The Semantic Uniformity of Morality: On a Presupposition in Contemporary Metaethics

Tijdschrift Voor Filosofie 78 (1):121-153 (2016)
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Michael Gill has argued that contemporary metaethics proceeds on the assumption that morality is uniform. I apply Gill’s diagnosis to the debate between cognitivism and non-cognitivism. I argue, on the basis of examples, that there is good reason to question the assumption that morality is semantically uniform. I describe the assumption as a symptom of what Wittgenstein has called the philosopher’s “craving for generality‘. I discuss several recent metaethical positions in which the question “Cognitivism or non-cognitivism?‘ appears as a false dilemma. I conclude that these positions are still subject to the craving for generality. I defend a more radically Wittgensteinian approach to metaethics, in which the idea of family resemblances and an emphasis on differences between moral judgments are particularly important If morality is not necessarily to be thought of as semantically uniform, at least one important consequence follows. An omnipresent way of arguing in metaethics, namely arguing for cognitivism by arguing against non-cognitivism, becomes unavailable to the metaethicist.

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