Global Expressivism

Authored by: Stephen Barker

The Routledge Handbook of Metametaphysics

Print publication date:  July  2020
Online publication date:  July  2020

Print ISBN: 9781138082250
eBook ISBN: 9781315112596
Adobe ISBN:


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In this chapter I consider the prospects of globalizing expressivism. Expressivism is a position in the philosophy of language that questions the central role of representation in a theory of meaning or linguistic function. An expressivist about a domain D of discourse proposes that utterances of sentences in D should not be seen, at the level of analysis as representing how things are, but as expression of non-representational states. So, in the domain of value-utterances, the standard idea is that speakers are expressing affective-states, such as approval or disapproval focused on objects or conditions. Global expressivism is the thesis that for all domains of discourse, we treat utterances, at the level of analysis, as expressing non-representational states. I set out several conceptions of how one might formulate this programme. The first involves minimalism about truth and semantic content – and only partially gives up representationalism (viz., the thesis that some utterances express representational states). The second is Price’s conception, which incorporates minimalism, Brandomian inferentalism, and concepts from Carnap, but still clings to representationalism. I then arrive at my favoured third conception, which does not employ minimalism or inferentialism, and eliminates vestiges of representationalism. It does the latter by embracing expressivism about meaning-attribution. Having set out key aspects of the approach I then address the question of metaphysics. What metaphysical conception of reality goes with global expressivism so understood? I argue it implies a form of metametaphysical nihilism. This is that idea that reality lacks any ultimate nature.

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