Dissertation

Meta-Ethics for Neo-Pragmatists: A Normative-Pragmatic Analysis of Moral Discourse 
Committee: Michael Williams (Chair), Hilary Bok, Steven Gross

Traditional descriptivist and expressivist accounts of moral discourse face problems about the relationship between moral judgments and motivation, the objectivity of morality, and the retrospective normativity of morality. I develop an alternative to these traditional meta-ethical positions that solves (or dissolves) these problems through an original synthesis between a broadly inferentialist use-theory of meaning and recent work on morality in evolutionary psychology. I construct a framework for the pragmatic analysis of linguistic meaning (or PALM) that extends the inferentialist’s interest in proprieties of inference to pragmatic and epistemic proprieties, which, I argue, are of equal importance to our understanding of meaning. These proprieties are explained in terms of moral discourse’s evolutionary function of maintaining an environment in which ongoing social coordination is possible for reflective beings like us.

Long Abstract (PDF)