Rawls' Linguistic Analogy

Dissertation, Cornell University (2000)
The aim of the dissertation is to formulate a research program in moral cognition modeled on aspects of Universal Grammar and organized around three classic problems in moral epistemology: What constitutes moral knowledge? How is moral knowledge acquired? How is moral knowledge put to use? Drawing on the work of Rawls and Chomsky, a framework for investigating -- is proposed. The framework is defended against a range of philosophical objections and contrasted with the approach of developmentalists like Piaget and Kohlberg. ;One chapter consists of an interpretation of the analogy Rawls draws in A Theory of Justice between moral theory and generative linguistics. A second chapter clarifies the empirical significance of Rawls' linguistic analogy by formulating a solution to the problem of descriptive adequacy with respect to a class of commonsense moral intuitions, including those discussed in the trolley problem literature originating in the work of Foot and Thomson. Three remaining chapters defend Rawls' linguistic analogy against some of its critics. In response to Hare's objection that Rawls' conception of moral theory is too empirical and insufficiently normative, it is argued that Hare fails to acknowledge both the centrality of the problem of empirical adequacy in the history of moral philosophy and the complexity of Rawls' approach to the problem of normative adequacy. In response to Nagel's claim that the analogy between moral theory and linguistics is false because whatever native speakers agree on is English, but whatever ordinary men agree in condemning is not necessarily wrong, it is argued that the criticism ignores both Rawls' use of the competence-performance distinction and the theory-dependence of the corresponding distinction in linguistics. In response to Dworkin's claim that Rawls' conception of moral theory is incompatible with naturalism and presupposes constructivism, it is argued that Dworkin's distinction between naturalism and constructivism represents a false antithesis; neither is an accurate interpretation of the model of moral theory Rawls describes in A Theory of Justice. The thesis concludes by situating Rawls' linguistic analogy within the context of broader debates in metaethics, democratic theory, natural law theory, and the theory of moral development
Keywords Language and ethics  Generative grammar
Categories (categorize this paper)
Call number BJ44.M55 2009
ISBN(s) 9780521855785  
 Save to my reading list
Follow the author(s)
My bibliography
Export citation
Find it on Scholar
Edit this record
Mark as duplicate
Revision history
Request removal from index
Download options
Our Archive

Upload a copy of this paper     Check publisher's policy     Papers currently archived: 28,126
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

No references found.

Add more references

Citations of this work BETA

View all 22 citations / Add more citations

Similar books and articles

Monthly downloads

Sorry, there are not enough data points to plot this chart.

Added to index


Total downloads


Recent downloads (6 months)


How can I increase my downloads?

My notes
Sign in to use this feature

There  are no threads in this forum
Nothing in this forum yet.

Other forums