In Nate Charlow & Matthew Chrisman (eds.), Deontic Modality. New York: Oxford University Press. pp. 395-424 (2016)

Matthew Chrisman
University of Edinburgh
Philosophical debate about the meaning of normative terms has long been pulled in two directions by the apparently competing ideas: (i) ‘ought’s do not describe what is actually the case but rather prescribe possible action, thought, or feeling, (ii) all declarative sentences deserve the same general semantic treatment, e.g. in terms of compositionally specified truth conditions. In this paper, I pursue resolution of this tension by rehearsing the case for a relatively standard truth-conditionalist semantics for ‘ought’ conceived as a necessity modal and proposing a revision to it motivated by the distinctively prescriptive character of some deontic modals. In my view, this puts pressure on a popular conception of one of the core debates of metanormative theory between realists and antirealists. To make good on this claim, I go on to explore two very general ways we might interpret the results of compositional semantics—“representationalism” and “inferentialism”—in order to argue that, contrary to what is generally assumed, both can capture the special prescriptivity of ‘ought’ and both can countenance compositionally specified and informative truth-conditions for ought-sentences. Hence, my main thesis is that the deciding factor between them should not be which of ideas (i) and (ii) we are more impressed by but rather what we think of the relative merits of how representationalism and inferentialism respect these ideas. I’m inclined to favor an antirealist form of inferentialism, but the task I’ve set myself here is mainly to articulate the view in the context of metanormative theory and the semantics of deontic modals rather than try to defend it fully. To this purpose, towards the end I also briefly compare and contrast inferentialism with a third “ideationalist” metasemantic view, which may be an attractive home for some sophisticated versions of metanormative expressivism. Depending on how expressivism is worked out, it may be completely compatible with and so perhaps usefully combined with inferentialism or it may offer a competing way to respect ideas (i) and (ii).
Keywords deontic modality  metanormative theory  metaethics  expressivism  inferentialism
Categories (categorize this paper)
Buy the book Find it on
Edit this record
Mark as duplicate
Export citation
Find it on Scholar
Request removal from index
Revision history

Download options

PhilArchive copy

 PhilArchive page | Other versions
External links

Setup an account with your affiliations in order to access resources via your University's proxy server
Configure custom proxy (use this if your affiliation does not provide a proxy)
Through your library

References found in this work BETA

The Problem with the Frege–Geach Problem.Nate Charlow - 2014 - Philosophical Studies 167 (3):635-665.
Logic and Semantics for Imperatives.Nate Charlow - 2014 - Journal of Philosophical Logic 43 (4):617-664.
Prospects for an Expressivist Theory of Meaning.Nate Charlow - 2015 - Philosophers' Imprint 15:1-43.

Add more references

Citations of this work BETA

Two Nondescriptivist Views of Normative and Evaluative Statements.Matthew Chrisman - 2018 - Canadian Journal of Philosophy 48 (3-4):405-424.
X—Knowing What One Ought to Do.Matthew Chrisman - 2015 - Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society 115 (2pt2):167-186.

Add more citations

Similar books and articles

Decision Theory: Yes! Truth Conditions: No!Nate Charlow - 2016 - In Nate Charlow Matthew Chrisman (ed.), Deontic Modality. Oxford University Press.
Deontic Modals and Probability: One Theory to Rule Them All?Fabrizio Cariani - forthcoming - In Nate Charlow & Matthew Chrisman (eds.), Deontic Modality. Oxford University Press.
A Logical Typology of Normative Systems.Berislav Žarnić - 2010 - Journal of Applied Ethics and Philosophy 2 (1):30-40.
On the Meaning of 'Ought'.Matthew Chrisman - 2012 - In Russ Shafer-Landau (ed.), Oxford Studies in Metaethics, vol. 7. Oxford University Press. pp. 304.
From Epistemic Expressivism to Epistemic Inferentialism.Matthew Chrisman - 2010 - In Adrian Haddock, Alan Millar & Duncan Pritchard (eds.), Social Epistemology. Oxford University Press.
Deontic Modals.Matthew Chrisman - 2015 - Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy.
Meeting Constitutivists Halfway.Michael Ridge - 2018 - Philosophical Studies 175 (12):2951-2968.
For a Dynamic Semantics of Necessity Deontic Modals.Alessandra Marra - 2014 - In Fabrizio Cariani, Davide Grossi, Joke Meheus & Xavier Parent (eds.), Deontic Logic and Normative Systems. Springer. pp. 124-138.
Evidence Sensitivity in Weak Necessity Deontic Modals.Alex Silk - 2014 - Journal of Philosophical Logic 43 (4):691-723.
What We Know and What to Do.Nate Charlow - 2013 - Synthese 190 (12):2291-2323.


Added to PP index

Total views
194 ( #47,843 of 2,403,892 )

Recent downloads (6 months)
21 ( #37,146 of 2,403,892 )

How can I increase my downloads?


My notes