I’ve been recently reading Gibbard’s and Schroeder’s new books (both brilliant) on expressivism. I’ve started to wonder whether there is a connection between expressivism and the so-called buck-passing views. I’m sure others have thought about this before, but, if there is such a connection, it seems quite surprising to me. So, I thought I’d quickly lay out why I think there is this connection and then give some options for what should be done as a result.
In Reconciling Our Aims, Gibbard says that to think of some act as wrong is to plan to have moral attitudes of resentment and blame towards it. In Being For, Schroeder argues that, in order to solve the negation problem and to provide a complete semantics for our normative language, the expressivist should say that to think of some act as wrong is to be for (this is to have a positive attitude towards) blaming people for doing the act.
Now, I was thinking about the claims (and thoughts) of the sort:
(i) I blame Ann for breaking the promise because it is wrong to break a promise [and]
(ii) My reason for blaming Ann for breaking the promise is that to do so is wrong.
I’m not sure how Gibbard or Schroeder’s expressivist would account for these claims (Schroeder mentions something like this issue in the end under section embedding under normative predicates). It seems to me that they would have to account for these claims by claiming that I’m saying and thinking here that I blame Ann for breaking the promise because I plan to blame breaking promises and that my reason for blaming Ann for breaking the promise is that I am planning to blame people for breaking promises. And, at least for me, these claims and thougths do not make a lot of sense.
You might think that this is not a problem for expressivism in general but rather only for the specific proposals that connect the term wrong to blaming. But, I do think the worry generalises to a wider class of views. This are the ones according to which moral claims of the form ‘x is F’ express a plan or being for some attitude that is related to the term F. In all such cases, I presume, it makes sense to say that I have the relevant attitude towards x because x is F (or that x is F is my reason for having the attitude).
Now, here are some alternatives to how we should react to this issue:
1) There is a reading for (i) and (ii) under Gibbard’s and Schroeder’s models that makes good sense of them. I would be interested to hear what they would be like.
2) This is just a problem for expressivist views that account for moral claims in terms of having plans or being for some attitudes. There are other forms of expressivism that avoid this problem.
3) Despite appearances, (i) and (ii) do not make sense. It does not make sense that the wrongness of an act gives reasons for blame. If there are reasons for blame, they are provided by the more basic, wrong-making features of the act. As a buck-passer, I am generally symphatetic to this reply. But, I wonder whether buck-passing view should be the result of semantic commitments of expressivism (although arguing for buck-passing from expressivism would be interesting).
4) (i) and (ii) make sense but expressivism fails to make sense of them and thereby this is one downside of expressivism.
I’m quite uncertain about what to think here, but I would be interested in hearing what you others make of this.