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Encyclopedia > Cognitivism (ethics)

In ethics, cognitivism is the view that ethical sentences express propositions and can therefore be true or false (they are truth-apt). See also non-cognitivism. Ethics (from the Ancient Greek ethikos, meaning arising from habit), a major branch of philosophy, is the study of value or quality. ... In linguistics, a sentence is a unit of language, characterised in most languages by the presence of a finite verb. ... Proposition is a term used in logic to describe the content of assertions. ... In logic, a truth value, or truth-value, is a value indicating to what extent a statement is true. ... It has been suggested that this article or section be merged into cognitivism (ethics). ...


General idea

Propositions are, roughly, what meaningful declarative sentences are supposed to express (but not interrogative or imperative sentences). Different sentences, in different languages, can (it is often thought) express the same proposition: "snow is white" and "Schnee ist weiß" (in German) both express the proposition that snow is white. A common assumption among philosophers who use this jargon is that propositions, properly speaking, are what are true or false (what bear truth values; they are truthbearers). So if an ethical sentence does express a proposition, then the sentence expresses something that can be true or false. A declaration is a form of statement, which expresses (or declares) some idea; declarations attempt to argue that something is true. ... Animation of snowcover changing with the seasons. ... In logic, a truth value, or truth-value, is a value indicating to what extent a statement is true. ... The correspondence theory of truth states that something is rendered true by the existence of a fact with corresponding elements and a similar structure. ...

To get a better idea of what it means to express a proposition, compare this to something that does not express a proposition. Suppose someone minding a convenience store sees a thief pick up a candy bar and run. The storekeeper manages to exclaim, "Hey!" In this case, "Hey!" does not express a proposition. Among the things that the exclamation does not express are, "that's a thief there"; "thieving is wrong"; "please stop that thief"; or "that thief really annoys me." The storekeeper isn't saying anything at all, really, at least nothing that can be true or false. So it is not a proposition that the storekeeper is expressing. Perhaps it is an emotional state that is being expressed. The storekeeper is surprised and angered, and expresses those feelings by saying, "Hey!"

An ethical naturalist and other ethical cognitivists might hold that it can be true or false that Mary is a good person; it can be true or false that stealing and lying are always wrong. On the other hand, if one believes that the sentence, "Mary is a good person." cannot be either true or false, then one is not a cognitivist.

It is an essential part of ethical naturalism that ethical sentences do express propositions. They are not just feelings, as though we were saying, "Hey!" or "Yay for Mary!" They are actually expressing propositions that can be true or false. Derivatively, a cognitivist or a realist would say that ethical sentences themselves are either true or false. Naturalism, sometimes also called definism, is a theory in meta-ethics that holds that ethical terms can be defined; the meaning of ethical sentences can be given in totally non-ethical terms. ...

Refinement and arguments

But cognitivism does also agree with ethical irrealism or anti-realism. Ethical naturalism (or ethical realism) and ethical cognitivism are different metaethical theories. Cognitive irrealist theories accept that ethical sentences can be true or false, even if there exist no natural, physical or in any way real (or «worldly») entities or objects to make them true or false. In a similar way as there is no real entity to make true the sentence "If it had rained yesterday, the floor would have been wet." or any other counterfactual sentence (except for those who accept modal realism). This article or section is in need of attention from an expert on the subject. ... In philosophy, the term anti-realism is used to describe any position involving either the denial of the objective reality of entities of a certain type or the insistence that we should be agnostic about their real existence. ... In philosophy, meta-ethics is the branch of ethics that seeks to understand the nature of ethical properties (if there are any), and ethical statements, attitudes, and judgments. ... This article or section may be confusing or unclear for some readers, and should be edited to rectify this. ... Reality in everyday usage means everything that exists. The term reality, in its widest sense, includes everything that is, whether it is observable, accessible or understandable by science, philosophy, or any other system of analysis. ... Antarctica Australia Africa Asia Europe North America South America Middle East Caribbean Central Asia East Asia North Asia South Asia Southeast Asia SW. Asia China Australasia Melanesia Micronesia Polynesia Central America Latin America Northern America Americas C. Africa E. Africa N. Africa Southern Africa W. Africa C. Europe E. Europe... An entity is something that has a distinct, separate existence, though it need not be a material existence. ... In philosophy, an object is a thing, an entity, or a being. ... A counterfactual conditional (sometimes called a subjunctive conditional) is a logical conditional statement whose antecedent is (ordinarily) taken to be contrary to fact by those who utter it. ... Modal realism is the view, notably propounded by David Lewis, that possible worlds are as real as the actual world. ...

Crispin Wright, John Skorupski and some others defend normative cognitivist irrealism. Wright asserts the extreme implausibility of both J. L. Mackie's error-theory and expressivism (including S. Blackburn's quasi-realism) in view of everyday or sophisticated moral talk and argument. The same point is often expressed as the Frege-Geach problem. Skorupski distinguishes between receptive awareness, which is not possible in normative matters, and non-receptive awareness (including dialogical knowledge), which is possible in normative matters. Crispin Wright (born 1942) is a British philosopher, who has written on neo-Fregean philosophy of mathematics, Wittgensteins later philosophy, and on issues related to truth, realism, cognitivism, skepticism, knowledge, and objectivity. ... John Skorupski is a philosopher whose main interests are epistemology, ethics and moral philosophy, political philosophy, and history of 19th and 20th centuries philosophy. ... John Leslie Mackie (1917–1981) was a philosopher, originally from Sydney, Australia. ... Expressivism is a theory about the use of moral language in the field of Meta-ethics. ... Simon Blackburn (born 1944) is a British academic philosopher also known for his efforts to popularise philosophy. ... Quasi-realism is an expressivist meta-ethical theory propounded by Simon Blackburn which asserts that whilst our moral claims are projectivist we understand them in realist terms as part of our ethical experience of the world. ... The Frege-Geach problem is a problem in philosophy which occurs in the field of meta-ethics. ... The introduction to this article provides insufficient context for those unfamiliar with the subject matter. ...

Hilary Putnam's recent book Ethics without ontology (Harvard, 2004) argues for a similar view, that ethical (and for that matter mathematical) sentences can be true and objective without there being any objects to make them so. Hilary Whitehall Putnam (born July 31, 1926) has been a central figure in Western philosophy since the 1960s, especially in philosophy of mind, philosophy of language, and philosophy of science. ... In philosophy, ontology (from the Greek , genitive : of being (part. ... Harvard University is a private university in Cambridge, Massachusetts, USA, and a member of the Ivy League. ... 2004 (MMIV) was a leap year starting on Thursday of the Gregorian calendar. ... Euclid, Greek mathematician, 3rd century BC, known today as the father of geometry; shown here in a detail of The School of Athens by Raphael. ... It is proposed that this article be deleted, because of the following concern: Limited information sources, article is object for nothing but original research If you can address this concern by improving, copyediting, sourcing, renaming or merging the page, please edit this page and do so. ...

Cognitivism points to the semantic difference between imperative sentences and declarative sentences in normative subjects. Or to the different meanings and purposes of some superficially declarative sentences. For instance, if a teacher allows one of her students to go out by saying «You may go out.», this sentence is neither true or false. It gives a permission. But, in most situations, if one of the students asks one of his classmates whether she thinks that he may go out and she answers «Of course you may go out.», this sentence is either true or false. It does not give a permission, it states that there is a permission. In the main, semantics (from the Greek and in greek letters σημαντικός or in latin letters semantikós, or significant meaning, derived from sema, sign) is the study of meaning, in some sense of that term. ... Imperative programming, as opposed to functional programming, is a sort of programming employing side-effect as central execution feature. ... In linguistics, a sentence is a unit of language, characterised in most languages by the presence of a finite verb. ... A declaration is a form of statement, which expresses (or declares) some idea; declarations attempt to argue that something is true. ...

Another argument for ethical cognitivism stands on the close resemblance between ethics and other normative matters, such as games. As much as morality, games consist of norms (or rules), but it would be hard to accept that it be not true that the chessplayer who checkmates the other one wins the game. If statements about game rules can be true or false, why not ethical statements? One answer is that we may want ethical statements to be categorically true, while we only need statements about right action to be contingent on the acceptance of the rules of a particular game - that is, the choice to play the game according to a given set of rules. Tug of war is an easily organized, impromptu game that requires little equipment. ... Morality refers to the concept of human ethics which pertains to matters of good and evil —also referred to as right or wrong, used within three contexts: individual conscience; systems of principles and judgments — sometimes called moral values —shared within a cultural, religious, secular, Humanist, or philosophical community; and codes... Chess is an abstract strategy board game and mental sport for two players. ... Wikipedia does not yet have an article with this exact name. ... Modal logic, or (less commonly) intensional logic is the branch of logic that deals with sentences that are qualified by modalities such as can, could, might, may, must, possibly, and necessarily, and others. ...

See also

This is a list of topics relating to philosophy that end in -ism. ... It has been suggested that this article or section be merged into cognitivism (ethics). ...

Further reading

  • Hooker, Brad (ed.), Truth in ethics, Oxford 1996.

Oxford is a city and local government district in Oxfordshire, England, with a population of 134,248 (2001 census). ...

External links

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