Non-descriptive negation for normative sentences

Philosophical Quarterly 66 (262):1-25 (2016)
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Frege-Geach worries about embedding and composition have plagued metaethical theories like emotivism, prescriptivism and expressivism. The sharpened point of such criticism has come to focus on whether negation and inconsistency have to be understood in descriptivist terms. Because they reject descriptivism, these theories must offer a non-standard account of the meanings of ethical and normative sentences as well as related semantic facts, such as why certain sentences are inconsistent with each other. This paper fills out such a solution to the negation problems, following some of the original emotivist ideas about the interplay of interests in conversation. We communicate both to share information and coordinate our actions, and we use distinctively normative language like deontic ‘must’ and ‘may’ to negotiate what people are to do. The kinds of disagreement involved in such negotiation can illuminate the issues with negation and inconsistency. This paper outlines a dynamic semantic system in which these ideas can bear fruit, developing the scorekeeping model of conversation. The result is clarification about what Frege-Geach worries can mean for nondescriptive semantics.

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Andrew Alwood
University of Richmond


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