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Ramsey's Cognitivism: Truth, Ethics and the Meaning of Life1

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  19 July 2016

Cheryl Misak
Affiliation:
University of Toronto
Corresponding
E-mail address:

Abstract

Frank Ramsey is usually taken to be an emotivist or an expressivist about the good: he is usually taken to bifurcate inquiry into fact-stating and non-fact stating domains, ethics falling into the latter. In this paper I shall argue that whatever the very young Ramsey's view might have been, towards the end of his short life, he was coming to a through-going and objective pragmatism about all our beliefs, including those about the good, beauty, and even the meaning of life. Ethical beliefs are not mere expressions of emotion, but rather fall under our cognitive scope. They can be assessed as rational or irrational, true or false.

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Papers
Copyright
Copyright © The Royal Institute of Philosophy and the contributors 2016 

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Footnotes

1

This paper will also be published by the Transactions of the Charles S. Peirce Society, in a volume honoring Chris Hookway. It has benefitted from comments from audiences at the Ecole Normal Supérieure, The Idea of Pragmatism Workshop at Sheffield University, the Peirce Centennial Conference, The Institute of Education at UCL, Royal Holloway University, the Royal Institute of Philosophy, the Moral Sciences Club, Queen’s University, and from Griffin Klemick, Tom Hurka, and Sergio Tenenbaum.

References

2 F. P. Ramsey, ‘On There Being no Discussable Subject’, in F. P. Ramsey: Philosophical Papers as ‘Epilogue’, 245–250, ed. D. H. Mellor (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1990), 246–247.

3 Alasdair MacIntyre, After Virtue (London: Duckworth, 1981): 20. See also R. M. Hare, ‘Broad's Approach to Moral Philosophy’, in The Philosophy of C. D. Broad, Library of Living Philosophers, ed. P. A. Schlipp (New York: Tudor, 1959), 570.

4 Braithwaite, for instance, in his obituary of Ramsey, asserts that he was. Richard Braithwaite, ‘Frank Plumpton Ramsey’, Cambridge Review, Jan 31, 1930. See Misak, Cambridge Pragmatism: From Peirce and James to Ramsey and Wittgenstein (forthcoming) for consideration of all the evidence and for a more sustained argument about what Ramsey was really up to.

5 F. P. Ramsey, On Truth, ed. N. Rescher and U. Majer (Dordrecht: Kluwer, 1991), 82. The original has the strikethrough marked by brackets.

6 F. P. Ramsey, ‘Truth and Probability’, in F. P. Ramsey: Philosophical Papers, 52–94, ed. D. H. Mellor (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1990), 57.

7 F. P. Ramsey, ‘Philosophy’, in F. P. Ramsey: Philosophical Papers, 1–7, ed. D. H. Mellor (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1990), 1–2.

8 Duncan-Jones, Austin, ‘Ethical Words and Ethical Facts’, Mind 42:168 (1933), 499Google Scholar.

9 C. K. Ogden and I. A. Richards, The Meaning of Meaning: A Study of the Influence of Language upon Thought and of the Science of Symbolism (New York: Harcourt Brace, 1923), 228.

10 Op. cit. note 4, 82.

11 Op. cit. note 4, 81.

12 William James, Pragmatism: A New Name for Some Old Ways of Thinking, ed. F. H. Burkhard, F. Bowers and I. K. Skrupskelis, (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1975 [1907]), 35.

13 George Santayana, The Genteel Tradition in American Philosophy’ and Character and Opinion in the United States, Edited by James Seaton (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2009 [1920]), 61.

14 C. S. Peirce, Pragmatism and Pragmaticism, volume five of The Collected Papers of Charles Sanders Peirce, ed. C. Hartshorne and P. Weiss (vols. i–vi), A. Burks (vols. vii and viii) (Cambridge, MA: Belknap Press, 1931–1958), §377.

15 Op. cit. note 4, 91.

16 Op. cit. note 14, §12. See Cheryl Misak, The American Pragmatists (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2013), for a much more sustained account.

17 C. S. Peirce, Scientific Metaphysics, volume six of The Collected Papers of Charles Sanders Peirce, ed. C. Hartshorne and P. Weiss (vols. i–vi), A. Burks (vols. vii and viii) (Cambridge, MA: Belknap Press, 1931–1958), §485.

18 Op. cit. note 4, 44–45.

19 Op. cit. note 5, 90.

20 Op. cit. note 5, 93–94.

21 Op. cit. note 4, 91.

22 Op. cit note 4, 91–92.

23 See Cheryl Misak, Cambridge Pragmatism (Oxford: Oxford University Press, forthcoming).

24 This is from a letter from Holmes to Pollock, reprinted in Mark DeWolfe Howe (ed.), Holmes–Pollock Letters: The Correspondence of Mr. Justice Holmes and Sir Frederick Pollock, 1874–1932, Volume 2, (Cambridge MA: Harvard University Press, 1941), 252.

25 F. P. Ramsey, ‘General Propositions and Causality’, in F. P. Ramsey: Philosophical Papers, ed. D. H. Mellor (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press).

26 Op. cit. note 4, 4.

27 Op. cit. note 4, 4.

28 Guy Cromwell Field, Moral Theory: An Introduction to Ethics, (London: Metheuen, 1921), 56–7.

29 Op. cit. note 4, 45.

30 Op. cit. note 1, 245.

31 Op. cit. note 1, 246.

32 Op. cit. note 1, 246–247.

33 Op. cit. note 1, 247.

34 Bertrand Russell, ‘A Free Man's Worship’, in Contemplation in Action, volume 12 of The Collected Papers of Bertrand Russell (London: Routledge, 1985), 66–67.

35 Op. cit. note 1, 249–250.

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