The moral truth

In Michael Glanzberg (ed.), Oxford Handbook of Truth. Oxford University Press (forthcoming)
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Common-sense allows that talk about moral truths makes perfect sense. If you object to the United States’ Declaration of Independence’s assertion that it is a truth that ‘all men’ are ‘endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights’, you are more likely to object that these rights are not unalienable or that they are not endowed by the Creator, or even that its wording ignores the fact that women have rights too, than that this is not the sort of thing which could be a truth. Whether it is a truth or not seems beside the point, anyway; the writers of the Declaration could just have well written, ‘We hold it to be self-evident that all men are created equal, and also that it is self-evident that all men are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights,’ save only that its cadence would lack some of the poetic resonance of the version which garnered Hancock’s signature. Yet famously, ethical noncognitivists have proclaimed that moral sentences can’t be true or false – that, like ‘Hooray!’ or ‘dammit!’, they are not even the kinds of things to be true or false. Noncognitivism is sometimes even defined as the view that this is so, but even philosophers who define ‘noncognitivism’ more broadly, as consistent with the idea that moral sentences may be true or false, have believed that they needed to do important philosophical spadework in order to make sense of how moral sentences could be true or false. In this article we’ll look at the puzzle about moral truth as it is faced by early noncognitivists and by metaethical expressivists, the early noncognitivists’ contemporary cousins. We’ll look at what it would take for expressivists to ‘earn the right’ to talk about moral truths at all, and in particular at what it would take for them to earn the right to claim that moral truths behave in the ways that we should expect – including that meaningful moral sentences which lack presuppositions are true or false, and that classically valid arguments are truth-preserving..
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