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Thick Evaluative Concepts: Value, Reasons, and the Natural World

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The philosophy of language in thick and thin

Exploring the connection between linguistics and metaphysics is both timely and necessary given the important role language can play in moral disagreements reflecting cultural and social differences. EU-funded research sought to advance a new approach to the central topic of meta-ethics: the meaning and function of evaluative language and concepts.

Climate Change and Environment

The 'Thick evaluative concepts: Value, reasons, and the natural world' (THICK VALUE CONCEPTS) project aimed to contribute to and challenge contemporary discussions of 'thick concepts'. This term is generally assigned to notions or ideas that combine descriptive and evaluative concepts. The word selfish, for example, can be argued as being inherently evaluative as it conveys a negative characterisation. More specifically, this study focused on the distinction between thick concepts (e.g. cruelty, courage) and the somehow more purely evaluative 'thin' concepts (e.g. moral goodness, wrongness). The first main objective was to apply and extend methods and techniques from linguistics and philosophy of language to make the approach to the topic more robust. At a more fundamental level, the second objective was to establish a radical novel theory of the relationship between thick terms and concepts and evaluation. Both objectives were achieved through work carried out across five areas. Research involved collecting and analysing extensive linguistic evidence to counter the standard semantic views on the relationship between thick terms and concepts and evaluation.The project tested the hypothesis that relevant evaluations are a certain kind of generalised pragmatic implications of utterances involving thick terms and concepts. This exercise succeeded in offering a better explanation of the linguistic evidence. The hypothesis was further supported by discussing how evaluation can emerge in thick evaluative discourse if not based on the meanings of thick terms and concepts.Work in the fourth area of concentration also indirectly supported the hypothesis. That is, various phenomena treated as inherently evaluative in meaning can be explained with more general principles that have nothing in particular to do with being evaluative.Already being hailed as game-changer in the particular field, THICK VALUE CONCEPTS contributed new knowledge and a fresh foundation for the study of thick terms and concepts. The findings support its argument that these concepts do not have distinct significance for the wide range of moral philosophy issues they have been claimed to impact.


Moral disagreement, meta-ethics, thick concept, philosophy of language

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