MF Emotivism

From: Jonathan Marder (
Date: Thu Jun 29 2000 - 13:55:17 BST


Hi Rick, Platt and Focs

The charge that the MoQ is emotivism has be brought forward several
times in both forums, notably by Struan.

RICK has brought up the emotivism charge again:
>If assigning patterns to levels is simply a matter of
>personal choice, then ultimately so is the MoQ,
>and it is really just an elaborately veiled emotivism,
>and it can have no moral force or metaphysical value.

Rick further proposes discussing it further as a major topic next month.

In particular, Rick has levelled the emotivism charge in my direction

>> The "subjective", "emotional" judgement may be the safety mechanism
>> keeps things in check, allowing us to "smell" when things are going

>Maybe in some sense... but now your flirting with turning the MoQ into
>"Emotive" morality that it has been accused of being in the past...

Well Rick, you are right, I am GUILTY AS CHARGED. It suddenly came to me
that once you strip away the pejorative words, you are left with
emotion playing a central role in all aspects of human judgement.

A long time ago, I had Diana put a link on the MoQ web page referring to
the work of Rosalyn Picard. Picard is an artificial intelligence
researcher who recognises the importance of emotions within what we
consider to be human rationality. If I understand Picard correctly, she
is talking about the same "safety mechanism" I mention above.

Let me illustrate the point by reference to the epic novel and movie
2001, and the part where HAL the computer inexplicably and
"irrationally" starts killing off the crew members. In the sequel 2010,
it was explained that HAL had been following its program, performing
tasks necessary to achieve the specified goals - there was no computer
failure. What HAL had failed to do was to "override" the logic of its
program when that logic led to "absurd" conclusions. HAL just didn't
understand what "absurd" was - the concept lay entirely outside its
realm of computer reasoning.

If avoiding the pitfalls of HAL's logic is to be called emotivism, then
I'm all in favour!

In looking for past posts on emotivism, I came upon
from 18 Dec 1999.
<<<I can see how Emotivism can be cured by giving reasons for one's
moral decisions based on some overall moral structure such as one finds
the MoQ. But the "pasting" problem has me stumped. Once somebody
asked, "What moral views that you held previously has the MoQ changed?"
or words to that effect. The response was telling by its absence.>>>

I think that the "pasting" problem may actually be dissolved by changing
Platt's question:
"What moral views that you held previously are you now better able to
support by using the MoQ?"

I am all in favour of putting morality first, and using the tools of
rationality (including MoQ tools) to support that morality AND THEREBY
to convince other people. If anyone thinks this sounds unscientific and
illogical, he should re-read the passage about Henri Poincare in ZAMM.
The passage describes how Poincare got his illumination while doing
something unrelated to his mathematical work. A feeling of certainty
that he had a solution to the mathematical problem suddenly swept over
him. Much later he sat down with pencil and paper to write out a logical
sequence constituting a mathematical proof (of course, he needed the
written proof to convince other mathematicians).

In closing, I would like to quote Albert Einstein:
"The intellect has little to do on the road to discovery.
There comes a leap in consciousness, call it Intuition
or what you will, the solution comes to you and you
don't know how or why."

Thus, the way I see it, Einstein and Poincare also support emotivism.
That being the case, I will accept Rick's emotivism charge with pride.

Jonathan -

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