ON THE SEMANTICS AND PRAGMATICS OF MORAL LANGUAGE IN SITUATIONS OF DISAGREEMENT AND DEBATE
Keywords:moral truth, moral disagreement, metaethical contextualism, metaethical relativism
(This article is part of a project by Trans/Form/Ação: Unesp Philosophy Journal. It is the Authorial Philosophy Dossier, to be published in 2022.) According to a prominent approach in contemporary formal semantics, the truth of moral claims depends on a suitable morality parameter: a set of individually or collectively endorsed moral standards, or moral codes, or systems of norms. The implementation of this approach known as indexical contextualism treats the dependence of moral truth on the morality parameter as akin to the context-dependence characteristic of sentences containing indexical terms: the content of a moral claim typically varies with the value of the morality parameter which enters in the individuation of the context of use. According to the genuinely relativist implementation, the morality parameter configures the situations in which the content expressed by an occurrence of a moral sentence is evaluated for truth or falsehood. The moderate version of genuine relativism (also known as nonindexical contextualism) takes the truth of an occurrence of a moral sentence to be determined by the value of the morality parameter in the context of use. On the other hand, the radical version of genuine relativism lets the truth of a moral claim made in a context essentially depend on the value of the morality parameter in another context, from which the original utterance is assessed. Taking the debate on the moral status of polygamic marriage as an illustration, the paper examines the competing merits of contextualist and relativist accounts of the use of moral language especially in situations of disagreement and debate. It argues that, although indexical contextualism coupled with suitable pragmatic considerations may account for disagreement data, the alternative account of these data given by nonindexical contextualism is preferable, because simpler and more economical. It is further argued that radical relativism is better situated than nonindexical contextualism to explain the relevant phenomena of second-order assertions (retraction and rejection) and, therefore, to smoothly accommodate some discourse possibilities which play a central role in moral debates.
How to Cite
Copyright (c) 2021 Wilson Mendonça
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.