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Abstract

When two views differ as sharply as do realism and expressivism, it is easy for their proponents to talk past one another, failing to understand the other’s most fundamental commitments. My project in this essay is to bring these two very different views into conversation. I begin by offering a more specific characterization of both expressivism and realism, noting where some of their important differences lie. I then identify the primary rationale that expressivists offer for rejecting moral realism in favor of their view, an argument that has a long history in the expressivist tradition, which I refer to as the Motivation Argument. While the Motivation Argument has been widely discussed, I present a strategy of response to it that, to my knowledge, realists have not exploited. This strategy is concessive in character; it doesn’t charge that some premise of the Motivation Argument is false or that expressivists have failed accurately to describe the phenomenology of the moral life. Rather, it contends that the Motivation Argument suffers from a dialectical flaw that renders it unhelpful for furthering the expressivist cause. The moral I draw from the discussion is that expressivism might be true. And there might be good reasons to accept it. But the Motivation Argument is not one of them.

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