The Journal of Ethics

, Volume 15, Issue 4, pp 341–369

The Pragmatics of Moral Motivation



One of the most prevalent and influential assumptions in metaethics is that our conception of the relation between moral language and motivation provides strong support to internalism about moral judgments. In the present paper, I argue that this supposition is unfounded. Our responses to the type of thought experiments that internalists employ do not lend confirmation to this view to the extent they are assumed to do. In particular, they are as readily explained by an externalist view according to which there is a pragmatic and standardized connection between moral utterances and motivation. The pragmatic account I propose states that a person’s utterance of a sentence according to which she ought to ϕ conveys two things: the sentence expresses, in virtue of its conventional meaning, the belief that she ought to ϕ, and her utterance carries a generalized conversational implicature to the effect that she is motivated to ϕ. This view also makes it possible to defend cognitivism against a well-known internalist argument.


Cognitivism Externalism Generalized conversational implicature Paul Grice Metaethics Moral motivation Non-cognitivism 


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© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Philosophy, Linguistics and Theory of ScienceUniversity of GothenburgGothenburgSweden

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