society arising from the mode of production, the mode of production;
  • (c) the semantic status of moral language;
  • (d) the status of moral mental states.

(a) as ontologically sound, analytically reducible; (b) as fundamentally structural (non-ethical) and so disregardable; (c) as reporting emotional states; (d) as non-belief states.

Fifth thesis. Three formulations of noncognitivism resulting from third and fourth theses:

  • (a) Moral judgments considered as mental states: denial that moral judgments are beliefs. Eliminative materialism: there is no class of mental states amounting to the concept of belief. Moral judgements as emotional responses to stimuli. Primary moral judgements as ad hoc and arising from the individual organism; secondary moral judgements as socially coherent and arising from the society (both basic and superstructural).
  • (b) Moral judgments considered as sentence types: denial that moral judgments are propositions. Sentences expressing moral judgements as not truth-apt. Sentences expressing moral judgements as lacking underlying propositional grammar (third thesis). Prescriptivism as inferior model for ethical commands to the externalisation of emotivist responses of the form “I feel X in response to Y, and so should you” due to detaching the ethical statement from its emotional basis; prescriptivism as either immaterialist (a false discussion; see first thesis) or otherwise structuralist (a non-ethical discussion; a political discussion).⁷
  • (c) Moral judgments considered as speech acts: denial that moral judgments are assertions. Moral judgements as representing, first, the primary emotional state of the speaker, the response to the given stimuli, and, subsidiarily, the secondary emotional state of wishing the other would also hold the primary emotional state in response to that species of stimuli or individual stimulus, distinct from structural determination of individual and collective action (see part a).

Sixth thesis. Resulting from third through fifth theses: moral judgements as reducible without loss of meaning to emotional responses (third and fifth thesis); moral statements as reducible without loss of meaning to emotional reports.

Seventh thesis. Resulting from sixth thesis: question of fictionalism versus eliminativism about moral language. Fictionalism as unnecessary and obfuscatory. Fictionalism as retaining metaphysical concepts, even if as metaphor. Eliminativism as plausible; eliminativism as desirable.

Eighth thesis. Resulting from third through seventh theses: moral judgements eliminated from the schema.

¹ From Feigl, via Smart. See: J. J. C. Smart, “Sensations and Brain Processes,” The Philosophical Review 68 2, and H. Feigl, “The ‘Mental’ and the ‘Physical’,” Minnesota Studies in the Philosophy of Science 2. See: “Theses on eliminativism,” first thesis.

² J. L. Mackie, “The Subjectivity of Values,” The argument from relativity, Ethics: Inventing Right and Wrong

³ J. L. Mackie, “The Subjectivity of Values,” The argument from queerness, Ethics: Inventing Right and Wrong

⁴ J. L. Mackie, “The Subjectivity of Values,” The argument from relativity, Ethics: Inventing Right and Wrong

⁵ J. L. Mackie, “The Subjectivity of Values,” The argument from queerness, Ethics: Inventing Right and Wrong

⁶ A. J. Ayer, “Critique of Ethics and Morality,” Language, Truth and Logic

⁷ See, also for 5c, C. L. Stevenson, “The Emotive Meaning of Ethical Terms,” Mind 46 181

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Philosophy. Writing on Marxism, eliminativism in philosophy of mind and metaethics, suffering(-focused ethics), and philosophical pessimism.

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