Thursday, September 2, 2010

Non-cognitivism and probability

I was looking at a paper of Pruss in the latest issue of Faith and Philosophy, and he ends it with an interesting remark. He says that probabilities are in general a problem for non-cognitivist accounts. For instance, he says, that if emotivism is right, then it's hard to assign a sense to abortion's being wrong having such-and-such a probability.

I was thinking about this, and it could make a useful template for anti-non-cognitivist arguments. For instance, suppose you think that necessity claims are an expression but not assertion of ungiveupability. But what sense, then, would there be in saying that the evidence indicates with moderate probability that necessarily freedom requires alternate possibility?


Ty Goldschmidt said...

I think that Michael Huemer makes a similar point against emotivism on page 46 of his book, 'Ethical Intuitionism'.

But his point might be slightly different. He considers someone thinking that abortion is only likely wrong, but also that, if it is wrong, then it is very seriously wrong. There are two things with degrees here, the degree of confidence and the degree of wrongness. The problem with emotivism is that it has only one thing with degrees for these to correspond to, the intensity of the emotion.

The problem would also face non-cognitivism about necessity If necessity comes in degrees. Does necessity come in degrees, e.g. logical, metaphysical, natural necessity, in the same way wrongness does?

Alexander R Pruss said...

Maybe an emotion, though, can have two dimensions. Consider fear. One kind of dimension is how likely the event is. Another kind is how bad the event is. The two degrees are emotionally on different scales, but we don't have words to express the scales. We just talk of "intensity." But the fear of a very unlikely very bad thing is different in kind from the fear of a very likely only a little bad thing.

Alexander R Pruss said...

Or maybe this is just an argument that fear is a cognitive state, so it doesn't harm Huemer's point.