Communities of Judgment Towards a Teleosemantic Theory of Moral Thought and Discourse

University dissertation from Uppsala : Department of Philosophy

Abstract: This thesis offers a teleosemantic account of moral discourse and judgment. It develops a number of views about the function and content of moral judgments and the nature of moral discourse based on Ruth Millikan’s theory of intentional content and the functions of intentional attitudes.Non-cognitivists in meta-ethics have argued that moral judgments are more akin to desires and other motivational attitudes than to descriptive beliefs. I argue that teleosemantics allows us to assign descriptive content to motivational attitudes and hence that even if the non-cognitivist is correct, moral judgments can be said to describe the world. Moreover, given further teleosemantic assumptions, this conclusion has consequences that are both surprising and interesting. First of all, while moral judgments have descriptive content, moral statements do not. The purpose of moral discourse is not to convey beliefs that are true simpliciter, but to convey attitudes that are descriptively correct when tokened by the addressee. Consequently, moral discourse requires speakers to adapt to hearers in order to secure their assent and bring them into "community of judgment" with themselves.Secondly, the descriptive content of a motivational attitude is partly a matter of the subject’s own preferences and circumstances. In particular, the descriptive correctness of a moral judgment is partly a function of the degree to which it is shared with others. Since a moral judgment also motivates the subject to spread it, it has the ability to, in a certain sense, make itself true. If regular descriptive beliefs are supposed to adapt the subject to the world, a moral judgment also has the capacity to adapt the world to the subject.

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