PRESCRIPTIVE REALISM

in Philosophia Reformata
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In my book God’s Call1 I gave an historical account of the debate within twentieth century analytic philosophy between moral realism and expressivism. Moral realism is the view that moral properties like goodness or cruelty exist independently of our making judgements that things have such properties. Such judgements are, on this theory, objectively true when the things referred to have the specified properties and objectively false when they do not. Expressivism is the view that when a person makes a moral judgment, she is expressing emotion or desire or will. I used the term ‘orectic’ (from the Greek orexis) to refer to these mental states, because we do not have in English a sufficiently general term. In God’s Call, I started with a moral realist whom I called a ‘platonist’, G. E. Moore, and then I traced the argument through the emotivists, A. J. Ayer and Charles Stevenson, and the prescriptivist, R. M. Hare, and Iris Murdoch, whom I called a ‘humble platonist’, and J. L. Mackie’s ‘error theory’, and John McDowell, whose theory I call ‘disposition theory’, and David Brink, the ‘new-wave realist’, and Allan Gibbard, who calls his own theory ‘norm expressivism’. My project was to collect together the concessions that the two sides of the debate have made to each other over the course of this history, and then to construct a position which molds these concessions into a single coherent theory. I called this theory ‘prescriptive realism’.

Philosophia Reformata

International Philosophical Journal of Christianity, Science, and Society

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