Definition
Cognitivism is a meta-ethical view that maintains moral judgements require representation of the truth1. Our cognitive abilities (judgement and reasoning) are put to use in creating moral decisions as opposed to using emotion. The attempt to find the meaning of moral judgements has created disagreements between theorists, including the theory of cognitivism.
Cognitivists regard sentences as propositions that can be proven true or false2]. The truth of the proposition must be proven by a demonstration of facts. With both physical and moral statements, the intent is to express the truth. An objective truth must be clear and understood, and supported by evidence3].

Example:
Physical proposition: The capital city of Canada is Ottawa
Moral proposition: Everyone who is eligible should donate blood to save lives.

Challenges
One major issue theorists have with cognitivism is the universal nature of propositions. Because the world is made up of different moral theories, such as consequentialism versus deontology, there is a widespread disagreement on most moral questions. Considering the differences in the theories is can be seen how many different moral decisions can arise.
When learning about cognitivism, one can not ignore non-cognitivist theories. These theories help to put cognitivism into perspective and are outlined below.

Non-Cognitivism Theorists
Three of those theorists who disagreed with cognitivism theory, Ayer, Stevenson and Hare developed non-cognitivist theories4].

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A.J. Ayer


A.J. Ayer’s - Emotivism
Ayer said that moral utterances are expressions of the speaker’s emotions. Because of this, they are non-cognitive as they involve emotion6]. Negative or positive emotions are expressed in the language used by the speaker. Ayer would say that “Turkey dinner – Wahoo!” is the same expression as if the speaker said “Wahoo!” after winning a bingo game. It is important to remember that Ayer is talking about expressing, not stating. Statements, even when they involve emotion, are still moral judgements expressing a proposition that could be true or false7].

C.L. Stevenson’s - Emotivism
Stevenson said that moral utterances are the speaker’s non-cognitive attitudes (positive or negative) and seek to evoke the same attitude to those they are speaking to. A non-cognitive attitude would be an attitude that is not steeped in reasoning.
While Ayer is regarded as the first theorist to introduce emotivism in 1945 in his book, Ethics and Language in Mind, it became known some years later that the idea was mentioned to him by Austin Duncan-Jones. However, Duncan-Jones did not make any mention of emotivism until reviewing Stevenson’s book. It had also been written about, although not yet termed ‘emotivism’, by C.K. Ogden and I.A. Richards in 19238].

R.M. Hare’s - Prescriptivism
Hare says that moral utterances do not represent attitudes or emotions – they prescriptive courses of conduct to those who find themselves in a circumstance of question. He sought to employ reason, much like Stevenson, with moral decisions. A literal example would be that a professor tells you to read two specific articles that contain information for an assignment, so you do. The professor is not speaking of emotions or attitudes, but is providing an answer to a question: “How do I gain the knowledge?”
In Hare’s view, prescriptions of morality are fully universal and can not be overwritten by other prescriptions. They seek to answer the question, “What shall I do – period?”
Hare’s theory asks that if we can not accept universal implications, we must reject our prescription based on morality and rationality. This is similar to Kant’s categorical imperatives and “The Golden Rule.”






1 Waluchow, W.J. (2003). The dimensions of ethics. Peterborough, ON: Broadview Press Ltd. pp. 58-63
2] McGrath, M. (2007). Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Propositions. Retrieved on October 10, 2009 from http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/propositions/
3] Waluchow, W.J. (2003). The dimensions of ethics. Peterborough, ON: Broadview Press Ltd. pp.58-63
4] Waluchow, W.J. (2003). The dimensions of ethics. Peterborough, ON: Broadview Press Ltd. pp.58-63
[[#_ftnref5|[5]]] Pike, S. (1989). Sir A. J. Ayer, London 1989. London, UK: Flowers. Retrieved on October 10, 2009 from http://www.flowerseast.com/Originals_Exhibitions_Large.asp?Exhibition=06FEHEADS&OL=1
[[#_ftnref6|[6]]] Waluchow, W.J. (2003). The dimensions of ethics. Peterborough, ON: Broadview Press Ltd. pp. 58-63
[[#_ftnref7|[7]]] Waluchow, W.J. (2003). The dimensions of ethics. Peterborough, ON: Broadview Press Ltd. pp.58-63
[[#_ftnref8|[8]]] Joyce, R. (2007). Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Moral anti-realism. Retrieved on October 10, 2009 from http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/moral-anti-realism/