The Proceedings of the Twentieth World Congress of Philosophy

Volume 1, 1999


Gilbert Harman
Pages 107-115

Moral Philosophy and Linguistics

Any acceptable account of moral epistemology must accord with the following points. (1) Different people acquire seemingly very different moralities. (2) All normal people acquire a moral sense, whether or not they are given explicit moral instruction. Language resembles morality in these ways. There is considerable evidence from linguistics for linguistic universals. This suggests that (3) despite the first point, there are moral universals. If so, it might be possible to develop a moral epistemology that is analogous to the theory of universal grammar in linguistics. In what follows, I will try to sketch what might be involved in such a moral epistemology.