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Catching Up With Castañeda

  • L. W. Sumner (a1)

Remember the fifties? That was, among other things, when it was outré for moral philosophers acutally to use moral discourse and de rigueur to theorize about its use. It was when we all read Stevenson and Hare and learned to believe that moral judgments had no truth values and were used to express emotion or to issue imperatives. It was when we came to realize that all previous moral philosophy rested on the mistake of supposing that moral judgments were propositions. How remote it all seems now. Today we write about social justice, sex, death, politics as though there were no question this might be improper. We no longer have the time and patience for the idler and more distant questions of the metalevel. It is correct certainly to call this progress but at a certain price. We tired of the old questions but we never learned how to answer them. The very grip of the noncognitivist fad made illuminating answers unlikely. Perhaps now that the fad is buried and forgotten we can go back to the issues and deal with them in a more fruitful manner.

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1 Castañeda Hector-Neri, The Structure of Morality. Springfield, Illinois: Charles C. Thomas. 1974. Referred to hereafter as SM.

2 From the jacket flap; emphasis in the original.

3 A Theory of Morality”, Philosophy and Phenomenotogical Research, volume XVII (1957), pp. 339352; “Are Hypothetical Imperatives Analytic?”, in The Proceedings of the Xllth International Congress of Philosophy (Florence: G.C. Sansoni. 1958), Volume 7, pp. 8593; Imperative Reasonings”, Philosophy and PhenomenologicalResearch, Volume XXI (1960), pp. 2149; “Imperatives, Decisions and ‘Oughts’: A Logico-Metaphysical Investigation”, in Castañeda H.-N. and Nakhnikian G., eds., Morality and the Language of Conduct (Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 1963), pp. 219299; Imperatives, Oughts, and Moral Oughts”. Australasian Journal of Philosophy, Volume 44, (1966), pp. 277300; Actions. Imperatives, and Obligations”, Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society. Volume LXVIII (1967–68), pp. 2548; Semantics of the Ought-to-do”, Synthese, Volume XXI (1970). pp. 449468.

4 One example: on page 47 we are told that “imperative sentences can function as antecedents, as well as consequents, even though they never function as conditioning sentences”, while on page 58 we learn that “imperatives can never function as antecedents of conditionals”.

5 In my exposition I shall use ‘p’ as a term referring to the proposition (or practition, question, etc.) p, and not to the sentence used to express p. This is a departure, adopted for simplicity, from Castañeda's conventions.

6 I am ignoring here (and hereafter) Castañeda's definition of a prescription as the common core of a family of mandates which differ in their non-logical properties. Thus ‘X to do A’ is the prescription common to ‘X. I order you to do A”. “X. 1 advise you to do A’, ‘X, I beg you to do A’, etc. Much of what I describe as true of practitions within Castañeda's discussion more strictly applies to prescriptions. Again I am simplifying for purposes of exposition.

7 Castañeda is aware that a normative's qualifier’ is often tacit and supplied by the linguistic context. An unqualified sentence does not always express an unqualified normative. The analysis presupposes “unabbreviated utterances in which each [normative] claim is formulated together with its ground, and the solution to the conflict is formulated separately” (SM, p. 54). The application to the more common abbreviated utterances parellels the process of determining the logical form of indicative sentences in a natural language.

8 ‘Justifiedness’ is a strictly technical notion in the theory, a fact which Castañeda signals in the book by using the uppercase “Justified”. I have eliminated this convention, but will emphasize here that a practition's beingjustified means precisely what the theoretical explication of that concept contains — that and nothing more. It is particularly important to distinguish between the justifiedness of a practition and the propriety of its use or assertion (cf. SM, pp. 115–116).

9 They are particularly wrong where (SM, p. 120) Castañeda asserts: “One subscribes to the whole of the constitution of one's country if one does not give up his citizenship. Likewise, the morality of one's culture is subscribed to completely by the person who subscribes to part of it. Similarly, for the case of the statutes constituting any other institution one belongs to.”

10 See, e.g., SM, p. 116.

11 SM.p, 121.

12 Gilbert Harman defends a similar position concerning what he calls “inner judgments” in his Moral Relativism Defended”, Philosophical Review, Volume LXXXIV, Number 1 (January, 1975), pp. 322.

13 See, e.g., SM, pp. 143, 145.

14 Moore G.E., Ethics (London: Oxford University Press, 1912), Ch. 3. See also Moore's “A Reply to My Critics”, in Schilpp P.A., ed, The Philosophy of G.E. Moore (La Salle, Illinois: Open Court, 1968), pp. 535554.

15 C.L. Stevenson, “Moore's Arguments Against Certain Forms of Ethical Naturalism”, in Schilpp, op. cit., pp. 71–90.

16 For the distinction between aggregative and distributive principles, see Barry Brian. Political Argument (London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1965), pp. 4347.

17 As Castañeda himself asserts, SM, p. 6.

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Dialogue: Canadian Philosophical Review / Revue canadienne de philosophie
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