Building bridges with words: an inferential account of ethical univocity

Canadian Journal of Philosophy 48 (3-4):468-488 (2018)
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Explaining genuine moral disagreement is a challenge for metaethical theories. For expressivists, this challenge comes from the plausibility of agents making seemingly univocal claims while expressing incongruent conative attitudes. I argue that metaethical inferentialism – a deflationary cousin to expressivism, which locates meaning in the inferential import of our moral assertions rather than the attitudes they express – offers a unique solution to this problem. Because inferentialism doesn’t locate the source of moral disagreements in a clash between attitudes, but instead in conflicts between the inferential import of ethical assertions, the traditional problem for expressivism can be avoided. After considering two forms of inferentialism that lead to revenge versions of the problem, I conclude by recommending that we understand the semantics of moral disagreements pragmatically: the source of univocity does not come from moral or semantic facts waiting to be described, but instead from the needs that ethical and semantic discourses answer – a solution to the problems of what we are to do and how we are to talk about it.

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