Moral Language: A Brandomian Account

Bjorn Sayers, Fordham University


This dissertation argues for an account of moral language based on Robert Brandom’s work in philosophy of language and practical reason. While there has been some limited engagement with Brandom’s work in the metaethics domain, this work is the first to develop an entire view out of Brandom’s central ideas including: Inferentialism, Expressivist Account of Normative Language, and Materially Good Inferences. The view is developed in response to a modified understanding of Michael Smith’s three metaethical challenges put forward in his seminal work The Moral Problem. Put succinctly, Smith challenges one to explain how moral statements like “murder is wrong” are objective and motivating while maintaining a Humean Theory of Motivation. I take direct issue with Smith’s demand for a strong notion of moral objectivity that is ultimately grounded in mind-independent moral facts. Instead I argue, by appealing to ideas from Moral Relativists like David Wong and a number of empirical studies on our moral intuitions, that we should focus our attention on explaining moral rationality and our ability to meaningfully exchange reasons in moral discourse. I claim that Smith’s problematic understanding of objectivity can be traced to an account of assertion that sees meaning in terms of representation and truth in terms of correspondence. I argue that instead we ought to understand assertion on Brandom’s Inferentialist model and that this opens up the possibility of giving an account of moral rationality that is ultimately grounded in intersubjectivity rather than independent fact. Lastly I show that my Brandomian view of moral language allows us to explain my modified understanding of Smith’s challenges better than alternative views.

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Recommended Citation

Sayers, Bjorn, "Moral Language: A Brandomian Account" (2018). ETD Collection for Fordham University. AAI13421994.