I would like to know how the mortgage crisis of 2008–2010 is an example of Cognitivism.

In this document <https://www.globaledulink.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/2017/01/business-ethics.compressed.pdf>, it says "The mortgage crisis of 2008–2010 is a good example" of Cognitivism.

Cognitivism is the view that ethical sentences express propositions and can therefore be true or false. How does the mortgage crisis relate to that?

2 Answers 2


Here's what the booklet says:

Cognitivism is based on the presumption that the moral and ethical rules can be identified. It maintains that human thought, speech and action can be analysed from moral and ethical points of view. No human concepts or actions are ethically neutral. All that humans do – every deed they conceive that is put into action – has consequences. The values adhered to by society, the ethical maxims it follows and the rules it sticks to all reflect on the real time and situation. The mortgage crisis of 2008–2010 is a good example. The mortgage crisis transformed in that period into the liquidity crisis, which had a significant impact on global markets.

This is a position that would be hard to argue with. However such an argument was taken up by behaviouralism that attempted to model societies by merely looking at the behaviour of people and not by taking into account their motivations, self-understanding, morals and ethics. It was an attempt to model people as a kind of atom.

It was science but not as Aristotle described it - which is to discover the natural method appropriate to the subject of study under question but modelling the methodology on the hard sciences - like physics or chemistry.

Cognitivism, according to Wikipedia, arose as a rival theory where the reality of such dimensions in both society and in people were insisted upon.

Given all this, it seems that the author is making the point that the financial crash of 2008 cannot be understood without referring to the motivations and the ethics of the finance industry itself, those of the people and the larger ethical, political and social matrix within which they were then.

  • I've heard people blame it on Greenbaum's (I think it was) liking for Objectivism and the program of deregulation.to which it gave rise. .
    – user20253
    Commented Oct 2, 2018 at 10:53

Welcome, Celine. I take cognitivism to be the view that moral judgements and ethical norms are cognitive in the sense that they can be true or false and some can be known to be true or known to be false. ('Some' is a concession to our finite cognitive capacities.)

It doesn't follow from this that 'No human concepts or actions are ethically neutral.' How could that deduction be drawn ?

Nor has cognitivism anything directly to do with consequences. Indeed, there are cognitive theories according to which we can know that some action or state of affairs is wrong regardless of its consequences. We can know, according to some such theories, that some actions are not to be done whatever the consequences.

'The values adhered to by society, the ethical maxims it follows and the rules it sticks to all reflect on the real time and situation' - maybe, though I am not clear about the meaning of the final clause. But there is no necessity for the relevant values, maxims or rules to have any cognitive status. They may be, as expressivists hold, merely expressions of emotion.

I really can't connect cognitivism with the 2008-10 mortgage crisis in any way that's plausible. This is not a criticism of you or of your question. It's the booklet's statements, which btw seem highly disconnected, that puzzle me.

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