This may be old news to some, but new to me. It’s true. Evidence to follow.
First, background. I agreed to do a grad readings course on normativity for a student, and, long story short, there’s now 8 in the group. And we’ve started with Wedgwood’s The Nature of Normativity. So some of the below is a bit second-hand.
So, the evidence.
Let expressivism be the view that “the meaning of normative statements, and of the sentences that are used to make those statements, is given in terms of the type of mental state that the statements made by uttering those sentences express” (Wedgwood, p. 35). As Ralph notes, a rival theory is the truth-conditional view. The rival view doesn’t need to be denied, because it can be endorsed as correct in some non-fundamental fashion. What is required for expressivism is that the “fundamental explanation of the [normative] term’s meaning … should be given in strictly psychologistic terms…” (Wedgwood, p. 37).
One fundamental problem for such a view is the Frege-Geach problem of what to do with normative claims embedded in conditionals and in suppositional reasoning more generally. Gibbard claims to have a solution to this problem in terms of the actions and other mental plans that a given normative judgement “disagrees with”.
Gibbard’s solution to the F/G problem employs the notions of a plan, including contingency plans and hypothetical plans, as well as the notion of the mental state of disagreeing with, rejecting, or ruling out, an action or mental state. All this culminates with the notion of a hyperplan, and the theory is sophisticated and powerful. Very interesting.
But note: “According to Gibbard, the content of a normative judgment is determined by the actions or other mental states that it disagrees with.” (Wedgwood, p. 45). First, this notion of disagreeing with is not a psychological notion: people disagree with things, in virtue of attitudes of disagreement, but attitudes don’t disagree with each other in any sense required for being a psychological state. They bear a number of types of negative relations to other attitudes, but disagreement isn’t one of them, if disagreement is a pyschological state. Attitudes can conflict with each other, be logically inconsistent with each other, be epistemically in tension with each other, etc. But any claim about attitudes disagreeing with each other, charitably interpreted, can only come out true when it is replaced with something that is not, at bottom, a psychological state.
There is such a thing as an attitude of disagreement. Some people tell me I display it regularly. But my attitude of endorsing that 2+1=3 is not an attitude of disagreeing with the claim that 2+1=4. I do take the attitude of disagreeing with the latter claim, but that attitude is a different attitude than the former and is logically independent of it: neither requires the other. Ditto for normative attitudes, however they are understood: the attitude expressed by saying “we ought to do more to prevent hunger” is not the attitude of disagreeing with the attitude expressed by “we needn’t be concerned very much about the plight of the poor.” I have the former attitude and I also have the attitude of disagreeing with the attitude expressed by the latter. But thye are logically distinct.
So, if we want some understanding of a notion of disagreement so that the attitude expressed by “we ought to do more for the hungry” disagrees with the attitude expressed by “we needn’t care much about the plight of others”, the understanding in question will be of something that is not itself an attitude. In fact, it appears to be somewhere in the neighborhood of a transmission principle that generates warrant for taking an attitude of disagreement. The presence of such warrant, however, implies no actual attitude of disagreement.
One might think that resorting to talk of types of attitudes, rather than tokens, can save the claim that such a view is a version of expressivism. I don’t think that will help. We individuate types in terms of their contents, and an attitude type. To give a theory that refers to types, then, requires an independent account of content. But that is just what expressivism meant to give us in the first place, in terms of attitudes. So, I think, talk of types at this point won’t rescue the claim that Gibbard’s view is a version of expressivism. It will only make it uninformative until the appeal to content for types of attitudes is explained.
None of this is an argument against Gibbard’s view, of course. His view might still survive scrutiny–on that issue, I’m not commenting here. But he claimed to be an expressivist nearly 20 years ago at least, and it is interesting to me to note that his most recent views don’t count as that anymore.