This paper advances a reductive semantics for 'ought' and a naturalistic theory of normativity. It gives a unified analysis of predictive, instrumental, and categorical uses of 'ought': the predictive 'ought' is basic, and is interpreted in terms of probability. Instrumental 'oughts' are analyzed as predictive 'oughts' occurring under an 'in order that' modifer (the end-relational theory). The theory is then extended to categorical uses of 'ought': it is argued that they are special rhetorical uses of the instrumental 'ought'. Plausible conversational principles explain how this end-relational 'ought' can perform the expressive functions of the moral 'ought'. The notion of an 'ought-simpliciter' is also discussed.
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.
Analyses of moral value judgements must meet a practicality requirement: moral speech acts characteristically express pro-or con-attitudes, indicate that speakers are motivated in certain ways, and exert influence on others' motivations. Nondescriptivists including Simon Blackburn and Allan Gibbard claim that no descriptivist analysis can satisfy this requirement. I argue first that while the practicality requirement is defeasible, it indeed demands a connection between value judgement and motivation that resembles a semantic or conceptual rather than merely contingent psychological link. I then show how a form of descriptivism, the interest-relational theory, satisfies the requirement as a pragmatic and conversational feature of value judgementthereby also accommodating its defeasibility. The word 'good' is always indexed to some set of motivations: when this index is unarticulated in many contexts the speaker conversationally implicates possession of those motivations.Judgements of moral goodness have a characteristic practicality: an intimate connection with action, attitude, and what we think ought to be done. Hence there is a practicality requirement on metaethical theories about the meaning of moral speech acts of the form 'T is good'. Any adequate analysis must capture this connection with action, attitude, and normativity. Champions of nondescriptivism about moral discourse such as Simon Blackburn and Allan Gibbard argue that nondescriptivism has to be correct, because all forms of descriptivistic analysis are incapable of satisfying this practicality requirement, a feat which (they argue) can only be accomplished by postulating a link to speakers' motivational attitudes in the semantic conventions of moral language. I examine (in Section I) the descriptivist strategy of accommodating practicality by appeal to contingent but ubiquitous psychological or social facts about motivation, and agree with nondescriptivists that it fails, because it is the moral speech act itself, independent of background information, that carries the practicality. I then argue (in Section II) that there is at least one form of descriptivism, the interest-relational theory, that satisfies the requirement, hence that we need not be nondescriptivists. Practicality, I shall argue, is a * For their generous consideration and helpful comments I owe thanks to Gary Ebbs, David Copp, Laura Bernhardt, Lisa King, Stephen F. Barker, audiences from the Philosophy Department at UC-Davis and the School of Philosophy at the University of Southern California, and also to several anonymous reviewers.3 Although this element of practicality involves the necessary state of mind for, rather than a communicative function of moral utterances, it is closely related to the former principle in that the attitude expressed is, if not the very attitude identified as motivational state, psychologically derived from it.A third element involves the motivational efficacy of moral judgement (I shall have little to say about this, except to suggest eventually that...
Reviewed by James Lenman, University of Sheffield We begin with good. Good, Finlay suggests, is an incomplete predicate. When we say something is good we are saying something of this form. (1) It is good for e if p. Where p is some proposition (for good, he argues, is fundamentally expressive of a propositional operator), and e is some end salient in the context. Such salience is a slippery thing. Sometimes Drinking a lot of gin is good might be relative to the end of having fun. But we can still ask Drinking a lot of gin may be fun, but is it good? to raise the question of its conduciveness to some other end comparable in eligibility for salience, such as health perhaps. So we have a form of reductive naturalism that offers to defuse the open question argument. Or at least we do when we complete the reduction in the way F proposes. (2) 'It is good for e if p' means that p increases the probability of e. Or more precisely: (3) 'It is good for e if p' means that pr(e/p & b) > pr(e/~p & b). Where b specifies certain background conditions. Along the way in discussing good, F has a swipe at the Aristotelian moral functionalist. A sentence saying X is a good K, where K is some functional kind, has both a functional reading, where the end served by the state of affairs denoted by p in which X features as a K is that end e K specified by the function of K; and a nonfunctional reading, where X is something that happens to be a K featuring in some state of affairs good for some contextually salient e. F now claims we can distinguish these readings in the following way. On a nonfunctional reading, X being a good (or bad) K entails X being a K. On a functional reading, it does not. (This test is credited to Shyam Nair.) To be a good (or bad) person, he then proposes, entails being a person. Likewise, to be a good (or bad) human being entails being a good human being. Goodbye moral functionalism. It would be good to see this very quick argument slowed down a bit. As it stands, I am not quite clear what the rules would be for seeking counterexamples. An ice-axe is not a weapon, but it may be a good weapon. Only, if it is a good weapon, it surely is a weapon. Do we take weapon here to mean something made for a martial purpose or something serviceable to one? On the latter understanding, weapon surely still counts as a functional kind, but it is hard here to see how a good weapon could fail to be a weapon. Maybe things get clearer if we accentuate the negative. A postage stamp is a really bad weapon. Indeed, it is (partly for that reason) not a weapon at all. We turn next to ought. F focuses on the instrumental conditional. (4) If Max wants to evade arrest, then he ought to mingle with the crowd. F tackles this in two steps. The first offers an analysis of the more straightforward: (5) If Max is going to evade arrest, then he has to mingle with the crowd.
This article explains for a general philosophical audience the central issues and strategies in the contemporary moral realism debate. It critically surveys the contribution of some recent scholarship, representing expressivist and pragmatist nondescriptivism (Mark Timmons, Hilary Putnam), subjectivist and nonsubjectivist naturalism (Michael Smith, Paul Bloomfield, Philippa Foot), nonnaturalism (Russ Shafer‐Landau, T. M. Scanlon) and error theory (Richard Joyce). Four different faces of ‘moral realism’ are distinguished: semantic, ontological, metaphysical and normative. The debate is presented as taking shape under dialectical pressure from the demands of (i) capturing the moral appearances; and (ii) reconciling morality with our understanding of the mind and world.
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