Charles Stevenson

Charles Stevenson

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Charles Leslie Stevenson (June 27, 1908 in Cincinnati, Ohio
Cincinnati, Ohio
Cincinnati is a city in the U.S. state of Ohio. Cincinnati is the county seat of Hamilton County. Settled in 1788, the city is located to north of the Ohio River at the Ohio-Kentucky border, near Indiana. The population within city limits is 296,943 according to the 2010 census, making it Ohio's...

 – March 14, 1979 in Bennington, Vermont) was an American analytic philosopher best known for his work in ethics
Ethics
Ethics, also known as moral philosophy, is a branch of philosophy that addresses questions about morality—that is, concepts such as good and evil, right and wrong, virtue and vice, justice and crime, etc.Major branches of ethics include:...

 and aesthetics
Aesthetics
Aesthetics is a branch of philosophy dealing with the nature of beauty, art, and taste, and with the creation and appreciation of beauty. It is more scientifically defined as the study of sensory or sensori-emotional values, sometimes called judgments of sentiment and taste...

.

He was a professor
Professor
A professor is a scholarly teacher; the precise meaning of the term varies by country. Literally, professor derives from Latin as a "person who professes" being usually an expert in arts or sciences; a teacher of high rank...

 at Yale University
Yale University
Yale University is a private, Ivy League university located in New Haven, Connecticut, United States. Founded in 1701 in the Colony of Connecticut, the university is the third-oldest institution of higher education in the United States...

 from 1939 to 1946, but was denied tenure because of defense of emotivism, and then at the University of Michigan
University of Michigan
The University of Michigan is a public research university located in Ann Arbor, Michigan in the United States. It is the state's oldest university and the flagship campus of the University of Michigan...

 from 1946 to 1977. He studied in England
England
England is a country that is part of the United Kingdom. It shares land borders with Scotland to the north and Wales to the west; the Irish Sea is to the north west, the Celtic Sea to the south west, with the North Sea to the east and the English Channel to the south separating it from continental...

 with Wittgenstein
Ludwig Wittgenstein
Ludwig Josef Johann Wittgenstein was an Austrian philosopher who worked primarily in logic, the philosophy of mathematics, the philosophy of mind, and the philosophy of language. He was professor in philosophy at the University of Cambridge from 1939 until 1947...

 and G. E. Moore.

He gave the most sophisticated defense of emotivism
Emotivism
Emotivism is a meta-ethical view that claims that ethical sentences do not express propositions but emotional attitudes. Influenced by the growth of analytic philosophy and logical positivism in the 20th century, the theory was stated vividly by A. J. Ayer in his 1936 book Language, Truth and...

 in the post-war period. In his papers "The Emotive Meaning of Ethical Terms" (1937) and "Persuasive Definitions" (1938), and his book Ethics and Language
Ethics and Language
Ethics and Language is a 1944 book by C. L. Stevenson which was influential in furthering the metaethical view of emotivism first espoused by David Hume....

(1944), he developed a theory of emotive meaning; which he then used to provide a foundation for his theory of a persuasive definition
Persuasive definition
A persuasive definition is a form of definition which purports to describe the 'true' or 'commonly accepted' meaning of a term, while in reality stipulating an uncommon or altered use, usually to support an argument for some view, or to create or alter rights, duties or crimes.The terms thus...

. He furthermore advanced emotivism
Emotivism
Emotivism is a meta-ethical view that claims that ethical sentences do not express propositions but emotional attitudes. Influenced by the growth of analytic philosophy and logical positivism in the 20th century, the theory was stated vividly by A. J. Ayer in his 1936 book Language, Truth and...

 as a meta-ethical
Meta-ethics
In philosophy, meta-ethics is the branch of ethics that seeks to understand the nature of ethical properties, statements, attitudes, and judgments. Meta-ethics is one of the three branches of ethics generally recognized by philosophers, the others being normative ethics and applied ethics. Ethical...

 theory that sharply delineated between cognitive, scientific uses of language (used to state facts and to give reasons, and subject to the laws of science) and non-cognitive uses (used to state feelings and exercise influence).

Contributions to philosophy


Stevenson's work has been seen both as an elaboration upon Ayer's views and as a representation of one of "two broad types of ethical emotivism." An analytic philosopher, Stevenson suggested in his 1937 essay "The Emotive Meaning of Ethical Terms" that any ethical theory should explain three things: that intelligent disagreement can occur over moral questions, that moral terms like good are "magnetic" in encouraging action, and that the scientific method
Scientific method
Scientific method refers to a body of techniques for investigating phenomena, acquiring new knowledge, or correcting and integrating previous knowledge. To be termed scientific, a method of inquiry must be based on gathering empirical and measurable evidence subject to specific principles of...

 is insufficient for verifying moral claims. Stevenson's own theory was fully developed in his 1944 book Ethics and Language
Ethics and Language
Ethics and Language is a 1944 book by C. L. Stevenson which was influential in furthering the metaethical view of emotivism first espoused by David Hume....

. In it, he agrees with Ayer that ethical sentences express the speaker's feelings, but he adds that they also have an imperative component intended to change the listener's feelings and that this component is of greater importance. Where Ayer spoke of values, or fundamental psychological inclinations, Stevenson speaks of attitudes, and where Ayer spoke of disagreement of fact, or rational disputes over the application of certain values to a particular case, Stevenson speaks of differences in belief; the concepts are the same. Terminology aside, Stevenson interprets ethical statements according to two patterns of analysis.

First pattern analysis


Under his first pattern of analysis, an ethical statement has two parts: a declaration of the speaker's attitude and an imperative to mirror it, so "'This is good' means I approve of this; do so as well." The first half of the sentence is a proposition, but the imperative half is not, so Stevenson's translation of an ethical sentence remains a noncognitive one.

Imperatives cannot be proved, but they can still be supported so that the listener understands that they are not wholly arbitrary:
The purpose of these supports is to make the listener understand the consequences of the action they are being commanded to do. Once they understand the command's consequences, they can determine whether or not obedience to the command will have desirable results.

Second pattern analysis


Stevenson's second pattern of analysis is used for statements about types of actions, not specific actions. Under this pattern,
In second-pattern analysis, rather than judge an action directly, the speaker is evaluating it according to a general principle. For instance, someone who says "Murder is wrong" might mean "Murder decreases happiness overall"; this is a second-pattern statement which leads to a first-pattern one: "I disapprove of anything which decreases happiness overall. Do so as well."

Methods of argumentation


For Stevenson, moral disagreements may arise from different fundamental attitudes, different moral beliefs about specific cases, or both. The methods of moral argumentation he proposed have been divided into three groups, known as logical, rational psychological and nonrational psychological forms of argumentation.

Logical methods involve efforts to show inconsistencies between a person's fundamental attitudes and their particular moral beliefs. For example, someone who says "Edward is a good person" who has previously said "Edward is a thief" and "No thieves are good people" is guilty of inconsistency until she retracts one of her statements. Similarly, a person who says "Lying is always wrong" might consider lies in some situations to be morally permissible, and if examples of these situations can be given, his view can be shown to be logically inconsistent.

Rational psychological methods examine the facts which relate fundamental attitudes to particular moral beliefs; the goal is not to show that someone has been inconsistent, as with logical methods, but only that they are wrong about the facts which connect their attitudes to their beliefs. To modify the former example, consider the person who holds that all thieves are bad people. If she sees Edward pocket a wallet found in a public place
Public space
A public space is a social space such as a town square that is open and accessible to all, regardless of gender, race, ethnicity, age or socio-economic level. One of the earliest examples of public spaces are commons. For example, no fees or paid tickets are required for entry, nor are the entrants...

, she may conclude that he is a thief, and there would be no inconsistency between her attitude (that thieves are bad people) and her belief (that Edward is a bad person because he is a thief). However, it may be that Edward recognized the wallet as belonging to a friend, to whom he promptly returned it. Such a revelation would likely change the observer's belief about Edward, and even if it did not, the attempt to reveal such facts would count as a rational psychological form of moral argumentation.

Non-rational psychological methods revolve around language with psychological influence but no necessarily logical connection to the listener's attitudes. Stevenson called the primary such method "'persuasive,' in a somewhat broadened sense", and wrote:
Persuasion may involve the use of particular emotion-laden words, like "democracy" or "dictator", or hypothetical questions like "What if everyone thought the way you do?" or "How would you feel if you were in their shoes?"

External links and sources