Substance, Content, Taxonomy and Consequence: A Comment on Stephen Maitzen

In Hume on Is and Ought. Palgrave-Macmillan. pp. 313-319 (2010)
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This is a response to Stephen Maitzen’s paper. ‘Moral Conclusions from Nonmoral Premises’. Maitzen thinks that No-Ought-From-Is is false. He does not dispute the formal proofs of Schurz and myself, but he thinks they are beside the point. For what the proponents of No-Ought-From-Is need to show is not that you cannot get SUBSTANTIVELY moral conclusions from FORMALLY non-moral premises but that you cannot get SUBSTANTIVELY moral conclusions from SUBSTANTIVELY non-moral premises. And he believes that he can derive substantively moral conclusions from FORMALLY moral but SUBSTANTIVELY nonmoral premises. However his argument relies on what I call ‘taxonomic essentialism’, the thesis that sentences do not change their semantic characters from context to context or from world to world. In particular, they do not change their META-ETHICAL status from context to context or world to world. If a sentence is non-moral at one world it is non-moral at all the rest. This thesis leads to contradictions (with some propositions as both moral and non-moral) and even if (as is perhaps possible) these contradictions can be avoided, it leads to further consequences that are palpably absurd. Thus It may be possible to derive substantively moral conclusions from premises that are not substantively moral, but if it is, Maitzen has failed to prove the point
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