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5. A. J. Ayer and Emotivism

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About this Lecture


In this module, we think about A. J. Ayer’s theory of emotivism, focusing in particular on: (i) Ayer’s acceptance of Moore’s argument against ethical naturalism, but also his rejection of Moore’s ethical non-naturalism – leaving him to conclude that moral properties didn’t exist at all; (ii) Ayer’s views on the pointlessness of speaking about things that don’t exist – and the exception he makes for ethical speech and language; (iii) Ayer’s view that while moral statements sound like statements of fact about the world, they are in fact expressions of approval or disapproval, like saying ‘yuck!’ when you eat something you don’t like; (iv) some of the advantages of Ayer’s account of ethics – known as emotivism – over naturalism and non-naturalism; (v) the disadvantages of emotivism, and Ayer’s response; (vi) the concept of the phenomenology of value, i.e. the idea that moral statements (e.g. ‘slugs are disgusting’) are really just projections of our emotions, rather than being a statement about what slugs are actually like – and some problems with this view.


In this course, Dr Iain Law (University of Birmingham) provides a comprehensive introduction to the field of philosophy known as metaethics. In the first module, we provide an introduction to metaethics itself, including the difference between metaethics and normative ethical theories such as utilitarianism and virtue ethics and some of the key questions that metaethics poses. In the second and third modules, we explore two approaches to metaethics that agree moral properties exist (moral realism) but disagree as to the nature of these properties: naturalism and non-naturalism. In the fourth module, we explore two arguments from David Hume that move us towards a view that contribute to how we think and talk about metaethics, before turning in the fifth, sixth and seventh modules to three accounts of metaethics that agree that moral properties do not exist (moral anti-realism) but disagree as what is going on when we make a moral statement – A. J. Ayer and Emotivism, R. M. Hare and Prescriptivism, and J. M. Mackie and Moral Error Theory.


Iain Law is a Senior Lecturer in Philosophy at the University of Birmingham. His main interests are in meta-ethics, applied ethics and ethical theory, and he is currently working on papers in moral theory, moral psychology, the philosophy of medicine and applied ethics.

Cite this Lecture

APA style

Law, I. (2021, January 01). Metaethics - A. J. Ayer and Emotivism [Video]. MASSOLIT.

MLA style

Law, I. "Metaethics – A. J. Ayer and Emotivism." MASSOLIT, uploaded by MASSOLIT, 01 Jan 2021,