A Wittgensteinian Form of Moral Expressivism

Karsten Schoellner 1
  • 1 Potsdam


The notion of “attitude” is central to the reception of Wittgenstein in moral philosophy, in at least two different contexts: firstly, in connection with early Wittgenstein it has become standard to speak of ethics as an “attitude towards the world as a whole”; and secondly, and in connection with the later Wittgenstein, the notion of the “attitude towards a soul” - in contrast with the alleged opinion that someone has a soul - has been used to elucidate a sense of the moral significance of others, particularly in the writings of Peter Winch and Cora Diamond. Interestingly, within contemporary metaethics, the position that our moral judgments are expressions of attitude is labelled “moral expressivism”. In this paper I focus on Simon Blackburn’s version of moral expressivism. I argue that Blackburn’s position is motivated by the same concerns Wittgenstein expressed in his Lecture on Ethics. However, while Blackburn’s notion of “attitude” is ultimately an emotivist notion, denoting a binary affective response to the facts, the notion of “attitude” used in Wittgensteinian contexts is much subtler; while it often involves an emotional response, an attitude is primarily a way of conceiving the facts and in the context of his later work it is more firmly grounded in practices. I suggest finally that if we modify moral expressivism by adopting the Wittgensteinian notion of attitude, we are able to more capably answer some of the objections to standard moral expressivism and generate a more sophisticated and plausible view.

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The yearbook is designed as an annual forum for Wittgenstein research. Wittgenstein-Studien [Wittgenstein Studies] publishes articles and materials on Ludwig Wittgenstein’s life, work and philosophy and on his philosophical and cultural environment.