The Southern Journal of Philosophy

Volume 47, Issue 3, Fall 2009

Jeff Wisdom
Pages 285-300

A Defense of Descriptive Moral Content

Terry Horgan and Mark Timmons have recently provided an updated presentation and defense of a metaethical view that they call cognitivist expressivism. Expressivists claim that moral judgments express propositional attitudes that do not represent or describe the external world. Horgan and Timmons agree with this claim, but they also deny the traditional expressivist claim that moral judgments do not express beliefs. On their view, moral judgments are genuine, truth-apt beliefs, thus making their form of expressivism a cognitivist one. In this essay, I argue that Horgan and Timmons have failed to demonstrate that moral judgments express sui generis, nondescriptive content by showing that at least some moral content is descriptive. In addition, I show how the descriptivist can account for those properties that Horgan and Timmons consider distinctive of moral belief. In doing so, I remove one of the expressivist’s most important lines of motivation for positing nondescriptive moral content in the first place. At the end of the essay, I briefly sketch a view that I call partial or modest moral realism.