In addition to those given above, examples of metaethical questions include:
- What does it mean to say something is "ethically good"?
- How, if at all, do we know what is right and wrong?
- How do moral attitudes motivate action?
- Are there objective or absolute values?
- What is the source of our values?
- Is it possible to justify our ethical judgments?
People also ask
What are meta ethical theories?
What does meta ethics mean?
What is meta ethical relativism?
What is example of normative ethics?
First consider a sentence “is it wrong to steal?”, and try to think of the quickest answer. Now, try answering “what is the nature of the word ‘wrong’” in the above sentence?
Moral nihilism, also known as ethical nihilism, is the meta-ethical view that nothing has intrinsic moral value. For example, a moral nihilist would say that killing someone, for whatever reason, is intrinsically neither morally right nor morally wrong.
- General Observations
- The Euthyphro Problem
- Naturalism, Non-Naturalism, and Supernaturalism
- Is/Ought and The Open Question Argument
- Moral Epistemology
- Morals, Motives, and Reasons
- Freedom and Responsibility
- Moral Principles and Particular Judgments
The range of issues, puzzles and questions that fall withinmetaethics’ purview are consistently abstract. They reflect thefact that metaethics involves an attempt to step back from particularsubstantive debates within morality to ask about the views,assumptions, and commitments that are shared by those who engage inthe debate. By and large, the metaethical issues that emerge as aresult of this process of stepping back can be addressed withouttaking a particular stand on substantive moral issues that started theprocess. In fact, metaethics has seemed to many to offer a crucialneutral background against which competing moral views need to be seenif they are to be assessed properly. Some metaethicists early in thetwentieth century went so far as to hold that their own work made nosubstantive moral assumptions at all and had no practical implications.Whether any view that is recognizably still aview about the nature and status of ethics could manage this isdubious. But there is no do...
According to many, Socrates's position fits well withmorality's pretensions. It fits well also with the thoughtthat whatever standards humans might put in place are, one and all,liable to moral criticism. Of course, Socrates's positionbrings along a suite of puzzles concerning the nature of thesetranscendent standards. What is their origin and from where dothey derive their authority? Many have thought the right answers to these questions are found in anappeal to God. On their view, moral principles are the expression ofGod's will — they are His commands to us — and they gettheir authority from their source. In important ways, though, thismerely shifts the puzzles back a step. Whatever problems one mighthave making sense of eternal transcendent standards re-emerge whentrying to make sense of an eternal transcendent being who might issuecommands. And, as Plato emphasized in Euthyphro, one is alsoleft with the difficulty of explaining why God's commands areauthoritative. One plausible...
One appealing feature of Glaucon's account of morality as a mutuallyadvantageous convention is that it renders morality's origin andnature non-mysterious. Moral facts, on this sort of view, emerge as nomore puzzling than facts about what is legal or polite. In each case,the standing of some behavior (as moral, or legal, or polite) dependson its conforming to, or conflicting with, various standards that havebeen put in place. Glaucon's account also makes clear why it is thatpeople might care deeply about morality's demands (even as they are,in their own cases, tempted to violate them when they believe they canwith impunity), since the relevant conventions are mutuallyadvantageous. Yet conventionalist views such as Glaucon's have real difficultiesfitting with the common idea that the fundamental principles ofmorality are universal. Conventions, after all, are contingentcreations that differ from place to place and come in to, and go outof, existence. Moreover, conventions seem liable...
David Hume seemed to have these points in mind when he observed thatan ‘ought’ cannot be derived from an ‘is.’There is substantial debate about just what Hume meant, and similarlysubstantial debate as well about whether he was right. But at leastpart of Hume's concern seems to have been that no set of claims aboutplain matters of fact (‘is’ claims) entail any evaluativeclaims (‘ought’ claims). That is, he seems to havethought, that one can infer the latter from the former only if, inaddition to premises concerning plain matters of fact, one has on handas well at least one evaluative premise. If, for instance, one infersfrom the fact that someone is feeling pain that something bad ishappening, one is at least presupposing that pain is bad. And thatpresupposition, in turn, is not entailed by any claims concernedsolely with plain matters of fact. If Hume is right, every validargument for an evaluative conclusion either includes or presupposessome evaluative premise. And, as a result...
Anyone mounting such a defense needs to offer some account of how itis we might successfully justify one set of moral judgments as overagainst others. When we turn to morality, what counts as good groundsfor holding one view rather than other? What sort of evidence mightbe available? If Hume and Moore are right, no evidence that appealssolely to non-evaluative considerations will be sufficient (unless wepresuppose some principle of inference that connects non-moralpremises to moral conclusions). But if we need to rely on evaluativepremises or principles in order to infer substantive moral conclusionsfrom non-moral premises (e.g. non-moral premises regarding the impactof a course of action on pleasure or on the satisfaction of humaninterests), the question immediately arises, “How might wejustify these evaluative premises or principles?” One answer often offered is that, at a suitably abstract level, thereare premises or principles that everyone in fact accepts. Perhaps'Murder is wro...
Among morality's distinctive features, all agree, is its apparentlyintimate connection to action. In making moral judgments, forinstance, we seem to be making a claim that, if true, establishes thatsomeone or other has a reason to act or be a certain way. This marksan important difference between moral claims and claims concerning,say, color. The claim that something is red is, even if true, onlycontingently connected to whether anyone has any reason at all to actor be a certain way. Whereas if a certain thing is morally good itseems that everyone necessarily has at least some reason (perhapsoverrideable or defeasible, but still some reason) to promote, pursue,protect, or respect it — at least if they recognize that it isgood. Moreover, many have thought, to judge sincerely that somethingis good (whether or not one is right) is to have some motivation(again, perhaps overrideable or defeasible, but still some motivation)to promote, pursue, protect, or respect it. Thus there seem to b...
Making sense of how moral considerations might figure in practicaldeliberation is especially important when it comes to explaining whenand why people are responsible for what they do or fail to do. Someof that explanatory job is a matter of moral theory, not metaethics,and involves figuring out what counts as good excuses, legitimatejustifications, and appropriate burdens. A theory of moralresponsibility inevitably relies on substantive moral theory. Yet there are important metaethical issues bound up in giving anaccount of moral responsibility. They emerge most sharply as oneconsiders the nature and significance of free will. Doesresponsibility presuppose free will? If so, when does someone countas having a free will? It cannot merely be a matter of her will beinguncaused. After all, a person whose will was utterly random,responsive neither to her nor to the reasons she had for doing things,would be a person no freer (in the relevant sense) than a person whosewill was fully and dir...
The history of moral theory is a history of attempts to identify,articulate, and defend general moral principles that serve to explainwhen and why various types of action, institutions, or characterscount as right or wrong, just or unjust, virtuous or vicious. Theassumption has consistently been that there is a general andprincipled account of morality to be given. And this assumption hassurvived the fact that few people think any particular set ofprinciples that we have actually succeeded in articulating, is fullyadequate. What explains the assumption? Why not hold, asparticularists do, that there may well be no set of general principlesthat adequately mark moral distinctions? Or, why not think, asskeptics do, that our repeated failures actually to identify fullyadequate principles shows that morality is a chimera? Wrestling with these questions returns one immediately and directly towondering about the nature of morality and the role it is supposed toplay in human life. What is it...
- History of Metaethics
- The Normative Relevance of Metaethics
- Semantic Issues in Metaethics
- Ontological Issues in Metaethics
- Psychology and Metaethics
- Epistemological Issues in Metaethics
- Anthropological Considerations
- Political Implications of Metaethics
- References and Further Reading
a. Metaethics before Moore
Although the word “metaethics” (more commonly “meta-ethics” among British and Australian philosophers) was coined in the early part of the twentieth century, the basic philosophical concern regarding the status and foundations of moral language, properties, and judgments goes back to the very beginnings of philosophy. Several characters in Plato’s dialogues, for instance, arguably represent metaethical stances familiar to philosophers today: Callicles in Plato’s Gorgias (482c-486d) advances t...
b. Metaethics in the Twentieth-Century
Analytic metaethics in its modern form, however, is generally recognized as beginning with the moral writings of G.E. Moore. (Although, see Hurka 2003 for an argument that Moore’s innovations must be contextualized by reference to the preceding thought of Henry Sidgwick.) In his groundbreaking Principia Ethica (1903), Moore urged a distinction between merely theorizing about moral goods on the one hand, versus theorizing about the very concept of “good” itself. (Moore’s specific metaethical v...
Since philosophical ethics is often conceived of as a practicalbranch of philosophy—aiming at providing concrete moral guidance and justifications—metaethics sits awkwardly as a largely abstract enterprise that says little or nothing about real-life moral issues. Indeed, the pressing nature of such issues was part of the general migration back to applied and normative ethics in the politically-galvanized intellectual climate of the 1970s (described above). And yet, moral experience seems to furnish myriad examples of disagreement concerning not merely specific applied issues, or even the interpretations or applications of particular theories, but sometimes about the very place of morality in general within multicultural, secular, and scientific accounts of the world. Thus, one of the issues inherent in metaethics concerns its status vis-à-vis other levels of moral philosophizing. As a historical fact, metaethical positions have been combined with a variety of first-order moral posit...
a. Cognitivism versus Non-Cognitivism
One of the central debates within analytic metaethics concerns the semantics of what is actually going on when people make moral statements such as “Abortion is morally wrong” or “Going to war is never morally justified.” The metaethical question is not necessarily whether such statements themselves are true or false, but whether they are even the sort of sentences that are capable of being true or false in the first place (that is, whether such sentences are “truth-apt”) and, if they are, wh...
b. Theories of Moral Truth
A related issue regarding the semantics of metaethics concerns what it would even mean to say that a moral statement is “true” if some form of cognitivism were correct. The traditional philosophical account of truth (called the correspondence theory of truth) regards a proposition as true just in case it accurately describes the way the world really is independent of the proposition. Thus, the sentence “The cat is on the mat” would be true if and only if there really is a cat who is really on...
a. Moral Realisms
If moral truth is understood in the traditional sense of corresponding to reality, what sort of features of reality could suffice to accommodate this correspondence? What sort of entity is “wrongness” or “goodness” in the first place? The branch of philosophy that deals with the way in which things exist is called “ontology”, and metaethical positions may also be divided according to how they envision the ontological status of moral values. Perhaps the biggest schism within metaethics is betw...
b. Moral Relativisms
Other metaethical positions reject altogether the idea that moral values— whether naturalistic, non-naturalistic, or dispositional—are real or objective in the sense of being independent from human belief or culture in the first place. Such positions instead insist on the fundamentally anthropocentric nature of morality. According to such views, moral values are not “out there” in the world (whether as scientific properties, dispositional properties, or Platonic Forms) at all, but are created...
One of the most pressing questions within analytic metaethics concerns how morality engages our embodied human psychologies. Specifically, how (if at all) do moral judgments move us to act in accordance with them? Is there any reason to be moral for its own sake, and can we give any psychologically persuasive reasons to others to act morally if they do not already acknowledge such reasons? Is it part of the definition of moral concepts such as “right” and “wrong” that they should or should not be pursued, or is it possible to know that, say, murder is morally wrong, but nonetheless not recognize any reason not to murder?
Analytic metaethics also explores questions of how we make moral judgments in the first place, and how (if at all) we are able to know moral truths. The field of moral epistemologycan be divided into questions about what moral knowledge is, how moral beliefs can be justified, and where moral knowledge comes from.
Although much of analytic metaethics concerns rarified debates that can often be highly abstracted from actual, applied moral concerns, several metaethical positions have also drawn heavily on cultural anthropological considerations to motivate or flesh-out their views. After all, as discussed above in section one, it has often been actual, historical moments of cultural instability or diversity that have stimulated metaethical reflection on the nature and status of moral values.
In addition to accommodating or accounting for the existence of moral disagreements, metaethics has also been thought to provide some insight concerning how we should respond to such differences at the normative or political level. Most often, debates concerning the morally appropriate response to moral differences have been framed against analyses concerning the relationship between metaethics and toleration. On the one hand, tolerating practices and values with which one might disagree has been a hallmark of liberal democratic societies. Should this permissive attitude, however, be extended indiscriminately to all values and practices with which one disagrees? Are some moral differences simply intolerable, such that it would undermine one’s own moral convictions to even attempt to tolerate them? More vexingly, is it conceptually possible or desirable to tolerate the intolerance of others (a paradox sometimes referred to as the Liberal’s Dilemma)? Karl Popper (1945) famously argued...
a. Textual Citations
1. Adams, Robert. (1987). The Virtue of Faith and Other Essays in Philosophical Theology. Oxford University Press. 2. Altham, J.E.J. (1986) “The Legacy of Emotivism,” in Macdonald & Wright, eds. Fact, Science, and Morality. Oxford University Press, 1986. 3. Appiah, Kwame Anthony. (2008). Experiments in Ethics. Harvard University Press. 4. Audi, Robert. (1999). “Moral Knowledge and Ethical Pluralism,” in Greco and Sosa, eds. Blackwell Guide to Epistemology, 1999, ch. 6. 5. Ayer, A.J. (1936). L...
b. Anthologies and Introductions
1. Fisher, Andrew and Kirchin, Simon, eds. (2006). Arguing about Metaethics. Routledge Press. 2. Harman, Gilbert and Thomson, J.J. (1996). Moral Relativism and Moral Objectivity. Blackwell Publishers. 3. Miller, Alexander. (2003). An Introduction to Contemporary Metaethics. Polity Press. 4. Moser, Paul and Carson, Thomas, eds. (2001). Moral Relativism: A Reader. Oxford University Press. 5. Sayre-McCord, Geoffrey, ed. (1988). Essays on Moral Realism. Cornell University Press. 6. Shafer-Landau,...
Kevin M. DeLapp Email: email@example.com Converse College U. S. A.
Nov 20, 2014 · This means that there are any number of extenuating circumstances that would cause a utilitarian to label painless killing as morally permissible or impermissible; for example, she would say it was wrong if the individual she killed had a family to look out for.
Major metaethical theories include naturalism, nonnaturalism (or intuitionism), emotivism, and prescriptivism. Naturalists and nonnaturalists agree that moral language is cognitive—i.e., that moral claims can be known to be true or false. They disagree, however, on how this knowing is to be done.
Feb 09, 2016 · Metaethics is the study of moral thought and moral language. Rather than addressing questions about what practices are right and wrong, and what our obligations to other people or future generations are – questions of so-called ‘normative’ ethics – metaethics asks what morality actually is.
Ethics to establish principles of the GOOD and those of right behavior Ethics deals with the basic principles that serve as the basis for moral rules. Different principles will produce different rules. Meta Ethics - discussion of ethical theories and language. So, ethics and morality are not the same things!