Later Wittgenstein on moral good: realism without the postulation of moral properties or naturalistic reduction

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In his lectures in 1933 Wittgenstein questions the widely accepted assumption in moral philosophy regarding goodness as a quality or property that is present in all cases where we correctly judge an action as morally good. As I construe his positive account, moral concepts do not speak about properties that good actions have in addition to their non-moral properties or features in terms of which they are identified as the actions they are. Relatedly, Wittgenstein rejects the account of the use of ‘good’ as a predicate, conceiving ascriptions of goodness as attributive instead, whereby the sense in which an action is good depends on the action that is at stake. What emerges is an account of the use of moral locutions as intimately bound up with non-moral concepts and descriptions, whereby judgments about the applicability of moral concepts to cases are justified in terms of such non-moral descriptions. This account can be described as realistic, but without the postulation of special non-natural or natural moral properties or a naturalistic reduction. Because Wittgenstein does not assume that there must be something common to all instances of good, his account is also well-suited to do justice to the complexity of moral concepts. Although he does not develop the point, what Wittgenstein says about good seems to apply to other moral concepts too, including the so-called thick concepts.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationCulture and Value after Wittgenstein
EditorsSebastian Greve
PublisherOxford University Press
Publication statusAccepted/In press - 15 May 2020


  • Wittgenstein, moral realism, naturalism

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