Philosophical Studies

, Volume 176, Issue 6, pp 1473–1493 | Cite as

Perl and Schroeder’s presuppositional error theory

  • David CoppEmail author


Ronald Dworkin charges that the error theory is a position in first-order moral theory that should be judged by the standards that are appropriately used in evaluating first-order theories. Perl and Schroeder contend that a “presuppositional error theory” can avoid Dworkin’s charge. On the presuppositional view, moral sentences, such as (1), “It is wrong to torture babies,” have a false presupposition. Perhaps, for example, they presuppose that there are objectively prescriptive moral standards. This proposal can be understood in different ways, depending on one’s view about presupposition. In Perl and Schroeder’s view, the “at issue” proposition expressed by an assertion of (1) can be cleanly distinguished from the presupposed proposition, and the overall content of an assertion of (1) is the set of these two propositions. On an “entanglement view”, the presupposed proposition is entangled with the proposition expressed by an assertion of (1) in such a way that it is not possible to distinguish cleanly between the “at issue” content and the presupposed content. Perl and Schroeder are correct that, on their view, the presuppositional error theory can avoid Dworkin’s charge. On the entanglement view, however, it cannot avoid Dworkin’s charge. Unfortunately, however, I argue, Perl and Schroeder’s view is implausible for independent reasons. Further, I contend, Perl and Schroeder do not have a solid argument against the entanglement view. They also lack a solid argument in favor of the key, controversial thesis that moral sentences presuppose that there are objectively prescriptive moral standards.


Error theory Presupposition Objective moral standards J.L. Mackie, Ronald Dworkin 



A version of this paper was presented to the 2017 Oberlin Colloquium in Philosophy. I thank everyone who contributed to the discussion on this occasion for their helpful comments. I am especially grateful to Caleb Perl and Mark Schroeder for very helpful discussions of their views, and to Kent Bach, Adam Sennet, Robert Shanklin and Bart Streumer for helpful conversations and comments.


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© Springer Nature B.V. 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of PhilosophyUniversity of California, DavisDavisUSA

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