In our quest for a comprehensive moral theory, we now turn to expressivism. Expressivism is another form of moral non-realism. But it espouses one key difference from our prior candidates in that expressivism maintains that moral discourse is not aimed at truth because there are no moral facts to which moral discourse refers. Instead, moral discourse evinces an attitude one has for or against a given event or behavior. So “Jim is bad” amounts to something in the neighborhood of “Boo, on Jim.” Whereas "Jim is good” amounts to something like “Hooray for Jim.”
This construal is of course different from error theory in that said theory declares that moral discourse tries to aim at the truth but some ineliminable error prevents such accuracy even if moral facts did exist, which they do not. Expressivism would have us believe that moral discourse is not concerned with truth at all, only one’s approval or disapproval of a given event or behavior.
Now there are several kinds of expressivism. Russ Shafer-Landau and Terence Cuneo mention the following:
“emotivism, prescriptivism, norm-expressivism, quasi-realism, and assertoric non-descriptivism.”
- Foundations of Ethics ed. Russ Shafer-Landau and Terrance Cuneo, 36.
For our purposes we will focus on what Shafer-Landau and Cuneo call “classic expressivism.” They declare that classic expressivism embraces two propositions:
1.) “There are no moral facts.”
2.) “When an agent sincerely utters a moral sentence, that agent does not thereby assert a moral proposition, but rather (at least) expresses an attitude of endorsement, approval, condemnation, disapproval, or the like toward a non-moral state of affairs.”
- Shafer-Landau and Cuneo, Foundations, 35.
The question now is, “Can Christian moral theory account for these two propositions without losing its identity as Christian while at the same time acknowledging the truths of these two propositions.” As you can imagine, I think Christian moral theory can.
Regarding the first proposition, we have seen in prior posts that should we assume the discrete reference frame of the fool, the one who says there is no God, then we can embrace something like - "No objective moral facts exist in the perception of such a person." Thusly construed, the second proposition could reasonably follow, and it seems that the Christian Scriptures agree on this account. The apostle Paul writes in Romans 1:32,
“Who knowing the judgment of God, that they which commit such things are worthy of death, not only do the same, but have pleasure in them that do them.”
The expressivist would have us ignore the first half of the above citation given proposition 1, but that last part, that last part admits quite plainly that within the action of moral discourse is the ideas of doing the same behavior and approval of that behavior via the “not only...but also” construction. To tie this together, consider Shafer-Landau and Cuneo as they observe,
“there is something else to say in favor of expressivism: if moral judgements are really expressions of endorsement, approval, condemnation, and so on, then, arguably, they are exactly the sort of thing that move us to action.”
- Shafer-Landau and Cuneo, Foundations, 36.
So, for proposition 2, according to the Christian worldview when a person sincerely utters a moral statement, they very well may be admitting their approval, indeed, their pleasure in said behavior. What is more, this approval/pleasure is part and parcel of being motivated to do the same thing, to act.
Overall, it seems Christian moral theory can and does account for the observations of expressivism at least on the points of moral facts from a certain perspective and the expression of attitude in moral discourse. Still, expressivism seems incapable of absorbing moral error theory where with qualification, Christian moral theory can. In this sense Christian moral theory is more robust then both error theory and expressivism.
In our next installment we will treat Constructivism and certain of its forms. See you next time.