The Triviality of the Debate over "Is-Ought" and the Definition of "Moral"

American Philosophical Quarterly 10 (1):51-56 (1973)
"THE central problem in moral philosophy is commonly known as the is-ought problem." So runs the opening sentence of the introduction to a recent volume of readings on this issue. [1] Taken as a statement about the preoccupations of moral philosophers of the present century, we can accept this assertion. The problem of how statements of fact are related to moral judgments has dominated recent moral philosophy. Associated with this problem is another, which has also been given considerable attention - the question of how morality is to be defined. The two issues are linked, since some definitions of morality allow us to move from statements of fact to moral judgments, while others do not. In this article I shall take the two issues together, and try to show that they do not merit the amount of attention they have been given. I shall argue that the differences between the contending parties are terminological, and that there are various possible terminologies, none of which has, on balance, any great advantage over any other terminology. So instead of continuing to regard these issues as central, moral philosophers could, I believe, "agree to disagree" about the "is-ought" problem, and about the definition of morality, provided only that everyone was careful to stipulate how he was using the term "moral" and was aware of the implications and limitations of the definition he was using. Moral philosophers could then move on to consider more important issues
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