Ockham Society (Friday - Week 5, HT19)

Ockham Society

Today’s metaethics faces a dilemma between moral realism and expressivism. While moral realism provides a simple and uniform semantics for our moral claims and inferences, it comes with high ontological costs. In particular, one has to buy into the existence of queer moral facts. Expressivism, by contrast, maintains a lean ontology. As a result, however, its semantics is messy and excessively complicated—a fact that becomes apparent when we bring to mind the endless efforts to solve the Frege-Geach problem.

This paper first argues that error theory does not solve this dilemma. Traditionally, it has been suggested that error theory is able to maintain the realist’s semantics without posting queer moral facts. Moral claims express propositions, which are, however, systematically false because there are no moral properties to be instantiated. Against this line of thought, this paper argues that our moral claims fail to express (complete) propositions if there are no moral properties. As a result, error theory faces a variation of the Frege-Geach problem.

This paper then proposes a new solution to the metaethical dilemma: moral fictionalism. Like literary claims, moral claims are implicitly prefixed with a fiction-operator. For instance, the claim “Murder is wrong” is paraphrased as “According to the moral code, murder is wrong”. Given the correct interpretation of the fiction-operator, this paraphrase ensures that moral claims express propositions while avoiding the ontological commitment to queer moral facts. Solving the dilemma makes moral fictionalism an attractive metaethical position.


Ockham Society Convenor: Sean Costello | Ockham Society Webpage