Relativism of Values and De Se Attitudes

Document Type : Scientific-research


1 PhD Student in Moral Philosophy, Department of Ethics, Faculty of Theology and Islamic Studies, University of Qom, Qom, Iran.

2 Professor of the Department of Ethics, Faculty of Theology and Islamic Studies, University of Qom, Qom, Iran.

3 Professor of the Imam Khomeini Education and Research Institute, Qom, Iran.


Metaethical relativism is in the first place a theory about the ontological status of moral properties and the truth and justification of ethical judgments. Since truth-ascriptions of relative judgments are different from ordinary sentences, relativists should advance a semantic theory about how the content and truth of such sentences are determined. Contextualist take such sentences to be elliptic for a sentence containing a parameter that refers to a reference frame determined by the context of assertion. With the content of different assertions of a judgment varying from one context to other, contextualists are bound to consider the apparently genuine faultless disagreements, which are a main motivation for accepting moral relativism, as mere misunderstandings. Also, they are faced with other problems in pragmatics of moral assertions in cases of retraction and rejection. By refuting contextualism, “New relativists” claim that it is just the truth of moral judgments that is relative, and the content of such judgments does not vary among their different assertions. John MacFarlane makes such a move by adding an index to the circumstances of evaluation of such judgments which is determined by context of assessment, and refers to assessors' preferences. In his de se relativism about values, Andy Egan presents a different theory, which he claims it to be the best if we were inclined to adopt naturalism, internalism, and cognitivism. By accepting David Lewis' theory of de se attitudes, which considers content of sentences to be properties instead of propositions, Egan claims that the value judgments have centered world properties as contents which have no corresponding possible world propositions.  By making value judgments, people self-ascribe such properties. Using Lewis' theory of value, Egan claims that the content of value properties is “being disposed to desire to desire x”. This property does not vary among different assertions of a sentence. Combining this theory with Robert Stalnaker's theory of assertion, Egan claims that he is not faced with the problem of lost disagreement. Like MacFarlane, Egan adds an assessor index to the circumstances of evaluation of relative sentences, but unlike him he claims it to be determined by the context of use. In addition, Egan makes two criticisms against the contextualist account of value judgments, which we have called the naturalist and the internalist problems. Both problems stem from the fact that according to contextualism, an assertion of some content can be evaluative while another assertion of the same content is non-evaluative. Egan claims that his account can avoid such problems. In the present paper, we show that Egan's attempts are unsuccessful. His account is faced with the same criticisms he leveled at contextualism; and if he tries to avoid such objections, his escape routes will open the way for contextualists as well. Also, by accepting Lewis' theory of content, Egan has taken on an additional burden, which is hard to defend.


Main Subjects

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