David Bourget (Western Ontario)
David Chalmers (ANU, NYU)
Rafael De Clercq
Ezio Di Nucci
Jack Alan Reynolds
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Australasian Journal of Philosophy 90 (3):433-451 (2012)
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 important distinction between agential and non-agential ought-statements. The thought is that ?ought? must have at least two senses, one implicating agency and connected to obligations, and another covering other uses. In this paper, I pursue some resolution of this tension between semantic theory and ethical theory with respect to the meaning of ?ought?. To this end, I consider what I believe to be the most linguistically sophisticated argument for the view that the word ?ought? is ambiguous between agential and non-agential senses. This argument, due to Mark Schroeder, is instructive but based on a false claim about the syntax of agential ought-sentences?or so I attempt to show by first situating Schroeder's argument in its proper linguistic background and then discussing some syntactic evidence that he fails to appreciate. Then, I use the failure of this argument to motivate some more general reflections on how the standard treatment of ?ought? by theoretical semanticists might be refined in the light of the distinction important to ethical theory between agential and non-agential ought-statements, but also on how ethical theory might benefit from more careful study of the dominant treatment of modals as operators in theoretical semantics
|Keywords||metaethics semantics modals|
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Citations of this work BETA
Stephen Finlay & Justin Snedegar (2014). One Ought Too Many. Philosophy and Phenomenological Research 86 (1):102-124.
Jonathan McKeown‐Green, Glen Pettigrove & Aness Webster (2015). Conjuring Ethics From Words. Noûs 49 (1):71-93.
Daniel Lassiter (2014). Modality, Scale Structure, and Scalar Reasoning. Pacific Philosophical Quarterly 95 (4):461-490.
Guy Fletcher (2013). A Millian Objection to Reasons as Evidence. Utilitas 25 (3):417-420.
Kate Nolfi (2013). Why is Epistemic Evaluation Prescriptive? Inquiry 57 (1):97-121.
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