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Profile: Stephen Finlay (University of Southern California)
  1. Stephen Finlay (forthcoming). 'Ought': OUT OF ORDER. In Nate Charlow & Matthew Chrisman (eds.), Deontic Modality. Oxford University Press.
    This paper argues that the innovation of an ordering source parameter in the standard Lewis-Kratzer semantics for modals was a mistake, at least for English auxiliaries like ‘ought’, and that a simpler dyadic semantics (as proposed in my earlier work) provides a superior account of normative uses of modals. I programmatically investigate problems arising from (i) instrumental conditionals, (ii) gradability and “weak necessity”, (iii) information-sensitivity, and (iv) conflicts, and show how the simpler semantics provides intuitive solutions given three basic moves: (...)
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  2. Stephen Finlay (2014). Confusion of Tongues: A Theory of Normative Language. Oup Usa.
    Can normative words like "good," "ought," and "reason" be defined in non-normative terms? Stephen Finlay argues that they can, advancing a new theory of the meaning of this language and providing pragmatic explanations of the specially problematic features of its moral and deliberative uses which comprise the puzzles of metaethics.
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  3. Stephen Finlay (2014). The Pragmatics of Normative Disagreement. In Guy Fletcher & Michael Ridge (eds.), Having It Both Ways: Hybrid Theories and Modern Metaethics. Oxford University Press. 124-148.
    Relational theories of normative language allegedly face special problems in accounting for the extent of disagreement, but this is everybody’s problem because normative sentences are relativized to different information in contexts of deliberation and advice. This paper argues that a relational theory provides a pragmatic solution that accounts for some disagreements as involving inconsistent preferences rather than beliefs. This is shown to be superior to the semantic solution offered by expressivists like Allan Gibbard, as it accounts for a wider range (...)
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  4. Stephen Finlay & Justin Snedegar (2014). One Ought Too Many. Philosophy and Phenomenological Research 86 (1):102-124.
    Some philosophers hold that „ought‟ is ambiguous between a sense expressing a propositional operator and a sense expressing a relation between an agent and an action. We defend the opposing view that „ought‟ always expresses a propositional operator against Mark Schroeder‟s recent objections that it cannot adequately accommodate an ambiguity in „ought‟ sentences between evaluative and deliberative readings, predicting readings of sentences that are not actually available. We show how adopting an independently well-motivated contrastivist semantics for „ought‟, according to which (...)
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  5. Stephen Finlay (2013). Ought. In Hugh LaFollette (ed.), The International Encyclopedia of Ethics. Wiley-Blackwell.
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  6. Stephen Finlay (2012). Explaining Reasons. Deutsches Jahrbuch Fuer Philosophie 4:112-126.
    What does it mean to call something a “reason”? This paper offers a unifying semantics for the word ‘reason’, challenging three ideas that are popular in contemporary philosophy; (i) that ‘reason’ is semantically ambiguous, (ii) that the concept of a normative reason is the basic normative concept, and (iii) that basic normative concepts are unanalyzable. Nonnormative uses of ‘reason’ are taken as basic, and as meaning explanation why. Talk about normative reasons for action is analyzed in terms of explanations why (...)
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  7. Stephen Finlay (2011). Errors Upon Errors: A Reply to Joyce. Australasian Journal of Philosophy 89 (3):535 - 547.
    In his response to my paper ?The Error in the Error Theory? criticizing his and J. L. Mackie's moral error theory, Richard Joyce finds my treatment of his position inaccurate and my interpretation of morality implausible. In this reply I clarify my objection, showing that it retains its force against their error theory, and I clarify my interpretation of morality, showing that Joyce's objections miss their mark.
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  8. Stephen Finlay (2011). The Selves and the Shoemaker: Psychopaths, Moral Judgement, and Responsibility. Southern Journal of Philosophy 49 (s1):125–133.
    David Shoemaker argues from (A) psychopaths’ emotional deficiency, to (B) their insensitivity to moral reasons, to (C) their lack of criminal responsibility. This response observes three important ambiguities in this argument, involving the interpretation of (1) psychopaths’ emotional deficit, (2) their insensitivity to reasons, and (3) their moral judgements. Resolving these ambiguities presents Shoemaker with a dilemma: his argument either equivocates or it is falsified by the empirical evidence. An alternative perspective on psychopaths’ moral and criminal responsibility is proposed.
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  9. 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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  10. Stephen Finlay (2010). Normativity, Necessity and Tense: A Recipe for Homebaked Normativity. In Russ Shafer-Landau (ed.), Oxford Studies in Metaethics, Vol. 5. Oxford University Press. 57-85.
    Normative concepts have a special taste, which many consider to be proof that they cannot be reductively analyzed into entirely nonnormative components. This paper demonstrates that at least some intuitively normative concepts can be reductively analyzed. I focus on so-called ‘hypothetical imperatives’ or ‘anankastic conditionals’, and show that the availability of normative readings of conditionals is determined by features of grammar, specifically features of tense. Properly interpreted, these grammatical features suggest that these deontic modals are analyzable in terms of conditional (...)
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  11. Stephen Finlay (2010). Price, A. W., Contextuality in Practical Reason , Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2008, XXXIV + 208, Us$70 (Cloth). Australasian Journal of Philosophy 88 (1):187 – 190.
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  12. Stephen Finlay (2010). Recent Work on Normativity. Analysis 70 (2):331-346.
    Survey of some recent literature on normativity, including nonreductionist, neo-Aristotelian, neo-Humean, expressivist, and constructivist views.
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  13. Stephen Finlay (2010). What Ought Probably Means, and Why You Can't Detach It. Synthese 177 (1):67 - 89.
    Some intuitive normative principles raise vexing 'detaching problems' by their failure to license modus ponens. I examine three such principles (a self-reliance principle and two different instrumental principles) and recent stategies employed to resolve their detaching problems. I show that solving these problems necessitates postulating an indefinitely large number of senses for 'ought'. The semantics for 'ought' that is standard in linguistics offers a unifying strategy for solving these problems, but I argue that an alternative approach combining an end-relational theory (...)
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  14. Stephen Finlay (2009). Oughts and Ends. Philosophical Studies 143 (3):315 - 340.
    This paper advances a reductive semantics for ‘ought’ and a naturalistic theory of normativity. It gives a unified analysis of predictive, instrumental, and categorical uses of ‘ought’: the predictive ‘ought’ is basic, and is interpreted in terms of probability. Instrumental ‘oughts’ are analyzed as predictive ‘oughts’ occurring under an ‘in order that’ modifer (the end-relational theory). The theory is then extended to categorical uses of ‘ought’: it is argued that they are special rhetorical uses of the instrumental ‘ought’. Plausible conversational (...)
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  15. Stephen Finlay (2009). The Obscurity of Internal Reasons. Philosophers' Imprint 9 (7):1-22.
    Since its publication in 1979, Bernard Williams' "Internal and External Reasons" has been one of the most influential and widely discussed papers in ethics. I suggest here that the paper's argument has nevertheless been universally misunderstood. On the standard interpretation, his argument—which he subsequently elaborated and defended in further discussions—is perplexingly weak. In the first section I sketch this Standard (or, more provocatively, "Supposed") argument, and detail just how terrible it is. The badness of the argument itself may not be (...)
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  16. Stephen Finlay (2009). Against All Reason? Scepticism About the Instrumental Norm. In Charles R. Pigden (ed.), Hume on Motivation and Virtue. Palgrave Macmillan.
    Some of the opponents of desire-based views of normativity seek to undermine them by arguing that even the existence of instrumental normativity (reasons to pursue the means to your ends) entails the existence of a desire-independent rational norm, the instrumental norm. Once we grant the existence of one such norm, there seems to be no principled reason for not allowing others. I clarify this alleged norm, identifying two criteria that any satisfactory candidate must meet: reasonable expectation and possible violation. Some (...)
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  17. Stephen Finlay (2008). Motivation to the Means. In David Chan (ed.), Moral Psychology Today: Values, Rational Choice, and the Will. 173-191.
    Rationalists including Nagel and Korsgaard argue that motivation to the means to our desired ends cannot be explained by appeal to the desire for the end. They claim that a satisfactory explanation of this motivational connection must appeal to a faculty of practical reason motivated in response to desire-independent norms of reason. This paper builds on ideas in the work of Hume and Donald Davidson to demonstrate how the desire for the end is sufficient for explaining motivation to the means. (...)
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  18. Stephen Finlay (2008). The Error in the Error Theory. Australasian Journal of Philosophy 86 (3):347-369.
    Moral error theory of the kind defended by J. L. Mackie and Richard Joyce is premised on two claims: (1) that moral judgements essentially presuppose that moral value has absolute authority, and (2) that this presupposition is false, because nothing has absolute authority. This paper accepts (2) but rejects (1). It is argued first that (1) is not the best explanation of the evidence from moral practice, and second that even if it were, the error theory would still be mistaken, (...)
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  19. Stephen Finlay & Terence Cuneo (2008). Teaching & Learning Guide For: Moral Realism and Moral Nonnaturalism. Philosophy Compass 3 (3):570-572.
    Metaethics is a perennially popular subject, but one that can be challenging to study and teach. As it consists in an array of questions about ethics, it is really a mix of (at least) applied metaphysics, epistemology, philosophy of language, and mind. The seminal texts therefore arise out of, and often assume competence with, a variety of different literatures. It can be taught thematically, but this sample syllabus offers a dialectical approach, focused on metaphysical debate over moral realism, which spans (...)
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  20. Stephen Finlay & Mark Schroeder, Reasons for Action: Internal Vs. External. Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy.
    Often, when there is a reason for you to do something, it is the kind of thing to motivate you to do it. For example, if Max and Caroline are deciding whether to go to the Alcove for dinner, Caroline might mention as a reason in favor, the fact that the Alcove serves onion rings the size of doughnuts, and Max might mention as a reason against, the fact that it is so difficult to get parking there this time of (...)
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  21. Stephen Finlay (2007). Four Faces of Moral Realism. Philosophy Compass 2 (6):820-849.
    This essay explains for a general philosophical audience the central issues and strategies in the contemporary moral realism debate. It critically surveys the contribution of some recent scholarship, representing expressivist and pragmatist nondescriptivism (Mark Timmons, Hilary Putnam), subjectivist and nonsubjectivist naturalism (Michael Smith, Paul Bloomfield, Philippa Foot), nonnaturalism (Russ Shafer-Landau, T. M. Scanlon) and error theory (Richard Joyce). Four different faces of ‘moral realism’ are distinguished: semantic, ontological, metaphysical, and normative. The debate is presented as taking shape under dialectical pressure (...)
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  22. Stephen Finlay (2007). Responding to Normativity. In Russ Shafer-Landau (ed.), Oxford Studies in Metaethics, Vol. 2. Clarendon Press. 220--39.
    I believe that normative force depends on desire. This view faces serious difficulties, however, and has yet to be vindicated. This paper sketches an Argument from Voluntary Response, attempting to establish this dependence of normativity on desire by appeal to the autonomous character of our experience of normative authority, and the voluntary character of our responses to it. I first offer an account of desiring as mentally aiming intrinsically at some end. I then argue that behaviour is only voluntary if (...)
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  23. Stephen Finlay (2007). Too Much Morality. In Paul Bloomfield (ed.), Morality and Self-Interest. Oxford University Press.
    This paper addresses the nature and relationship of morality and self-interest, arguing that what we morally ought to do almost always conflicts with what we self-interestedly ought to do. The concept of morality is analyzed as being essentially and radically other-regarding, and the category of the supererogatory is explained as consisting in what we morally ought to do but are not socially expected to do. I express skepticism about whether there is a coherent question, ‘Which ought I all things considered (...)
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  24. Stephen Finlay (2006). Review of Mark Eli Kalderon, Moral Fictionalism. [REVIEW] Notre Dame Philosophical Reviews 2006 (4).
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  25. Stephen Finlay (2006). The Reasons That Matter. Australasian Journal of Philosophy 84 (1):1 – 20.
    Bernard Williams's motivational reasons-internalism fails to capture our first-order reasons judgements, while Derek Parfit's nonnaturalistic reasons-externalism cannot explain the nature or normative authority of reasons. This paper offers an intermediary view, reformulating scepticism about external reasons as the claim not that they don't exist but rather that they don't matter. The end-relational theory of normative reasons is proposed, according to which a reason for an action is a fact that explains why the action would be good relative to some end, (...)
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  26. Stephen Finlay (2005). Value and Implicature. Philosophers' Imprint 5 (4):1-20.
    Moral assertions express attitudes, but it is unclear how. This paper examines proposals by David Copp, Stephen Barker, and myself that moral attitudes are expressed as implicature (Grice), and Copp's and Barker's claim that this supports expressivism about moral speech acts. I reject this claim on the ground that implicatures of attitude are more plausibly conversational than conventional. I argue that Copp's and my own relational theory of moral assertions is superior to the indexical theory offered by Barker and Jamie (...)
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  27. Stephen Finlay (2004). The Conversational Practicality of Value Judgement. Journal of Ethics 8 (3):205-223.
    Analyses of moral value judgements must meet a practicality requirement: moral speech acts characteristically express pro- or con-attitudes, indicate that speakers are motivated in certain ways, and exert influence on others' motivations. Nondescriptivists including Simon Blackburn and Allan Gibbard claim that no descriptivist analysis can satisfy this requirement. I argue first that while the practicality requirement is defeasible, it indeed demands a connection between value judgement and motivation that resembles a semantic or conceptual rather than merely contingent psychological link. I (...)
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