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   Course Title    Philosophical Analysis of Moral Language
Lecturer    Igor Larionov
Institution    St. Petersburg State Academy of Theatre Arts
Country    Russia


a) Academic Aims

The present course provides the students with knowledge of the modern theories of moral language and strategies of their analysis. We intend to give students the major terms connected with philosophical analysis of moral language as well as an understanding of the crucial notions of this analysis, which are the foundation for distinguishing between the different approaches within the contemporary theory of moral language. Students also should understand the historical aspect of the development of morals and the historical backgrounds of the tradition of investigation of its language.

b) Learning Outcomes

Students should acquire the basic knowledge of philosophical analysis of moral language, and the wide potential for contemporary research in this field. Students should understand the peculiar philosophical problems concerning the language of morals and their deep connection with the major themes of philosophical reasoning. Students should also understand the different possibilities for treatment of moral language and receive the practical skills and abilities for researching the language of morals in the context of contemporary society.


This course is an elective intended for the 4th year students of the common 5 year university program. It is also an obligatory (non-elective) course intended for 4th year students specializing in ethics. This implies that they have basic knowledge in philosophy and ethics and are acquainted with the text to be discussed.


The present course consists of 18 sessions. Each session is based on a lecture, followed by discussion. In some sessions the lecture will be very important, since the students have no knowledge about modern philosophical analysis of language. Students are also given copies of the texts, so they are expected to read the paragraphs which should be discussed during the next session. Sometimes the students do not have sufficient English to understand the text, and the teacher’s treatment of it becomes the object of the discussion. Students also supposed to write one essay comparing the different approaches. This essay could also be the theme of discussion and the object of evaluation as well.


1st session. Introduction. Analysis of moral language and metaethics. Connection between the moral term, moral appraisal and moral action. Language and knowledge. The necessity of metaphysical terms and concepts in ethical decision making. The problems of making the logic definition and postulating the basic moral ideas. A multi-disciplinary character of the analysis of moral language.

2nd session. Historical Backgrounds - Ancient Greece. Basic peculiar terms of moral consciousness of Ancient Greek culture. The problem of definition of the moral concepts: word and notion. The transformation of moral values along with the moral language. Elementary analysis of language - sophists, Plato, stoicism. A formal structure of being "good". Aristotle: significance of the concept of ‘aim’. Moral skepticism as a basis for the cognition of morality.

3rd session. Historical backgrounds - Medieval India. Basic peculiar terms of moral consciousness of Indian culture. The early theories of language. Tradition of ‘padartha’ in Buddhism — the list and classification of fundamental terms. Logic and philosophy of Nyaya: the problem of the criteria of classification of moral terms; the role of the analysis of moral language and the search for basic rules for systematizing and formalizing moral knowledge.

4th session. Historical backgrounds - Medieval Europe. Basic peculiar terms of moral consciousness of Medieval European culture. Being as being good. The treatment of the concepts of ‘good’, ‘evil’, ‘just’, ‘will’, ‘doing’ etc. The problem of introducing a general moral principle. Free will and moral uncertainty. Powers of the human soul and the ability for moral decision making. St. Anselm: the first example of the analysis of the basic terms of moral language.

5th session. Rationalism and empiricism in European philosophy. J. Locke: the theory of signs and language. Moralism: description of moral concepts. Discourses of morality, politics and law. D. Hume: the basic notion of peculiar characteristics of moral reasoning and its concepts. I. Kant: the nomothetical method; the universal character of moral judgement.

6th session. Criticism of morality, analysis of the basis and language of morality by F. Nietzsche. Moral nihilism as basis of cognition of morality. Intrinsic value of moral discourse. Problems of value, moral terms, instance of moral judgement and moral constraint. "Genealogy" of the meaning of basic moral terms.

7th session. E. Husserl: phenomenology and its importance to the modern analysis of language; the attempt to liberate morals from psychological prejudice; ethics as a distinct knowledge; the normative and emotive aspects of moral statements. M. Scheler: phenomenological analysis of value. Phenomenological sociology and analysis of common language.

8th session. The new logic theories and new concept of language — C. Pierce, G. Frege. The condition for truth of moral concepts. The role of language, it’s nature and structure in the fixation and definition of the moral term. Ascriptive and prescriptive character of moral language. The new theory of argumentation and moral language. The problem of the subject of moral judgement and the subject of proposition in language.

9th session. G.E. Moore: "Principia Ethicae"; the foundation of the analysis of the language of morality; the theory of metaethics and common problems of the metaethical understandings; the possibility of a fundamental study of ethics without a context; the "naturalistic error"; the critical analysis of language expression of the concept of the "free will"; the "‘ought’ and ‘good’ problem".

10th session. L. Wittgenstein: the statement of the major problem; value and meaning; action and its significance; the meaning of ‘well done’ and ‘good’; the ‘language game’ and the problem of rules. The positivistic project: philosophy ‘resting’ upon a mistake: the nature of philosophy and the analysis of its language. The nature and status of ethics and its language. The normative phenomena of the logical analyses of what an ethical system must be.

11th session. A.J. Ayer: "Language, Truth and Logic". The controversy between emotivism and cognitivism. C.L. Stevenson: "Ethics and Language"; the possibility for descriptive meaning of moral statements. A perceptive analysis of values. The functions of moral discourse.

12th session. The critique of the emotive theory of ethical terms by E. M. Adams: the nature of 'ought'; the problem of rationality and morality; the role of logical analysis in the field of ethics. A. Gewirth: the "'ought' problem" - meaning of 'ought' and the structure of action; "The Epistemology of Human Rights".

13th session. R.M. Hare: «The Language of Morals"; the rejection of descriptivism; the nature of moral terms — 'good' and 'ought' as a "supervenient epithet"; the commending function of value terms; implicit principles as the basis of moral judgement. P. Geach: the attributivity of "good"; the connection between goodness and choice. Analysis of ethical dilemmas by B. Williams; truth and ethics. The problem of diversity in moral judgments.

14th session. XX c. psychoanalytic and structuralist analyses of morality and language. The cultural backgrounds and conditions of functioning of moral language. Problem of the subject of the moral attitude. The phenomenon of power and its role in the construction of a system of moral terms. Unconsciousness as a language; moral discourse as a discourse of supremacy. M. Foucault: history of common ideas and scientific paradigms; significance of the notion of freedom in the construction of the moral subject.

15th session. Analysis of the communicative nature of moral language in modern pragmatism. Pragmatic irony of R. Rorty. Moral discourse and the ethic of discourse - a new rationalistic project of J. Habermas: the conditions for communication and the moral premises; moral rules and the conditions for truth. The account of everyday actions and applying descriptive values. Description and peculiarities of moral judgment and forms of it’s expression.

16th session. Society, communication and the language of morality. J. Rawls on morality and justice; "Outline of a Decision Procedure for Ethics". J. McDowell: the analysis of moral language and the problem of value; truth and the moral proposition. G. Sayre-McCord: problem of the conventional nature of moral rules; "Deontic Logic and the Priority of Moral Theory".

17th session. A. MacIntyre: the nature of morality; rationalism and moral relativism; the practical context of the moral judgement; the possibility of resolving moral dilemmas. Ethical "irrealism" of S. Blackburn: "Errors and the Phenomenology of Value", "A Theory of Practical Reasoning". J. Dreier: the "normal" context of being "good"; the meaning of "good" and the motivation of the subject

18th session. The analysis of moral language and applied ethics. The analysis of the language of moral reasoning as a way of resolving of ethical problems. The relationship between pluralism and moral conflict. Medical ethics — descriptivity and prescriptivity of rules. Language analysis and the gender problem. Moral statements and the language of politics.



Ayer A.J., Language, Truth and Logic, New York: Dover, 1947.

Gauthier, D. Morals by Agreement. Oxford, 1986.

Hare, R.M. The Language of Morals. Oxford, 1961.

Hudson, W.D. Modern Moral Philosophy. L., 1993.

Kant, I. Groundwork to the Metaphysic of Morals. (any edition)

Lycan, W.L. Philosophy of Language. L.-N.Y., 2000.

Moore, G.E. Principia Ethicae. Cambridge, 1903 (any edition)

Nietzsche, F. Beyond Good and Evil: Prelude to a Philosophy of the Future. N-Y., 1966. (any edition)

Rawls, J. Lectures on the History of Moral Philosophy. Cambridge - Massachusetts - L., 2000.

Sidgwick, H. The Methods of Ethics. L., 1981.

Stevenson, C.L. Ethics and Language. New Haven, 1944.

Wittgenstein, L. Philosophical Investigations. 1953 (any edition).


Conformity and Conflict. Ed. J. Spradley, D. McCurdy. L., 1990.

Cooper, N. The Diversity of Moral Thinking. Oxford, 1981.

Dasgupta, S. A History of Indian Philosophy. Oxford, 1922, 55.

Henry, D.P. The Logic of St. Anselm. Oxford, 1967

Hogarth, R. Judgment and Choice. N.-Y., 1987.

Kohlberg, L. The philosophy of moral development: Moral states and the idea of justice. San Francisco, 1981.

Miller, R.W. Moral Differences: Truth, Justice and Conscience in a World of Conflict. Princeton, 1992.

Rawls, J. A Theory of Justice. Oxford, 1971.

Rorty, R. Contingency, Irony, and Solidarity. (any edition)

The Cambridge Dictionary of Philosophy. Cambridge, 2001.

Thomas, E.J. The History of Buddhist Thought. L., 1953.

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