There are many differences between Simple Subjectivism and Emotivism. This paper will compare and contrast both theories, as well as explain why Simple Subjectivism cannot explain moral disagreement, and Emotivism can but incorrectly. By arguing these two ethical views, I can better explain or make a claim on how one ought to understand occurrences of moral disagreement.
Simple Subjectivism and Emotivism are two levels within Subjectivism. Emotivism is an enhanced description of Ethical Subjectivism, which is the idea that our moral opinions are based on our feelings (Citation). Ethical subjectivism is not a theory about good and bad. It does not try to tell us how we should live or what moral opinions we should accept. Instead, Ethical Subjectivism is a theory about the nature of moral judgments. It states that no matter what moral judgments one makes, one is only expressing their personal feelings. Comparing and contrasting Simple Subjectivism and Emotivism, there is a clear difference and similarity between the two. The difference is that Emotivism uses language for persuasion on statements that are neither true nor false, whereas Simple Subjectivism uses moral language to state facts about attitudes. The similarity between Simple Subjectivism and Emotivism is that our judgments cannot be criticized. For Simple Subjectivism our judgments will always be true, and for Emotivism our judgments cannot be false because they are not judgments, but yet a sign of one’s attitude. Simple Subjectivism entails that, one approves or disapproves of something when they say “something is morally good or bad,” and nothing more. Simple Subjectivism implies that each of us is infallible. Emotivism does not interpret moral judgments as statements that are true or false; it represents expressions of attitude, therefore, people cannot be infallible. The claims of Simple Subjectivism and Emotivism are quite controversial. According to Simple Subjectivism, if one says that the statement “x is morally wrong,” that just means that he or she disapproves of x. To say that x is right is to say that he or she approves of x. There are two objections to this claim. First, this simply means that when making a moral judgment, no one is ever right or wrong. Likewise, no one is ever misguided about what one approves and disapproves of. The second objection is that this makes disagreement about ethics absurd. If you think being homosexual is wrong, and I think it is not, I cannot say that you are wrong. You are only saying that you disapprove, and I cannot say that it is false that you disapprove, because it is your moral judgment in which will always be true. Emotivism is an effort to shun these objections. To the emotivists, the statement that x is right is just an expression of an emotion, not approval or disapproval. For example, Simple Subjectivism might claim that Mitch thinks abortion is moral, whereas Dan thinks abortion is immoral. Mitch agrees that Dan thinks abortion is immoral; likewise, Dan agrees that Mitch thinks abortion is moral. The conclusion to this argument is that there is no disagreement about morality. But there is a disagreement about morality; therefore the second conclusion states that Simple Subjectivism is false. Emotivists then reply that the fallible versus infallible distinction does not apply to moral judgments, since they are neither true nor false; and moral disagreements are ones attitude rather than belief.
There is an argument which states that Simple Subjectivism cannot explain moral disagreement at all. Simple Subjectivism is not a normative theory, it is a metaethical theory. Meaning, Simple Subjectivism is a theory about the nature of moral judgment. It states that moral judgments have truth values, but that what makes them true, or false, is something about the subject matter. Rachels says that Simple Subjectivism is “open to several rather obvious objections” (EMP). The first objection is that it implies, falsely, that each of us, when making moral judgments, is infallible. Rachels second critical argument states that another serious problem in Simple Subjectivism is that it cannot account for the fact that people have disagreementsabout ethics. For example, Jeff says that euthanasia is immoral. David disagrees, saying that euthanasia is not immoral. Obviously, Jeff and David disagree about each other’s moral judgments about euthanasia. But according to Simple Subjectivism, when Jeff says that euthanasia is immoral, he is merely making a statement about his attitude towards the subject. He is saying that he disapproves of euthanasia. David would agree that Jeff disapproves of euthanasia, but at the same time, when David says that euthanasia is not immoral, he is only saying that he does not disapprove of it. Jeff would then acknowledge that David does not disapprove of euthanasia. Thus, according to Simple Subjectivism, there is no disagreement between the two; each would acknowledge the truth of what the other is saying. However, there is something wrong, because it is said that there are no moral disagreements in Simple Subjectivism. Jeff and David do disagree about their differences between their moral judgments in whether euthanasia is moral or immoral. Jeff and David are deeply opposed to one another; yet they cannot state their positions in a way that joins the issue. David may tryto deny what Jeff says, by denying that euthanasia is immoral, but that does not conclude in agreement between Jeff and David’s moral judgment. Rachels is saying that Simple Subjectivism has a false implication. If it does, the Simple Subjectivism is false. For example, two premises state that one, if Simple Subjectivism is true, then there are no moral disagreements; and two, there are moral disagreements. Therefore, the conclusion says Simple Subjectivism is false.
On the other hand, Emotivism can explain moral disagreement, but does so in the wrong way. Emotivism is the view that moral judgments do not function as statements of fact but rather as expressions of one’s feelings. Emotional expressions are not the sorts of things that can be right or wrong. Moral language, for the emotivist, is used to influence behavior and to express an attitude. There are two problems with Emotivism. One being that our moral judgments is merely expressions of attitude not judgments, which cannot be false. For example, according to the Emotivists, when one says “He acted wrongly in murdering his brother,” we are not expressing any fact beyond that stated by “He murdered his brother.” The other problem with Emotivism is that it cannot explain the role reason plays in ethics. Rachels discusses the role of reason within ethics. The role of reason states that you do not have to have a reason for a statement such as “I like hot dogs,” because it describes a personal taste in hot dogs. However, if you believe that being gay is wrong, and someone asks why, a reason to backup your moral judgment is necessary in order for your idea to be accepted in most cases. Within ethics we prove something to be correct or incorrect by bringing out reasons, arguments, and principles while persuading someone to accept your proof. However, through Emotivism, we only bring out emotions or expressions of attitude which makes Emotivism false. Emotivism is false for two reasons. First, what counts as a good reason in a moral disagreement is not determined by what will lead others to change their attitudes. Specifically, just because I believe puppies are the best pet, and I can explain my expressions and emotions towards puppies, does not mean others should agree with me without facts to back up the statement that puppies are the best pet. Moral judgments must be supported by reasons. If you say that something is wrong, you should be prepared to explain why it is wrong. Secondly, moral disagreements are not just disagreements in attitude. However, if we stated facts with a special tone of disgust, for in saying that something is wrong, we are expressing our feelings of disapproval toward it.
In conclusion, I feel as though moral statements consist of nothing more than expressions of feeling, this would make debating moral issues simply a matter of whose voice can overpower whose within the argument. However, if moral statements are more than this, than a more productive debate and enquiry into truth can take place. For example, suppose I think smoking pot should be legal. According to Simple Subjectivism, I think smoking pot is moral, which means I agree to it as well. However, Emotivism states that smoking pot should be legal only by my emotions or expressions. Meaning, I believe smoking pot should be legal, but I do not have facts to back up my claim. I think we ought to understand instances of moral disagreement through both Simple Subjectivism and Emotivism; however, reasons are needed to back up my claims on pot. Simply saying that I think smoking pot is moral, or my opinion on pot is that it should be legal is not a legitimate argument, it is merely stating my beliefs. Although stating my beliefs is a way of persuasion which is needed in proving something to be correct, bringing out reasons, arguments, and principles are necessary while persuading someone to accept my proof as well.
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