The conversational practicality of value judgement

The Journal of Ethics 8 (3):205-223 (2004)
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Abstract

Analyses of moral value judgements must meet a practicality requirement: moral speech acts characteristically express pro- or con-attitudes, indicate that speakers are motivated in certain ways, and exert influence on others' motivations. Nondescriptivists including Simon Blackburn and Allan Gibbard claim that no descriptivist analysis can satisfy this requirement. I argue first that while the practicality requirement is defeasible, it indeed demands a connection between value judgement and motivation that resembles a semantic or conceptual rather than merely contingent psychological link. I then show how a form of descriptivism, the interest-relational theory, satisfies the requirement as a pragmatic and conversational feature of value judgement – thereby also accommodating its defeasibility. The word ``good'' is always indexed to some set of motivations: when this index is unarticulated in many contexts the speaker conversationally implicates possession of those motivations.

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Stephen Finlay
Australian Catholic University

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