Shapelessness in Context

Noûs 48 (3):573-593 (2014)
Many philosophers believe that the extensions of evaluative terms and concepts aren’t unified under non-evaluative similarity relations and that this “shapelessness thesis” (ST) has significant metaethical implications regarding non-cognitivism, ethical naturalism, moral particularism, thick concepts and more. ST is typically offered as an explanation of why evaluative classifications appear to “outrun” classifications specifiable in independently intelligible non-evaluative terms. This paper argues that both ST and the outrunning point used to motivate it can be explained on the basis of more general factors that have nothing in particular to do with being evaluative. If so, there is no reason to expect ST to carry the sorts of metaethical implications that get attributed to it. I also show that my main argument is robust across certain complications that are raised by the context-sensitivity of many evaluative terms but have so far been ignored in discussions of ST and related matters.
Keywords Metaethics  Shapelessness  Evaluative concepts  Moral semantics  Anti-reductionism
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DOI 10.1111/j.1468-0068.2012.00877.x
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Derek Parfit (2011). On What Matters. Oxford University Press.

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