Paul Edwards 1923-2004

As some of you may already know, Paul Edwards passed away on
December 9th. The New York Times Obituary can be found here (login required;
thanks to Brian Leiter for the link). Edwards was known mostly for being the editor of The Encyclopedia of Philosophy. He is less well-known for, and rarely cited as, one of the forebearers,
along with Stevenson and Hare, of the "dual-use" metaethical theories
that are beginning to make a comeback.

Edwards wrote The Logic of
Moral Discourse
in 1950-51, at the age of twenty-seven, though, as he
wrote in the book’s Preface (p. 11), "doubts about the soundness of my
theory made me refrain from any attempts at publication" until 1955. The publishers (The Free Press: New York) describe the book as "the
first systematic answer to the criticisms levelled at the (emotive) theory
since its introduction to the public in the 1930’s." This is surely an exaggeration, given that
Stevenson had published his articulation and defense of his emotive
theory in Ethics
and Language
eleven years earlier. Nevertheless, Sidney Hook justly notes in his introduction to Edwards’s
book that "it is the soundest and most systematic fusion, in the study of
metaethics, of the emotive and objective naturalistic points of view" (p.
13). In the book, Edwards argued that
ethical predicates like ‘good’, ‘right’, and ‘ought’ (almost always) have two
important functions: to describe something as having a certain property or
properties, and to express the speaker’s
pro- or con-attitudes; hence, ethical predicates (almost always) have both descriptive and emotive meaning. Also, like Stevenson and Hare, Edwards argued
that the descriptive meanings of ethical terms is speaker-relative, that is, is
relative to a speaker’s reasons for issuing the moral judgment and, hence,
differs on each occasion of their use. However, unlike Stevenson and Hare, Edwards also claimed that ethical
predicates do not always have
descriptive meaning; if, on an occasion of use, a speaker cannot "back
up" her moral judgment with reasons, the moral judgment is
"fundamental" and, hence, the ethical predicate (and, therefore, the
ethical sentence in which it occurs) has no descriptive meaning at all.  Absent from Edwards’s radar screen in the early fifties was the force of and need to respond to the Frege/Geach problem, which is one of the most difficult challenges for any expressivist theory.

Recent "dual-use" theories (e.g., David Copp‘s
Realist-Expressivism, Kyle Swan‘s Expressivist Moral Cognitivism, Mike Ridge‘s
favored version of what he calls "Ecumenical Expressivism" and my Expressive-Assertivism)
(i) agree with Edwards that ethical predicates serve to both describe something
as having a certain property or properties and to express the speaker’s pro- or con-attitudes, and hence, that ethical predicates have both descriptive
and expressive meaning, (ii) disagree with Edwards that the descriptive meaning
of ethical predicates is speaker-relative, (iii) disagree with Edwards that
ethical predicates, sometimes, do not describe something and, hence, that
ethical predicates sometimes lack descriptive meaning, and (iv) unlike,
Edwards, recognize the force of and the need to respond to the Frege/Geach
problem.