Thursday, June 16, 2005


Peter Geach on expressivism or non-cognitivism (what he calls "Ascriptivism"):
It is really quite easy to devise theories on this pattern; here is a new one that has occurred to me. "To call a man happy is not to characterize or describe his condition; macarizing a man" (that is, calling him happy: the words "macarize" and "macarism" are in the O.E.D.) "is a special non-descriptive use of language. If we consider such typical examples of macarism as the Beatitudes, or again such proverbial expressions as 'happy is the bride that the sun shines on; happy are the dead that the rain rains on,' we can surely see that these sentences are not used to convey propositions. How disconcering and innapropriate was the reply, 'Yes, that's true,' that a friend of mine got who cited 'happy are the dead that the rain rains on' at a funeral on a rainy day!
This delightful theory may have a precedent: at the end of Leviathan vi, where Hobbes examines "the Interiour Beginnings of Voluntary Motions, Commonly Called the Passions, and the Speeches by Which They Are Expressed":
The form of speech whereby men signify their opinion of the goodness of anything is PRAISE. [...] And that whereby they signify the opinion they have of a man's felicity is by the Greeks called makarismos, for which we have no name in our tongue.
Hobbes qualifies his flirtation with "ascriptivism" by defining "felicity" as "continual success in attaining those things which a man from time to time desireth". That sounds like a descriptive criterion. But if he is a non-cognitivist about "good" (as some believe) and he conflates good with benefit (hence his apparent commitment to psychogical egoism), perhaps he should be a non-cognitivist about "felicity", too.

I offer my theory (in the spirit of Geach) to anyone who wants it. Happy is the scholar who defends this reading of Hobbes!


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