Moved by Morality: An Essay on the Practicality of Moral Thought and Talk

Dissertation, Uppsala University (2006)
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Abstract

It is part of our everyday experience that there is a reliable connection between moral opinions and motivation. Thinking that an act is right (wrong) tends to be accompanied by motivation to (avoid to) perform the act in question. This is mirrored in moral talk. We tend to think that someone who says that he thinks that it is right (wrong) to act in a certain way without being motivated, to some extent, will most likely be speaking insincerely. Moveover, moral utterances have a dynamic function to exhort and guide conduct. This suggests that moral utterances involve a kind of attitudinal expressiveness that makes them very different from prosaically factual utterances. These commonsensical features of our moral practice represent the practicality of moral thought and talk. The main purpose of this essay is to investigate how the practicality of moral thought and talk is best represented and whether it supports either a cognitivist or noncognitivist analysis of moral judgments. I argue that sophisticated versions of internalism and externalism, the main competing explanations of the connection between moral judgments and motivation, represent the reliable connection equally good and that the relevant kind of attitudinal expression can be accomodated by both cognitivists and noncognitivists. The upshot is that considerations based on the practicality of moral thought and talk does not cut much philosophical ice. Hence, the rivalry between cognitivists and noncognitivists analyses must be settled beyond considerations based on practicality. Maybe the belief-like features of moral thought and talk can tilt things in favor of cognitivism. However, noncognitivists have different ways of accommodating the belief-like features. In fact, in the wake of different accommodation projects one wonders what remains of the traditional debate between cognitivist and noncognitivist analyses, a debate that shaped metaethics as we know it.

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John Eriksson
University of Gothenburg

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