Meta-Ethics, Part I: Intro to Series

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I'm beginning the semester with some meta-ethical issues in my 300-level ethical theory courses this semester. For those unfamiliar with the term, meta-ethics is the branch of philosophy that deals with questions about ethics as opposed to questions within ethics. Ethics itself asks which things are right and wrong, which things are admirable and praiseworthy, what kind of character we should seek to have, etc. Meta-ethics asks what sort of things moral statements are, what the terms involved even mean, whether they are objectively true, what makes them true or false, what the relation between morality and other objects of philosophical study is (e.g. God/religion, rationality, cultural views, social contracts among human beings).

Since the textbook I ordered turned out to be publisher out-of-stock, and the Syracuse University bookstore didn't tell me until a week before the first week of classes. Le Moyne didn't even bother to tell me at all; I found out about them from the S.U. bookstore worker who called them when I mentioned that I had ordered there too, I've had to come up with something aside from the book I'll be using, and since meta-ethics isn't part of that book this was a good choice. Unfortunately for me, it means I need to give them some source material for use in their papers, and I didn't have anything readily available that I liked, knew well, and could find. I have a couple things with only two of those three criteria but none with all three. So I decided to write something. It's an eight-page single-spaced document in Microsoft Word, and I've decided to post it here in stages since I've had less time to write anything else lately even though I've got lots of things to write about.

I should mention before I start that both my thinking on these questions and the way I'm organizing my thoughts has been influenced by work by William Alston, Stephen Darwall, C. Stephen Evans, Greg Ganssle, Daniel Nolan, James Rachels, and of course Thomas Aquinas. I don't expect to list the sources explicitly unless someone asks for them (with one exception), mostly because I don't want to bother finding references to all of them, and this is really a class handout and not a discussion that I'm purporting to put forth as my own work. It's mostly a few reflections I've had on other people's work that I'm trying to package in a helpful way for those who haven't thought about these issues in much depth before and who won't want to probe much further than a junior-level course would. I'm sure philosophers will want more depth on a number of issues, but keep in mind that this is an undergraduate course handout (though I may add and modify a bit as I put it in this format).

I'll link to entries from this post as I go:

Part II: Simple Subjectivism
Part III: Is Ethical Relativism Self-Refuting?
Part IV: Emotivism
Part V (retroactively): Ethical Nihilism and Values

2 Comments

Hmm, I assume the book you refer to is the one you mentioned a few weeks back, (Darwall Philosphical Ethics)? So is that why Amazon hasn't shipped it to me yet? They still think it'll ship this week.

I look forward to your series.

That's the one that I couldn't get enough copies of. Amazon had four copies of it when I had to make my decision, and that wasn't enough. It should have been enough for you, though.

I'm going to use a different one in the same series, by Shelly Kagan. Unfortunately, that book is entirely normative ethics, so I'm doing the meta-ethics on my own without a book while we wait for the book to arrive.

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