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Why the Basic Problem Is Not a Problem

From the book Context Dependence in Language, Action, and Cognition

  • Joanna Klimczyk


The paper discusses Mark Schroeder’s famous objection to the interpretation of agentive ought in terms of propositional ought. The objection in question is called the Basic Problem, and it amounts to the observation that systematic, uniform logical treatment of ‘ought’ sentences that express deliberative content and those that do not gives rise to a semantic anomaly. The anomaly in question is that we are forced to accept as meaningful sentences that obviously lack meaningfulness. If Schroeder’s argument is a good one, then the challenge is truly fatal. However, I argue, this is not so. The charge looks very serious, I argue, once we accept two assumptions. One is the assumption that makes the Basic Problem a problem, namely that some normative thoughts are unthinkable. The other is the assumption that gives the Basic Problem the appearance of being devastating and irrefutable, and amounts to the idea that there is a tight conceptual relationship between a triple of concepts ‘indexed ought’, ‘normatively owned ought’, and ‘obligation’. I shall show that both assumptions do not withstand criticism. If my arguments are correct, the Basic Problem turns out to be toothless.

© 2021 Walter de Gruyter GmbH, Berlin/Munich/Boston
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