Expressivism and collectives

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Expressivists have a problem with collectives. I initially illustrate the problem against the background of Allan Gibbard’s expressivist theory, where it is especially stark. I then argue that the problem generalizes. Gibbard’s account entails that judgments about what collective agents ought to do are contingency plans for what to do if one is in the circumstances facing the relevant collective agent. So, for example, my judgment that the US ought not to have invaded Iraq is a contingency plan for what to do if I find myself in the circumstances facing the US on the eve of the Iraq war. I argue that, given plausible functionalist assumptions in the philosophy of mind expressivists would struggle to reject, such contingency plans are impossible for individual agents. Since normative judgments about collectives are possible, Gibbard’s theory is unacceptable. Having demonstrated the basic problem for Gibbard’s view, I then argue that the problem has a much wider scope. In particular, I argue that traditional forms of expressivism cannot simultaneously provide a plausible account of both agent-relative normative judgments and judgments about what collectives ought to do. Fortunately, all is not lost; hybrid or “Ecumenical” form of Expressivism can disarm the dilemma, or so I argue. I conclude by briefly sketching some further challenges Ecumenical Expressivism must overcome for its treatment of judgments about collectives to be fully satisfactory and indicate possible lines of argument to be pursued in future work on these challenges.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)833-861
Issue number507
Early online date26 Jul 2017
Publication statusPublished - Jul 2018

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