I’ve been reading Krister Bykvist’s and Jonas Olson’s wonderful paper entitled ‘Expressivism and Moral Certitude’ (HERE). Krister and Jonas argue that ecumenical forms of expressivism are unable to give a reply to Michael Smith’s objection to non-ecumenical forms of expressivism according to which expressivists cannot account for moral certitude. I have no quarrels with their arguments but I fail to see Smith’s problem for expressivists in the first place on which their argument is based. Here’s why.
Smith claims that evaluative judgments can have three distinct features: importance, robustness, and certitude. Krister and Jonas, think, like Smith, that expressivists can deal with the first two features of evaluative judgments but not the third.
Importance means here how important we think some obligation is, how strong we think some reasons are, or how good we think certain actions are. So, we think that one ought to save an innocent life rather than keep a promise and that it would be better to do the former. We think saving innocent lives is thus more important than keeping promises. Of course, the expressivist can say that this feature of our evaluative judgments is accounted for strengths of the desires which we express with by our moral utterances (or alternative the plans we express to choose one option over the other in conflict-cases).
Robustness of evaluative judgments means their robustness over time (i.e., diachronic stability). This feature of evaluative judgments is not a problem for the expressivists either. They can point to the fact that we have also other non-cognitive attitudes that are equally robust – our personal loves and concerns, for instance. Whatever explains the robustness of these attitudes can likewise explain the robustness of evaluative judgments. I think that here the expressivist can also correctly explain temporal robustness by higher-order attitudes. We are also concerned about retaining the evaluative attitudes we have – we care about caring about certain things.
The third feature of evaluative judgments is their varying degrees of levels of confidence or certitude. This corresponds to having more or less certain beliefs, i.e., to the degrees of belief. What is important is that this feature of evaluative judgments is independent of the previous two features. You can be certain in some evaluative judgment without that judgment being about anything very important or it being very stable over time. Thus, you cannot use the strength of the expressed attitudes or their temporal stability to explain the certitude of moral attitudes. And, Smith, Bykvist, and Olson argue also that the higher-order attitudes do not help here. I can be uncertain about whether the vegetarian diet is morally required even if I really strongly want to desire to only eat vegetables.
And, thus, the expressivist is allegedly not able to account for moral certitude. I’m not sure about this. I think the question about how certain we are about a given evaluative judgments resembles the question of how much we identify with a certain concern. So, the expressivist could just say that moral certitude is identifying oneself with the concern expressed in an evaluative judgment. To be certain of some evaluative judgment would on this view be to hold the concern as a central part of oneself. Note that this feature of desires differs from their strength – I often externalise my strong urges. The expressivist can say more about what the identification in question amounts to by following Frankfurt's account of what it is for a desire to be one’s own. The expressivist can also keep the issues separate and use Frankfurt's account of identification to merely account for certitude.
Frankfurt tried to answer the identification-problem first by using higher-order attitudes. But, given the criticism by Watson and others, he quickly gave up on that attempt (for quite similar reasons that cause problems for the expressivist according to Smith, Krister and Jonas). His new way of accounting for identifying oneself with some desires is based on the notion of *wholeheartedness*. This seems like a good account in many ways which makes me wonder why the expressivist cannot use the very same notion of wholeheartedness to account for the different degrees of certitude of evaluative judgments. On this view, to be certain of an evaluative judgment would be to endorse the concern it expresses wholeheartedly which certainly sounds right.
What does it mean to hold some concern wholeheartedly? According to Frankfurt, wholeheartedness means not having any reservations or conflicts in concerns that would move one to initiate or support attempts to stop having the initial concern or desire. You could add that wholeheartedness is also increased by having a whole network of mutually supporting cares and concerns some of which are volitional necessities. This would give us similar degrees of wholeheartedness as we have degrees of belief and would offer us an account that gives same story for degrees of belief (how wholeheartedly they are held).
Why cannot the expressivist say that it is the concerns that we hold wholeheartedly in this way that are the evaluative judgments which we hold with certitude? And, the less certain we are in our evaluative judgment the less wholeheartedly we hold it? It just seems to me that this solves all the problems referred to by Krister, Jonas, and Smith. They are usually right though so I must be missing something here.