What Normative Terms Mean and Why It Matters for Ethical Theory

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This paper investigates how inquiry into normative language can improve substantive normative theorizing. First I examine two dimensions along which normative language differs: “strength” and “subjectivity.” Next I show how greater sensitivity to these features of the meaning and use of normative language can illuminate debates about three issues in ethics: the coherence of moral dilemmas, the possibility of supererogatory acts, and the connection between making a normative judgment and being motivated to act accordingly. e paper concludes with several brief reflections on the theoretical utility of the distinction — at least so-called — between “normative” and “nonnormative” language and judgment. The discussions of these specific linguistic and normative issues can be seen as case studies illustrating the fruitfulness of utilizing resources from philosophy of language for normative theory. Getting clearer on the language we use in normative conversation and theorizing can help us diagnose problems with bad arguments and formulate better motivated questions. This can lead to clearer answers and bring into relief new theoretical possibilities and avenues to explore.


Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationOxford Studies in Normative Ethics
EditorsMark Timmons
Publication statusPublished - 2015

Publication series

NameOxford Studies in Normative Ethics