‘Ought’-contextualism beyond the parochial

Philosophical Studies 176 (11):3099-3119 (2019)
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Despite increasing prominence, ‘ought’-contextualism is regarded with suspicion by most metaethicists. As I’ll argue, however, contextualism is a very weak claim, that every metaethicist can sign up to. The real controversy concerns how contextualism is developed. I then draw an oft-overlooked distinction between “parochial” contextualism—on which the contextually-relevant standards are those that the speaker, or others in her environment, subscribe to—and “aspirational” contextualism—on which the contextually-relevant standards are the objective standards for the relevant domain. However, I argue that neither view is acceptable. I suggest an original compromise: “ecumenical contextualism”, on which some uses of ‘ought’ are parochial, others aspirational. Ecumenical contextualism is compatible with realism or antirealism, but either combination yields interesting results. And though it’s a cognitivist view, it is strengthened by incorporating an expressivist insight: for robustly normative usages of ‘ought’, the contextually-relevant standards must be endorsed by the speaker.

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Alex Worsnip
University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill


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