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Moral Language

Edited by Justin Snedegar (University of St. Andrews)
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Moral Semantics
  1. Leslie Allan, A Defence of Emotivism.
    As a non-cognitivist analysis of moral language, Charles Stevenson's sophisticated emotivism is widely regarded by moral philosophers as a substantial improvement over its historical antecedent, radical emotivism. None the less, it has come in for its share of criticism. In this essay, Leslie Allan responds to the key philosophical objections to Stevenson's thesis, arguing that the criticisms levelled against his meta-ethical theory rest largely on a too hasty reading of his works.
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  2. Andrew Alwood (forthcoming). Non-Descriptive Negation for Normative Sentences. Philosophical Quarterly:pqv067.
    Frege-Geach worries about embedding and composition have plagued metaethical theories like emotivism, prescriptivism and expressivism. The sharpened point of such criticism has come to focus on whether negation and inconsistency have to be understood in descriptivist terms. Because they reject descriptivism, these theories must offer a non-standard account of the meanings of ethical and normative sentences as well as related semantic facts, such as why certain sentences are inconsistent with each other. This paper fills out such a solution to the (...)
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  3. Andrew Alwood (2010). Imperative Clauses and the Frege–Geach Problem. [REVIEW] Analysis 70 (1):105-117.
    (No abstract is available for this citation).
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  4. Nicholas Baima (2014). The Problem of Ethical Vagueness for Expressivism. Ethical Theory and Moral Practice 17 (4):593-605.
    Ethical vagueness has garnered little attention. This is rather surprising since many philosophers have remarked that the science of ethics lacks the precision that other fields of inquiry have. Of the few philosophers who have discussed ethical vagueness the majority have focused on the implications of vagueness for moral realism. Because the relevance of ethical vagueness for other metaethical positions has been underexplored, my aim in this paper is to investigate the ramifications of ethical vagueness for expressivism. Ultimately, I shall (...)
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  5. 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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  6. 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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  7. Pierre Baumann (2014). Interrogando a Musonio Rufo sobre el bien y el placer. Cadernos Do Pet Filosofia 5 (9):33-39.
    Este trabajo examina críticamente un argumento de Musonio Rufo en favor de la conclusión de que el placer no es bueno. Se esquematiza el argumento en lógica de primer orden y se evalúa para determinar validez y corrección. Se demuestra que el argumento sólo es válido bajo una esquematización que debilita la conclusión, y que no parece corresponder a la conclusión que tiene en mente Musonio. Se arguye, además, que el razonamiento de Musonio no es determinadamente correcto, puesto que sus (...)
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  8. 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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  9. Gunnar Björnsson, Contextualism in Ethics. International Encyclopedia of Ethics.
    In more than one way, context matters in ethics. Most clearly, the moral status of an action might depend on context: though it is typically wrong not to keep a promise, some contexts make it permissible. More radically, proponents of moral particularism (see PARTICULARISM) have argued that a reason for an action in one context is not guaranteed to be even a defeasible reason in every context: whether it counts against an act that it breaks a promise or inflicts pain (...)
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  10. Gunnar Björnsson (forthcoming). The Significance of Ethical Disagreement for Theories of Ethical Thought and Talk. In Tristram McPherson & David Plunkett (eds.), Routledge Handbook of Metaethics. Routledge
    This chapter has two sections, each focusing on a distinct way in which ethical disagreement and variations in ethical judgment matter for theories of ethical thought and talk. In the first section, we look at how the variation poses problems for both cognitivist and non-cognitivist ways of specifying the nature of ethical judgments. In the second, we look at how disagreement phenomena have been taken to undermine cognitivist accounts, but also at how the seeming variation in cognitive and non-cognitive contents (...)
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  11. 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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  12. 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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  13. 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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  14. Gunnar Björnsson, Caj Strandberg, Ragnar Francén Olinder, John Eriksson & Fredrik Björklund (2015). Motivational Internalism: Contemporary Debates. In Gunnar Björnsson, Caj Strandberg, Ragnar Francén Olinder, John Eriksson & Fredrik Björklund (eds.), Motivational Internalism. Oxford University Press 1–20.
    Motivational internalism—the idea that moral judgments are intrinsically or necessarily connected to motivation—has played a central role in metaethical debates. In conjunction with a Humean picture of motivation, internalism has provided a challenge for theories that take moral judgments to concern objective aspects of reality, and versions of internalism have been seen as having implications for moral absolutism, realism, and rationalism. But internalism is a controversial thesis, and the apparent possibility of amoralists and the rejection of strong forms of internalism (...)
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  15. 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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  16. 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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  17. 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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  18. Aaron Bronfman & J. L. Dowell (forthcoming). The Language of Reasons and 'Ought'. In Daniel Star (ed.), Oxford Handbook of Reasons.
  19. Aaron Bronfman & Janice Dowell, J. L., Contextualism About Deontic Conditionals.
  20. Michael Byron (2014). Right-Making, Reference, and Reduction. Disputatio 6:139-145.
    The causal theory of reference (CTR) provides a well-articulated and widely-accepted account of the reference relation. On CTR the reference of a term is fixed by whatever property causally regulates the competent use of that term. CTR poses a metaethical challenge to realists by demanding an account of the properties that regulate the competent use of normative predicates. CTR might pose a challenge to ethical theorists as well. Long argues that CTR entails the falsity of any normative ethical theory. First-order (...)
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  21. John Cantwell (2014). Unity and Autonomy in Expressivist Logic. Dialectica 68 (3):443-457.
    It is argued that expressivists can solve their problems in accounting for the unity and autonomy of logic – logic is topic independent and does not derive from a general ‘logic’ of mental states – by adopting an analysis of the logical connectives that takes logically complex sentences to express complex combinations of simple attitudes like belief and disapproval and dispositions to form such simple attitudes upon performing suppositional acts, and taking acceptance and rejection of sentences to be the common (...)
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  22. Fabrizio Cariani (2014). Attitudes, Deontics and Semantic Neutrality. Pacific Philosophical Quarterly 95 (4):491-511.
    It has been recently suggested that a semantic theory for deontic modals should be neutral between a very large range of normative and evaluative theories. This article aims to clarify this talk of neutrality, in particular its scope and motivation. My thesis is that neutrality is best understood as an empirical thesis about a fragment of natural language that includes deontic modals – not as a new, sui generis methodological constraint on natural language semantics.
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  23. 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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  24. Richard Yetter Chappell, Moral Symmetry and Two Dimensional Semantics.
    This paper explores how insights from two-dimensional semantics can be brought to bear on debates surrounding (realist) metaethical naturalism. It defends two central claims. (1) A plausible principle of 2-D symmetry for normative terms provides us with reason to reject standard forms of synthetic metaethical naturalism. (2) Moore's Open Question Argument can be powerfully revived within the framework of 2-D semantics. I approach these issues by diagnosing how Attitudinal Semanticists' use of 2-D semantics--to account for moral objectivity--goes wrong. I argue (...)
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  25. Nate Charlow (2015). Prospects for an Expressivist Theory of Meaning. Philosophers' Imprint 15 (23):1-43.
    Advocates of Expressivism about basically any kind of language are best-served by abandoning a traditional content-centric approach to semantic theorizing, in favor of an update-centric or dynamic approach (or so this paper argues). The type of dynamic approach developed here — in contrast to the content-centric approach — is argued to yield canonical, if not strictly classical, "explanations" of the core semantic properties of the connectives. (The cases on which I focus most here are negation and disjunction.) I end the (...)
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  26. Matthew Chrisman (2015). The Meaning of 'Ought': Beyond Descriptivism and Expressivism in Metaethics. Oxford University Press Usa.
    The word 'ought' is one of the core normative terms, but it is also a modal word. In this book Matthew Chrisman develops a careful account of the semantics of 'ought' as a modal operator, and uses this to motivate a novel inferentialist account of why ought-sentences have the meaning that they have. This is a metanormative account that agrees with traditional descriptivist theories in metaethics that specifying the truth-conditions of normative sentences is a central part of the explanation of (...)
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  27. 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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  28. 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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  29. 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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  30. 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 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 of utterance. This debate manifestly (...)
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  31. 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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  32. Brendan Cline (2015). Moral Explanations, Thick and Thin. Journal of Ethics and Social Philosophy 9 (2):1-20.
    Cornell realists maintain that irreducible moral properties have earned a place in our ontology in virtue of the indispensable role they play in a variety of explanations. These explanations can be divided into two groups: those that employ thin ethical concepts and those that employ thick ethical concepts. Recent work on thick concepts suggests that they are not inherently evaluative in their meaning. If correct, this creates problems for the moral explanations of Cornell realists, since the most persuasive moral explanations (...)
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  33. 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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  34. Dohrn, Counterfactuals and Two Kinds of Ought. GAP 8 Proceedings.
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  35. Dohrn, Counterfactuals and Two Kinds of Ought. GAP 8.
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  36. J. L. Dowell (forthcoming). Confusion of Tongues: A Theory of Normative Language. Mind:fzv148.
  37. Janice Dowell, J. L. (forthcoming). The Metaethical Insignificance of Moral Twin Earth. In Russ Shafer-Landau (ed.), Oxford Studies in Metaethics. Oxford
  38. 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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  39. Janice Dowell, J. L. (2012). Contextualist Solutions to Three Puzzles About Practical Conditionals. In Russ Shafer-Landau (ed.), Oxford Studies in Metaethics, volume 7. Oxford
  40. 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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  41. Matti Eklund, Evaluative Language and Evaluative Reality.
  42. Matti Eklund (2012). Alternative Normative Concepts. Analytic Philosophy 53 (2):139-157.
  43. 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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  44. 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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  45. 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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  46. 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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  47. 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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  48. 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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  49. Daan Evers & Bart Streumer (2016). Are the Moral Fixed Points Conceptual Truths? Journal of Ethics and Social Philosophy:1-9.
    Terence Cuneo and Russ Shafer-Landau have recently proposed a new version of moral nonnaturalism, according to which there are nonnatural moral concepts and truths but no nonnatural moral facts. This view entails that moral error theorists are conceptually deficient. We explain why moral error theorists are not conceptually deficient. We then argue that this explanation reveals what is wrong with Cuneo and Shafer-Landau’s view.
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  50. William Ferraiolo, Moral Eliminativism: An End to Moralizing.
    Terms such as “good” and “evil” are residues of a scientifically benighted worldview, often corrupted by intimations of the supernatural, and the phenomena that moral terms allegedly designate are no more substantial than phlogiston or witchery. Much as eliminative materialists like Paul and Patricia Churchland have attempted to banish the posits of “folk psychology” to the dustbin of history’s defunct and discarded theories, I hope to begin the relegation of moral terminology to humankind’s collective intellectual adolescence. It is prudent to (...)
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