Research Group
in Analytic Philosophy

Metasemantic Expressivism and the Question of Realism

Date: 15 May 2020

Time: 15:00

Place: Seminari Ramon Llull (UB, Barcelona)


How can we distinguish between expressivism and realism about normativity, given that expressivists now endorse many realist-sounding claims in a deflationary framework? The most promising answer to this question is the “explanation” explanation proposed by Dreier (2004) and others: while expressivism and realism might agree in their claims about truth, objectivity or knowledge, they disagree about how to explain the content of normative judgments. This proposal dovetails with recent attempts to redefine expressivism as a metasemantic view i.e. as an account of why normative expressions have the meanings that they do, rather than as a theory of what those meanings are. The metasemantic conception of expressivism seems to make the explanatory contrast with realism even clearer: realists explain meaning by invoking representational relations between normative language and the world, while expressivists appeal instead to desire-like mental states in their explanations of semantic content. However, I argue that, if we adopt a deflationary approach to the relevant metaphysical and semantic notions, there need be no explanatory divide between metasemantic expressivism and anything recognizable as a plausible notion of normative realism.