Are Moral Judgements Semantically Uniform? A Wittgensteinian Approach to the Cognitivism - Non-Cognitivism Debate

In Benjamin De Mesel & Oskari Kuusela (eds.), Ethics in the Wake of Wittgenstein. New York: Routledge. pp. 126-148 (2019)
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Cognitivists and non-cognitivists in contemporary meta-ethics tend to assume that moral judgments are semantically uniform. That is, they share the assumption that either all moral judgments express beliefs, or they all express non-beliefs. But what if some moral judgments express beliefs and others do not? Then moral judgments are not semantically uniform and the question “Cognitivist or non-cognitivist?” poses a false dilemma. I will question the assumption that moral judgments are semantically uniform. First, I will explain what I mean by the assumption (section 2). I will call this assumption SUM, the semantic uniformity of moral judgments. Second, I will provide some examples in order to illustrate that SUM cannot be taken for granted (section 3). Third, I will try to understand, using ideas from Wittgenstein, why SUM has nevertheless so often been taken for granted (section 4). Fourth, I will discuss some authors in contemporary meta-ethics who have noted the false dilemma between cognitivism and non-cognitivism and evaluate the solutions they propose for overcoming it (section 5). Fifth, I will indicate, again with some help from Wittgenstein, how meta-ethical research about moral judgments is possible without the assumption that morality is semantically uniform (section 6).

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