Sense and Sensibility: Four Essays on Evaluative Discourse

  • Date:
  • Location: Geijersalen, Thunbergsvägen 3H, Uppsala
  • Doctoral student: Franzén, Nils
  • About the dissertation
  • Organiser: Avdelningen för teoretisk filosofi
  • Contact person: Franzén, Nils
  • Disputation

The subject of this thesis is the nature of evaluative terms and concepts. It investigates various phenomena that distinguish evaluative discourse from other types of language use. Broadly, the thesis argues that these differences are best explained by the hypothesis that evaluative discourse serves to communicate that the speaker is in a particular emotional or affective state of mind.

The first paper, “Aesthetic Evaluation and First-hand Experience”, examines the fact that it sounds strange to make evaluative aesthetic statements while at the same time denying that you have had first-hand experience with the object being discussed. It is proposed that a form of expressivism about aesthetic discourse best explains the data.

The second paper, “Evaluative Discourse and Affective States of Mind”, discusses the problem of missing Moorean infelicity for expressivism. It is argued that evaluative discourse expresses states of mind attributed by sentences of the form “Nils finds it wrong to tell lies”. These states, the paper argues, are non-cognitive, and the observation therefore addresses the problem of missing infelicity.

The third paper, “Sensibilism and Evaluative Supervenience”, argues that contemporary theories about why the moral supervenes on the non-moral have failed to account for the full extent of the phenomenon. Supervenience pertains not just to the moral but to the evaluative in general, it is a conceptual truth and it involves a relationship with a certain directionality. While all these points have been individually recognized at various points in the literature on moral supervenience, no theory accounts for all them. It is suggested that a kind of sensibilist semantics, according to which the extensions of evaluative terms are determined by how we feel about things, explains the full phenomenon.

The fourth paper, “Sensibilism and Imaginative Resistance”, discusses why we refuse to accept strange evaluative claims as being true in fictions, even though we are happy to accept other types of absurdities as fictionally true. The paper argues that the sensibilist semantics outlined in the third article offers a good diagnosis of the puzzle and compares this to other approaches.