A Semantic Approach to Moral Relativism


In this paper I aim to give a semantic account of moral relativism, that roughly advocates the idea that the truth or falsity of moral judgements is not absolute but only relative to the moral standards of different cultures or communities. I will first examine Kölbel’s relativism regarding predicates of personal taste in order to assess its capacity to account for faultless disagreement in culinary or aesthetic matters. The idea of disagreement without fault is, in fact, very intuitive in these areas, and conveys the idea that when each of two different speakers utter, respectively, a pair of mutually negated sentences -or, in other words, contradictory statements- neither of them must be at fault. In order to understand Kölbel’s proposal of semantic relativism I will first briefly review the core concepts of Kaplan’s two-dimensional semantics, which will provide me with a very necessary set of semantic tools to assess the truth-value of non-objective propositions -may these be of aesthetic, culinary or moral nature-. Once the relativist semantic discourse and its core concepts are clarified, I intend to apply it to the moral sphere, in order to evaluate whether the intuition of faultless disagreement should be preserved in matters regarding morality. In this ponderations, I will adduce some of the premises of moral realism, the metaethical opponent of moral relativism, which will help me gain a better understanding of the latter’s metaethical implications. Lastly, I want to conclude that Kölbel’s semantic relativism and its preservation of disagreement without fault is legitimately applicable to moral claims. 

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