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December 10, 2009


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Your Observation 2 seems to be two observations, or anyway it has two independent parts. There is the idea that the sentences but not the words, have 'good'-free equivalents; and then there is the idea that the analysis could differ from case to case. The second just seems to be the idea that 'good' could have a number of different senses. The first is a little harder to pin down, but it is in keeping with Strawson's general approach (at least at the time); think of "Truth", e.g., where there is no equivalent offered for the truth predicate, but a general recipe for forming truth-predicate-free equivalents. (Unsuccessful, of course.)

First, I would deny the premise. “Fertilizer is good for the magnolias” is not equivalent to any ought-claim. Nothing follows about what I or the magnolias ought to do.

One might reply to this that what does follow is a conditional ought-claim, e.g. that “if one wants nice magnolias, one ought to fertilize them”. But then I will say that (a) this claim is not equivalent, in that one can imagine cases where “If one wants nice magnolias, one ought to F magnolias” is true but “F is good for magnolias” is false. (E.g. imagine that a powerful fairy has promised to grow my magnolias if I dance around them.) And (b) even leaving those other cases aside, in this case it seems clear to me that the ought-claim is conceptually dependent on the good-claim rather than the other way around.


that's a good point. I didn't think he was thinking that the difference analyses reveal different senses of the word. I was thinking that he would think that it is somehow built into the one meaning of the term 'good' that we can on different occasions analyses the sentences in which it appears with sentences only using ought. I didn't think that the implication of this would be that the fact that the ought sentences differ would be evidence that 'good' has been used in different sense. So, maybe the idea is some sort of contextualism on the level of word-meaning that doesn't resolve into ambiguity.


I'm not immediately convinced by the counter-example. Maybe he could say something like 'if you were looking after magnolias, then ceteris paribus you ought to F magnolias'. I think some hedged principle like this will get the extension right. What will be more problematic for the argument is the idea that it will turn out to be *contradictory* to deny this.


That doesn't sound like 'good' used in its "ethical sense" to me, which is what Strawson required.

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