Objective Prescriptions, and Other Essays

By R. M. Hare | Go to book overview

7
PHILIPPA FOOT ON SUBJECTIVISM

7. 1. PHILIPPA FOOT'S Hart Lecture, now published ( 1995), is largely devoted to an attack on people she calls 'subjectivists' and 'noncognitivists', among whom she includes myself, although she is so good as to allow me, in a footnote, to reject the names. She seems to imply thereby that this is a mere matter of nomenclature or terminology. But in truth her use of these terms makes one suspect that she has not fully understood either the issues or what I have said about them.

It may therefore be useful to explain yet again why I reject these descriptions. I have done so already in a paper to a conference in Moscow which she heard, and to which she kindly refers (Chapter 1). These explanations would not be important if she were the only person to be confused about this matter; but the confusions are so widespread, even among professional philosophers who should know better, and are so often taught to succeeding generations of students, that it is worth while to make yet another attempt to clear them up-- though the confusions are so insidious that I have not much hope that they will ever be eradicated.

7.2. I will start with the easier term of the two. 'Non-cognitivism' means by etymology the view that moral judgements cannot be known (sc. to be true). It is taken that this is because such judgements cannot be true or false. They do not have truth conditions. Beginner students are often taught that the distinguishing mark of a 'non-cognitivist' is to say this. I have tried to give a clear account of my view on the truth conditions of moral judgements, which they certainly have, in Chapter 1 and SOE3.3.

Those who thought that meaning is tied to truth conditions sometimes said that moral judgements are meaningless; but though the early Ayer ( 1936) seemed to imply this, even he later ( 1949) came to see that truth conditions are only one way of determining meaning, and that moral judgements can have meaning in other ways.

____________________
"'Philippa Foot on Subjectivism.'" Published with the title "'Off on the Wrong Foot'", in Canadian Journal of Philosophy, Supp. 21 ( 1995).

-87-

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