Model Theory, Hume's Dictum, and the Priority of Ethical Theory

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Abstract
It is regrettably common for theorists to attempt to characterize the Humean dictum that one can’t get an ‘ought’ from an ‘is’ just in broadly logical terms. We here address an important new class of such approaches which appeal to model-theoretic machinery. Our complaint about these recent attempts is that they interfere with substantive debates about the nature of the ethical. This problem, developed in detail for Daniel Singer’s and Gillian Russell and Greg Restall’s accounts of Hume’s dictum, is of a general type arising for the use of model-theoretic structures in cashing out substantive philosophical claims: the question of whether an abstract model-theoretic structure successfully interprets something often involves taking a stand on non-trivial issues surrounding the thing. In the particular case of Hume’s dictum, given reasonable conceptual or metaphysical claims about the ethical, Singer’s and Russell and Restall’s accounts treat obviously ethical claims as descriptive and vice versa. Consequently, their model-theoretic characterizations of Hume’s dictum are not metaethically neutral. This encourages skepticism about whether model-theoretic machinery suffices to provide an illuminating distinction between the ethical and the descriptive
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Archival date: 2017-11-05
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