Quine, Davidson, and the Naturalization of Metaethics
Quine’s ethical views typify what might seem to be natural sympathies between empiricism and ethical noncognitivism. Like Ayer, he sees a case for noncognitivism rooted in an epistemic discontinuity between ethics and science. Quine argues that the absence of genuine moral observation sentences, and thus the absence of empirical checkpoints for the resolution of theoretical disputes, renders ethics, as he terms it, “methodologically infirm.” However, recent papers in this journal make clear that Quine appears to be voicing mutually incompatible commitments to both noncognitivism and cognitivism. Here I argue that Davidson’s theory of interpretation offers promising ways to resolve these tensions. His constructive program fleshes out the implications of Quine’s largely destructive critique of intensional semantics and contains a fairly well-articulated account of evaluative semantics, one which seems to combine cognitivist and noncognitivist elements harmoniously. Moreover, it is argued that Davidson’s long-standing differences with Quine over the epistemological status Quine accords observation sentences with do not undermine Quine’s metaethical critique.
Author Posting. (c) Wiley-Blackwell, 2001. This is the author's version of the work. It is posted here by permission of the publisher for personal use, not for redistribution. The definitive version of this article is published in: Dialectica, v.55, no.2 (2001), pp. 145-166