Inferentialism as an Alternative to Expressivism

In Russ Shafer-Landau (ed.), Oxford Studies in Metaethics Volume 18. Oxford University Press (2023)
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Abstract

Normative discourse includes statements which appear to be truth-apt expressions of normative beliefs. But normative oughts do not seem to fit cleanly amongst the natural facts. This makes many naturalistically inclined philosophers sympathetic to some form of expressivist view that normative statements get their meaning from how they express desire-like attitudes. However, there are a serious semantic challenges for expressivism, which lead others to accept the idea that normative statements are representational of reality after all. This paper presents another option that derives from the general program in the theory of meaning to emphasize the commissive role of language over any descriptive or expressive roles. Here this emphasis is used to sketch a version of metaethical inferentialism and contrast it with expressivism. I conclude with some observations about new perspectives this view offers on three other issues in metaethics.

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Matthew Chrisman
University of Edinburgh

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