Inferentialist metaethics, bifurcations and ontological commitment

Philosophical Studies 173 (9):2437-2459 (2016)
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According to recent suggestions within the global pragmatism discussion, metaethical debate must be fundamentally re-framed. Instead of carving out metaethical differences in representational terms, it has been argued that metaethics should be given an inferentialist footing. In this paper, I put inferentialist metaethics to the test by subjecting it to the following two criteria for success: Inferentialist metaethicists must be able to save the metaethical differences between moral realism and expressivism, and do so in a way that employs understandings of these metaethical accounts which would be acceptable to moral realists or expressivists who endorse an inferentialist theory of meaning. Two results follow from my discussion. The first concerns inferentialist metaethics more narrowly, casting doubts on inferentialists’ ability to fulfil the two criteria for success by showing that proposed metaethical demarcation attempts either meet the first criterion but violate the second, or pass the second criterion but fail the first. The second upshot pertains to the global pragmatism debate more widely, pressing the point that inferentialists have not as yet provided a convincing account of ontological commitment.
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