Wittgensteinian anti-anti realism: One 'anti' too many?

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Wittgenstein attached overarching personal importance to questions of moral value. Yet his written treatments of ethics are brief and obscure, while his views on language have had a strong, albeit intermittent and diffuse, influence on analytic moral philosophy. His remarks on ethics seem to be totally at odds with realist and cognitivist accounts. Both the Tractatus and 'A Lecture on Ethics' maintain that ethics transcends linguistic expression, and later remarks seem to point in the direction of a communal variant of expressivism and relativism. Nevertheless, Wittgenstein’s philosophy of language was invoked in the 1980s by Oxford philosophers like John McDowell and Sabina Lovibond against the still prevailing non-cognitivist mainstream. These ‘anti-anti-realists’ maintained that, from a Wittgensteinian perspective, all indicative sentences, including moral ones, make claims to truth. My article discusses this proposal, historically, exegetically, and substantively. Anti-anti-realism (AAR) chimes with Wittgenstein’s deflationary account of truth. But that account is not committed to the conclusion that all propositions that can be called ‘true’ or ‘false’ have the same semantic status. Indeed, anti-anti-realism is at odds with Wittgenstein’s view that the similarity in linguistic form disguises logical differences between moral and descriptive propositions.



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