'Is'–'ought' derivations and ethical taxonomies

Philosophia 36 (4):545-566 (2008)
Abstract
Hume seems to claim that there does not exist a valid argument that has all non-ethical sentences as premises and an ethical sentence as its conclusion. Starting with Prior, a number of counterexamples to this claim have been proposed. Unfortunately, all of these proposals are controversial. Even the most plausible have a premise that seems like it might be an ethical sentence or a conclusion that seems like it might be non-ethical. Since it is difficult to tell whether any of these counterexamples are genuine, we need a taxonomy that sorts out ethical sentences from non-ethical ones. We need to know the difference between an ‘Is’ and an ‘Ought’. In the first part of the paper, I establish the need for a taxonomy. I consider some of the most influential ‘Is’–‘Ought’ derivations. These include proposals by Prior and Searle. I argue that each proposal has a premise whose status as ethical or non-ethical is difficult to determine. In the second part of the paper, I consider taxonomies proposed by Karmo and Maitzen. I argue against both taxonomies. I end with the claim that we need a taxonomy of ethical sentences and that none of the current proposals are adequate.
Keywords ‘Is’–‘ought’ derivation  Taxonomy of ethical sentences  Ethical nihilism  Possible world  Ethical standard
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