The a Priori, Intuitionism, and Moral Language

Part of the American University Publications in Philosophy book series (MNPL, volume 29)


Recent Anglo-Saxon, and especially British ethical theory has developed upon the assumption that something more satisfactory than ethical intuitionism was philosophically necessary. To discover that the good was unanalysable, to be intuited, and consequently either noted or not noted, as the case may be, by the attentive observer was not as philosophically or morally helpful as one might wish. In the attempt to overcome this deficiency contemporary moral philosophers, especially the “prescriptivists”, turned to the language of morals to understand how this language functioned, and how its more descriptive and more evaluative functions (assuming these may be distinguished) were related.


Moral Philosophy Ethical Theory Moral Theory Specific Content Moral Discourse 
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  1. 1a.
    G. J. Warnock, Contemporary Moral Philosophy (London: Macmillan, 1967);Google Scholar
  2. 1b.
    G. J. Warnock, The Object Of Morality (London: Methuen, 1971). Page references inserted within parentheses in the text refer to these volumes as either (cmp.) or (om.). He elaborated upon the same thesis in “Ethics And Language” in The Human Agent, Royal Institute Of Philosophy Lectures, Volume I (London: Macmillan, 1968).Google Scholar
  3. 2.
    Professor Mitchell’s Gifford Lectures have not yet been published but were delivered in 1975. In no sense do I suggest that the following criticisms of Warnock’s position apply also to Mitchell’s analysis.Google Scholar
  4. 3.
    For a critical discussion of Warnock’s analysis of intuitionism see H. H. Cox, “Warnock On Moore,” Mind, 79 (1970) 265–269.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. 6.
    See also G. J. Warnock, “The Primacy Of Practical Reason,” in P. F. Strawson, Studies In The Philosophy Of Thought And Action (London: Oxford University Press, 1968).Google Scholar
  6. 8.
    For discussion of Sartrian ethics in relationship to recent Anglo-Saxon ethical theory see Frederick A. Olafson, Principles And Persons (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1967).Google Scholar
  7. 9.
    An analogous charge of intuitionism has been made about Austin’s methodology. See C. G. New, “A Plea For Linguistics”, in K. T. Fann, Symposium On J. L. Austin (New York: Humanities, 1969). New writes, “But the method Austin formulates is not empirical; it is self-consciously intuitive and frequently prescriptive.” (p. 152). The charge has also most recently been made about Warnock and others by R. Abelson. He writes, “This position is, so far as I can see, a revival of intuitionism without the scare label.” See his book review in The Philosophical Review, 80 (1971) p. 124.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Martinus Nijhoff Publishers, Dordrecht 1987

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.The American UniversityUSA

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