Cognitive and Non-cognitive Theories

Cognitive and Non-cognitive Theories

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Ethics can be defined as the universally accepted principles codes of conduct or rational behaviour for a certain group of people (Grčić, 1989). Apparently, there are various theories that demystify the issue of ethics and they include the cognitive and non-cognitive theories. Moreover, cognitive theories have been further split into relativist theories and Universalist theories. Therefore, the essay therefore looks into the understanding of these theories and makes cognitive comparisons (Fakhry, 1991).

Apparently, Cognitivism involves a meta-ethical view of truth involvement in the representation of moral judgement. The reasoning and judgement that the theories represent oppose the use of emotions in creation of judgement (Sebastián, 2013). Therefore, the theories focus more on the truth and the demonstration of facts by supporting real cognitive evidence that may exist. Besides, cognitivism aims at opposing non-cognitivism theories with the aim of advocating for truth and falsity rather than beliefs in decision making processes or in judging the behaviour of others. The sentences involved here bear truth-values and fact-dependent; this means that it is depends on verifiable facts known to be either true or false (Messerly, 1995).

On the other hand, non-conivitism theories conquer with error theorists. Moreover, the theories are not based on truth or falsity of moral statements but rather on beliefs which are depicted as the people’s state of mind (Sebastián, 2013). According to the theories, this is just an expression of cognitive attitudes, desires and approvals that people have in mind based on their emotions and beliefs. In addition, the meta-ethical assumptions involved here are based on non-cognitive sentences which are fact-independent bearing no place for truth-values (Grčić, 1989).

The demystification of ethical theories goes further into separating the cognitive ethical theory into relativist and Universalist theories. When it comes to moral universalism or rather moral objectivism it holds the opinion that language simplification is innately held by all human beings making them have different language pidgin strategies (Sebastián, 2013). Under the universalism, the foreigner talk theory outlines a specific language use when natives address foreigners in a bid to make them understand. Moreover, the natives may try to simplify the instructions they are giving to the foreigners by trying to speak in their own language. Therefore, pidgin is a creation of language simplification in a bid to try and relay a message that we think is not being understood (Grčić, 1989).

On the other hand, ethical relativism theory holds that one’s culture determines their morality. The moral standards in the society determine whether an action is right or wrong. Apparently, an action that is right in a given society may result to being wrong in another under the theory of ethical relativism (Fakhry, 1991). Therefore, moral standards vary from one person to another. However, other theorists have disputed this theory with the notion that there exist universal moral standards irrespective of the fact that there is variance in belief and moral practices among different societies (Messerly, 1995). Therefore, relativism theory strongly objects that one society can indisputably believe that their ethical views are realistic than others. It is therefore true to say that ethical beliefs are influenced by a society’s culture.

Reverting to non-cognitivism, there are principles that guide it and they include emotivism, prescriptivism, quasi-realism and expressivism. When it comes to emotivism, emotions are asserted in others through grammatically assertive utterances. The moral attitude that people have is determined by the terms they use (Grčić, 1989). Therefore, emotivism involves word selection in instilling either positive or negative emotions or attitudes to others. Moreover, when it comes to prescriptivism, it suggests that moral judgement is enabled through prescriptive judgement. Moreover, moral sentences are dependent on the analogy of mood and hence moral thinking is based on a rational enterprise and moral imperatives.

In addition, quasi-realism outlines normative judgement as hard to differentiate between what is true or false and as a result the vindication of the legitimacy of moral practice is achieved (Sebastián, 2013). However, expressivism outlines that pro and con attitudes are expressed through moral sentences in a bid to express certain attitudes the same way emotivists view moral language. Therefore, semantic value is expressed through moral language and as a result expressing negative or positive attitudes (Fakhry, 1991).

Therefore, the relevance of these theories is to help the society know where they fall in view of moral ethics as well as outlining that each and every society has the freedom of moral ethics and their opinions and perceptions are not absolute(Grčić, 1989). Through the study of the moral theories, we are able to understand why some people behave in certain ways that we deem unethical while to them it is ethical. The differences in these ethical perceptions are determined either by cognitive and non-cognitive theories. Some of the theories are based on emotions while another is based on falsehood or truth of facts (Messerly, 1995).

Apparently, the debate on which of the theories is right is a topic that has been lengthy and debatable. In addition, the understanding of moral ethics and the way the way different people perceive it is crucial in helping promoting the perception helping others understand why people behave the way they do and still have the belief that it is right (Fakhry, 1991). In my case, I believe that I fall under the relativism theory as I believe that my view of morality is based on my culture and the way I have been brought up. The reason behind this notion is that different cultures have different standard moral ethics and therefore, I believe the way I view ethics is dependent on the same way I was brought up (Messerly, 1995).


The principles that dictate human conduct ethically are explained by different theories and the theories are important to ensure that we understand human perception on moral ethics and why they view them that way (Fakhry, 1991).


Fakhry, M. (1991). Ethical theories in Islam. Leiden: E.J. Brill.

Grčić, J. (1989). Moral choices: Ethical theories and problems. St. Paul: West Pub. Co.

Messerly, J. G. (1995). An introduction to ethical theories. Lanham, MD: University Press of America.

Sebastián, M. Á. (2013). Dreams: an empirical way to settle the discussion between cognitive and non-cognitive theories of consciousness. Synthese, 191(2), 263-285. doi:10.1007/s11229-013-0385-y