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Open questions and consequentialist conditionals: Central puzzles in Moorean moral philosophy

Jean-Paul Vessel, University of Massachusetts Amherst


Moore's Open Question Arguments are among the most influential arguments in 20th Century metaethical thought. But, surprisingly, there is a fair amount of confusion concerning what the Open Question Arguments actually are, how the Moorean passages should be interpreted, and what they are intended to show. Thus, the early chapters are devoted to clarificatory matters, including the exposing of a variety of contemporary attacks upon Moore's arguments as misguided by indicating where they rest upon faulty interpretations of Moorean passages. Providing what I take to be accurate formulations of Moore's famous arguments, responding to historically important preliminary objections, and, finally, presenting various shortcomings of these arguments constitute the remaining themes of the early chapters. Next, I pursue an explanation of what I call the ‘Open Question phenomenon’: the inclination that many have to endorse Moore's “open question” premises. I survey a variety of popular noncognitivist explanations, arguing that each of them is unsatisfactory. I then present a novel semantic explanation of the phenomenon and use it to construct an augmented Moorean Open Question Argument, one capable of overcoming the shortcomings of Moore's originals. The latter chapters are dedicated to an investigation of Moore's preferred normative theory—a version of objective consequentialism. I argue that the standard semantic account of subjunctive conditionals fails to capture the nature of certain subjunctive conditionals relevant to the normative evaluation of alternatives from an objective consequentialist perspective. I then present a modified version of the standard account in an effort to remedy the problem. Next, I present a novel objection against all extant versions of objective consequentialism. I then introduce and utilize the concept of an “objective” subjunctive probability in the transformation of a subjective version of consequentialism into an objective version, one capable of dealing with the difficulties posed by the objection. I conclude the dissertation with a final chapter in which I defend possibilist (as opposed to subjunctive) versions of consequentialism from a contemporary objection. In doing so, I elucidate a theoretical advantage that possibilist theories have over their subjunctive counterparts.

Subject Area


Recommended Citation

Vessel, Jean-Paul, "Open questions and consequentialist conditionals: Central puzzles in Moorean moral philosophy" (2003). Doctoral Dissertations Available from Proquest. AAI3078724.