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Title:The Grammar of Obligation: An Investigation of the Views of Four British Moralists
Author(s):MacNeil, Kevin M.
Doctoral Committee Chair(s):Winch, Peter
Department / Program:Philosophy
Degree Granting Institution:University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Abstract:This thesis is about the logic of moral language; in particular, the grammar of the term 'ought'. My argument owes much to the work of Wittgenstein, and in the introductory chapter I discuss certain of his ideas which are relevant to the thesis as a whole (e.g., the notion of a language-game and the associated idea of a grammatical remark). In the chapters which follow, I look at the views of four British moral philosophers: Thomas Hobbes, David Hume, Richard Price, and Henry Sidgwick. Although two of these philosophers give naturalistic accounts of obligation and two give intuitionistic accounts; I argue that in all four cases the view in question is marred by confusion over the logic of moral terms (i.e. a misunderstanding of the nature of our moral language-games).
In Chapter II it is shown that Hobbes's account of obligation is flawed by a failure to recognize that the role played by the fear of death in our moral judgments can't be understood causally. Similarly, Hume's attempt to give a causal account of virtue concepts by means of an appeal to moral sentiment is also problematic; for Hume fails to recognize that whether a judgement counts as moral judgment is a logical question, not an empirical one. Hume's views are discussed in Chapter III.
In Chapter IV I argue that Richard Price (and his modern followers, e.g. H. A. Prichard and W. D. Ross) fail to distinguish between moral and mathematical intuition; consequently they misunderstand certain important features of moral discourse (e.g. moral conflict). Finally, in Chapter V I argue that Henry Sidgwick's attempt to extract from our "common sense" moral practices a core of self-evident truths around which to build a rational reconstruction of moral decision-making is based on a failure to recognize that moral language must be understood in the context of our moral practices. Therefore, what Sidgwick would end up with, if he were to succeed in this project, would not be common sense morality rationalized, but a different conception of the moral life altogether.
Issue Date:1992
Description:189 p.
Thesis (Ph.D.)--University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, 1992.
Other Identifier(s):(UMI)AAI9236528
Date Available in IDEALS:2014-12-17
Date Deposited:1992

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