Normative judgments involve two gradable features. First, the judgments themselves can come in degrees; second, the strength of reasons represented in the judgments can come in degrees. Michael Smith has argued that non-cognitivism cannot accommodate both of these gradable dimensions. The degrees of a non-cognitive state can stand in for degrees of judgment, or degrees of reason strength represented in judgment, but not both. I argue that (a) there are brands of noncognitivism that can surmount Smith’s challenge, and (b) any (...) brand of non-cognitivism that has even a chance of solving the Frege–Geach Problem and some related problems involving probabilistic consistency can also thereby solve Smith’s problem. Because only versions of non-cognitivism that can solve the Frege–Geach Problem are otherwise plausible, all otherwise plausible versions of noncognitivism can meet Smith’s challenge. (shrink)
Some intuitive normative principles raise vexing 'detaching problems' by their failure to license modus ponens. I examine three such principles (a self-reliance principle and two different instrumental principles) and recent stategies employed to resolve their detaching problems. I show that solving these problems necessitates postulating an indefinitely large number of senses for 'ought'. The semantics for 'ought' that is standard in linguistics offers a unifying strategy for solving these problems, but I argue that an alternative approach combining an end-relational theory (...) of normativity with a comparative probabilistic semantics for 'ought' provides a more satisfactory solution. (shrink)
Meta-ethics is the area of philosophy in which thinkers explore the language and nature of moral discourse and its relations to other non-moral areas of life. In this introduction to the discipline written explicitly for novices, Leslie Allan outlines the key questions and areas of analysis in contemporary meta-ethics. In clear, tabular format, he summarizes the core concepts integral to each of the major meta-ethical positions and the strengths of each view. To prompt further thinking and reading, Allan explains briefly (...) the major objections to each theory and lists each view's best known advocates. (shrink)
As a non-cognitivist analysis of moral language, Charles Stevenson's sophisticated emotivism is widely regarded by moral philosophers as a substantial improvement over its historical antecedent, radical emotivism. None the less, it has come in for its share of criticism. In this essay, Leslie Allan responds to the key philosophical objections to Stevenson's thesis, arguing that the criticisms levelled against his meta-ethical theory rest largely on a too hasty reading of his works.
The author contends that classifying theories in the field of meta-ethics along a single dimension misses important nuances in each theory. With the increased sophistication and complexity of meta-ethical analyses in the modern era, the traditional cognitivist–non-cognitivist and realist–anti-realist categories no longer function adequately. The author categorizes the various meta-ethical theories along three dimensions. These dimensions focus on the linguistic analysis offered by each theory, its metaphysical commitments and its degree of normative tolerance.
This paper explores how insights from two-dimensional semantics can be brought to bear on debates surrounding (realist) metaethical naturalism. It defends two central claims. (1) A plausible principle of 2-D symmetry for normative terms provides us with reason to reject standard forms of synthetic metaethical naturalism. (2) Moore's Open Question Argument can be powerfully revived within the framework of 2-D semantics. I approach these issues by diagnosing how Attitudinal Semanticists' use of 2-D semantics--to account for moral objectivity--goes wrong. I argue (...) that their "rigidification" strategy doesn't resolve, but merely pushes under the rug, the fundamental concerns that robust moral realists have with Attitudinal Semantics. These concerns re-emerge when we consider the intuitive symmetry between the primary and secondary intensions of normative terms. Attempts to restore symmetry via super-rigidity are subsequently shown to pose "Open Question" problems for (realist) metaethical naturalism more broadly. (shrink)
Are John Rawls’s most noticeable methodological contributions, reflective equilibrium and the original position, consistent with each other? I draw attention to a worry that they stand in inconsistent relationships to the claim that ought implies can: it can only be the case that we ought to do something if we can do it.
According to expressivists, normative language expresses desire-like states of mind. According to noncognitivists, normative beliefs have a desire-like functional role. What is the relation between these two doctrines? It is widely assumed that expressivism commits you to noncognitivism, and vice versa. This paper against this assumption. I advance a view that combines a noncognitivist psychology with a descriptivist semantics for normative language. While this might seem like an ungainly hybrid, I argue that it has important advantages over more familiar metaethical (...) positions. The noncognitivist aspect of the theory captures all of the explanatory benefits standardly associated with expressivism. At the same time, the descriptivist element allows us to avoid the semantic headaches for expressivism. (shrink)
Hybrid expressivists claim to solve the Frege-Geach problem by offloading the explanation of the logico-semantic properties of moral sentences onto beliefs that are components of hybrid states they express. We argue that this strategy is undermined by one of hybrid expressivism’s own commitments: that the truth of the belief-component is neither necessary nor sufficient for the truth of the hybrid state it composes. We articulate a new approach. Instead of explaining head-on what it is for, say, a pair of moral (...) sentences to be inconsistent, expressivists should “sidestep” and explain what it is _to think that_ a pair of moral sentences is inconsistent. To think so is to think they cannot both be true – a modal notion. Since expressivists have given accounts of such modals, we illustrate how sentences like ‘“lying is wrong” and “lying is not wrong” are inconsistent’ express sensible – and rationally compelling – states of mind. (shrink)
There are various ways in which context matters in ethics. Most clearly, the context in which an action is performed might determine whether the action is morally right: though it is often wrong not to keep a promise, it might be permissible in certain contexts. More radically, proponents of moral particularism (see particularism) have argued that a reason for an action in one context is not guaranteed to be a reason in a different context: whether it is a reason against (...) an act that it breaks a promise or inflicts pain might depend on the particulars of the situation. In moral epistemology, Timmons (1999: Ch. 5) argues that whether a moral judgment is epistemically responsible depends both on the basic moral outlook of the moral judge and on whether the context of judgment is one of engaged moral thinking, or one of distanced, skeptical reflection. In the former, the judge’s basic moral outlook can serve to justify the judgment; not so in the latter (see epistemology, moral). -/- Our focus here, however, will be on forms of metaethical, and more precisely semantic, contextualism in moral discourse and moral thinking. According to these forms of contextualism (henceforth “metaethical contextualism,” or just “contextualism”), the meaning or truth-conditions of a moral judgment depend not only on the properties of the act it concerns, but also on features of the context in which the judgment is made, such as the standards endorsed by the moral judge or the parties of the conversation. If metaethical contextualism is correct, it might be that when two persons judge that abortions must be banned, one person’s judgment might be true whereas the other person’s is false, because they accept different fundamental norms. This would undermine the idea that there are objectively correct answers to moral questions. -/- Metaethical contextualism is supported from three directions. First, what is expressed by terms such as “good” and “ought” seems to be context-dependent when used outside ethics, being dependent on a variety of interests and concerns. One might therefore expect similar context dependence when these terms are used to express moral judgments, assuming a corresponding variety of interests and concerns in moral contexts. Second, many have thought that deep moral disagree- ments suggest that the interests and concerns behind moral judgments do vary in this way. Finally, contextualism promises to make sense of what seems to be an intrinsic yet defeasible connection between moral judgments and moral motivation, by tying the meaning or truth-conditions of moral judgments closely to interests and concerns of moral judges. At the same time, contextualism faces two broad kinds of problems: to make sense of the seemingly categorical or objective preten- sions of moral claims, and to explain why the parties to deep moral disagreement often behave as if they were disagreeing about substantive issues rather than talking past each other. In the sections that follow, we look closer at both sources of support and problems for contextualism. (shrink)
Here we focus on two questions: What is the proper semantics for deontic modal expressions in English? And what is the connection between true deontic modal statements and normative reasons? Our contribution towards thinking about the first, which makes up the bulk of our paper, considers a representative sample of recent challenges to a Kratzer-style formal semantics for modal expressions, as well as the rival views—Fabrizio Cariani’s contrastivism, John MacFarlane’s relativism, and Mark Schroeder’s ambiguity theory—those challenges are thought to motivate. (...) These include the Professor Procrastinate challenge to Inheritance (the principle that ‘If ought p and p entails q, then ought q), as well as Parfit’s miners puzzle regarding information-sensitive deontic modals. Here we argue that a Kratzer-style view is able to meet all of the challenges we’ll consider. In addition, we’ll identify challenges for each of those rival views. Our overall conclusion is that a Kratzer-style semantics remains the one to beat. With this assumption in place, we then ask how we should understand the relationship between true deontic modal statements and normative reasons. Should, for example, we hold that the truth of such a statement entails the existence of a normative reason for some agent to comply? Here we argue that, in many cases, acceptance of Kratzer’s semantics for deontic modals leaves open for substantive normative theorizing the question of whether an agent has a normative reason to comply with what she ought to do. (shrink)
Normative naturalism holds that normative properties are identical with, or reducible to, natural properties. Various challenges to naturalism focus on whether it can make good on the idea that normative concepts can be used in systematically different ways and yet have the same reference in all contexts of use. In response to such challenges, some naturalists have proposed that questions about the reference of normative terms should be understood, at least in part, as normative questions that can be settled through (...) normative inquiry. In this paper I have two goals. First, I argue that these naturalist proposals do not yet allow for radical disagreement on normative matters, or at least do not explain how such disagreement is possible. Secondly, I argue that, in order to account for radical disagreement, naturalists should not only treat normative reference as a normative issue but also adopt a non-representationalist account of normative concepts, on which such concepts are individuated through their practical role. I illustrate this point by showing how a view that combines naturalism and expressivism about normative discourse can vindicate the elasticity of normative concepts, their referential stability, and the objectivity of normative truths. (shrink)
Moral metasemantic theories explain how our moral thought and talk are about certain properties. Given the connection between what our moral terms are about and which moral claims are true, it might be thought that metasemantic theorising can justify first-order ethical conclusions, thus providing a novel way of doing moral epistemology. In this paper, we spell out one kind of argument from metasemantic theories to normative ethical conclusions, and argue that it fails to transmit justification from premises to conclusion. We (...) give three reasons for this transmission failure, which together pose a serious challenge to such metasemantic arguments. (shrink)
We develop a novel solution to the negation version of the Frege-Geach problem by taking up recent insights from the bilateral programme in logic. Bilateralists derive the meaning of negation from a primitive *B-type* inconsistency involving the attitudes of assent and dissent. Some may demand an explanation of this inconsistency in simpler terms, but we argue that bilateralism’s assumptions are no less explanatory than those of *A-type* semantics that only require a single primitive attitude, but must stipulate inconsistency elsewhere. Based (...) on these insights, we develop a version of B-type expressivism called *inferential expressivism*. This is a novel semantic framework that characterises meanings by inferential roles that define which *attitudes* one can *infer* from the use of terms. We apply this framework to normative vocabulary, thereby solving the Frege-Geach problem generally and comprehensively. Our account moreover includes a semantics for epistemic modals, thereby also explaining normative terms under epistemic modals. (shrink)
In the standard theory of deontic modals, ‘ought’ is understood as expressing a propositional operator. However, this view has been called into question by Almotahari and Rabern’s puzzle about deontic ‘ought’, according to which the ethical principle that one ought to be wronged by another person rather than wrong them is intuitively coherent but the standard theory makes it incoherent. In this paper, I take up Almotahari and Rabern’s challenge and offer a refinement of the standard theory to handle the (...) puzzle. I propose that ‘ought’ is evaluated relative to contextual parameters (e.g., Kratzer’s conversational backgrounds, Finlay and Snedegar’s alternative sets) and those contextual parameters are sensitive to agents as well as possible worlds. (shrink)
When do we judge that someone was forced to do what they did? One relatively well-established finding is that subjects tend to judge that agents were not forced to do actions when those actions violate norms. A surprising discovery of Young & Phillips 2011 is that this effect seems to disappear when we frame the relevant ‘force’-claim in the active rather than passive voice ('X forced Y to φ ' vs. 'Y was forced to φ by X'). Young and Phillips (...) found a similar contrast when the scenario itself shifts attention from Y (the forcee) to X (the forcer). We propose that these effects can be (at least partly) explained by way of the role of attention in the setting of quantifier domains which in turn play a role in the evaluation of ‘force’- claims. We argue for this hypothesis by way of an experiment which shows that sequences of active vs. passive ‘force’-claims display the characteristic “stickiness” of quantifier domain expansion, using a paradigm which we argue provides a useful general paradigm for testing quantifier domain hypotheses. Finally, we sketch a semantics for ‘force’ which we argue is suitable for capturing these effects. (shrink)
It has been argued that moral assertions involve the possession, on the part of the speaker, of appropriate non-cognitive attitudes. Thus, uttering 'murder is wrong' invites an inference that the speaker disapproves of murder. In this paper, we present the result of 4 empirical studies concerning this phenomenon. We assess the acceptability of constructions in which that inference is explicitly canceled, such as 'murder is wrong but I don't disapprove of it'; and we compare them to similar constructions involving 'think' (...) instead of 'disapprove'—that is, Moore paradoxes ('murder is wrong but I don't think that it is wrong'). Our results indicate that the former type of constructions are largely infelicitous, although not as infelicitous as their Moorean counterparts. (shrink)
We recently argued that formal objections to the normative error theory generalize to other error theories that have the same form. Since many of these other error theories are very plausible, we concluded that such objections overgeneralize. Christine Tiefensee and Gregory Wheeler disagree: they grant that formal objections generalize quite far, but deny that they overgeneralize, since they take the commitments behind these objections to be more plausible than any error theory. We argue that formal objections do overgeneralize, for two (...) reasons. The first concerns how we should adjudicate conflicts between formal and substantive commitments. The second concerns an overlooked tension between formal objections and non-error-theoretic views. Our discussion shows that the commitments behind formal objections should be regarded as much more contentious than is often assumed. (shrink)
One major insight derived from the moral twin earth debate is that evaluative and descriptive terms possess different levels of semantic stability, in that the meanings of the former but not the latter tend to remain constant over significant counterfactual variance in patterns of application. At the same time, it is common in metanormative debate to divide evaluative terms into those that are thin and those that are thick. In this paper, I combine debates about semantic stability and the distinction (...) between the thin and the thick by presenting a new seamless inferentialist account of thin and thick evaluative terms which, despite subsuming them under the same metasemantic analysis, can nevertheless account for their varying levels of semantic stability. According to this position of ‘seamless metaconceptualism’, thin and thick evaluative terms do not belong to different categories, but are both understood as metaconceptual devices which do not differ in kind, but in scope. By providing the same analysis for both thin and thick terms, seamless metaconceptualism not only entails that the latter cannot shoulder the philosophical work that some have attributed to them, but also removes much of their surrounding intrigue. (shrink)
The problem of moral disagreement has been presented as an objection to contextualist semantics for ‘ought’, since it is not clear that contextualism can accommodate or give a convincing gloss of such disagreement. I argue that independently of our semantics, disagreements over ‘ought’ in non-cooperative contexts are best understood as indirect metalinguistic disputes, which is easily accommodated by contextualism. If this is correct, then rather than posing a problem for contextualism, the data from moral disagreements provides some reason to adopt (...) a semantics that allows contextual variance in the meanings of ‘ought’. (shrink)
In a recent paper in this journal, Derek Baker (Erkenntnis 83(4):829–852, 2018) raises an objection to expressivism as it has been developed by Mark Schroeder (Being for, Oxford University Press, Oxford, 2008). Baker argues that Schroeder’s expressivist (1) is committed to certain sentences expressing rationally incoherent states of mind, and he objects (2) that the expressivist cannot explain why these states would be rationally incoherent. The aim of this paper is to show that Baker’s argument for (1) is unsound, and (...) that (1) is unlikely to be true. This obviates the need to explain the alleged rational incoherence, and so Baker’s objection to Schroeder’s expressivism is undermined. (shrink)
Stephen Maitzen argues that divine command metaethics must be mistaken because it is committed to the implausible assumption that the sentence ‘God is good’ is a tautology. In this article, I show that a charitable interpretation of R. M. Adams’ version of divine command metaethics is not committed to accept this assumption. I conclude that Maitzen’s objection merely manages to refute a strawman version of divine command metaethics.
In this thesis, I develop and investigate various novel semantic frameworks for deontic logic. Deontic logic concerns the logical aspects of normative reasoning. In particular, it concerns reasoning about what is required, allowed and forbidden. I focus on two main issues: free-choice reasoning and the role of norms in deontic logic. -/- Free-choice reasoning concerns permissions and obligations that offer choices between different actions. Such permissions and obligations are typically expressed by a disjunctive clause in the scope of a deontic (...) operator. For instance, the sentence "Jane may take an apple or a pear" intuitively offers Jane a choice between two permitted courses of action: she may take an apple, and she may take a pear. In the first part of the thesis, I develop semantic frameworks for deontic logic that account for free-choice reasoning. I show that the resulting logics avoid problems that arise for other logical accounts of free-choice reasoning. The main technical contributions are completeness results for axiomatizations of the different logics. -/- Semantic frameworks for deontic logic typically only talk about norms implicitly. In the second part of the thesis, I clarify the role of norms in deontic logic. I develop a formal model of normative systems where norms are represented explicitly. The model takes into account both the hierarchical structure of normative systems, and the function of norms to regulate agent behavior. I show how the model can be used to clarify issues in the study of normative systems. I also develop a norm-based semantics for deontic action logic based on the model. (shrink)
Quasi-realists have proposed an “internal” reading of the mind-independence claim embedded in our moral discourse, according to which the claim to mind-independence itself is a moral claim. I argue against such a quasi-realist “internal” reading. My objection is that quasi-realists cannot plausibly explain why the majority of us, either implicitly or explicitly, take moral mind-independence to be a metaethical notion. Quasi-realists either must attribute a quite obvious mistake to most metaethical theorists without explaining why they cannot recognize it, or give (...) us an intolerably ad hoc explanation about why ordinary moral speakers fail to understand their own words. Without properly addressing this problem, we have good reason to reject the quasi-realist account of moral mind-independence. (shrink)
This chapter presents several arguments related to Parfit's notion of evaluative imprecision and his imprecisionist lexical view of population ethics. After sketching Parfit's view, it argues that, contrary to Parfit, imprecision and lexicality are both compatible with thinking about goodness in terms of positions on a scale of value. Then, by examining the role that imprecision is meant to play in defusing spectrum argument, it suggests that imprecision should be identified with vagueness. Next, it argues that there is space for (...) robust moral realists to think of evaluative vagueness as a semantic phenomenon, illustrating this view with a version of conceptual role semantics on which the precisifications of betterness are correctness conditions for the precisifications of preference. Finally, it gives a probability-based argument against the imprecisionist lexical view. (shrink)
Recent debate about the error theory has taken a ‘formal turn’. On the one hand, there are those who argue that the error theory should be rejected because of its difficulties in providing a convincing formal account of the logic and semantics of moral claims. On the other hand, there are those who claim that such formal objections fail, maintaining that arguments against the error theory must be of a substantive rather than a formal kind. In this paper, we argue (...) that formal objections to the error theory cannot be eschewed but must be met head-on. (shrink)
Inheritance is the principle that deontic `ought' is closed under entailment. This paper is about a tension that arises in connection with Inheritance. More specifically, it is about two observations that pull in opposite directions. One of them raises questions about the validity of Inheritance, while the other appears to provide strong support for it. We argue that existing approaches to deontic modals fail to provide us with an adequate resolution of this tension. In response, we develop a positive analysis, (...) and show that this proposal provides a satisfying account of our intuitions. (shrink)
This paper provides a new solution to the problem of moral permissions for the moral error theory. The problem is that the error theorist seems committed to the claim that all actions are morally permitted, as well as to the contradictory claim that no action is morally permitted. My solution understands the moral error theory as the view that folk moral discourse is systematically in error by virtue of suffering from semantic presupposition failure, which I show is consistent with a (...) Kratzerian semantics for deontic modals in natural language. Formally, the solution is to treat the ordering source parameter within Kratzer’s semantics as undefined in the case of folk moral discourse. The paper concludes with thoughts about the import of the solution proffered for the alleged independence of the moral error theory from normative ethics. (shrink)
This paper demarcates a theoretically interesting class of "evaluational adjectives." This class includes predicates expressing various kinds of normative and epistemic evaluation, such as predicates of personal taste, aesthetic adjectives, moral adjectives, and epistemic adjectives, among others. Evaluational adjectives are distinguished, empirically, in exhibiting phenomena such as discourse-oriented use, felicitous embedding under the attitude verb `find', and sorites-susceptibility in the comparative form. A unified degree-based semantics is developed: What distinguishes evaluational adjectives, semantically, is that they denote context-dependent measure functions ("evaluational (...) perspectives")—context-dependent mappings to degrees of taste, beauty, probability, etc., depending on the adjective. This perspective-sensitivity characterizing the class of evaluational adjectives cannot be assimilated to vagueness, sensitivity to an experiencer argument, or multidimensionality; and it cannot be demarcated in terms of pretheoretic notions of subjectivity, common in the literature. I propose that certain diagnostics for "subjective" expressions be analyzed instead in terms of a precisely specified kind of discourse-oriented use of context-sensitive language. I close by applying the account to `find x PRED' ascriptions. (shrink)
What is morality? In Practical Expressivism, I argue that morality is a purely natural interpersonal co-ordination device, whereby human beings express their attitudes in order to influence the attitudes and actions of others. -/- The ultimate goal of these expressions is to find acceptable ways of living together. This 'expressivist' model for understanding morality faces well-known challenges concerning 'saving the appearances' of morality, because morality presents itself to us as a practice of objective discovery, not pure expression. -/- This book (...) demonstrates how a properly developed expressivist view can overcome this objection, by showing that even if moral practice is fundamentally expressive, it can still come to possess those features that make it appear objective (features such as talk and thought of moral disagreement, truth and belief, and the applicability of logical notions to moral sentences). The key to this development is to emphasise the unique and intricate practical role that morality plays in our lives. Practical expressivism is also practical in the further sense that it provides repeatable patterns that expressivists can deploy in coming to understand the apparently objective features of morality. (shrink)
Many philosophers argue that the error theory should be rejected because it is incompatible with standard deontic logic and semantics. We argue that such formal objections to the theory fail. Our discussion has two upshots. First, it increases the dialectical weight that must be borne by objections to the error theory that target its content rather than its form. Second, it shows that standard deontic logic and semantics should be revised.
One way to understand the nature of our moral disagreements is to study the meaning of moral discourse. Nonetheless, Metaethical Theories that account for these disagreements face important challenges. For instance, if our theory of moral terms assigns them a reference too specifically related to a contextual parameter, we might be ruling out the substantiality of moral disagreements (e.g., while ‘To eat people is wrong’ is plausibly true relative to our culture, it’d be false for a community of cannibals). This (...) paper (1) explores the theoretical room for a contextualist account of moral terms that models the substantiality of moral disagreements; (2) sketches the characterization of the contextual parameter these terms’ meaning is sensitive to; and (3) shows the tools this account has to avoid reducing moral disagreements to merely linguistic ones. (shrink)
Thick terms and concepts, such as honesty and cruelty, are at the heart of a variety of debates in philosophy of language and metaethics. Central to these debates is the question of how the descriptive and evaluative components of thick concepts are related and whether they can be separated from each other. So far, no empirical data on how thick terms are used in ordinary language has been collected to inform these debates. In this paper, we present the first empirical (...) study, designed to investigate whether the evaluative component of thick concepts is communicated as part of the semantic meaning or by means of conversational implicatures. While neither the semantic nor the pragmatic view can fully account for the use of thick terms in ordinary language, our results do favour the semanticist interpretation: the evaluation of a thick concept is only slightly easier to cancel than semantically entailed content. We further discovered a polarity effect, demonstrating that how easily an evaluation can be cancelled depends on whether the thick term is of positive or negative polarity. (shrink)
This paper responds to comments on my 2014 book Confusion of Tongues by Alex Worsnip, Janice Dowell, and Glen Koehn. I first address Worsnip’s case for contextualism without relativism. Next I address Dowell’s and Worsnip’s scepticism about whether COT succeeds in providing an analytic reduction of the normative, and Dowell’s recommendation to pursue an alternative, synthetic method. I then consider Worsnip’s comments on COT’s implications for normative ethical theory, and end by responding to Koehn’s challenges to the details of my (...) end-relational semantics and treatment of the notion of final value. (shrink)
It is widely held within contemporary metaethics that there is a lack of linguistic support for evaluative expressivism. On the contrary, it seems that the predictions that expressivists make about evaluative discourse are not borne out. An instance of this is the so-called problem of missing Moorean infelicity. Expressivists maintain that evaluative statements express non-cognitive states of mind in a similar manner to how ordinary descriptive language expresses beliefs. Conjoining an ordinary assertion that p with the denial of being in (...) the corresponding belief state famously gives rise to Moorean infelicity:?? It’s raining but I don’t believe that it’s raining. If expressivists are right, then conjoining evaluative statements with the denial of being in the relevant non-cognitive state of mind should give rise to similar infelicity. However, as several theorists have pointed out, this does not seem to be the case. Statements like the following are not infelicitous: Murder is wrong but I don’t disapprove of it. In this paper, I argue that evaluative statements express the kind of states that are attributed by ‘find’-constructions in English and that these states are non-cognitive in nature. This addresses the problem of missing Moorean infelicity and, more generally, goes to show that there are linguistic facts which support expressivism about evaluative discourse. (shrink)
Moral obligation and permissibility are usually thought to be interdefinable. Following the pattern of the duality definitions of necessity and possibility, we have that something’s being permissible could be defined as its not being obligatory to not do it. And that something’s being obligatory could be defined as its not being permissible to not do it. In this paper, I argue that neither direction of this alleged interdefinability works. Roughly, the problem is that a claim that some act is obligatory (...) or permissible entails that there is a moral law, whereas a negative claim that some act is not obligatory or not permissible does not. Nevertheless, one direction of the interdefinability can potentially be salvaged. I argue that, if we do not require the conceptual possibility of moral dilemmas, then there is a way to plausibly define obligation in terms of permissibility. I conclude that permissibility is the only feasible deontic primitive. (shrink)
This paper proposes a new Separabilist account of thick concepts, called the Expansion View (or EV). According to EV, thick concepts are expanded contents of thin terms. An expanded content is, roughly, the semantic content of a predicate along with modifiers. Although EV is a form of Separabilism, it is distinct from the only kind of Separabilism discussed in the literature, and it has many features that Inseparabilists want from an account of thick concepts. EV can also give non-cognitivists a (...) novel escape from the Anti-Disentangling Argument. §I explains the approach of all previous Separabilists, and argues that there’s no reason for Separabilists to take this approach. §II explains EV. §III fends off objections. And §IV explains how non-cognitivist proponents of EV can escape the Anti-Disentangling Argument. (shrink)
According to non-cognitivism, moral sentences and judgements do not aim to represent how things morally are. This paper presents an empirical argument against this view. We begin by showing that non-cognitivism entails the prediction that after some reflection competent ordinary speakers’ semantic intuitions favor that moral sentences and judgements do not aim to represent how things morally are. At first sight, this prediction may seem to have been confirmed by previous research on folk metaethics. However, a number of methodological worries (...) lead us to doubt this interpretation. We, therefore, conducted a psychological study that alleviates these worries as far as possible. It turned out that competent ordinary speakers’ reflective semantic intuitions dominantly fail to favor that moral sentences do not aim to represent how things morally are. This challenge to non-cognitivism is defended and supplemented by considering deflationary theories of moral truth and middle ground theories in the cognitivism/non-cognitivism debate. (shrink)
How demanding is the virtuous life? Can virtue exist alongside hints of vice? Is it possible to be virtuous within a vicious society? A line of thinking running through Diogenes and the Stoics is that even a hint of corruption is inimical to virtue, that participating in a vicious society makes it impossible for a person to be virtuous. One response to this difficulty is to claim that virtue is a threshold concept, that context sets a threshold for what is (...) considered virtuous. On this way of thinking, what counts as virtuous in one society may be more demanding than what passes for virtuous in another. This response seems plausible when considering that virtue-theoretic terms like `honest' are gradable adjectives. Many gradable adjectives, like `tall' and `expensive,' have contextual thresholds that shift depending on the situation, and so is tenable that virtue-theoretic adjectives might function with contextual thresholds as well. A major difficulty for this response, however, is that virtue terms are absolute gradable adjectives, a variety of gradable adjectives that do not require a contextual threshold. Absolute gradable adjectives instead draw their truth conditions from their maximal degree, suggesting that Diogenes and the Stoics were correct to think that virtue is incompatible with even a small degree of vice. (shrink)
The Stoic understanding of virtue is often taken to be a non-starter. Many of the Stoic claims about virtue – that a virtue requires moral perfection and that all who are not fully virtuous are vicious – are thought to be completely out of step with our commonsense notion of virtue, making the Stoic account more of an historical oddity than a seriously defended view. Despite many voices to the contrary, I will argue that there is a way of making (...) sense of these Stoic claims. Recent work in linguistics has shown that there is a distinction between relative and absolute gradable adjectives, with the absolute variety only applying to perfect exemplars. I will argue that taking virtue terms to be absolute gradable adjectives – and thus that they apply only to those who are fully virtuous – is one way to make sense of the Stoic view. I will also show how interpreting virtue theoretic adjectives as absolute gradable adjectives makes it possible to defend Stoicism against its most common objections, demonstrating how the Stoic account of virtue might once again be a player in the contemporary landscape of virtue theorizing. (shrink)
The moral error theory generally does not receive good press in metaethics. This paper adds to the bad news. In contrast to other critics, though, I do not attack error theorists’ characteristic thesis that no moral assertion is ever true. Instead, I develop a new counter-argument which questions error theorists’ ability to defend their claim that moral utterances are meaningful assertions. More precisely: Moral error theorists lack a convincing account of the meaning of deontic moral assertions, or so I will (...) argue. (shrink)
Non-naturalism is the view that normative properties are response-independent, irreducible to natural properties, and causally inefficacious. An underexplored question for non-naturalism concerns the metasemantics of normative terms. Ideally, the non-naturalist could remain ecumenical, but it appears they cannot. Call this challenge the metasemantic challenge. This chapter suggests that non-naturalists endorse an epistemic account of reference determination of the sort recently defended by Imogen Dickie, with some modifications. An important implication of this account is that, if correct, a fully fleshed out (...) moral epistemology will simultaneously rebut metasemantic objections to non-naturalism. Thus, both the metasemantic and the more widely discussed epistemological challenges in effect amount to one. Before setting out the positive view, the chapter considers why all of the traditional metasemantic theories cause trouble for the non-naturalist. This includes discussions of teleosemantics, conceptual role semantics, as well as Schroeter and Schroeter’s “connectedness” model. (shrink)
Stephen Finlay’s book Confusion of Tongues is extraordinarily sophisticated, ambitious and thought-provoking. I highly commend it to those who haven’t read it yet. I will begin this commentary with a summary of which big-picture issues Finlay and I agree on and which we disagree on.
Cognitivists and non-cognitivists in contemporary meta-ethics tend to assume that moral judgments are semantically uniform. That is, they share the assumption that either all moral judgments express beliefs, or they all express non-beliefs. But what if some moral judgments express beliefs and others do not? Then moral judgments are not semantically uniform and the question “Cognitivist or non-cognitivist?” poses a false dilemma. I will question the assumption that moral judgments are semantically uniform. First, I will explain what I mean by (...) the assumption (section 2). I will call this assumption SUM, the semantic uniformity of moral judgments. Second, I will provide some examples in order to illustrate that SUM cannot be taken for granted (section 3). Third, I will try to understand, using ideas from Wittgenstein, why SUM has nevertheless so often been taken for granted (section 4). Fourth, I will discuss some authors in contemporary meta-ethics who have noted the false dilemma between cognitivism and non-cognitivism and evaluate the solutions they propose for overcoming it (section 5). Fifth, I will indicate, again with some help from Wittgenstein, how meta-ethical research about moral judgments is possible without the assumption that morality is semantically uniform (section 6). (shrink)