How Are Thick Terms Evaluative?

Philosophers' Imprint 13:1-20 (2013)
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Abstract

Ethicists are typically willing to grant that thick terms (e.g. ‘courageous’ and ‘murder’) are somehow associated with evaluations. But they tend to disagree about what exactly this relationship is. Does a thick term’s evaluation come by way of its semantic content? Or is the evaluation pragmatically associated with the thick term (e.g. via conversational implicature)? In this paper, I argue that thick terms are semantically associated with evaluations. In particular, I argue that many thick concepts (if not all) conceptually entail evaluative contents. The Semantic View has a number of outspoken critics, but I shall limit discussion to the most recent--Pekka Väyrynen--who believes that objectionable thick concepts present a problem for the Semantic View. After advancing my positive argument in favor of the Semantic View (section II), I argue that Väyrynen’s attack is unsuccessful (section III). One reason ethicists cite for not focusing on thick concepts is that such concepts are supposedly not semantically evaluative whereas traditional thin concepts (e.g. good and wrong) are. But if my view is correct, then this reason must be rejected.

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Brent G. Kyle
United States Air Force Academy

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