Deontics between Semantics and Ontology
By Carlos Alarcon Cabrera
The term Deontics, with its current meaning, constitutes a remarkable contribution to the Philosophy of Normative Language by Amedeo G. Conte. Going back to Aristotle, Conte defines Deontics as theory of 'Sollen' qua 'Sollen', as theory of 'ought' qua 'ought'. The same way Metaphysics, as theory of 'Sein' insofar as 'Sein' , studies Sein in its constitutive onticity, Deontics studies Sollen in its constitutive deonticity.
Unlike the term Deontics, the expression Deontic Logic was first used before, with its current meaning, by Georg H. von Wright (1951) when he mentioned the deontic modal concepts (what is obligatory, what is permitted, what is forbidden) together with the alethic modal concepts (necessity, possibility, contingency -- concepts which are studied in modal logic), the existential modal concepts (universality, existentiality, emptiness -- concepts which are studied in the theory of quantifiers) and the epistemic modal concepts (what is verified, what is undecided, what is falsified).
As an adjective, the term Deontic became more common in the philosophical lexicon. As Tecla Mazzarese points out, it was particularly used both in a pragmatic sense and a semantic sense: a) Pragmatically, as a synonym for directive, preceptive, prescriptive, normative, as opposed to descriptive, declarative, assertive; b) Semantically, in the sense of concerning ought, to designate what constitutes the scope of ought or what describes the scope of ought.
As a noun, Deontics concerns the formal systems of deontic calculus from the point of view of their theoretical-philosophical foundations, in virtue of which Deontic Logic analyzes technical problems peculiar to those calculi.
In this paper I will focus on five of Amedeo G. Conte's main contributions to the Philosophy of Normative Language:
In section 2, on the distinction between categorical constitutivity and hypothetical constitutivity.
In section 3, on the typology of the concept of validity.
In section 4, on the notion of pragmatic ambivalence of deontic utterances.
In section 5, on the conception of repeal as an act of rejection.
In section 6, on the reinterpretation of the Is-ought question.
First appeared in:
SORITES, Issue #05. May 1996. Pp. 18-34.