What normative terms mean and why it matters for ethical theory

In Mark C. Timmons (ed.), Oxford Studies in Normative Ethics, Vol. 5. pp. 296–325 (2015)
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This paper investigates how inquiry into normative language can improve substantive normative theorizing. First I examine two dimensions along which normative language differs: “strength” and “subjectivity.” Next I show how greater sensitivity to these features of the meaning and use of normative language can illuminate debates about three issues in ethics: the coherence of moral dilemmas, the possibility of supererogatory acts, and the connection between making a normative judgment and being motivated to act accordingly. The paper concludes with several brief reflections on the theoretical utility of the distinction—at least so-called—between “normative” and “non-normative” language and judgment. Clarifying the language we use in normative conversation and theorizing can help us diagnose problems with bad arguments and formulate better motivated questions. This can lead to clearer answers and bring into relief new theoretical possibilities and avenues to explore.
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