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A metaethic made useful: a Wittgenstein-inspired approach to metaethics

Mutch, D. (2017) A metaethic made useful: a Wittgenstein-inspired approach to metaethics. PhD thesis, University of Reading

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In this thesis, I use Wittgenstein's thoughts about ethics, and about philosophy in general, to argue in defence of a form of metaethical subjectivism. I argue that a Wittgensteinian metaethic can have value not only as a 'therapy' for philosophical unease, nor simply because it can help us to find the truth, but also because conceptual confusions can impact upon substantive moral thinking. Wittgenstein's thoughts on ethics, I argue, indicate a broadly anti-realist position, and many bear a striking resemblance to later non-cognitivist qualms about simple subjectivism. His expressivism about psychological avowals, in particular his comments on psychological self-descriptions, allow for a nuanced form of expressivism, and may provide a model for ethical language. Whilst the contemporary expressivist's 'Parity Thesis' helps expressivism to avoid collapse into simple subjectivism, it also highlights the need to tackle 'Moore's Paradox'. Wittgenstein's solution to the paradox, however, indicates that no story about the meanings of moral sentences can follow from the non-cognitivist's story about the meanings of simple moral utterances. In preference to non-cognitivism, then, I argue, we should return to a more simple-minded subjectivism, the main objections to which, viz. the disagreement and modal problems, can be overcome by Wittgenstein's accounts of meaning and truth. I argue that 'idealizing subjectivism' is not objectionably ad hoc, since the aim of 'idealizing' is correctly to capture the use of moral terms, which can be the only criterion for correctness for a philosophical analysis, and that, as social creatures and people of conscience, we have a deep need for the moral concepts the idealizing subjectivist describes. Finally, I argue, with reference to Wittgenstein's thoughts on ritual practices, that there are more constraints on legitimate moral judgement than are typically allowed by anti-realists, but not the kinds of constraint typically claimed by their opponents.

Item Type:Thesis (PhD)
Thesis Supervisor:Schroeder, S. and Hooker, B.
Thesis/Report Department:School of Humanities
Identification Number/DOI:
Divisions:Arts, Humanities and Social Science > School of Humanities > Philosophy
ID Code:78267


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