Australasian Journal of Philosophy 90 (3):433-451 (2012)

Authors
Matthew Chrisman
University of Edinburgh
Abstract
Ethical theorists often assume that the verb ?ought? means roughly ?has an obligation?; however, this assumption is belied by the diversity of ?flavours? of ought-sentences in English. A natural response is that ?ought? is ambiguous. However, this response is incompatible with the standard treatment of ?ought? by theoretical semanticists, who classify ?ought? as a member of the family of modal verbs, which are treated uniformly as operators. To many ethical theorists, however, this popular treatment in linguistics seems to elide an important distinction between agential and non-agential ought-statements. The thought is that ?ought? must have at least two senses, one implicating agency and connected to obligations, and another covering other uses. In this paper, I pursue some resolution of this tension between semantic theory and ethical theory with respect to the meaning of ?ought?. To this end, I consider what I believe to be the most linguistically sophisticated argument for the view that the word ?ought? is ambiguous between agential and non-agential senses. This argument, due to Mark Schroeder, is instructive but based on a false claim about the syntax of agential ought-sentences?or so I attempt to show by first situating Schroeder's argument in its proper linguistic background and then discussing some syntactic evidence that he fails to appreciate. Then, I use the failure of this argument to motivate some more general reflections on how the standard treatment of ?ought? by theoretical semanticists might be refined in the light of the distinction important to ethical theory between agential and non-agential ought-statements, but also on how ethical theory might benefit from more careful study of the dominant treatment of modals as operators in theoretical semantics
Keywords metaethics  semantics  modals
Categories (categorize this paper)
ISBN(s)
DOI 10.1080/00048402.2011.611151
Options
Edit this record
Mark as duplicate
Export citation
Find it on Scholar
Request removal from index
Revision history

Download options

PhilArchive copy


Upload a copy of this paper     Check publisher's policy     Papers currently archived: 56,999
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

Groundwork for the Metaphysics of Morals.Immanuel Kant - 1785/2002 - Oxford University Press.
Principia Ethica.G. E. Moore - 1903 - Dover Publications.
Famine, Affluence, and Morality.Peter Singer - 1972 - Philosophy and Public Affairs 1 (3):229-243.
The Methods of Ethics.Henry Sidgwick - 1874 - Thoemmes Press.

View all 36 references / Add more references

Citations of this work BETA

VI-BayesianExpressivism.Seth Yalcin - 2012 - Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society 112 (2pt2):123-160.
One Ought Too Many.Stephen Finlay & Justin Snedegar - 2014 - Philosophy and Phenomenological Research 89 (1):102-124.
Why is Epistemic Evaluation Prescriptive?Kate Nolfi - 2014 - Inquiry: An Interdisciplinary Journal of Philosophy 57 (1):97-121.

View all 16 citations / Add more citations

Similar books and articles

On the Meaning of 'Ought'.Matthew Chrisman - 2012 - In Russ Shafer-Landau (ed.), Oxford Studies in Metaethics, vol. 7. Oxford University Press. pp. 304.
Agent-Causation and Agential Control.Markus Ernst Schlosser - 2008 - Philosophical Explorations 11 (1):3-21.
Activity and Passivity in Reflective Agency.Paul Katsafanas - 2011 - In Russ Shafer-Landau (ed.), Oxford Studies in Metaethics Volume 6. Oxford University Press. pp. 219.
Deliberating for Our Far Future Selves.Jennifer M. Morton - 2013 - Ethical Theory and Moral Practice 16 (4):809-828.
Barad's Feminist Naturalism.Joseph Rouse - 2004 - Hypatia 19 (1):142-161.
Epistemic Modals in Context.Andy Egan, John Hawthorne & Brian Weatherson - 2005 - In Gerhard Preyer & Georg Peter (eds.), Contextualism in Philosophy. Oxford University Press. pp. 131-170.
Epistemic Modals.Seth Yalcin - 2007 - Mind 116 (464):983-1026.
Probability Operators.Seth Yalcin - 2010 - Philosophy Compass 5 (11):916-37.
Propositions and Multiple Indexing.Brian Rabern - 2012 - Thought: A Journal of Philosophy 1 (2):116-124.
Expressivism Concerning Epistemic Modals.Benjamin Schnieder - 2010 - Philosophical Quarterly 60 (240):601-615.
Suppose Yalcin is Wrong About Epistemic Modals.Joshua D. Crabill - 2013 - Philosophical Studies 162 (3):625-635.

Analytics

Added to PP index
2011-08-19

Total views
278 ( #29,677 of 56,958 )

Recent downloads (6 months)
5 ( #149,573 of 56,958 )

How can I increase my downloads?

Downloads

My notes