A Third Way in Metaethics



What does it take to count as competent with the meaning of a thin evaluative predicate like ‘is the right thing to do’? According to minimalists like Allan Gibbard and Ralph Wedgwood, competent speakers must simply use the predicate to express their own motivational states. According to analytic descriptivists like Frank Jackson, Philip Pettit and Christopher Peacocke, competent speakers must grasp a particular criterion for identifying the property picked out by the term. Both approaches face serious difficulties. We suggest that these difficulties derive from a shared background assumption that competence conditions must be explained in terms of a determinate conceptual role. We propose a new way of characterizing competence with evaluative terms: what's required for competence is participation in a shared epistemic practice with a term. Our approach, we argue, better explains the nature of evaluative inquiry and the extent of disagreement about evaluative questions.