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Defending Moral Mind-Independence: The Expressivist’s Precarious Turn


A central feature of ordinary moral thought is that moral judgment is mind-independent in the following sense: judging something to be morally wrong does not thereby make it morally wrong. To deny this would be to accept a form of subjectivism. Neil Sinclair (2008) makes a novel attempt to show how expressivism is simultaneously committed to (1) an understanding of moral judgments as expressions of attitudes and (2) the rejection of subjectivism. In this paper, I discuss Sinclair’s defense of anti-subjectivist moral mind-independence on behalf of the expressivist, and I argue that the account does not fully succeed. An examination of why it does not is instructive, and it reveals a fundamental dilemma for the expressivist. I offer a suggestion for how the expressivist might respond to the dilemma and so uphold Sinclair’s defense.

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  1. 1.

    See, for example, Blackburn 1984: 217–19, Blackburn 1993: 173–74, and Blackburn 1998: 296n, and Gibbard 2003: 183–84. For an entirely different argument, see Schroeder 2008: 110–11, 113 and 2010 ms.

  2. 2.

    These conditionals are counterfactual-supporting, and so they must be interpreted in a way that is stronger than the material conditional. For present purposes, I will follow Sinclair in taking them to be modals.

  3. 3.

    See Schroeder 2008 for an in-depth discussion of this general point.

  4. 4.

    This quasi-realist defense of mind-independence originates with Simon Blackburn (1984: 217–19).

  5. 5.

    Blackburn 1998: 318 and Timmons 1999: 166–70. See Egan 2007 for a critique of this approach.

  6. 6.

    C.S. Jenkins (2005: 207–08) argues that the external reading is in tension with the expressivist’s anti-realism. But, pace Jenkins, if realism is interpreted as the ontological thesis that moral properties are mind- or judgment-independent, then Sinclair’s external reading is consistent with his anti-realism.

  7. 7.

    See Thomson 2008 for a recent analysis of normative properties along these lines.


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I would like to thank Hartry Field and Steve Ross for helpful conversations. I am grateful to an anonymous referee from this journal for comments on an earlier version of the paper.

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Correspondence to L. M. Warenski.

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Warenski, L.M. Defending Moral Mind-Independence: The Expressivist’s Precarious Turn. Philosophia 42, 861–869 (2014).

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  • Moral mind-independence
  • Expressivism
  • Moral constructivism
  • Metaethics