This paper motivates and develops a novel semantic framework for deonticmodals. The framework is designed to shed light on two things: the relationship between deonticmodals and substantive theories of practical rationality and the interaction of deonticmodals with conditionals, epistemic modals and probability operators. I argue that, in order to model inferential connections between deonticmodals and probability operators, we need more structure than is provided by classical intensional theories. (...) In particular, we need probabilistic structure that interacts directly with the compositional semantics of deonticmodals. However, I reject theories that provide this probabilistic structure by claiming that the semantics of deonticmodals is linked to the Bayesian notion of expectation. I offer a probabilistic premise semantics that explains all the data that create trouble for the rival theories. (shrink)
According to a recent challenge to Kratzer's canonical contextualist semantics for deontic modal expressions, no contextualist view can make sense of cases in which such a modal must be information-sensitive in some way. Here I show how Kratzer's semantics is compatible with readings of the targeted sentences that fit with the data. I then outline a general account of how contexts select parameter values for modal expressions and show, in terms of that account, how the needed, contextualist-friendly readings might (...) plausibly get selected in the challenge cases. (shrink)
Kolodny and MacFarlane have made a pioneering contribution to our understanding of how the interpretation of deonticmodals can be sensitive to evidence and information. But integrating the discussion of information-sensitivity into the standard Kratzerian framework for modals suggests ways of capturing the relevant data without treating deonticmodals as “informational modals” in their sense. I show that though one such way of capturing the data within the standard semantics fails, an alternative does not. (...) Nevertheless I argue that we have good reasons to adopt an information-sensitive semantics of the general type Kolodny and MacFarlane describe. Contrary to the standard semantics, relative deontic value between possibilities sometimes depends on which possibilities are live. I develop an ordering semantics for deonticmodals that captures this point and addresses various complications introduced by integrating the discussion of information-sensitivity into the standard semantic framework. By attending to these complexities, we can also illuminate various roles that information and evidence play in logical arguments, discourse, and deliberation. (shrink)
This paper outlines a semantic account of attitude reports and deonticmodals based on cognitive and illocutionary products, mental states, and modal products, as opposed to the notion of an abstract proposition or a cognitive act.
Recent challenges to Kratzer’s canonical contextualist semantics for modal expressions are united by a shared methodological practice: Each requires the assessment of the truth or warrant of a sentence in a scenario. The default evidential status accorded these judgments is a constraining one: It is assumed that, to be plausible, a semantic hypothesis must vindicate the reported judgments. Fully assessing the extent to which these cases do generate data that puts pressure on the canonical semantics, then, requires an understanding of (...) this methodological practice.Here I argue that not all assessments are fit to play this evidential role. To play it, we need reason to think that speakers’ assessments can be reasonably expected to be reliable. Minimally, having such grounds requires that assessments are given against the background of non-defectively characterized points of evaluation. Assessing MacFarlane’s central challenge case to contextualism about deonticmodals in light of this constraint shows that his judgments do not have the needed evidential significance. In addition, new experimental data shows that once the needed scenario is characterized non-defectively, none of the resulting range of cases provides data that cannot be accommodated by a Kratzer-style contextualism. (shrink)
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 deonticmodals. 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 deonticmodals 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). (shrink)
In this paper I argue that deonticmodals are hyperintensional, i.e. logically equivalent contents cannot be substituted in their scope. I give two arguments, one deductive and the other abductive. First, I show that the contrary thesis leads to falsity; second, I argue that a hyperintensional theory of deonticmodals fares better than its rivals in terms of elegance, theoretical simplicity and explanatory power. I then propose a philosophical analysis of this thesis and outline some consequences. (...) In Section 1 I introduce and define deontic modality and hyperintensionality. In Section 2 I give a reductio for the hyperintensionality of deonticmodals. If the argument is sound, a useful corollary is that deonticmodals are also non-intensional, and therefore possible-world semantics accounts are illfitted for them. I then show how the main result can be strengthened or weakened by varying the definition of logical validity. In Section 3 I give an abductive argument for the hyperintensionality of deonticmodals, arguing that with a single move we are able to solve many paradoxes and puzzles traditionally troubling deontic logic. I present a version of a hyperintensional deontic logic in an appendix, which I prove is sound and complete with respect to a version of truthmaker semantics. (shrink)
The article argues for a parallelism between the interpretation of deonticmodals and the interpretation of counterfactuals. The main claim is that dependencies between facts play a role in the resolution of both types of modality: in both cases, facts ‘stand and fall’ together. The article provides two types of evidence supporting this claim: (i) evidence that comes from the interaction between primary and secondary duties (as presented in contrary-to-duty imperatives) and (ii) evidence that comes from the possibility (...) of reproducing well-known counterfactual puzzles in the domain of deontic statements. The article argues that the semantics of deonticmodals needs to be stated in a way that pays attention to dependencies between facts and illustrates this with a proposal building on work on counterfactuals by Kratzer and Veltman. (shrink)
John Horty has proposed an approach to reasoning with ought-propositions which stands in contrast to the standard modal approach to deontic logic. Horty’s approach is based on default theories as known from the framework of Default Logic. It is argued that the approach cannot be extended beyond the most simple kinds of default theories and that it fails in particular to account for conditional obligations. The most plausible ways of straightening out the defects of the approach conform to a (...) simple theory of default reasoning in standard deontic language. (shrink)
I begin by reviewing classical semantics and the problems presented by normative conflicts. After a brief detour through default logic, I establish some connections between the treatment of conflicts in each of these two approaches, classical and default, and then move on to consider some further issues: priorities among norms, or reasons, conditional oughts, and reasons about reasons.
The aim of this paper is to present an explanation for the impact of normative considerations on people’s assessment of certain seemingly purely descriptive matters. The explanation is based on two main claims. First, a large category of expressions are tacitly modal: they are contextually equivalent to modal proxies. Second, the interpretation of predominantly circumstantial or teleological modals is subject to certain constraints which make certain possibilities salient at the expense of others.
Possible worlds semantics faces a range of difficulties for at least certain types of modals, especially deonticmodals with their distinction between heavy and light permissions and obligations. This paper outlines a new semantics of modals that aims to overcome some of those difficulties. The semantics is based on an a novel ontology of modal objects, entities like obligations, permissions, needs, as well as epistemic states, abilities, and essences. Moreover, it is based on truthmaking, in the (...) sense of Fine’s recent truthmaker semantics. (shrink)
In this paper I develop a theory of 'function' and function as a deontic modal word and phenomenon. Kratzer’s account of the semantics for the deonticmodals is invoked and using her approach a formal schema for the semantics of 'function'-sentences is proposed. My account of function is a modalized and extended version of Cummins’ systems-type account of function. In the biological and physical sciences, on this account, function is a complex empirical deontic modal property. It (...) is built on the property of X’s doing Y well enough to enable Z, which is implicitly deontic because of the evaluative but nonetheless empirical in its biological and physical applications. This account of function resolves many of the traditional puzzles about biological and physical function, and extends naturally to include the other types of function. With a variant treatment of the semantics, this account is argued also to apply to mathematical function, where it is shown to be interestingly related to Frege’s account of function. (shrink)
Probabilistic theories of “should” and “ought” face a predicament. At first blush, it seems that such theories must provide different lexical entries for the epistemic and the deontic interpretations of these modals. I show that there is a new style of premise semantics that can avoid this consequence in an attractively conservative way.
This essay makes the case for, in the phrase of Angelika Kratzer, packing the fruits of the study of rational decision-making into our semantics for deonticmodals—specifically, for parametrizing the truth-condition of a deontic modal to things like decision problems and decision theories. Then it knocks it down. While the fundamental relation of the semantic theory must relate deonticmodals to things like decision problems and theories, this semantic relation cannot be intelligibly understood as representing (...) the conditions under which a deontic modal is true. Rather it represents the conditions under which it is accepted by a semantically competent agent. This in turn motivates a reorientation of the whole of semantic theorizing, away from the truth-conditional paradigm, toward a form of Expressivism. (shrink)
In "Doing Well Enough: Toward a Logic for Common Sense Morality", Paul McNamara sets out a semantics for a deontic logic which contains the operator It is supererogatory that. As well as having a binary accessibility relation on worlds, that semantics contains a relative ordering relation, . For worlds u, v and w, we say that u w v when v is at least as good as u according to the standards of w. In this paper we axiomatize logics (...) complete over three versions of the semantics. We call the strongest of these logics DWE for Doing Well Enough. (shrink)
Contrastivists view ought-sentences as expressing comparisons among alternatives. Deontic actualists believe that the value of each alternative in such a comparison is determined by what would actually happen if that alternative were to be the case. One of the arguments that motivates actualism is a challenge to the principle of agglomeration over conjunction—the principle according to which if you ought to run and you ought to jump, then you ought to run and jump. I argue that there is no (...) way of developing the actualist insight into a logic that invalidates the agglomeration principle without also invalidating other desirable patterns of inference. After doing this, I extend the analysis to other contrastive views that challenge agglomeration in the way that the actualist does. This motivates skepticism about the actualist’s way of challenging agglomeration. (shrink)
Theorists with otherwise radically different commitments agree that epistemic modals mark the necessity or possibility of a prejacent proposition relative to a body of evidence or knowledge. However, there is vast disagreement about the semantics of epistemic modals, which stems in part from the fact that statements of epistemic possibility or necessity make no explicit reference to a speaker or group, an audience, or an evidence set. This volume introduces new philosophical papers that mark a significant contribution to (...) the debate about epistemic modals. (shrink)
According to a naïve view sometimes apparent in the writings of moral philosophers, ‘ought’ often expresses a relation between agents and actions – the relation that obtains between an agent and an action when that action is what that agent ought to do. It is not part of this naïve view that ‘ought’ always expresses this relation – on the contrary, adherents of the naïve view are happy to allow that ‘ought’ also has an epistemic sense, on which it means, (...) roughly, that some proposition is likely to be the case, and adherents of the naïve view are also typically happy to allow that ‘ought’ also has an evaluative sense, on which it means, roughly, that were things ideal, some proposition would be the case.1 What is important to the naïve view is not that these other senses of ‘ought’ do not exist, but rather that they are not exhaustive – for what they leave out, is the important deliberative sense of ‘ought’, which is the central subject of moral inquiry about what we ought to do and why – and it is this deliberative sense of ‘ought’ which the naïve view understands to express a relation between agents and actions.2 In contrast, logically and linguistically sophisticated philosophers – with a few notable exceptions3 – have rejected this naïve view. According to a dominant perspective in the interpretation of deontic logic and in linguistic semantics, for example, articulated by Roderick Chisholm (1964) and Bernard Williams (1981) in philosophy and in the dominant paradigm in linguistic semantics as articulated in particular by.. (shrink)
On Kratzer’s canonical account, modal expressions (like “might” and “must”) are represented semantically as quantifiers over possibilities. Such expressions are themselves neutral; they make a single contribution to determining the propositions expressed across a wide range of uses. What modulates the modality of the proposition expressed—as bouletic, epistemic, deontic, etc.—is context.2 This ain’t the canon for nothing. Its power lies in its ability to figure in a simple and highly unified explanation of a fairly wide range of language use. (...) Recently, though, the canon’s neat story has come under attack. The challenge cases involve the epistemic use of a modal sentence for which no single resolution of the contextual parameter appears capable of accommodating all our intuitions.3 According to these revisionaries, such cases show that the canonical story needs to be amended in some way that makes multiple bodies of information relevant to the assessment of such statements. Here I show that how the right canonical, flexibly contextualist account of modals can accommodate the full range of challenge cases. The key will be to extend Kratzer’s formal semantic account with an account of how context selects values for a modal’s.. (shrink)
Appears to give the first model-theoretic account of both "must" and "ought" (without conflating them with one another). Some key pre-theoretic semantic and pragmatic phenomena that support a negative answer to the main title question are identified and a conclusion of some significance is drawn: a pervasive bipartisan presupposition of twentieth century ethical theory and deontic logic is false. Next, an intuitive model-theoretic framework for "must" and "ought" is hypothesized. It is then shown how this hypothesis helps to explain (...) and predict all the pre-theoretic phenomena previously observed. Next, I show that the framework hypothesized possesses additional expressive and explanatory power (e.g. derivatively predicting the existence of supererogatory and permissibly suboptimal alternatives), thus adding further confirmation that it is on the right track. (shrink)
This is a critical notice of Nate Charlow and Matthew Chrisman's (eds.) edited collection of articles entitled Deontic Modality. It begins from a brief overview of Angelika Kratzer's standard ordering semantic model for understanding deonticmodals such as 'ought', 'must', and 'may' and some of the problems of this model. The focus is then on how many of the articles of this collection reach to these problems by either developing the standard model further or by formulating alternatives (...) to it. This critical notice then focuses on the principles that should govern our theory-choice in formal semantics once all these formal models are developed to deal with many of the problem cases discussed in this excellent collection. (shrink)
Every adequate semantics for conditionals and deontic ought must offer a solution to the miners paradox about conditional obligations. Kolodny and MacFarlane have recently argued that such a semantics must reject the validity of modus ponens. I demonstrate that rejecting the validity of modus ponens is inessential for an adequate solution to the paradox.
This paper develops an account of the meaning of `ought', and the distinction between weak necessity modals (`ought', `should') and strong necessity modals (`must', `have to'). I argue that there is nothing specially ``strong'' about strong necessity modals per se: uses of `Must p' predicate the (deontic/epistemic/etc.) necessity of the prejacent p of the actual world (evaluation world). The apparent ``weakness'' of weak necessity modals derives from their bracketing whether the necessity of the prejacent is (...) verified in the actual world. `Ought p' can be accepted without needing to settle that the relevant considerations (norms, expectations, etc.) that actually apply verify the necessity of p. I call the basic account a modal-past approach to the weak/strong necessity modal distinction (for reasons that become evident). Several ways of implementing the approach in the formal semantics/pragmatics are critically examined. The account systematizes a wide range of linguistic phenomena: it generalizes across flavors of modality; it elucidates a special role that weak necessity modals play in discourse and planning; it captures contrasting logical, expressive, and illocutionary properties of weak and strong necessity modals; and it sheds light on how a notion of `ought' is often expressed in other languages. These phenomena have resisted systematic explanation. In closing I briefly consider how linguistic inquiry into differences among necessity modals may improve theorizing on broader philosophical issues. (shrink)
This chapter develops an account of the meaning and use of various types of legal claims, and uses this account to inform debates about the nature and normativity of law. The account draws on a general framework for implementing a contextualist theory, called 'Discourse Contextualism' (Silk 2016). The aim of Discourse Contextualism is to derive the apparent normativity of claims of law from a particular contextualist interpretation of a standard semantics for modals, along with general principles of interpretation and (...) conversation. Though the semantics is descriptivist, it avoids Dworkin’s influential criticism of so-called “semantic theories of law,” and elucidates the nature of “theoretical disagreements” about the criteria of legal validity. The account sheds light on the social, interpersonal function of normative uses of language in legal discourse. It also gives precise expression to Hart’s and Raz’s intuitive distinctions among types of legal claims (internal/external, committed/detached), while giving them a uniform type of analysis. The proposed semantics and pragmatics of legal claims provides a fruitful framework for further theorizing about the nature and metaphysics of law, the relation between law and morality, and the apparent practical character of legal language and judgment. Discourse Contextualism provides a solid linguistic basis for a broader account of legal discourse and practice. (shrink)
Many philosophers think that requirements of rationality are “wide-scope”. That is to say: they are requirements to satisfy some material conditional, such that one counts as satisfying the requirement iff one either makes the conditional’s antecedent false or makes its consequent true. These contrast with narrow-scope requirements, where the requirement takes scope only over the consequent of the conditional. Many of the philosophers who have preferred wide-scope requirements to narrow-scope requirements have also endorsed a corresponding semantic claim, namely that ordinary (...) talk about rationality, despite appearances to the contrary, expresses wide-scope claims. In doing so, they seek to avoid attributing massive error to ordinary speakers. However, it is becoming increasingly clear that the wide-scope semantics inadequately captures the meaning of ordinary talk about rationality. It seems, then, that we are left with a dilemma: either give up the view that requirements of rationality are wide-scope, or accept an implausible semantics for ordinary talk about rationality, or attribute massive error to speakers. In this paper, I argue that this dilemma is only apparent, since we can appeal to a standard kind of contextualist semantics for modals to explain why narrow-scope talk comes out true in virtue of the wide-scope requirements. My view, then, combines wide-scoping about the explanatorily fundamental requirements of rationality with a contextualist variant of a narrow-scope semantics. I argue that this view gives us the best of both worlds, as well as solving related puzzles and challenges for the extant views in the literature. (shrink)
The deontic modal must has two surprising properties: an assertion of must p does not permit a denial of p, and must does not take past tense complements. I first consider an explanation of these phenomena that stays within Angelika Kratzer’s semantic framework for modals, and then offer some reasons for rejecting that explanation. I then propose an alternative account, according to which simple must sentences have the force of an imperative.
Modals in St’át’imcets (Lillooet Salish) show two differences from their counterparts in English. First, they have variable quantificational force, systematically allowing both possibility and necessity interpretations; and second, they lexically restrict the conversational background, distinguishing for example between deontic and (several kinds of) epistemic modality. We provide an analysis of the St’át’imcets modals according to which they are akin to specific indefinites in the nominal domain. They introduce choice function variables which select a subset of the accessible (...) worlds. Following Klinedinst, we assume distributivity over the resulting set of worlds. St’át’imcets modals thus receive a uniform interpretation as (distributive) pluralities. The appearance of variability in modal force arises because the choice function can select a larger or smaller subset of accessible worlds. Finally, we discuss the implications of our analysis for the investigation of modal systems in other languages. (shrink)
Advocates of Expressivism about basically any kind of language are best-served by abandoning a traditional content-centric approach to semantic theorizing, in favor of an update-centric or dynamic approach (or so this paper argues). The type of dynamic approach developed here — in contrast to the content-centric approach — is argued to yield canonical, if not strictly classical, "explanations" of the core semantic properties of the connectives. (The cases on which I focus most here are negation and disjunction.) I end the (...) paper by describing a distinctive sense in which mental states might play a fundamental role in the practice of semantic theorizing (as I understand it), and I connect this to a distinctive account of the pragmatic function of, e.g., a normatively laden claim in discourse. (shrink)
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 (...) principles explain how this end-relational ‘ought’ can perform the expressive functions of the moral ‘ought’. The notion of an ‘ought-simpliciter’ is also discussed. (shrink)
This paper investigates how inquiry into normative language can improve substantive normative theorizing. First I examine two dimensions along which normative language differs: “strength” and “subjectivity.” Next I show how greater sensitivity to these features of the meaning and use of normative language can illuminate debates about three issues in ethics: the coherence of moral dilemmas, the possibility of supererogatory acts, and the connection between making a normative judgment and being motivated to act accordingly. The paper concludes with several brief (...) reflections on the theoretical utility of the distinction—at least so-called—between “normative” and “non-normative” language and judgment. Clarifying the language we use in normative conversation and theorizing can help us diagnose problems with bad arguments and formulate better motivated questions. This can lead to clearer answers and bring into relief new theoretical possibilities and avenues to explore. (shrink)
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 (...) of normativity with a comparative probabilistic semantics for 'ought' provides a more satisfactory solution. (shrink)
Despite its increasing prominence, ‘ought’-contextualism is regarded with suspicion by most metaethicists. I argue, however, that contextualism is a very weak claim, that every metaethicist can sign up to. The real controversy concerns how contextualism is developed. I then draw an oft-overlooked distinction between “parochial” contextualism – on which the contextually-relevant standards are those that the speaker, or others in her environment, subscribe to – and “aspirational” contextualism – on which the contextually-relevant standards are the objective standards (if any) for (...) the relevant domain. However, I argue that neither view is acceptable. I suggest a compromise: “ecumenical contextualism”, on which some uses of ‘ought’ are parochial, others aspirational. Ecumenical contextualism is compatible with realism or anti-realism, but either combination yields interesting results. And though it’s a cognitivist view, it is strengthened by incorporating an expressivist insight: for robustly normative usages of ‘ought’, the contextually-relevant standards must be endorsed by the speaker. (shrink)
Anscombe is usually seen as a critic of “Modern Moral Philosophy.” I attempt a systematic reconstruction and a defense of Anscombe’s positive theory. -/- Anscombe’s metaethics is a hybrid of social constructivism and Aristotelian naturalism. Her three main claims are the following: (1) We cannot trace all duties back to one moral principle; there is more than one source of normativity. (2) Whether I have a certain duty will often be determined by the social practices of my community. For instance, (...) duties imposed by other people’s rights are socially constructed. (3) Whether something constitutes a good, however, will often be determined by human nature—which is not socially constructed. (shrink)
I demonstrate that a "speech act" theory of meaning for imperatives is—contra a dominant position in philosophy and linguistics—theoretically desirable. A speech act-theoretic account of the meaning of an imperative !φ is characterized, broadly, by the following claims. -/- LINGUISTIC MEANING AS USE !φ’s meaning is a matter of the speech act an utterance of it conventionally functions to express—what a speaker conventionally uses it to do (its conventional discourse function, CDF). -/- IMPERATIVE USE AS PRACTICAL !φ's CDF is to (...) express a practical (non-representational) state of mind—one concerning an agent's preferences and plans, rather than her beliefs. -/- Opposed to speech act accounts is a preponderance of views which deny that a sentence's linguistic meaning is a matter of what speech act it is used to perform, or its CDF. On such accounts, meaning is, instead, a matter of "static" properties of the sentence—e.g., how it depicts the world as being (or, more neutrally, the properties of a model-theoretic object with which the semantic value of the sentence co-varies). On one version of a static account, an imperative 'shut the window!' might, for instance, depict the world as being such that the window must be shut. -/- Static accounts are traditionally motivated against speech act-theoretic accounts by appeal to supposedly irremediable explanatory deficiencies in the latter. Whatever a static account loses in saying (prima facie counterintuitively) that an imperative conventionally represents, or expresses a picture of the world, is said to be offset by its ability to explain a variety of phenomena for which speech act-theoretic accounts are said to lack good explanations (even, in many cases, the bare ability to offer something that might meet basic criteria on what a good explanation should be like). -/- I aim to turn the tables on static accounts. I do this by showing that speech act accounts are capable of giving explanations of phenomena which fans of static accounts have alleged them unable to give. Indeed, for a variety of absolutely fundamental phenomena having to do with the conventional meaning of imperatives (and other types of practical language), speech act accounts provide natural and theoretically satisfying explanations, where a representational account provides none. (shrink)
In the latter half of this century, there have been two mostly separate threads within ethical theory, one on 'superogation', one on 'common-sense morality'. I bring these threads together by systematically reflecting on doing more than one has to do. A rich and coherent set of concepts at the core of common-sense morality is identified, along with various logical connections between these core concepts. Various issues in common-sense morality emerge naturally, as does a demonstrably productive definition of doing more than (...) one has to do. I then present an interpreted model-theoretic framework with the expressive power to generate truth-conditions for the core concepts, and the explanatory power to predict and explain the independently motivated logical connections between these concepts. The framework also has a certain heuristic power for 'discovering' substantive ethical theories that can derivatively generate the model-theoretic framework for the core concepts. Two theories discussed are expansions of traditional theories; two others, each giving pride of place to justice, are devised to resonate with more recent concerns. Methodologically, it is hoped that the approach within might suggest the possibility of bridging another gap: that between formal and informal studies of moral notions. (shrink)
We offer a new argument in favour of metanormative contextualism, the thesis that the semantic value of a normative ‘ought’ claim of the form ‘ S ought to Φ’ depends on the value of one or more parameters whose values vary in a way that is determined by the context of utterance. The debate over this contextualist thesis has centred on cases that involve ‘ought’ claims made in the face of uncertainty regarding certain descriptive facts. Contextualists, relativists, and invariantists all (...) have plausible ways of explaining these cases, and one could reasonably judge the debate between these views to be a stalemate. We argue that this stalemate can be broken by shifting focus to a case that involves normative uncertainty rather than descriptive uncertainty. While relativist and invariantist rivals of contextualism can give plausible accounts of the descriptive uncertainty cases, only contextualism can provide a plausible account of the normative uncertainty case. (shrink)
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 (...) „ought‟ is always relativized to a contrast set of relevant alternatives, enables us to explain the evaluative-deliberative ambiguity and why the availability of these readings depends on sentential grammar. (shrink)
In their ‘Metaethical contextualism defended’ (Ethics, 2010) Gunnar Björnsson & Stephen Finlay argue that metaethical contextualism - roughly, the view that 'ought' claims are semantically incomplete and require supplementation by certain parameters provided by the context in which they are uttered - can deal with two influential problems. The first concerns the connection between deliberation and advice (the 'practical integration problem'). The second concerns the way in which the expression ‘ought’ behaves in intra- and inter-contextual disagreement reports (the 'semantic assessment (...) problem'). I argue that, while Björnsson & Finlay can deal with the first problem, they can’t deal with the second. (shrink)
I provide an opinionated overview of the literature on the relationship of contextualism to knowledge norms for action, assertion, and belief. I point out that contextualists about ‘knows’ are precluded from accepting the simplest versions of knowledge norms; they must, if they are to accept knowledge norms at all, accept “relativized” versions of them. I survey arguments from knowledge norms both for and against contextualism, tentatively concluding that commitment to knowledge norms does not conclusively win the day either for contextualism (...) or for its rivals. But I also suggest that an antecedent commitment to contextualism about normative terms may provide grounds for suspicion about knowledge norms, and a debunking explanation of some of the data offered in favor of such norms. (shrink)
Imperatives may be interpreted with many subvarieties of directive force, for example as orders, invitations, or pieces of advice. I argue that the range of meanings that imperatives can convey should be identiﬁed with the variety of interpretations that are possible for non-dynamic root modals (what I call ‘priority modals’), including deontic, bouletic, and teleological readings. This paper presents an analysis of the relationship between imperatives and priority modals in discourse which asserts that, just as declaratives (...) contribute to the Common Ground and thus provide information relevant to the interpretation of epistemic modals in subsequent discourse, imperatives contribute to another component of the discourse context, the addressee’s To-Do List, which serves as a contextual resource for the interpretation of priority modals. This analysis predicts that the interpretation of imperatives and modals in discourse is constrained in surprising ways; these predictions are borne out. (shrink)