Thick Concepts and Variability

Philosophers' Imprint 11:1-17 (2011)
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Abstract
Some philosophers hold that so-called "thick" terms and concepts in ethics (such as 'cruel,' 'selfish,' 'courageous,' and 'generous') are contextually variable with respect to the valence (positive or negative) of the evaluations that they may be used to convey. Some of these philosophers use this variability claim to argue that thick terms and concepts are not inherently evaluative in meaning; rather their use conveys evaluations as a broadly pragmatic matter. I argue that one sort of putative examples of contextual variability in evaluative valence that are found in the literature fail to support the variability claim and that another sort of putative examples are open to a wide range of explanations that have different implications for the relationship between thick terms and concepts and evaluation. I conclude that considerations of contextual variability fail to settle whether thick terms and concepts are inherently evaluative in meaning. In closing I suggest a more promising line of research.
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