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Is Morality Necessary?

Getting beyond language

B1 Consider the question "is morality necessary?". Surely an important question and a philosophical question. How should we approach this problem? Well the first thing to note is that the question is rather vague, for philosophical purposes, and so we must try to pin it down a bit closer. And here is the main point I want to press: if we insist first on settling the meaning of the question then we will never get so far as answering the question. When I put the question there is no doubt in my mind that I am not asking a question about just exactly what 'a morality' is, or about what constitutes necessity. Doubtless these latter questions are very relevant to the question I put but they are quite distinct from it. N7

B2 Still we cannot hope to proceed in an impenetrable murk, we must consider what the question does mean. Suppose we tag our question 'A'. We consider its meaning and try to formulate it more precisely. Since it is a vague question we come up with a number of plausible reformulations. Question A might mean either B, C, D or E, well which is it? This is the question we should decline to answer. If A genuinely is vague, then it cannot mean the same as any more precisely formulated question; A does not mean B, nor does it mean C, or D, or E, it vaguely points in the direction of all these. So if we try to settle the question of what precisely A means we anter a labyrinth from which we may never emerge, A does not precisely mean anything at all, it is not precise. N8

B3 So how are we to go about answering A? Suppose the answer to B and D is 'yes' and the answer to both C and E is 'no', what then is the answer to A? I should say this, that A doesn't really have a 'yes/no' answer, but that nevertheless it is worthwhile trying to give some sort of answer. We already have the framework for some sort of answer, it begins 'A might mean B, C, D, or E' and then it proceeds to some sort of answer to each of B, C, D and E. Of course, when we look more closely at B, C, D, and E we may well run into the same problem, which we could only solve in the same sort of way. The problem thus mushrooms rapidly, and becomes somewhat like an exploration, we should not have time to consider all the possibilities but would have to confine ourselves to the most interesting or the most important.

B4 The moral to this story is that we should keep a firm hold on issues that we find important and not let linguistic problems enmesh us and keep us from our goal. N9


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