Moral Non-Cognitivism and the Grammar of Morality
Blome-Tillmann (Michael)
Source: Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society, Monday 1 June 2009
Paper - Abstract

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Author’s Abstract

  1. This paper investigates the linguistic basis for moral non-cognitivism, the view that sentences containing moral predicates (henceforth moral sentences) do not have truth-conditions. It offers a new argument against this view by pointing out that the view is incompatible with our best empirical theories about the grammatical encoding of illocutionary force potentials. Given that my arguments are based on very general assumptions about the relations between the grammar of natural languages and a sentence’s illocutionary function, my arguments are broader in scope than the familiar semantic objections to non-cognitivism relating to the so-called Frege-Geach problem: even if a solution to the Frege-Geach problem has been found, my arguments still stand. Finally, my arguments are shown to generalise: they are not only arguments against moral noncognitivism but also against other kinds of non-cognitivism that have been prominent in the literature recently, such as modal1 or epistemic non-cognitivism.
  2. In this paper, I seek to show that agent-centred arguments have an important role to play in justifying rescue killings. The most often discussed of such justifications is the partiality view, whereby individuals are entitled, at least up to a point, to show partiality towards themselves by giving priority to their own fundamental project, goals and attachments over other people’s similar goals.
  3. In section 2, I shall argue that partiality provides a victim-centred justification for the view that V (Victim) is permitted, and has the right, to kill CA (Culpable Attacker), so long as it is suitably constrained by impartial requirements to be set out presently.
  4. In section 3, I shall deploy that victim-centred justification in support of the view that R (Rescuer) has the right to kill CA in defence of V.

  1. To conclude, I have argued that at the bar of partiality – the view that individuals are entitled, at least up to a point, to confer greater weight on their own interests than on those of others – a victim, V, not only is entitled to defend herself against a culpable attacker, but also does have the power to confer on a potential rescuer, R, the permission, and the right, to kill that attacker.
  2. Pace its critics, victims-centred considerations have an important role to play in justifying rescue killings. Whether or not the argument deployed here to that effect applies to the rescue killing of morally innocent attackers must await another occasion.

  1. Introduction
  2. Partiality and the right to kill in self-defence
  3. Partiality and the right to kill in defence of others
  4. Conclusion


Draft non-citable version was posted on 21st May 2009

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