Emotivism is the meta-ethical (about ethics) view that moral judgments are expressions of the emotions or attitudes of the speaker who makes these judgments. “Bad” refers to a negative emotion associated with an attitude of disapproval, while “good” refers to a positive emotion associated with an attitude of approval or adherence.
Emotivism is, along with prescriptivism, one of the forms of expressivism used in ethics. This conception of moral judgment, which emerged from the analytic philosophy and logical empiricism of the twentieth century, was first exposed by Alfred Jules Ayer in his 1936 book entitled Language, Truth and Logic. We owe its development to Charles Stevenson.
Function of moral judgments
According to the emotional conception advocated by Alfred J. Ayer and Charles Stevenson, moral judgments only serve to express emotional states, through approval or blame, or to arouse them in others. A moral disagreement is then only the expression of a difference of sensibility. This position retains in the statements of morality only the exclamations that express certain emotions: anger, admiration, disgust, and so on. Emotivism thus makes it possible to explain the motivating nature of moral judgments – they have a motivating force that factual judgments do not have – but makes the status of practical reasoning problematic (eg “If it is wrong to do A and B implies A, so it is wrong to do B “).
Distinction between facts and values
Emotivism maintains the distinction between facts and values, contrary to moral naturalism, while explaining the motivating force of moral judgments, to which moral cognitivism resigns. This distinction between facts and values does not appear systematically in language and it is often misleading. For example, “Theft is punishable by law” or “Theft disgusts me” states facts, true or false, rightly considered as such. But “It’s wrong to steal” is only the appearance of a fact. It is equivalent to “Down with the theft!”, which is neither true nor false. According to the emotivism, we do not discuss the truth of the moral statements, but only the truth of the factual statements (eg “Robin robs the rich”) or the coherence of a moral discourse (eg “It is wrong to steal, so Robin must not rob the rich”). Unlike factual judgments, which must be rationally justified to be true, there is no justification for value judgments properly so called and morality has no objective basis.