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Moral Language

Edited by Justin Snedegar (University of St. Andrews)
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  1. Berel Lang (1991). Writing and the Moral Self. Routledge.
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  2. James Lenman (2010). 1. How to Share a Flat. In Russ Shafer-Landau (ed.), Oxford Studies in Metaethics. Oxford University Press. 5--175.
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  3. John M. Mikhail (2011). Elements of Moral Cognition: Rawls' Linguistic Analogy and the Cognitive Science of Moral and Legal Judgment. Cambridge University Press.
    Is the science of moral cognition usefully modeled on aspects of Universal Grammar? Are human beings born with an innate "moral grammar" that causes them to analyze human action in terms of its moral structure, with just as little awareness as they analyze human speech in terms of its grammatical structure? Questions like these have been at the forefront of moral psychology ever since John Mikhail revived them in his influential work on the linguistic analogy and its implications for jurisprudence (...)
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  4. John M. Mikhail (2000). Rawls' Linguistic Analogy. Dissertation, Cornell University
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  5. Michael Rubin (2014). On Two Responses to Moral Twin Earth. Theoria 80 (1):26-43.
    Terence Horgan and Mark Timmons's Moral Twin Earth thought experiment poses a serious challenge for an influential kind of moral realism. It presents us with a case in which it is intuitive that two speakers are expressing a substantive disagreement with one another. However, the meta-semantics associated with this relevant form of moral realism entails that the speakers' moral predicates express different semantic contents, and thus, the moral sentences they utter do not express conflicting propositions. Consequently, this variety of moral (...)
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  6. Anders Schinkel (2011). Huck Finn, Moral Language and Moral Education. Journal of Philosophy of Education 45 (3):511-525.
    The aim of this article is twofold. Against the traditional interpretation of ‘the conscience of Huckleberry Finn’ (for which Jonathan Bennett's article with this title is the locus classicus) as a conflict between conscience and sympathy, I propose a new interpretation of Huck's inner conflict, in terms of Huck's mastery of (the) moral language and its integration with his moral feelings. The second aim is to show how this interpretation can provide insight into a particular aspect of moral education: learning (...)
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  7. Alex Silk (2013). Truth Conditions and the Meanings of Ethical Terms1. Oxford Studies in Metaethics 8:195.
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  8. Alex Silk (2012). Review of Shafer-Landau, Russ, (Ed.), Oxford Studies in Metaethics, Vol. 6. [REVIEW] Ethics 122 (3):622-627.
  9. Jorn Sonderholm (2013). Unreliable Intuitions: A New Reply to the Moral Twin-Earth Argument. Theoria 79 (1):76-88.
    This article is concerned with Mark Timmons and Terence Horgan's influential twin-earth argument against the semantic views of that school of thought in metaethics that has come to be known as “Cornell realism”. The semantic views of Cornell realism have been developed in greatest detail by Richard Boyd, and it is Boyd's view that is targeted by Timmons and Horgan. In the first part of the article, the twin-earth argument is introduced and two versions of it are disentangled. Thereafter, a (...)
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  10. Charles L. Stevenson (1979). Ethics and Language. Ams Press.
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  11. Daniel Stoljar & Michael Smith (2003). Is There a Lockean Argument Against Expressivism? Analysis 63 (1):76 - 86.
    It is sometimes suggested that expressivism in meta-ethics is to be criticized on grounds which do not themselves concern meta-ethics in particular, but which rather concern philosophy of language more generally. Frank Jackson and Philip Pettit (1998; see also Jackson and Pettit 1999, and Jackson 2001) have recently advanced a novel version of such an argument. They begin by noting that expressivism in its central form makes two claims—that ethical sentences are not truth evaluable, and that to assert an ethical (...)
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  12. Ezra Talmor (1984). Language and Ethics. Pergamon Press.
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  13. T. Toppinen (2013). Believing in Expressivism. Oxford Studies in Metaethics 8.
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  14. Pekka Väyrynen (2014). Essential Contestability and Evaluation. Australasian Journal of Philosophy (3):1-18.
    Evaluative and normative terms and concepts are often said to be ?essentially contestable?. This notion has been used in political and legal theory and applied ethics to analyse disputes concerning the proper usage of terms like democracy, freedom, genocide, rape, coercion, and the rule of law. Many philosophers have also thought that essential contestability tells us something important about the evaluative in particular. Gallie (who coined the term), for instance, argues that the central structural features of essentially contestable concepts secure (...)
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  15. Pekka Väyrynen (2013). The Lewd, the Rude and the Nasty: A Study of Thick Concepts in Ethics. Oxford University Press.
    In addition to thin concepts like the good, the bad and the ugly, our evaluative thought and talk appeals to thick concepts like the lewd and the rude, the selfish and the cruel, the courageous and the kind -- concepts that somehow combine evaluation and non-evaluative description. Thick concepts are almost universally assumed to be inherently evaluative in content, and many philosophers claimed them to have deep and distinctive significance in ethics and metaethics. In this first book-length treatment of thick (...)
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  16. David Wiggins (1998). Needs, Values, Truth: Essays in the Philosophy of Value. Oxford University Press.
    Needs, Values, Truth brings together of some of the most important and influential writings by a leading contemporary philosopher, drawn from twenty-five years of his work in the broad area of the philosophy of value. The author ranges between problems of ethics, meta-ethics, philosophy of mind, and philosophy of logic and language, looking at questions relating to meaning, truth and objectivity in judgements of value. For this third edition he has added a new essay on incommensurability, in addition to making (...)
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Moral Semantics
  1. Derek Baker & Jack Woods (2015). How Expressivists Can and Should Explain Inconsistency. Ethics 125 (2):391-424.
    Mark Schroeder has argued that all reasonable forms of inconsistency of attitude consist of having the same attitude type towards a pair of inconsistent contents (A-type inconsistency). We suggest that he is mistaken in this, offering a number of intuitive examples of pairs of distinct attitudes types with consistent contents which are intuitively inconsistent (B-type inconsistency). We further argue that, despite the virtues of Schroeder's elegant A-type expressivist semantics, B-type inconsistency is in many ways the more natural choice in developing (...)
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  2. David Barnett (2002). Against a Posteriori Moral Naturalism. Philosophical Studies 107 (3):239 - 257.
    A posteriori Moral Naturalism posits a posteriorimoral/naturalistic identities. Versions of this view thatposit necessary identities purport to rely on theKripke/Putnam doctrine of scientific essentialism.Versions that posit only contingent identities requirethat moral terms are non-rigid designators. I argue thatmetaethics does not fall within the scope of scientificessentialism and that moral terms are not non-rigid designators.
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  3. Lars Binderup (2008). Brogaard's Moral Contextualism. Philosophical Quarterly 58 (232):410–415.
    Brogaard's non-indexical version of moral contextualism has two related problems. It is unable to account for the function of truth-governed assertoric moral discourse, since it leaves two (semantically clearheaded) disputants without any incentive to resolve seemingly contradictory moral claims. The moral contextualist could explain why people do feel such an incentive by ascribing false beliefs about the semantic workings of their own language. But, secondly, this leaves Brogaard's moral contextualism looking weaker than a Mackie-style invariantist error theory about morals. The (...)
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  4. Gunnar Björnsson (2013). Contextualism in Ethics. In Hugh LaFolette (ed.), The International Encyclopedia of Ethics. Wiley-Blackwell.
    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 (...)
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  5. Gunnar Björnsson & Stephen Finlay (2010). Metaethical Contextualism Defended. Ethics 121 (1):7-36.
    We defend a contextualist account of deontic judgments as relativized both to (i) information and to (ii) standards or ends, against recent objections that turn on practices of moral disagreement. Kolodny & MacFarlane argue that information-relative contextualism cannot accommodate the connection between deliberation and advice; we suggest in response that they misidentify the basic concerns of deliberating agents. For pragmatic reasons, semantic assessments of normative claims sometimes are evaluations of propositions other than those asserted. Weatherson, Schroeder and others have raised (...)
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  6. Gunnar Björnsson & Tristram McPherson (2014). Moral Attitudes for Non-Cognitivists: Solving the Specification Problem. Mind 123 (489):1-38.
    Moral non-cognitivists hope to explain the nature of moral agreement and disagreement as agreement and disagreement in non-cognitive attitudes. In doing so, they take on the task of identifying the relevant attitudes, distinguishing the non-cognitive attitudes corresponding to judgements of moral wrongness, for example, from attitudes involved in aesthetic disapproval or the sports fan’s disapproval of her team’s performance. We begin this paper by showing that there is a simple recipe for generating apparent counterexamples to any informative specification of the (...)
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  7. Olle Blomberg (2007). Disentangling the Thick Concept Argument. SATS: Northern European Journal of Philosophy 8 (2):63-78.
    Critics argue that non-cognitivism cannot adequately account for the existence and nature of some thick moral concepts. They use the existence of thick concepts as a lever in an argument against non-cognitivism, here called the Thick Concept Argument (TCA). While TCA is frequently invoked, it is unfortunately rarely articulated. In this paper, TCA is first reconstructed on the basis of John McDowell’s formulation of the argument (from 1981), and then evaluated in the light of several possible non-cognitivist responses. In general, (...)
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  8. Michael Brady (ed.) (2011). New Waves in Metaethics. Palgrave Macmillan.
    Metaethics occupies a central place in analytical philosophy, and the last forty years has seen an upsurge of interest in questions about the nature and practice of morality. This collection presents original and ground-breaking research on metaethical issues from some of the very best of a new generation of philosophers working in this field.
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  9. Berit Brogaard (2008). Moral Contextualism and Moral Relativism. Philosophical Quarterly 58 (232):385 - 409.
    Moral relativism provides a compelling explanation of linguistic data involving ordinary moral expressions like 'right' and 'wrong'. But it is a very radical view. Because relativism relativizes sentence truth to contexts of assessment it forces us to revise standard linguistic theory. If, however, no competing theory explains all of the evidence, perhaps it is time for a paradigm shift. However, I argue that a version of moral contextualism can account for the same data as relativism without relativizing sentence truth to (...)
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  10. Aaron Bronfman & J. L. Dowell, Janice (forthcoming). The Language of Reasons and 'Ought'. In Daniel Star (ed.), Oxford Handbook of Reasons.
  11. Fabrizio Cariani, Magdalena Kaufmann & Stefan Kaufmann (2013). Deliberative Modality Under Epistemic Uncertainty. Linguistics and Philosophy 36 (3):225-259.
    We discuss the semantic significance of a puzzle concerning ‘ought’ and conditionals recently discussed by Kolodny and MacFarlane. We argue that the puzzle is problematic for the standard Kratzer-style analysis of modality. In Kratzer’s semantics, modals are evaluated relative to a pair of conversational backgrounds. We show that there is no sensible way of assigning values to these conversational backgrounds so as to derive all of the intuitions in Kolodny and MacFarlane’s case. We show that the appropriate verdicts can be (...)
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  12. Matthew Chrisman (2012). 'Ought' and Control. Australasian Journal of Philosophy 90 (3):433-451.
    Ethical theorists often assume that the verb ?ought? means roughly ?has an obligation?; however, this assumption is belied by the diversity of ?flavours? of ought-sentences in English. A natural response is that ?ought? is ambiguous. However, this response is incompatible with the standard treatment of ?ought? by theoretical semanticists, who classify ?ought? as a member of the family of modal verbs, which are treated uniformly as operators. To many ethical theorists, however, this popular treatment in linguistics seems to elide an (...)
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  13. Matthew Chrisman (2012). On the Meaning of 'Ought'. In Russ Shafer-Landau (ed.), Oxford Studies in Metaethics, vol. 7. Oxford University Press. 304.
    Discussions about the meaning of the word “ought” are pulled in two apparently competing directions. First, in ethical theory this word is used in the paradigmatic statement of ethical principles and conclusions about what some agent is obligated to do. This leads some ethical theorists to claim that the word “ought” describes a real relation, roughly, of being obligated to (realism) or expresses some non-cognitive attitude toward agents acting in certain ways (expressivism). Second, in theoretical linguistics this word is classified (...)
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  14. Matthew Chrisman (2010). Expressivism, Inferentialism, and the Theory of Meaning. In Michael Brady (ed.), New Waves in Metaethics. Palgrave-Macmillan.
    One’s account of the meaning of ethical sentences should fit – roughly, as part to whole – with one’s account of the meaning of sentences in general. When we ask, though, where one widely discussed account of the meaning of ethical sentences fits with more general accounts of meaning, the answer is frustratingly unclear. The account I have in mind is the sort of metaethical expressivism inspired by Ayer, Stevenson, and Hare, and defended and worked out in more detail recently (...)
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  15. Matthew Chrisman (2010). From Epistemic Expressivism to Epistemic Inferentialism. In Adrian Haddock, Alan Millar & Duncan Pritchard (eds.), Social Epistemology. Oxford University Press.
    Recent philosophical debate about the meaning of knowledge claims has largely centered on the question of whether epistemic claims are plausibly thought to be context sensitive. The default assumption has been that sentences that attribute knowledge or justification (or whatever else is epistemic) have stable truth-conditions across different contexts of utterance, once any non-epistemic context sensitivity has been fixed. The contrary view is the contextualist view that such sentences do not have stable truth-conditions but can vary depending on the context (...)
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  16. Matthew Chrisman (2008). Expressivism, Inferentialism, and Saving the Debate. Philosophy and Phenomenological Research 77 (2):334 - 358.
    Theoretical reasoning aims to expand our knowledge of how the world is. Practical reasoning aims to expand our knowledge of how to behave in the world as we know it to be. Although this distinction between theoretical and practical reasoning is notoriously central to normative ethical theorizing, its significance has, I think, been underappreciated and misconstrued in the metaethical debate about realism. I suspect that this is the result of two aspects of that debate: (a) the realism debate has been (...)
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  17. S. Marc Cohen (1971). Socrates on the Definition of Piety. Journal of the History of Philosophy 9 (1):1-13.
    The central argument in the Euthyphro is the one Socrates advances against the definition of piety as "what all the gods love." The argument turns on establishing that a loved thing (philoumenon) is 1) a loved thing because it is loved (phileitai), not 2) loved because it is a loved thing. I suggest that this claim can be understood and found acceptable if we take "because" to be used equivocally in it. Despite the equivocation, Socrates' argument is valid, showing that (...)
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  18. Janice Dowell, J. L. (forthcoming). The Metaethical Insignificance of Moral Twin Earth. In Russ Shafer-Landau (ed.), Oxford Studies in Metaethics. Oxford.
  19. Janice Dowell, J. L. (2013). Flexible Contextualism About Deontic Modals: A Puzzle About Information-Sensitivity. Inquiry 56 (2-3):149-178.
    According to a recent challenge to Kratzer's canonical contextualist semantics for deontic modal expressions, no contextualist view can make sense of cases in which such a modal must be information-sensitive in some way. Here I show how Kratzer's semantics is compatible with readings of the targeted sentences that fit with the data. I then outline a general account of how contexts select parameter values for modal expressions and show, in terms of that account, how the needed, contextualist-friendly readings might plausibly (...)
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  20. James Dreier (1996). Expressivist Embeddings and Minimalist Truth. Philosophical Studies 83 (1):29-51.
    This paper is about Truth Minimalism, Norm Expressivism, and the relation between them. In particular, it is about whether Truth Minimalism can help to solve a problem thought to plague Norm Expressivism. To start with, let me explain what I mean by 'Truth Minimalism' and 'Norm Expressivism.'.
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  21. Matti Eklund, Evaluative Language and Evaluative Reality.
  22. Matti Eklund (2012). Alternative Normative Concepts. Analytic Philosophy 53 (2):139-157.
  23. Matti Eklund (2009). The Frege–Geach Problem and Kalderon's Moral Fictionalism. Philosophical Quarterly 59 (237):705-712.
    Mark Eli Kalderon has argued for a fictionalist variant of non-cognitivism. On his view, what the Frege–Geach problem shows is that standard non-cognitivism proceeds uncritically from claims about use to claims about meaning; if non-cognitivism's claims were solely about use it would be on safe ground as far as the Frege–Geach problem is concerned. I argue that Kalderon's diagnosis is mistaken: the problem concerns the non-cognitivist's account of the use of moral sentences too.
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  24. Daan Evers (2014). Moral Contextualism and the Problem of Triviality. Ethical Theory and Moral Practice 17 (2):285-297.
    Moral contextualism is the view that claims like ‘A ought to X’ are implicitly relative to some (contextually variable) standard. This leads to a problem: what are fundamental moral claims like ‘You ought to maximize happiness’ relative to? If this claim is relative to a utilitarian standard, then its truth conditions are trivial: ‘Relative to utilitarianism, you ought to maximize happiness’. But it certainly doesn’t seem trivial that you ought to maximize happiness (utilitarianism is a highly controversial position). Some people (...)
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  25. Daan Evers (2013). Weight for Stephen Finlay. Philosophical Studies 163 (3):737-749.
    According to Stephen Finlay, ‘A ought to X’ means that X-ing is more conducive to contextually salient ends than relevant alternatives. This in turn is analysed in terms of probability. I show why this theory of ‘ought’ is hard to square with a theory of a reason’s weight which could explain why ‘A ought to X’ logically entails that the balance of reasons favours that A X-es. I develop two theories of weight to illustrate my point. I first look at (...)
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  26. Daan Evers (2011). Two Objections to Wide-Scoping. Grazer Philosophische Studien 83 (13):251-255.
    Wide-scopers argue that the detachment of intuitively false ‘ought’ claims from hypothetical imperatives is blocked because ‘ought’ takes wide, as opposed to narrow, scope. I present two arguments against this view. The first questions the premise that natural language conditionals are true just in case the antecedent is false. The second shows that intuitively false ‘ought’s can still be detached even WITH wide-scope readings. This weakens the motivation for wide-scoping.
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  27. Daan Evers (2011). The Standard-Relational Theory of 'Ought' and the Oughtistic Theory of Reasons. Australasian Journal of Philosophy 89 (1):131-147.
    The idea that normative statements implicitly refer to standards has been around for quite some time. It is usually defended by normative antirealists, who tend to be attracted to Humean theories of reasons. But this is an awkward combination: 'A ought to X' entails that there are reasons for A to X, and 'A ought to X all things considered' entails that the balance of reasons favours X-ing. If the standards implicitly referred to are not those of the agent, then (...)
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  28. Daan Evers (2010). The End-Relational Theory of 'Ought' and the Weight of Reasons. Dialectica 64 (3):405-417.
    Stephen Finlay analyses ‘ought’ in terms of probability. According to him, normative ‘ought's are statements about the likelihood that an act will realize some (contextually supplied) end. I raise a problem for this theory. It concerns the relation between ‘ought’ and the balance of reasons. ‘A ought to Φ’ seems to entail that the balance of reasons favours that A Φ-es, and vice versa. Given Finlay's semantics for ‘ought’, it also makes sense to think of reasons and their weight in (...)
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  29. Stephen Finlay (forthcoming). 'Ought': OUT OF ORDER. In Nate Charlow & Matthew Chrisman (eds.), Deontic Modality. Oxford University Press.
    This paper argues that the innovation of an ordering source parameter in the standard Lewis-Kratzer semantics for modals was a mistake, at least for English auxiliaries like ‘ought’, and that a simpler dyadic semantics (as proposed in my earlier work) provides a superior account of normative uses of modals. I programmatically investigate problems arising from (i) instrumental conditionals, (ii) gradability and “weak necessity”, (iii) information-sensitivity, and (iv) conflicts, and show how the simpler semantics provides intuitive solutions given three basic moves: (...)
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  30. Stephen Finlay (2014). The Pragmatics of Normative Disagreement. In Guy Fletcher & Michael Ridge (eds.), Having It Both Ways: Hybrid Theories and Modern Metaethics. Oxford University Press. 124-148.
    Relational theories of normative language allegedly face special problems in accounting for the extent of disagreement, but this is everybody’s problem because normative sentences are relativized to different information in contexts of deliberation and advice. This paper argues that a relational theory provides a pragmatic solution that accounts for some disagreements as involving inconsistent preferences rather than beliefs. This is shown to be superior to the semantic solution offered by expressivists like Allan Gibbard, as it accounts for a wider range (...)
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  31. Stephen Finlay (2012). Explaining Reasons. Deutsches Jahrbuch Fuer Philosophie 4:112-126.
    What does it mean to call something a “reason”? This paper offers a unifying semantics for the word ‘reason’, challenging three ideas that are popular in contemporary philosophy; (i) that ‘reason’ is semantically ambiguous, (ii) that the concept of a normative reason is the basic normative concept, and (iii) that basic normative concepts are unanalyzable. Nonnormative uses of ‘reason’ are taken as basic, and as meaning explanation why. Talk about normative reasons for action is analyzed in terms of explanations why (...)
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  32. Stephen Finlay (2010). Normativity, Necessity and Tense: A Recipe for Homebaked Normativity. In Russ Shafer-Landau (ed.), Oxford Studies in Metaethics, Vol. 5. Oxford University Press. 57-85.
    Normative concepts have a special taste, which many consider to be proof that they cannot be reductively analyzed into entirely nonnormative components. This paper demonstrates that at least some intuitively normative concepts can be reductively analyzed. I focus on so-called ‘hypothetical imperatives’ or ‘anankastic conditionals’, and show that the availability of normative readings of conditionals is determined by features of grammar, specifically features of tense. Properly interpreted, these grammatical features suggest that these deontic modals are analyzable in terms of conditional (...)
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  33. Stephen Finlay (2010). Price, A. W., Contextuality in Practical Reason , Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2008, XXXIV + 208, Us$70 (Cloth). Australasian Journal of Philosophy 88 (1):187 – 190.
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  34. Stephen Finlay (2010). What Ought Probably Means, and Why You Can't Detach It. Synthese 177 (1):67 - 89.
    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 (...)
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