The Asymmetry of Truth and the Role of Thinking Guides in Ethics

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In her recent work Cora Diamond discusses, with reference to Elizabeth Anscombe, David Wiggins, Bernard Williams, and Ludwig Wittgenstein, the logical function of propositions which, although they state something true, lack an intelligible negation, and are asymmetrical in this sense. An example from Wiggins is “Slavery is unjust and unsupportable,” the negation of which, he argues, can’t be part of any “workable system of moral ideas.” Diamond develops an account of such propositions as “thinking guides” whose purpose is to enable one to think well and, taking her lead from Aristotle and Anscombe, proposes an account of the truth and correspondence with reality of such statements. Although I agree with Diamond’s account in many respects, I argue that her way of explaining truth as correspondence and connecting this with usefulness and importance can’t give us a workable account of truth. Instead, I propose to explain what it is for thinking guides to be true with the help of Wittgenstein’s distinction between temporal and non-temporal statements. Furthermore, I use this distinction to address a problem with Wiggins’s account of truth and objectivity in ethics, and to argue that Williams’s argument against Wiggins on objectivity fails. Equipped with Wittgenstein’s distinction we can steer clear of ethical relativism.

Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationMorality in A Realistic Spirit
Subtitle of host publicationEssays for Cora Diamond
EditorsAndrew Gleeson, Craig Taylor
Number of pages19
ISBN (Electronic)9781351064293
ISBN (Print)9781138479968
Publication statusPublished - 18 Sep 2019


  • Ethics
  • truth
  • Cora Diamond
  • Wittgenstein
  • non-temporality

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