The term ‘Descriptivism’ was first suggested to me by a phrase of the late Professor Austin’s. He refers in two places to what he calls the ‘descriptive fallacy’ of supposing that some utterance is descriptive when it is not;1 and, although I agree with him that the word might mislead, it will serve. ‘Descriptivism’, then, can perhaps be used as a generic name for philosophical theories which fall into this fallacy. I shall, however, be discussing, not descriptivism in general, but the particular variety of it which is at present fashionable in ethics; and I shall not attempt to discuss all forms even of ethical descriptivism, nor, even, all the arguments of those descriptivists whom I shall consider. A sample will be all that there is time for. I cannot claim that my own arguments are original — I am in particularly heavy debt to Mr Urmson and Professor Nowell-Smith; but if old mistakes are resuscitated, it is often impossible to do more than restate, in as clear a way as possible, the old arguments against them. Philosophical mistakes are like dandelions in the garden; however carefully one eradicates them there are sure to be some more next year, and it is difficult to think of novel ways of getting rid of their familiar faces. ‘Naturalistas expellas furca, tamen usque recurrent.’ But in fact the best implement is still the old fork invented by Hume.
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