Here is a worry for (pure) expressivism. I think it is new. I am not sure how cogent it is, and this is
probably not its most elegant formulation.
So help is welcome. Consider
No ought-claim is true.
Construe ‘ought-claim’ to include (1) itself. Then (1) is necessarily false: if it is true, then it says of itself that it
is false. (You might think (1) is a
pretty good statement of error theory; I will leave that as a problem for the
error theorist.) Consider now
No ought-claim ought to be accepted.
This is contingent.
It might be, for example, that one ought to do what has the best
consequences and the best consequences happen when people never think about
ought-claims. If someone finds
themselves accepting (2), of course, the first thing they ought to do is figure
out how to abandon it. That doesn’t
affect its truth however.
Suppose, however, that you are a pure expressivist (like
Gibbard) who thinks of ‘ought’ as planning language. How do you construe (1) and (2)? Here is my best guess. You think of (1) as quantifying over plans
and rejecting all of them. So you can
sincerely assert (1) if you have no plans. You think of (2) as itself a piece of
planning: the plan to have no
plans. Of course, this plan immediately
fails in a self-undermining way. Still,
you could have this plan, if you are a little confused. You can sincerely assert (2), then, if you
have the plan to have no plans.
Now the worry is this.
If my glosses are right, the expressivist can distinguish between the
contents of (1) and (2). The problem is
that the contents seem wrong. (1) is
self-refuting. But the expressivist
gloss I suggested is not self-refuting; it is a simple piece of quantification
which doesn’t seem to quantify over itself in any way. If (1) is true then (1) is false, but I don’t
see how this entailment survives under the expressivist interpretation. On the other hand (2) is not
self-refuting. It might or might not be
true. (Granted, it could not be
But the expressivist gloss I suggested for (2) is self-refuting: a plan that cannot possibly succeed. My expressivist glosses for (1) and (2) seem
reversed in their self-refuting properties.
Maybe I should just reverse the interpretations, then? I don’t think this can be right. Consider
“I ought to take out the garbage” is true.
“I ought to take out the garbage” ought to be
The friendliest gloss on (3) is just having the plan to take
out the garbage. The best gloss I can
come up with for (4) is having the plan to have the plan to take out the
garbage. (I don’t necessarily have the
plan to take out the garbage, yet, if I accept (4).) If those glosses are right, then “is true”
applied to ought-claims is just a matter of accepting or rejecting plans, while
“ought to be accepted” applied to ought-claims is a matter of planning to
accept plans. That supports the original
reading of (1) and (2).
But that reading seems incorrect. If it is incorrect, then pure expressivism
has the wrong semantics for (1) and (2)…unless I’m mistaken. Thoughts?