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Cognitivism in Philosophy

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In this paper I will provide both sides of cognitivism and non-cognitivism and argue that non-cognitivism is superior to cognitivism and that it is also more believable. I will first explain cognitivism and non-cognitivism and break them down into smaller sections and describe the arguments for and against both. Next, I will go over the points on which cognitivism and non-cognitivism agree and disagree upon. Then, I will go over some positive and negative arguments that go along with cognitivism. After that I will talk about some positives and negatives of non-cognitivism. Finally, I will tell you where I stand on the meta-ethics argument of cognitivism and non-cognitivism and why I agree with that theory. First thing I will go over, and break down cognitivism and non-cognitvism in meta-ethic philosophy. Cognitivism in philosophy is the meta-ethical theory that moral judgments state facts and are either true or false. Moral judgments are, or express states of beliefs. A strong cognitivist theory is one which holds moral judgments apt for evaluation in terms of truth and falsity, and can be the result of cognitively accessing the facts which makes them true.

Cognitively assessing is of or pertaining to the mental processes of perception, memory, judgment, and reasoning, as contrasted with emotional and choices made by will. Cognitivist theories can be naturalist or non-naturalist. A naturalist believes that moral judgments are true or false by a natural state of affairs. A natural state of affairs is a state of affairs that consists in the instance of a natural property. Natural properties are properties of natural sciences or in psychology. Non-naturalist think that moral properties are not linked to natural properties. Non-naturalism stands in opposition to naturalism, which claims that moral terms and properties are reducible to non-moral terms and properties. Non-Cognitivism states that moral judgments express non-cognitive states such as emotions or desires. So non-cognitivitism believes that judgments are not capable of being true or false. Although it may be true that someone have a desire to do something it is not true that desires themselves can be true or false.

Next I will go over the points on which cognitivism and non-cognitivism agree and disagree upon. Both cognitivism and non-cognitivism deal with moral judgment and if an action is right or wrong. They both deal with saying if an act/action is right or bad. You cannot judge an action on being right or bad just from the pure fact that your beliefs and religion says its wrong or due to the fact that it was desirable to do or emotionally connected. Cognitivism says that it can be determined by beliefs and is truth-apt and non-cognitivism says that is depends upon emotions and desires which can be neither true nor false. You cannot determine if someone’s emotions or desires are true or false therefore non-cognitivism is not truth-apt. Cognitivism and non-cognitivism disagree on the reasoning for an act/action being true or false and also on the agent being beliefs, or emotions and desires. Now I will go over some positives and negatives of cognitivism. Strong cognitivism without moral realism is argued that although moral judgments are apt to be true or false, and are always false (Mackie 1977 Error Theory). This is because there are no moral properties or facts of this sort required to prove moral judgments true.

Moral error theory is a position characterized by two propositions: (i) all moral claims are false and (ii) we have reason to believe that all moral claims are false. Mackie gave two arguments for moral error theory. The first argument is called the Argument from Queerness, which has moral claims that imply motivation internalism. Internalism is the claim that there is an internal and necessary connection between sincerely making a moral judgment and being motivated to act in the manner prescribed by that judgment. Because motivation internalism can be false so are all moral claims. The second argument called the Argument from Disagreement, maintains that any moral claim X requires a reason claim Y. So if killing people was wrong and true then everybody has a reason not to kill people because it’s wrong. Even if you find pleasure in killing people and you are miserable when not killing. But if you won’t get in trouble for killing, then the murderer has every reason to kill, and no reason not to do so. All moral claims are then false.

A weak cognitivist theory is one which holds that moral judgments are (I) apt for evaluation in terms of truth and falsity, (II) but cannot be the result of cognitive access to moral properties and state of affairs. Weak cognitivism agrees with strong cognitivsm on premise one but disagrees with premise two. This rejects moral realism, not by denying the existence of moral fact but by denying that those facts are independent of human opinion. Moral realism is the meta-ethical view which claims that: (I) Ethical sentences express propositions, (II) some such propositions are true, (III) those propositions are made true by objective features of the world, independent of subjective opinion. Since I just went over some positives and negatives of cognitivism, I will now go over some positives and negatives of non-cognitivism. Cognitvist claim that moral judgments can express beliefs which being motivated to do something or to pursue a course of action is always a matter of a belief and a desire. So if you are motivated to work hard extra hours because you have the desire to buy something special. It is internal but is a fact. Then(X) is good, so you are motivated to pursue the course of action to (X).

So if moral judgment expressed a belief, it would have to be a belief which supported an internal connection to a desire. It would have to be a truth because that’s an agent that possesses the belief which possess’ desire. But no belief is necessarily connected to desires because beliefs and desires are distinct existences and it is impossible to have necessary connection between the two. So moral judgments are not truth-apt. Emotivism is a meta-ethical view that claims that ethical sentences do not express propositions but emotional attitudes. In Emotivism a moral statement isn’t literally a statement about the speaker’s feelings on the topic, but expresses those feelings with emotion. When an emotivist says “murder is wrong” it’s like saying “down with murder” or just saying “murder” while making a horrified face, or a thumbs-down gesture at the same time as saying “murder is wrong”. Emotivism watches the way people use language and upholds that a moral judgment expresses the attitude that a person takes on a particular issue.

I think there is more to ethics than just the expression of an attitude or an attempt to influence behavior. I think emotivism needs a better explanation and set of rules to follow because not everyone has the same emotions and feelings toward different things. Finally I will tell you where I stand on the meta-ethics argument of cognitivism and non-cognitivism. I find non-cognitivsm more believable that cognitivism. Non-cognitivism is a matter of emotions and desires not beliefs. Emotions and desires cannot be proven true or false. Feelings are internal to a person and can only be felt by the person having the emotions. You do things in life because of desires. Desires drive you to your decisions not beliefs. Beliefs can help to persuade your decision but you have to have the desire before anything else can and will be done. I could be Christian and my religion believes that abortion is wrong, but emotionally I couldn’t handle a baby at this age and I don’t have the finances while I am in school. So, now I have the desire to get an abortion.

With that being said you can’t tell me that my emotions are true or false or that my desires to get an abortion are true or false. Therefore, everything in meta-ethics cannot be explained nor answered by some agent in nature or in the world and can’t always be true or false. Also, some words have factual meanings along with normative components that can be used either way. Where the word might be true but the emotions along with the word cannot be proven. Beliefs can’t wrong or right because different people have different beliefs. Some culture find it alright to make human sacrifices for the gods above yet other religions don’t agree with human sacrifice and see it as murder. So beliefs can be true or false but that cannot tell whether an action is right or wrong. Some things in philosophy go against the social norms and bring up questions and premises that most people would disapprove or disagree with.

But philosophical agreements set up premises and counter arguments to tell whether the idea you have for or against a theory will be accepted or denied by most people. In conclusion, I provided both sides of cognitivism and non-cognitivism and argue that non-cognitivism is superior to cognitivism and that it is also more believable. I first explained cognitivism and non-cognitivism and broke them down into smaller sections and described the arguments for and against both. Then, I went over the points on which cognitivism and non-cognitivism agree and disagree upon. I next went over some positive and negative arguments that go along with cognitivism. After that I talked about some positives and negatives of non-cognitivism. Finally, I told you where I stand on the meta-ethics argument of cognitivism and non-cognitivism and why I agree with non-cognitivism over cognitivism. Philosophy is all in what you believe, feel, or want. So how can there possibly be a right or wrong answer to any question?

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