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Frege-Geach argument


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An argument against positions such as expressivism or prescriptivism in the theory of ethics, or ascriptivism in the theory of responsibility. Such positions give the meaning of some sentence, such as ‘it is wrong to tell lies’ or ‘Jim is responsible for stealing the apples’ in terms of what is done by asserting them. But such sentences, like all others, can occur not only as asserted, but also in less direct contexts such as ‘if it is wrong to tell lies, then it is wrong to get your little brother to lie for you’, in which no attitude to expressing lies is voiced. Similarly ‘if he is responsible for stealing the apples, he will be caught sooner or later’ does not ascribe blame to the subject. We cannot say that meaning shifts in these contexts, because that would make simple inferences involving both kinds of sentence invalid. In his article ‘Ascriptivism’ in 1960 Geach argued that this puts a decisive obstacle in front of theories following this strategy. See also quasi-realism.

Subjects: Philosophy.


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