Non-Cognitivists vs. Moral Realism

Non-Cognitivists vs. Moral Realism

Cognitive sentences are those that are dependent to facts and readily have or consist of truth values, such as true and false. Non-Cognitive Sentences constitutes statements which are independent of facts and are cannot be assumed to have a truth value. In this regards, statements such as “Girelle is stands about five feet and five inches tall” and “the vase is red” are statements which falls under the Cognitive division. While statements like “keep quiet” and “you must not lie” corresponds to Non-cognitive statements.(Marturano 2006, 1)

According to the Stanford Encyclopedia of philosophy, Non-cognitive holds that moral properties otherwise known as moral facts do not exist. This means that moral statements are statements that can neither be true or false or simply these statements do not contain any truth condition. Moral sentiments are merely “approval or disapproval” expressions more akin to wishes and aspirations that are seldom associated with emotions than to cognitive “state of mind” such as beliefs or ideas. Moral Realism on the other hand holds that moral statements were actually reports of factual actions or ideas that are always true or real or existing. ( Sayre-McCord 2005, 1)

Non-cognitivist argues that moral statements have no truth conditions in such case that their predicate was merely moral utterances or sentiments that neither have truth or falsity. It does not tell anything about its subject that could prove its truthfulness. In a sense, moral sentiments are meaningless and remain to be mere expressions. They further argue that moral statements were emotive, prescriptive and motivational that cannot be classified as either true or false (Ayer 1936, 28-55) .Non-moral statements on the other hand can express beliefs and ideas that can be evaluated as either true or false (Blackburn 1984, 12-25).

Thus the Non-Cognitivist holds that since moral claims are non-cognitive statements, they do not contain any descriptive sentence and are therefore not describing anything at all which means that they do not contain factual statements and are not asserting anything.(Railton 1986, 4-6)

The Non-cognitivist believes that normative claims are not valid of any logic since they cannot be true or false. According to Ayer, as quoted in the Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy, “ethical claims are comprised of pseudo concepts which merely convey commands or feelings and do not contain any meaning (Marturano 2006, 1). Ethical statements remains important or significant because it is being use to persuade other people most specifically the receiver to perform or act in a certain way. In such case, ethical claims can be debated or can cause several disagreements and agreements but it can never comprise a logical understanding or reach any rational conclusion because normative claims cannot express the truth value of the statement. Thus, logical laws or basic rules of logic are inapplicable to moral statements (Hooker 1996, 3-5).

By being a non-cognitivist, a person can deal with more relevant questions concerning reality. For instance, instead of dealing with the question of truthfulness of the statement “abortion should not be permissible”, people would be more focused on assessing the claim with respect to its effect or to its general utility. If abortion is done what would be its effect, thus basing the judgment on the factual outcome and not on mere assumption. To make this point clearer, consider the statement “genocide is wrong”, since it does not express any truth value, its assessment or its continuation would depend on its result.

Non-cognitivism, by removing the truth value of normative statements has ended the dispute regarding the reality of an objective moral code or morality. This paved the way for moral relativism which favors the variation of moral codes in the different parts of the worlds at different times. This results to more respect to different cultures and traditions across national and ethnic boundaries.

By denoting that moral statements are merely expression of approval/disapproval or sentiments, the non-cognitivist have also succeed in emphasizing the reason why there have been different reactions among different people regarding a certain moral issue. The varying reason as to why and how people view things differently. It also shows that moral statements cannot be true or false, thus they cannot be use to persuade other people in doing this or that.

Moral realism on the other hand purports that moral statements is either true or false. The moral claim, “abortion is wrong” is either true or false. If this will be the case, there would be fixed moral codes that should apply to everyone else or at least every rational person in the planet. Yet, the relativity and subjectivity of moral statements seems to contradict the moral realist position because in different countries there were differing view regarding this matter and this is something that is prevalent in the reality in which we lived in. People does not agree on the same moral issue, most often they would argue differently depending on their position, biases, outlook, experiences and so on. The reason why I agree that “abortion is wrong” would be very different from your or his or her reason.

In moral realism, people would continue to argue and debate over claims fruitlessly. In the end they would come up with a conclusion that is not far from being the decision of the “majority”. If moral realism are right in asserting that moral statements expresses truth value, then what people, specially influential and powerful ones would do is to persuade other people into believing that their statement is the right and whatever that contradicts their statement and purpose are wrong.

Moral realism maintains that there can be “objective moral values” which contradicts the Non-cognitivist claims. However, moral realist failed to account what constitute the objective moral facts (Shafer-Landau 2005). They argued that “death penalty is wrong” can be accounted as either true or false simply because they believed that it is the same as any cognitive statement such as “it is dark”. Moral realist cannot prove that “death penalty is wrong is in fact true” for it differs from people’s opinion, perspectives and desire. There is no factual evidence that could actually prove that it is true (Stevenson1944, 15). The reality of the existence of moral facts is inaccessible to scientific inquiry and cannot be observed directly through our senses without appeal to our emotions, sentiments or feelings.


Ayer, A. J. 1936. Language, Truth and Logic. London: Gollancz

Blackburn, S. 1984.  Spreading the Word. Oxford: Clarendon

Hare R. M. 1997. Sorting Out Ethics. Oxford: O.U.P.

Hooker, Brad. 1996. Truth In Ethics. Oxford.

Kim, Shin. 2006. Moral Realism. The Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy.

Marturano, Anotonio. 2006. Non-Cognitivism in Ethics. The Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy.

 Railton, Peter. 1986. Moral Realism: The Philosophical Review. Vol. 95, No. 2 (Apr.,), pp. 163-207

Sayre-McCord, Geoff. 2005. Moral Realism. The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Retrieved on September 20, 2007. Retrieved from the World Wide Web:

 Shafer-Landau, Russ. June 15, 2005. Moral Realism: A Defense.  USA: Oxford University Press

Stevenson, C.L. 1944. Ethics and Language. New Haven: Yale U.P