Searle’s Derivation, Natural Law, and Moral Relativism

Philosophia 36 (2):237-249 (2008)
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Abstract

Some philosophers have maintained that even if John R. Searle’s attempted derivation of an evaluative proposition from purely descriptive premises is successful, moral ought would not have been derived. Searle agrees. I will argue that if Searle has successfully derived “ought,” then, based on various approaches taken towards the content of “morality,” this is moral ought. I will also trace out some of the benefits of a successful derivation of moral ought in relation to natural law ethics. I sketch a possible derivation of moral obligations based on one of the basic goods in natural law ethics (i.e., friendship) that resembles Searle’s attempted derivation of an individual’s obligation to keep her promise to someone else. I also sketch a possible derivation of moral obligations based on another of the basic goods in natural law ethics – knowledge. This derivation may not parallel Searle’s attempted derivation as closely as the derivations based on friendship, but it seems to at least involve the derivation of moral obligations from all non-moral premises.

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Edmund Wall
East Carolina University

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