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Workshop: Contextualism in Metaethics

Organized by the Department of Ethics, Social and Political Philosophy


13:00 - 14:30: Michael Ridge (University of Edinburgh)
Contextualism and Disagreement

In this paper, I discuss Stephen Finlay's account of normative disagreement.  After reviewing some virtues of his approach and comparing some of its central ideas with those of Ecumenical Expressivism, I argue that his theory makes incorrect predictions about the intelligibility (and truth) of a range of sentences which assert both the truth of someone else's statement and the speaker's disagreeemnt with that statement. I conclude by discussing the deeper implications of this problem for contextualist theories of normativity.

15:00 - 16:30: Jonas Olson (Stockholm University)
End-Relational Contextualism vs. Error Theory

In A Confusion of Tongues, Stephen Finlay develops a contextualist and reductive theory of normative language (end-relational contextualism). He also argues that it is a superior alternative to competing metaethical theories. This is because it would be the simplest and most conservative account and offer the best explanation of our normative thought and talk. I argue that end-relational contextualism is not the most conservative account of our normative thought and talk. In fact, it is in crucial respects radically revisionary. It may be the (semantically) simplest account, but if so it is too simple to be plausible. End-relational contextualism has many troubling implications, which render it in the end not the best explanation of our normative thought and talk. I shall argue that error theory about normative thought and talk has less troubling implications and is more successful in meeting five desiderata for metanormative theories, around which Finlay centers his case for end-relational contextualism.

17:00 - 18:30: Stephen Finlay (University of Southern California)
A 'Good' Explanation of Five Puzzles about Reasons

Abstract: An attractively but controversially unifying approach to normative reasons analyzes them as explanations why acting would be good in some way and to some degree (Raz, Searle, Finlay).In this talk, I demonstrate how five metaethical puzzles about reasons can be solved by adopting a particular contextualist semantics for ‘good’ as both end- and information- relative, which I have advanced in other work.These puzzles are: (i) a /right kinds of reasons for attitudes/ problem for value-based theories (Kelly, Brunero); (ii) a /reasons as evidence/ problem for explanation-based theories (Kearns & Star); (iii) a /subjective reasons/ problem for explanation-based/factive theories; (iv) an /attitudes as reasons/ problem (Smith); and (v) a self-application problem (Evers, Ridge).

Followed by drinks and dinner.


Attendance is free, but places are limited, so if you would like to participate please register with Daan Evers (

Participants are welcome to join us for drinks and dinner after the workshop at their own expense. When registering please indicate whether you would like to join us for dinner.

When & where?

Tuesday, 12 April 2016
Faculty of Philosophy, room Alfa

Last modified:08 April 2016 5.20 p.m.