In contemporary metaethics, there are two opposing views on the relationship between moral words and motivational forces associated with them. Internalism claims that the motivational forces are in the meanings of the moral words, therefore this is a llinguistic matter. On the other hand, externalism claims that the motivational forces are not in the meanings, but are associated with moral words psychologically or sociologically. According to externalism, we can use moral words appropreately without feeling any motivation to obey the moral jugdements expressed with them. If this is true, this is an advantage of externalism over internalism. The pourpose of this essay is to show that a seemingly paradigm case of the non-motivational use of a moral word is actually a case of motivational use of the word. If the argument is valid, it reduces the plausibility of externalism.
The sentence I want to analyze is this:
(1) Slavery is wrong, but my father used slaves, my grandfather did so, and so I use slaves.
It seems apparent that when someone says this, the person feels no motivation against slavery, even though the person uses the word "wrong." But it seems to me also that the moral word "wrong" itself still has some motivational force.
The reason I think so is the conjunction "but" in (1). This conjunction suggests that there is something opposite in the left hand and the right hand of the conjunction. The right hand ("my father used slaves...") seems to give reasons for the person's using slaves. So, natural consequence is that the left hand ("slavery is wrong") gives an opposite reason, i.e. a reason for not using slaves. Actually you can relpace "my father ..." phrase with any other reason to use slaves. The same argument holds. On the other hand, if you do not give any reason to use slaves here, the conclusion ("so I use slaves") does not follow, and thus it is no longer clear if the person feels no motivation against slavery. Therefore, this argument seems fairly general.
This means the moral statement in (1) still has some action-guiding meaning.
To see the point more clearly, let us imagine what happens if we replace the "but" with "and":
(2) Slavery is wrong, and my father used slaves, my grandfather did so,
Now, suppose the person continues to say:
(3) So, I use slaves.
This sounds, to say the least, very weird. I should say it is an almost unintelligible conclusion. Rather, we expect conclusions like these:
(4) So, I feel guilty.
(5) So, I condemn my ancestors.
Now, if the right hand of the conjunction is enough to give the reason for using slaves (sentence(1) suggests this), and the left hand can be motivationally neutral (this is what externalists say), we cannot explain why we cannot accept (3) while we can accept (4) and (5).
Answering to this argument, Prof. Greenspan suggested that the "but" in (1) does not imply an opposition in meaning. According to her, the "but" shows that there is a descrepancy between implications of the left hand and right hand of the conjunction. Let us consider another sentence to see her point:
(6) People in our society say that slavery is wrong, but my father used slaves, my grandfather did so, and so I use slaves.
In this case the moral word "wrong" is in quotation and does not suppose to have motivational force. But still we should use "but" as the conjunction. According to Prof. Greenspan's analysis, when we say "people in our society say that slavery is wrong," the statement usually implicates that we are going to obey what people say (as a matter of empirical fact). The latter part of the sentence betrays the expectation, however, and this is why the conjunction "but" is used here. If we can analyze (6) in this way, the same analysis applies to (1). Therefore, the word "wrong" in (1) does not have to have motivational force.
This reply from Prof. Greenspan is strong, but I think there is an important difference between (1) and (6). Let us consider a counterpart of (2):
(7) People in our society say that slavery is wrong, and my father used slaves, my grandfather did so.
An important difference between (2) and (7) is that (7) can be a statement of an sociological servey on slavery, while (2) cannot be. As a result, the conclusions like (4) and (5) are not so obvious for (7) as for (2). This seems to show that (1) contains something stronger than (6). So even if we accept Prof. Greenspan's analysis on (6), still we can reject the analogy between (6) and (1). Actually internalists do not have to accept the analysis, however. Internalists admit that sometimes a sentence without moral words can express motivational force by virtue of the context. So from internalist's point of view, (6) expresses two opposing motivational forces by virtue of the context, and this is why the conjunction "but" is used to denote the opposition. Of course this does not mean that Prof. Greenspan's analysis is wrong, but I think that this internalist analysis is more streight forward than hers.
If above argument is correct, it supports internalism in the following sense. As I admitted above, it seems apparent that when someone says (1), the person feels no motivation against slavery. But still, the person is forced to use the conjunction "but" to make sense of his/her conclusion, and thus treat the moral statement as if it has the motivational force. This consideration shows that the motivational force in question is not a psycological matter (because psycologically speaking there is no such motivation), but a linguistic matter (because the reason is that otherwise the conclusion becomes unintelligible, and this is definitely a semantic problem) . Another possiblity is that when the person says (1), he/she has a psychological motivation against slavery, but this motivation is overridden by another motivation (maybe tradition or something like that). In this case the motivational force in question can be a psycological matter, but then this is not an example of non-motivational use of moral words. Externalists should find another example.