Contours and Barriers: What Is It to Draw the Limits of Moral Language?

Philosophy 84 (4):549-570 (2009)
  Copy   BIBTEX


Does language limit the moral thoughts we can have? To answer that, I distinguish between two kinds of limits: Boundaries or barriers fence things out. Identification and erection of linguistic barriers, defines, diagnoses, or places restrictions on what language can in principle grasp or be, and often involves abstraction from actual linguistic behavior. This is typically preformed by remarks I call ‘theses’; Contours or outlines give real-life portrayals. Drawing the contours of a linguistic activity involves a certain attention to reality: to detail and particularity, and we typically draw contours by using remarks I call ‘helpers’. I examine the possibility that confusion can be diagnosed in Sabina Lovibond's attempt to apply the idea that moral language has necessary boundaries, and explain the alternative of drawing linguistic contours. I then examine Richard Rorty's position according to which the fact that we can shape our language indicates that the boundaries of language do not encompass all possible sense, and compare Rorty's discussion with Sarah Bachelard's discussion of euthanasia. My claim here is that trying to improve on the language we have might be part of drawing its contours, rather than redefining its boundaries. The discussion reveals a difference between two kinds of contour drawing, and thus between two kinds of helpers: ones that help to draw the contours of the actuality of linguistic activities, and ones that help to draw the contours of their potentiality. Finally, I argue that the value of drawing contours instead of barriers is that the former better reveal the fact that we care about our ways of making sense.



    Upload a copy of this work     Papers currently archived: 94,549

External links

Setup an account with your affiliations in order to access resources via your University's proxy server

Through your library

Similar books and articles

Linguistic nature of reality in Richard Rorty.Isa Mousazadeh, Muhammad Asghari & Mohammadreza Abdollahnejat - 2021 - Journal of Philosophical Theological Research 23 (4):103-120.
The Hermeneutic Moment. The Truth in Constructivism.Michael Luntley - 2010 - Iris. European Journal of Philosophy and Public Debate 2 (3):123-131.
Language, Locations and Presupposition.Gillian Russell - 2010 - Linguistic and Philosophical Investigations 9:194-205.
Contours of Vision: Towards a Compositional Semantics of Perception.Kevin J. Lande - forthcoming - British Journal for the Philosophy of Science.
Locke on Essences.Allison Kuklok - 2021 - In Jessica Gordon-Roth & Shelley Weinberg (eds.), The Lockean Mind. New York, NY: Routledge.
Crude Meaning, Brute Thought.Dorit Bar-On - 2019 - Journal for the History of Analytical Philosophy 7 (2):29-46.


Added to PP

19 (#809,758)

6 months
13 (#282,484)

Historical graph of downloads
How can I increase my downloads?

Author's Profile

Reshef Agam-Segal
Virginia Military Institute

Citations of this work

No citations found.

Add more citations

References found in this work

Virtue and Reason.John Mcdowell - 1979 - The Monist 62 (3):331-350.
Contingency, Irony, and Solidarity.Richard Rorty - 1989 - The Personalist Forum 5 (2):149-152.
Losing your concepts.Cora Diamond - 1988 - Ethics 98 (2):255-277.
Introductory essay : Communal agreement and objectivity.Christopher M. Leich & Steven H. Holtzman - 1981 - In Steven H. Holtzman & Christopher M. Leich (eds.), Wittgenstein: To Follow A Rule. Boston: Routledge.
On euthanasia: Blindspots in the argument from mercy.Sarah Bachelard - 2002 - Journal of Applied Philosophy 19 (2):131–140.

Add more references