From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to: navigation, search
WikiProject Philosophy (Rated Start-class, High-importance)
WikiProject icon This article is within the scope of WikiProject Philosophy, a collaborative effort to improve the coverage of content related to philosophy on Wikipedia. If you would like to support the project, please visit the project page, where you can get more details on how you can help, and where you can join the general discussion about philosophy content on Wikipedia.
Start-Class article Start  This article has been rated as Start-Class on the project's quality scale.
 High  This article has been rated as High-importance on the project's importance scale.
Wikipedia Version 1.0 Editorial Team / v0.7 (Rated Start-class)
WikiProject icon This article has been reviewed by the Version 1.0 Editorial Team.
Start-Class article Start  This article has been rated as Start-Class on the quality scale.
Checklist icon
 ???  This article has not yet received a rating on the importance scale.

Realism vs Antirealism[edit]

I think some of the theories listed under antirealism are actually realist. Aren't divine command theory and ideal observer theories realist theories? They claim that there are moral values that are objectively true or false independent of us.Eric (talk) 18:14, 29 April 2008 (UTC)

Not quite. DCT claims that there are moral values independent of humans, but they are not mind-independent in the sense required for the metaphysical thesis of moral realism. IOT does not rely on you or me specifically, but it does rely on an ideal version of you or me. That is, it argues that if we were perfectly rational, we would prefer acts of one sort over acts of another. But if IOT is to be distinguishable from those views, such as Kantianism, which argue that moral truths are logically necessary truths, it must not think these are objective. Postmodern Beatnik (talk) 18:29, 2 May 2008 (UTC)

Seeing that no one took up my suggestion to re-write the realism/anti-anti-realism definitions, I did so myself. The result is surely not fully satisfactory, but I endeavored at least to make them more consistent, and point out that three different things were at stake here: objectivity, robustness, and truth-aptness of ethical sentences. Depending on whether one counts only the first, or two, or all three of these as requirements of "realism," one gets different results about who counts as a realist and who doesn't.

To be complete, some further rearrangement and dicsussion is doubtless required. Or perhaps someone will endeavor to show that there is agreement in the literature about what counts as realism; but this should be adequately sourced, which the previously definitions were not, and consistent, as again they were not, as they conflated these three distinctions. I will not accept any reversion or rewriting which classifies Hare, for example, as a non-realist and therefore rejecting objective moral values, because he does not, merely because he does not think that ethical sentences are statements. With such caveats in mind, further revisions are invited.--ScottForschler (talk) 19:34, 1 June 2008 (UTC)


How can we do meta-ethics without even mentioning Emmanuel Levinas??? 21:19, 6 April 2007 (UTC)SaySomethingThen

Easily. For one thing, it is commonly thought that Levinas didn't write an ethics at all, at least not in the traditional sense this article is concerned with. Second, his thought is thoroughly Continental. And while this is respectable in itself, it is again not the concern of this article. Your own fervor for Levinas is not a rationale for including him in every philosophy article. Postmodern Beatnik 15:18, 23 May 2007 (UTC)


The article could do with mentioning the rationalism of the kind that Kant/Nagel/Smith all argue for. Any objections? There are also some other changes I'd suggest (e.g constructivism, a bit more on the normative vs. meta ethics debate, and perhaps pointing out that meta-ethics can perhaps be well described by splitting it into 3 sub-sections: psychology (moral motivation), ontology (what are moral facts?) and epistemology): any thoughts?

What exactly is the rationalist tradition in relation to meta-ethics? Please explain a little more (I like the idea, but would like to know what you propose before you do it). Batmanand 15:13, 24 November 2005 (UTC)

Comment: One should avoid inserting miscellaneous extra views into the "meta-ethical theories" section of the article. As I originally wrote it, there was a logic to the division: Naturalism, intuitionism, subjectivism, error theory, and non-cognitivism are the five main categories of theories that are recognized in the field; and logically, any theory (that addresses the same questions) *must* fall into one of those categories (so things like "constructivism" and "rationalism" are not separate categories). This is because those five alternatives arise from asking:

1. Are there objective values? If yes, then 2. Are they reducible?; 3. Do we know about them a priori or empirically?

If no to #1, then 2. Do moral statements *assert that* there are objective values? If no to #2, then 3. Do they assert propositions at all? --owl232 15:29, 30 December 2005 (UTC)

But the article as written does not have a place for rationalism, which suggests confusion either in your classification or in your descriptions of the categories. Rationalists would say 1. yes, 2. yes, 3. a priori; but that puts them in your "intuitionist" category, apparently; but both this term and your description of it is simply misleading or erroneous to describe rationalism. Also, you have misclassified several other theories: divine command theory and ideal observer theory believe there are objective moral values, they just say they come from other sources besides intuition or empirical facts. I am amending the article to correct these problems and invite further discussion.--ScottForschler (talk) 18:49, 27 April 2008 (UTC)

What about fictionalism? Amcfreely 06:04, 22 April 2006 (UTC)

Fictionalism is a form of error theory. Postmodern Beatnik (talk) 17:52, 29 April 2008 (UTC)
Not necessarily; moral fictionalism does not entail ontological commitments (i.e. the claim that there are no moral facts). It can simply be a framework for adjudicating propositions in a discourse that does not aim at truth. Skomorokh 18:06, 29 April 2008 (UTC)
Moral fictionalism says that morals have the same ontological status as fictions. That is, neither "goodness" nor "Sherlock Holmes" exist, but that does not necessarily have to stop us from talking about them as if they did exist. If we do not believe the discourse aims at truth, we are non-cognitivists of some sort. Of course, what we say about ontology here may still make us error theorists, but you seem to be suggesting some form of hermeneutical non-cognitivism. Postmodern Beatnik (talk) 19:08, 2 May 2008 (UTC)
Beatnik, could you please explain your recent reversion? You assert that DCT and IOT are "patently" not realist positions. But I wonder which patent office you are going to. :-) See the following from the Moral realism article:
Moral realism is the view in philosophy that there are objective moral values. Moral realists argue that moral judgments describe moral facts. This combines a cognitivist view about moral judgments (they are truth-evaluable mental states that describe the state of the world), a view about the existence of moral facts (they do in fact exist), and a view about the nature of moral facts (they are objective: independent of our cognizing them, or our stance towards them, etc.).
Now, it seems obvious to me that ethical rationalists, including Hare's *later* position, and many if not all forms of ideal observer theory, and DCT, do claim that unique ethical facts will be derived by any rational agent or ideal observer, or that God does indeed command what he commands and not some other thing, at any particular time. Hence all of these views are committed to the view that ethical claims are *objective*. They also agree that moral facts *exist*, although they disagree about what *constitues* their existence. Since you allow that ethical naturalism is a form of realism, even though in this case moral facts are not some separate things but supervene upon some non-moral facts, I see no reason to disallow these theories, which likewise claim that moral facts are not some separate entities, but ones which supervene upon non-natural facts (supernatural facts, or facts about logic--which one might choose to count as natural but non-empirical, if you like). If you disagree, please state your definition of moral realism, and explain how it can include intuitionism *and* naturalistic supervenience, but not these other forms of supervenience. Lacking such an explanation by next week I will revert again.--ScottForschler (talk) 23:31, 1 May 2008 (UTC)
My definition of moral realism follows the robust model of metaethics. My problem with your analysis, then, is that I disagree with your premise that DCT involves supervenience as understood vis-a-vis ethical naturalism. I understand that many proponents of DCT want to have their theory yield objective morality, but God's fiat contravenes the metaphysical thesis (which is intended to secure the sort of mind-independence necessary for moral objectivism, though perhaps Väyrynen's wording is not optimal). Now, I happen to be an error theorist. I don't think that naturalism succeeds in capturing moral objectivity, either. But at least the problem there is with the falsity of its theses, and not its relation to the model. That is the relevant difference, and that is why DCT is anti-realist. As for IOT, insofar as Smith and Hume are given as examples, it is clear that it must be an anti-realist theory. Firth's own version claims to be objectivist, but I see no real evidence of that so long as IOT is distinguishable from the Kantian claim that moral truths are necessary truths (and thus a matter of logic). This brings us to "moral rationalism." As described on its Wikipedia entry, it is not clear just what it claims. I take a largely rationalist approach to metaethics, but I take it to be a matter of logic that morality is not objective. This does not seem to be what you want the term "moral rationalism" to apply to, however. Instead, you seem to be using it as the thesis that reason alone can lead us to some foundational truths about ethics. But this is again misleading. While still being an error theorist, I can agree with the supervenience principle stating that there can be no difference of moral properties without a difference in natural properties. Such principles do not rest on the assumption that there are actually moral differences or moral properties, after all. Instead, then, you seem to be taking moral rationalism as the assertion that there are moral truths/properties and that they are accessible by way of reason. Great, that would be a fine way to sum up Kant's basic position (or that of anyone else who takes moral truths to be a matter of logic) while still allowing for people to disagree with him on the specifics but not the method. But IOT doesn't quite say that. What it says is not that the ideal observer ascertains already existing moral truths, but that his preferences are not based on biases or logical errors. His judgments are still based on preferences, however, and thus contravene the metaphysical thesis in a way similar, though not identical, to DCT. Postmodern Beatnik (talk) 19:08, 2 May 2008 (UTC)
You make a good point about DCT, and I was originally thinking more of what DCT supporters sometimes claim it can produce rather than what acutal formulations of it permit (which is again distinct from whether it works, of course). So I'll grant that DCT's claim to moral realism is highly questionable at best
However I didn't think that IOT was so sharply distinguished from Kantian claims in the way you suggest. True, Kant says, essentially, that it's a matter of pure logic, while IOT adds specific substantive intuitions needed to derive basic ethics. Nevertheless, I thought the claim was that if you have the *right* substantive assumptions about what constitutes an ideal observer, you get unique, aka objective, aka real moral truths. The agent has preferences, and the IO has preferences, but these are corrected given the "ideal" status, and corrected in some way that makes them not only more objective, but generally accomodating of other people's preferences as well in some way. Just because the IO would sometimes advise the non-ideal agent to pursue some of his idiosyncratic preferences wouldn't mean that the resulting ethical rules are not objective, any more than a utilitarian's saying "go ahead and buy whatever ice cream you want when there's no better way to maximize utility" means that utilitarianism is a form of subjectivism. The IO's preferences are corrected and shaped by the idealization process in ways that create moral constraints on his preferences and choices; it's by no means the "anything goes" of subjectivism. But perhaps Firth denies some aspect of what I just said and I won't insist upon changes until I have re-read him. Now back to rationalism--you say

"I take it to be a matter of logic that morality is not objective."

I don't understand why you would think this, and it seems to simply deny moral realism and certainly to deny moral rationalism. If this is your basis for rejecting space for this in the article I submit you are violating NPOV. If you don't understand moral rationaism you should make way for someone who does.

"you seem to be using it as the thesis that reason alone can lead us to some foundational truths about ethics. But this is again misleading"

What is misleading? This IS the way the term is used by those who use it. And it is certainly a meta-ethical claim, that truths of ethics are constituted by certain facts about practical reason. You suggest a distinction between claiming that there are certain moral truths versus that any such truths would take a certain form (but there may or may not be any). OK, I suppose that one could call someone a "moral rationalist" who thought that if they were moral truths they would necessarily be derived from reason, but no such derivation is possible so no such truths exist, and you have a kind of error theory again. This raises the possibly interesting suggestion that there are many kinds of error theorists, just as it is sometimes jokingly said that there Catholic atheists, Lutheran atheists, etc., differing on just exactly which kind of God they think doesn't exist (but would have to if there were any). But in any case I see no special reason to deny a place to ethical rationalism here; if you want to distinguish between ethical naturalists who simply believe that there's a necessary relation between moral facts and natural facts, but the necessary natural facts don't exist so neither do the moral ones--versus those who think the relationship *and* the facts exist, etc., fine, but then do this systematically. In practice most people who consider themselves ethical naturalists doubtless also believe that there are real moral facts, and likewise with rationalists. So I'll add it again, but reassess the other theories at a later time.--ScottForschler (talk) 20:02, 2 May 2008 (UTC)
It just occurred to me what might be tripping you up here, in part. The article's definition of moral realism is that moral truths may not be based on "our beliefs, feelings, or other attitudes." But you may be confusing that with the claim that they cannot be based on the attitudes that our idealized selves would have (or the beliefs, etc. we would have if we eliminated contradictions from our thoughts). According to IOT and rationalism, our beliefs etc. are indeed answerable to a higher authority, and are not the basis of moral truth; that the higher authority bears some relationship to our current selves is not an objection, since it is a more-or-less significantly corrected version. Incidentally the DCT also doesn't think that moral truths are based on "our" beliefs--we are not God. But again I grant it has enough in common with subjectivism that it may indeed be better placed there.--ScottForschler (talk) 20:21, 2 May 2008 (UTC)
I am glad you understand the point about DCT; I take it that issue has been resolved. As for IOT, I forgot to get to Firth in my last comment. If you are taking him as representative of IOT, I understand why you think IOT is (or at least claims to be) a realist theory. But the literature goes back further than that and includes anti-realists such as Hume. Indeed, given the variety of people who have been described as ideal observer theorists, I wonder if it really picks out anything more than a method for making summary moral judgments (as opposed to reaching moral "truths"). Perhaps it does not belong on the list of realist and anti-realist positions at all, but under a separate section on methodology. I would be slow to make such a change, since it is so widely viewed as the same sort of theory as the others listed there. And, of course, there is also the possibility that Firth muddied the terminological waters by referring to his theory as a version of IOT when indeed it was really a form of moral rationalism.
This brings me to the point about distinguishing IOT from moral rationalism (including Kantianism). It seems there must be some difference if the former is not to collapse into the latter; and given who it has been applied to, I don't think we can just call it a form of moral rationalism that rests a little less on pure logic. After all, if Hume can be seen as forwarding IOT and as a staunch opponent of rationalism, the connection becomes rather questionable. I also wonder about your equivocation on "unique/objective/real." You seem to be assuming that if everyone agrees to something, that makes it objective. This may be true in the Wittgensteinian sense in which the "objective" is the "public," but not in the sense here at issue. If all the world agrees you're a fish, that doesn't make you a fish (and how powerful that last person would be when we went around confirming everyone's opinion: no one else's opinion would mean squat if he held-out on judging you a fish).
Moving on to your comments about rationalism, keep in mind that I have no objection to including it in the article. What I object to is an unhelpful description that does not clearly categorize it. The changes you made recently are an improvement on what you have said on this page, and I have no problem letting them stand. That said, you did not need to take me out of context and accuse me of violating NPOV to get this agreement out of me. I offered my philosophical position by way of illustration, and your misappropriation of my words betrays an unnecessarily combative approach to this discussion. I believe that morality is not objective as a matter of logic, but that is the subject of my professional work and not an assumption that I am projecting onto my editing. The point was that, for what you had said about moral rationalism, it was not clear that my position would not count as morally rationalist. And if it did count as such, the contention that moral rationalism was a realist view would be falsified. My own opinion, however, has nothing to do with "rejecting space for [moral realism] in the article" (something I had no desire to do to begin with). Context is important, and I suggest you pay better attention to it.
You question about "what is misleading" is another context violation. I was quite clear about it in the next sentence: if a moral anti-realist can agree that reason can lead us to certain foundational truths about ethics, and if this is enough to constitute moral rationalism, then it would again be improper to call moral rationalism a realist theory. As such, I was led to the conclusion that moral rationalism, despite your disjointed explanations, must be the thesis that there are moral truths/properties and that they are accessible by way of reason. This is much the same as the explanation you ultimately placed in the article—one which is at last cogent.
Finally, there is you comment about what might be "tripping [me] up." Understand that I am not going by the article's explanation (which is erroneous and should be changed), but by my years of experience as a moral philosopher. The word "our" is an oversimplification: the metaphysical thesis is meant to secure the notion of mind-independence for moral truths. They cannot be, in the final analysis, reducible to the judgments of a conscious entity. This rules out God in a very straight-forward way. It also seems to rule out the IO, while leaving an opening for the possibility that moral truths are logical necessities that can be accessed by perfectly rational agents (or possibly even just agents who are rational enough for long enough). Postmodern Beatnik (talk) 00:18, 3 May 2008 (UTC)
Well, if IOT is taken to include Hume (and I can indeed see why someone might suggest this, although he didn't use the term and it is quite different from Firth's version), then I can see why you are hesitant to classify it as realist. Perhaps it cuts across these categories depending on the version used, and your suggestion that it may not belong here is tempting. I'll leave that alone then as an unresolved issue. The suggestion that Firth might really have been a kind of rationalist is intriguing; I once wondered that but haven't pursued the issue.
"You seem to be assuming that if everyone agrees to something, that makes it objective." Absolutely not!. Ethical rationalism is the view that logic generates unique moral truths. What people *actually* agree to is pretty much irrelevant in this view; rather, rational agents *must* agree to certain moral truths (and as Socrates said we should listen to the wise only, not the many), such truths are unique, and since logically unavoidable, they are objective, and since objective and not dependent on non-robust whims, they are realism. This is not equivocation, just a compressed argument chain. I'm not sure if you're characterizing Wittgenstein rightly here, but please leave the stuff about fish out of this discussion; rationalism is about what we are logically required to commit to, not what we might whimsically say when logic takes its leave.
I see now that I did indeed entirely misunderstood the example of your views on logic and ethics; I apologize for this and regret the insinuation. I only plead that since ethical rationalism is, as I have said before, the view that objective moral truths can be derived from reason/logic, your suggestion that your position could be in any way construed or mistaken as moral rationalism as commonly understood was utterly puzzling, and I tried to interpret your claim in some other way; I see now that I was mistaken. I am happy to refocus discussion on the issues, not on us.
"context violation...I was quite clear about it in the next sentence: if...[the claim that] reason can lead us to certain foundational truths about ethics, and if this is enough to constitute moral rationalism"--this is certainly *not* enough to constitute rationalism, as I now understand you to mean "truths about ethics" to include things like "no ought-sentences are true." But I don't believe I ever said it in this way; if I ever did it would have been a mistake, and in any case a charitable reading of such a mis-statement should make it clear that, as I have often said, rationalism is the view that *moral truths/true moral statements* can be so derived. Apparently you like my more recent re-statement of this in terms of *moral properties*, which presumably are understood as using terms like ought, right, etc., and hopefully this eliminates the ambiguity that led us to talk past each other for a bit. So I don't think you explained what was misleading, but I now see why you thought you had, and why you might've been misled.
I think there have been some misreadings on both sides. I for one have been enlightened by your points about DCT and IOT, and I hope you have found this discussionuseful as well. I've also learned a little more about how ethical rationalism, or statements about it, can be prone to be misunderstood; I will review the moral rationalism article to see if any rewording can pre-empt similar misreadings. We've gone on at length here, and settled on something; I would like to suggest that we leave our respective discussions up at least a short time for further reflection, but perhaps later take them down so our lengthy dialogue doesn't get in the way of other issues.--ScottForschler (talk) 02:41, 3 May 2008 (UTC)
Regarding IOT, I agree that we may have to leave it as an unresolved issue at the moment. Whichever one of us gets to researching it first should pass some references the other's way and maybe we can reach some agreement on how to address it. This would be helpful for the IOT article, as well. I can't say that it's a high priority for me, but I would try to read anything you sent my way in fairly short order.
As for consensus and objectivity, the problem I was having was with your use of the word "unique." "Unique" could mean that, under the given conditions, everyone would come to the same (unique) conclusion—but this does not entail that said conclusion is objective, or even true. The fish story (!) is an old Chinese intuition pump from the Tao of Silence that illustrates the point quite nicely, in my opinion. As such, the phrase "unique, aka objective, aka real moral truths" (emphasis added) that you used above was ambiguous to me. This might work in the other direction (real, therefore objective, therefore unique), but a compressed argument is only helpful when it comes after a presentation of the uncompressed argument. ; ) Still, your clarification is most helpful (and in keeping with what is in the actual article). As before, I just wanted to be absolutely clear about what you take moral rationalism to involve.
Regarding our mutual misunderstanding regarding my views on logic and metaethics, it is certainly in no small part the result of my habit to think in text. I was trying to go through the various things that could be meant by what you had said, and only meant for the last bit (about moral rationalism suggesting that there are moral truths/properties and that they are accessible by way of reason) to be an attribution. In my quest for clarity in the article, I sacrificed a bit of clarity on this page. "Misleading," for example, was obviously a poor word choice (despite my earlier self-defense). I am glad we have come to understand each other in this regard. As I noted on your talk page, I will look into getting an archive for this talk page. That will allow us to automatically move this discussion elsewhere once it has gone out of date. Postmodern Beatnik (talk) 17:45, 5 May 2008 (UTC)
I was wrong to use aka earlier, your criticism is quite correct and I apologize for this mistake.--ScottForschler (talk) 19:03, 5 May 2008 (UTC)
No problem. What is philosophy, after all, but one long conversation full of criticisms and clarifications? :) Postmodern Beatnik (talk) 13:00, 6 May 2008 (UTC)
Just one last point--if you agree that the article's definition of moral realism is inadequate, that helps explain some of our misunderstandings about the other points; I was assuming you agreed with it. But I don't think "mind independence" is clearer, indeed it seems more ambiguous. Must moral truths simply be independent of what actual, empirical minds think in order to be "realist" claims? Or independent also of any analytic truths about what minds are, what constitutes a rational mind, etc.? I take it that the point of "mind-independence" is simply something like "you can't just make it up as you go along"--which, as you have convinced me, is indeed the key thing that subjectivism and DCT have in common. But of course ethical rationalism is nothing like this (and perhaps not Firthian rationalism; about Humean & other IOT's I'm not sure).--ScottForschler (talk) 03:06, 3 May 2008 (UTC)
As I am sure you are well aware, it has been a long standing issue in ethics how precisely to articulate the metaphysical thesis and the very notion of objectivity. It is something that most of us have a fairly intuitive grasp of what it is and what it isn't. But intuitions are fuzzy-edged, and it is precisely at the edges where the dangers lurk. Mind-independence involves at least not being able to make it up as you go along. It is also typically understood as "would be true in the absence of anyone believing it." This is what rules out those forms of IOT in which one reaches a merely practical judgment, even if through logic, so long as an alternative judgment is not inconceivable. That is, rationalism requires that logic take us to moral truths and that those who reach alternate conclusions have made an error. IOT, in the above sense at least, requires only that one use logic to reach a moral judgment. Because while an IOT advocate would argue that there is an objective fact about what the judgment would be, it is not necessary that the judgment itself be objectively true. Postmodern Beatnik (talk) 17:48, 5 May 2008 (UTC)

Rationalism may likewise be fuzzy-edged; until you pressed me on the point of whether they had to believe that standard ethical sentences like "we ought to maximize utility" are true or false, or simply warranted/uniquely rationally prescribable/acceptable or what-have-you, I confess I hadn't explored the difference carefully, but this is at least one crucial factor in deciding whether Hare counts as rationalist, or whether rationalism counts as moral realism (assuming we can nail that one down further...)

I realized there's another source for this, more recent than Gewirth: Harry Frankfurt, “Rationalism in Ethics,” Autonomes Handeln: Beitrage zur Philosophie von Harry G. Frankfurt, eds. Monica Betzler and Barbara Guckes. Berlin: Akademie Verlag GmbH, 2000. 259-273. My notes taken when I first read this include: He starts with a nice observation of the “creative and robust” tendency of rationalism in ethics, including Kant and Nagel by name, defining it as the attempt to “prove that moral principles and moral commands can be rigorously elicited from the requirements of rationality alone.” (259) Frankfurt opposes rationalism, and I think significantly misunderstands it, so he may not be reliable; but as stated it needn't lead to "truth," just "rigorously [derived] principles." Frankly I don't know if there's a more authoritative source than this, I may have to track down multiple ones and document them appropriately....--ScottForschler (talk) 22:06, 5 May 2008 (UTC)

I've been reading the Frankfurt paper and it seems that he is taking ethical rationalism as being in opposition to sentimentalism (à la Smith and Hume—further confusing the place of IOT, though I continue to wonder about such attributions). Even if he does mistake rationalism in its specifics (as you suggest), so long as he has the general relationship correct, this is evidence that the rationalism/sentimentalism debate may be orthogonal to the realism/anti-realism debate and that procedural realism (if we keep that name) is at least one place where the two connect. If you could perhaps follow up on Korsgaard and the term procedural realism, we might be able to figure this out. Postmodern Beatnik (talk) 13:25, 6 May 2008 (UTC)

Cleaning up[edit]

The addition of the "in Philosophy" qualification is the start of my practical contributions to resolving the mess in the Ethics article. This article (meta-ethics) is excellent IMO, and is about Philosophy. The existing Ethics article says it's about Philosophy, but much of it is not. It's a bit of a mess, and possibly the Ethics article should be replaced by a disambiguation page. --Andrewa 21:20, 7 Sep 2003 (UTC)


I believe it can be proven as fact, not opinion, that in certain academic philosophy circles, meta-ethical investigations or allied fields are increasingly far more privileged than traditional normative ethics. --Dpr 03:54, 23 Jun 2005 (UTC)

Then do so. --Maru 02:03, 19 July 2005 (UTC)
I will attempt to at my earliest opportunity. Thanks ~Dpr 04:51, 19 July 2005 (UTC)
That was true in the mid-twentieth century, but applied ethics has become prominent, largely prompted by the work of Singer. After his work on such things as famine relief and animal rights, there has been quite a lot of work in applied ethics. --owl232 15:31, 30 December 2005 (UTC)
It's true, Dpr's statement is outdated.


"It is seen by many as a "default" (though not necessarily correct) view, as it is seemingly obvious that when one says "Murder is wrong" they are saying that the act of murder, or some consequence of it, is objectively wrong. However, many meta-ethicists (for example A.J. Ayer, C. L. Stevenson and R. M. Hare) have argued that this is incorrect [...]"

If not PoV, this is certainly an odd way of phrasing things. First saying that it is seemingly obvious to consider a moral utterance an utterance of matter of facts, and then claim that some people do argue against this "seemingly obvious" theory. Adding the word seemingly might seem like it is all taken care of, but it still sounds wrong in my ears. Is it really even seemingly obvious? Why not at least add "they argue that" before saying this?

Hello, anonymous contributer. Firstly, you might want to sign up for an account. It is quick, easy and safe, and means we are not talking blindly. Secondly, thank you for posting on the talk page before making an edit; a practice not enough Wikipedians do. To your point: it was my edit that you object to. I agree that it is a clumsy way of saying what I am trying to say. Basically, I am saying (roughly): cognitivism is the common-sense view. It is common-sense because what it says "sounds right" when you first hear it. However, there are other views, and one needs to appreciate the nuances of all of them to come to a proper decision. If you do not like it, would you like to sugest a better wording, and I will gladly re-edit and re-re-edit until we come to an agreement. Happy editting! --Batmanand 23:37, 31 August 2005 (UTC)

Applied Ethics[edit]

The introduction situates Meta-ethics as one of two areas of thought within ethics. My understanding was that a more accurate division could be made seperating meta-ethics, normative ethics and applied ethics. The latter being a fairly large field in and of itself such a distinction would make sense. If this scheme is in some way outdated or problematic let me know. If I'm right change it or tell me that I'm right and I will. --Jsn4 02:14, 1 November 2005 (UTC)

I agree with you. --Logic2go
I added an edit changing the 3 fields to meta-ethics, applied ethics, and *ethical theory*, because "normative ethics" should be considered to include the last two. (Just think about etymology.)--owl232 15:40, 30 December 2005 (UTC)
My understanding is that the proper division would be metaethics (about ethics, e.g. deontology v. consequentialism), normative/applied ethics (what particular theories say about general issues, e.g. war), and casuistry (case-specific ethics, e.g. the Vietnam War). If you are using the term "applied ethics" in the sense that I am using "casuistry" then perhaps we are not disagreeing (and this may be likely, as I know "casuistry" has an additional pejorative meaning in England and Australia, so perhaps in those places the term is avoided in moral philosophy). Still, those are the terms I learned. Postmodern Beatnik 15:40, 23 May 2007 (UTC)

Structure of meta-ethical theories[edit]

Hope no one is upset by my edit changing the overall structure of meta-ethical theories. However, the way I have it now really is more correct (see my comment under "Rationalism"). The earlier version portrays the main division in meta-ethics as "non-cognitivism vs. everybody else", but that isn't the way it's usually seen. Subjectivists, for instance, are (rightly) considered closer to emotivists than they are to intuitionists. (In case anyone cares, I'm Mike Huemer, author of the first version of this after Larry Sanger's lecture notes.) --owl232 15:40, 30 December 2005 (UTC)

I'm not upset about the change in the structure. In the process, though, value pluralism disappeared. I've restored it. --Christofurio 20:12, 30 December 2005 (UTC)
The reason I cut that was that I think of pluralism and monism as normative ethical theses, rather than metaethical. For instance, utilitarianism is a monistic (normative) ethical theory. W.D. Ross' theory of prima facie duties is a pluralistic (normative) ethical theory.
There is a certain ambiguity about the notion of pluralism, but I suggest we keep the graf I have written about it here. The statement, "there is only one true good" is meta-ethical rather than ethical, in that it wouldn't commit its believer to identifying that good as wisdom, as perfection, or as happiness or anything else. Choosing among such goals would require the monist to take a normative position. --Christofurio 15:01, 1 January 2006 (UTC)

What about the meta-ethical theory that ethics are grounded in our biology? That ethics come about because we are society-froming animals? That something that is "wrong" for a human would not nessesarily be wrong for a (sentient) tiger or ant?

That is more of a normative ethical stance, trying to determine how to be moral, as opposed to a meta-ethical (what morality actually means) position. Batmanand 09:09, 10 February 2006 (UTC)
Not necessarily; if the claim is that our biological natures somehow define right and wrong, which is a commonly-voiced opinion, as well as suggested by passages in Aristotle, this is definitely a meta-ethical view. However it is clearly a variant of ethical naturalism, so it's covered.-- (talk) 02:33, 28 April 2008 (UTC)

Hi all. I've recently improved on (I think) the organization and presentation of the meta-ethical theories section. Hopefully most agree. I didn't change any content, though, at least not in that one edit to the presentation. I think it is much easier on the eyes and more organized now. -- Jaymay 19:52, 30 August 2007 (UTC)


Why are there no citations in this article? I thought we are supposed to refer our edits to verifiable sources?

I concur. This article is in desperate need of citations. It would even just be a start to put in the sources where these philosophers are supposed to have endorsed these views. For example, if someone claims that A.J. Ayer endorses ethical subjectivism, then put in the reference to his Language, Truth, and Logic, for example, and cite that he endorses it there. We should then probably have a references and further reading section with stuff instead of these footnote-style references. Any objections? -- Jaymay 19:48, 30 August 2007 (UTC)


I was under the impression a primary concern of meta-ethics was to ask the question, "Are the moral value judgments we accept justified, and if so, on what grounds?" I would like to add this in the section entitled "meta ethical questions". Any thoughts? I took this out of a Frakena Ethics text. Somaticvibe 21:40, 1 February 2007 (UTC)

That question sounds like the essence of first-order ethics to me. What's meta about it? Could you quote a bit from the text you refer to, so the rest of us can get a sense of what you have in mind? --Christofurio 04:13, 3 February 2007 (UTC)
How could it possibly be first order ethics? Once we take a step back and ask about the justification for everything we've been saying, we're into a meta-field. Just look a meta-philosophy or metaphysics. Postmodern Beatnik 15:32, 23 May 2007 (UTC)

"As usually concieved, meta-ethics asks the following questions. 1) What is the meaning or definition of ethical terms or concepts like 'right', 'wrong'...2) How are moral uses of such terms to be distinguished from non moral ones...3) What is the analysis or meaning of related terms or concepts like 'action', 'conscience', 'free will', 'motive'...4) Can ethical and value judgments be proved, justified, or shown valid? If so, how, and in what sense? Or, what is the logic or moral reasoning and of reasoning about value?...Of these 4) is primary. What we mainly want to know is whether the moral and value judgments we accept are justified or not; and if so, on what grounds...Apart from conceptual understanding...we only need to be concerned about the meaning or nature of ethical and value judgments only if this helps us to understand whether and how they may be justified, only if it helps us to know which of them are acceptable or valid." (96, Frakena, Ethics 2nd ed.) This is taken from a chapter, Meaning and Justification, in a more basic ethical text; it might not be extensive enough to be of value to this article. Let me know if this helps clarify what I am proposing. Somaticvibe 21:52, 19 February 2007 (UTC)

I concur with this analysis. Once we take a step back from normative ethics and attempt to justify its claims, we have clearly made a jump from first to second order ethics (i.e. from normative ethics to meta-ethics). Postmodern Beatnik 15:32, 23 May 2007 (UTC)

Basically I would like to add something along the lines of; "Are there objective or absolute values, and if so how do we logically justify them?" Somaticvibe 21:54, 19 February 2007 (UTC)

Meta-ethics or Metaethics?[edit]

Is there a reason we use the hyphen, rather than the preferred spelling that omits it? Just wondering. Postmodern Beatnik 17:41, 18 July 2007 (UTC)

I don't know that omitting the hyphen is the preferred spelling. I've seen it mostly with the hyphen in current professional academic philosophy. But, I don't think it matters either way. It's definitely legit both ways. I think the hyphen at least makes it more legible. -- Jaymay 19:50, 30 August 2007 (UTC)

Max Weber[edit]

Would Weber be a value pluralist? Btw, shouldnt we have a link to a "value pluralism" section, instead of redirecting it to Isaiah Berlin?

We do have a link to value pluralism. The link to Isaiah Berlin is a "see also." Postmodern Beatnik 19:04, 24 July 2007 (UTC)

Taxonomy of Metaethical Positions[edit]

There has been some discussion above and on Talk:Moral skepticism about just how we are to name various positions. On Talk:Moral skepticism I have suggested using the robust model as Richard Joyce and Pekka Väyrynen do in their respective articles in the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy and Macmillan's Encyclopedia of Philosophy, 2nd Edition. The robust model delineates the various metaethical positions according to three theses (as given by Väyrynen):

  1. The semantic thesis: The primary semantic role of moral predicates (such as "right" and "wrong") is to refer to moral properties (such as rightness and wrongness), so that moral statements (such as "honesty is good" and "slavery is unjust") purport to represent moral facts, and express propositions that are true or false (or approximately true, largely false, and so on).
  2. The alethic thesis: Some moral propositions are in fact true.
  3. The metaphysical thesis: Moral propositions are true when actions and other objects of moral assessment have the relevant moral properties (so that the relevant moral facts obtain), where these facts and properties are robust: their metaphysical status, whatever it is, is not relevantly different from that of (certain types of) ordinary non-moral facts and properties.

All anti-realists deny 3. Moral subjectivists deny 3, but accept 1 and 2. Moral nihilists deny 3 and 2, but are then subdivided by whether they accept 1 (error theory) or deny 1 (non-cognitivism). It's an simple and intuitive model, but also a powerful one. Moreover, it is the standard way of thinking about metaethics (so much so that Väyrynen doesn't even mention the minimal model in his article). I propose that we take the robust model as our guide when developing all pages related to metaethics and metaethical positions. Postmodern Beatnik (talk) 19:12, 29 April 2008 (UTC)

This again supports my suggested revisions; ethical rationalists and IOT do not deny 3. They believe, for example, that "murder is wrong" is true when the action, murder, has a robust moral property: that of being impossible for a rational agent or ideal observer to approve of them. They claim that indeed such facts are robustly true.
Now, you might want to still deny that DCT is realist, and categorize it under subjectivism, since it is not "robust," being open to change (God could make murder wrong tomorrow). This is worthy of discussion. Yet DCT is patently *not* a form of IOT, as your latest revision asserts. Under DCT, God's ability to make murder right or wrong is never presumed to come from his ability to look around and make a wise assessment; it's raw creative power or authority or something like that. If you think anyone holds the position that it is a form of IOT, please cite the source; I find this claim quite alien to my understanding of the view. Again, please explain where ethical rationalism falls in the current article's scheme; it seems to be defined out of existence. There is nothing "miscellaneous" about this view, as owl232 suggests above; it exists, has been supported by prominent philosophers, and has many merits. If it doesn't fit the scheme, so much the worse for the scheme.--ScottForschler (talk) 23:46, 1 May 2008 (UTC)
I removed the claim about DCT being a form of IOT. In many formulations it is, but it is not necessarily so. But of course, insofar as DCT is about the ability to create (as opposed to discover) moral "truths," it is anti-realist. It denies 3 by making moral "truths" contingent on conditions much different than, say, the truths of physics. IOT, insofar as it does not collapse into something like Kantianism, also denies 3. So once again, not realist. After all, IOT does not claim that it is impossible for an ideal observer to deny certain moral propositions, but that such an observer wouldn't do so (it is about the observer's preferences).
As for the scheme, it is a mistake to think that the realism/anti-realism is the only debate in metaethics. As such, it is unreasonable to think that a taxonomy of the positions relevant to that debate will cover all the positions relevant to metaethics generally. There are questions (e.g. methodological/procedural ones) other than the ontological and linguistic ones. Where moral rationalism falls under the ontological scheme depends on what it affirms. If it is defined primarily in terms of the procedure it recommends, then only individual results of the procedure can be classified as realist/anti-realist. If, however, it is defined in terms of a thesis that the procedure will always lead us to affirm or deny specific theses, then the view itself can be placed accordingly as a form of realism/anti-realism. For example: if moral rationalism allows for Jim being led to affirm 1, 2, and 3 and Max being led to affirm 1, but deny 2 and 3, then moral rationalism is a procedural recommendation which has led Jim to be a moral realist and Max to be an error theorist. If, however, moral rationalism argues that we must affirm 1, 2, and 3, then it is simply a form (with Kantianism and utilitarianism) of moral realism. An important thing to note about the scheme—and this is an advantage in light of the recent trend to break down the barrier between metaethics and normative ethics—is that it can be arranged by way of additional dilemmas to create a continuous path from metaethics to normative ethics. Postmodern Beatnik (talk) 16:50, 2 May 2008 (UTC)

I didn't see this earlier, apparently it was somehow posted simultaneously with several other posts. Now I more clearly see what you were objecting to in my description of rationalism with respect to Hare (as opposed to everything else I said about it). What Hare has in common with Kant, Gewirth, etc. is indeed a method, not a realist position. Thanks for this clarification, I think it supports the points we have come to agree with, reflected in the current version of the article, and suggests a possible way forward for indicating what Hare has and does not have in common with Kant, etc.--ScottForschler (talk) 11:50, 3 May 2008 (UTC)

Beatnik, perhaps you haven't read Hare's 1982 _Moral Thinking_? I will cite this source to support my claims about Hare. In general reminding us to source our contributions is good, let's just make sure we all do it.--ScottForschler (talk) 23:58, 1 May 2008 (UTC)
I have read Moral Thinking. I agree that "Hare's later view entails that a unique set of utilitarian principles would necessarily be prescribed by any rational agent," but the rest is OR (that Hare was a moral rationalist) or false (that he was a moral realist). Reinstate the first part by all means, but not the rest. Postmodern Beatnik (talk) 16:50, 2 May 2008 (UTC)
I disagree, it simply sounds like you're not too interested in trying to understand moral rationalism. Since it constitutes a distinct and widely discussed meta-ethical view, I will add it, and request that you maintain NPOV and let readers decide for themselves what to make of it. Hare asserts that moral rules can be derived by avoiding contradiction; this is the definition of moral rationalism, there is no original research involved here. Do not confuse his earlier non-realism with his later rationalism/realism. True, he insisted all along that he was a non-cognitivist, so that "murder is wong" expresses an attitude, not a statement--but he insisted that "murder is right" is contradictory, and hence should not be held. *That* claim is a moral truth, which he held to be objective, real, etc.--ScottForschler (talk) 20:08, 2 May 2008 (UTC)
Sorry, I should have been clearer. The reason referring to Hare as a moral rationalist seems to be OR to me is that (even by your own admission) he doesn't refer to himself this way, and you haven't mentioned any other sources that do. As for "trying to understand moral rationalism," what I am trying to understand is how you are using the term (as above). That is, what I know of moral rationalism and how you have presented it seem to be at least partially in tension. You have presented a moral rationalism at times as a method and at times as a position. And insofar as you have presented it as a realist position, it is inconsistent with Hare's relativism (which he held until death). Moreover, plenty of moral nihilists believe that "murder is right" is contadictory, believing that "wrongness" is contained in "murder." They just don't think anything constitutes murder. But this, of course, is not the kind of "moral truth" that nihilists are concerned with, and it is equivocation to suggest that such cases overturn their position. Perhaps we are simply misunderstanding each other, but that is what talk page discussions are for. But while we are discussing things here, I would remind you to assume good faith. As the defender of many minority positions, I can assure you that I am quite aware of the POV tendencies in moral philosophy—almost entirely in favor of the realist. Your insinuations that I am letting my own philosophical position color my editing are pre-emptory and unwarranted. Disagreement is not bias. I am all for adding moral rationalism, but I think we should have a coherent conception of it (which you have not yet offered) first. It should also cohere with the moral rationalism article here. Postmodern Beatnik (talk) 23:20, 2 May 2008 (UTC)
You earlier admitted that you refuse to classify DCT as a form of moral realism because the will of god is potentially arbitrary and hence the position doesn't lead to robust objectivity; but you also conceded that the typical DCT advocate thinks it does lead to objectivity. So why is this not OR?
For one thing, the average DCT advocate is not a philosopher and thus is to be forgiven a bit more conceptual confusion. Compare the average moral nihilist, who is an angsty and often inconsistent teenager. The teen nihilist is likely to say that there are no moral truths while alternatively bemoaning the amount of injustice in the world. So while he would claim to be an anti-realist, he might actually be a moral realist who simply thinks the world is thoroughly immoral. Ultimately, we need to lay such surface claims aside. The question is whether or not the substantive claims about morality made by a theory are consistent with the three theses of moral realism. The claims of DCT are inconsistent with the definition of moral realism, even if DCT advocates want to be realists. The claims of moral nihilism, on the other hand, are consistent with the definition of moral anti-realism, even if the theory is unpopular or (as its critics charge) fundamentally mistaken. Postmodern Beatnik (talk) 18:05, 5 May 2008 (UTC)

OK, so here's a new thought. My original suggestion was to count rationalism and IOT both as forms of procedural realism, a category I take from Korsgaard's work (though I don't know that she invented it). That entire edit was removed on other grounds and I reintroduced the category of rationalism by itself. But maybe I'm just thinking of certain forms of rationalism, the ones I'm most familiar with. If moral rationalism is better understood as the view that practical reason alone constrains agents into accepting specific practical judgments (not necessarily truths), then one can be a rationalist but not a realist (though some rationalists certainly are realists, which is why I insisted that intuitionism and naturalism do not constitute the only realist categories). Error theorists are not rationalists because they don't believe that any such practical judgments have a priviledged truth or acceptability status. Rationalists like Korsgaard and Kant are procedural realists, and I think Gewirth too though I'd have to re-read his work very carefully to be sure, he seems to cut a fine line here. More generally, maybe what we need here most is to lay out some other meta-ethical distinctions besides the realist/anti-realist one, as has been suggested earlier. Comments?--ScottForschler (talk) 13:10, 3 May 2008 (UTC)

First, I completely agree that we need to make it clear that the realism/anti-realism debate is not the whole of metaethics. I am working on a brief rundown of the centralism/non-centralism debate and hope to have it finished by the end of the week. As for your other comments, are you know suggesting that perhaps moral rationalism is a procedural issue and that procedural realism would be the realist take on it? That is, are you suggesting that moral rationalism is the view that we best approach ethics by using logic to make moral judgments, and that procedural realism is the further view that such an approach can yield objective moral truths? That terminology makes sense to me, and would make procedural realism a form of moral realism, but are there sources supporting these usages? Postmodern Beatnik (talk) 18:49, 5 May 2008 (UTC)
I think that does capture my latest suggestion. "Ethical rationalism" is actually not a fairly common term, I know Alan Gewirth used it, so he'd be the first source to check, and there's an older English school of ethical rationalism, which I have not been able to pin down in detail to see if if they're talking about the same thing Gewirth was. As I understand Gewirth's definition, it seems to encompass what Hare and Kant had in common also, but this should be checked. Korsgaard defines and defends "procedural realism" in the Sources of Normativity.--ScottForschler (talk) 19:25, 5 May 2008 (UTC)
I have gotten a hold of Sources of Normativity, but haven't had a chance to crack the spine, yet. Any specific citations for Gewirth? Postmodern Beatnik (talk) 13:54, 6 May 2008 (UTC)
Gewrith's main book is "Reason and Morality." There's also an edited volume "Gewirth's Ethical Rationalism" with critics of his view and a response essay which may be helpful.--ScottForschler (talk) 16:50, 6 May 2008 (UTC)

OK, here's a better description of the problem I'm having with the current classification of Hare. Consider this passage right after the 3 anti-realist points:

Subjectivism, non-cognitivism, and error theory are the only forms of anti-realism: If there are no objective values, this must be either because ethical statements are subjective claims (as subjectivists maintain), because they are not genuine claims at all (as non-cognitivists maintain), or because they are mistaken objective claims. The only alternative is for ethical statements to be correct objective claims, which entails moral realism.

This equates anti-realism with the absence of objective values (as does the first sentence under anti-realism), and the belief that some ethical statements are objectively correct with moral realism. The later Hare obviously believes that objective values exist, namely utilitarian ones. Any agent who holds contrary values is to some degree fanatical, that is to say irrational, and doesn't even consistently hold the values he claims to have. This is an objective fact for Hare. So he can't be an anti-realist under this description. The final sentence is more problematic, since Hare denies that ethical sentences are necessarily statements in the proper sense (they may be insofar as they have some descriptive element, but their ethical content is non-descriptive). But if he is denied the status of moral realist on this ground, then he's neither a realist nor an anti-realist, which suggests that one or the other description has got to go (unless his position is utterly confused; but while he may be wrong, I think he is quite clear so this would not be a promising move). If we more charitably assume that "ethical statement" means "ethical sentence or judgment" then again, Hare believes that quite a few of these are objectively correct, and is again a moral realist.

This elaborates a more general point I was going to make, which is that my earlier comment about what is important about the "mind-independence" criteria used in this article, and often floated around when meta-ethics is discussed, presumably is trying to get at the idea that your ethics aren't objective if you can just make it up as you go along; supervenience on the objective fact of what whim you (or god) have at the moment is not robust enough to make a position count as a realist one. I think this is a good and important distinction. But again, Hare clearly falls on the realist side if that's what we were trying to get at; he emphatically denies that it's ok to make it up as you go along. In this respect he radicaly disagrees with all the other listed theories called "anti-realist"--except, perhaps, for quasi-realism, which I confess I never understood, and perhaps for some forms of ideal observer theory, about whch I would make the same point, conceding however that less constraining forms of IOT may not be realist because the allowed moral norms depend too much upon empirical attitudes.--ScottForschler (talk) 20:23, 3 May 2008 (UTC)

Of course, Hare spent most of his career disparaging those of us who take the ontological debate to be a substantive issue, so it might not be so surprising that we cannot assign him a position within the debate. Then again, his terminological idiosyncracies aside, he counts as a non-cognitivist as the term is commonly understood (even if he rejected the term for various reasons). Therefore, as is the case with Blackburn's quasi-realism, moral statements can only be minimally true. (And this is another point that must be changed in the definition of moral realism: the alethic thesis requires that moral statements can be true in some more than minimal sense. I don't know why Väyrynen overlooked this crucial point.) Finally, insofar as Hare held at least as late as his 1996 paper "Off on the Wrong Foot" that moral truths are relative to cultures, he seems to deny the metaphysical thesis as well. (Indeed, in his "Ontology in Ethics" he suggests that "realists" should reject something that looks very much like the metaphysical thesis. This is not a problem for him, since he rejects the ontological debate entirely. But it would prevent anyone who takes his suggestion, as he presumably does himself, from counting as a realist in the sense here being defined.) So I don't see how classifying Hare as an anti-realist and non-cognitivist in the standard way is at all problematic. Postmodern Beatnik (talk) 20:04, 5 May 2008 (UTC)
That's odd, such a position doesn't sound like the Hare I know, but I'll have to re-read that essay, about which I remember nothing--thanks for the reference. Hare did put his view in odd ways at times, though. Perhaps my reading of him is not unlike yours on DCT: he may have claimed to be an anti-realist, but for all practical purposes he was one, just from some roundabout premises. Also I would have less objection to simply not classifying him in this debate, as you briefly suggest, than classifying him in a way which may be misleading. But I'll have to check on this and get back later.--ScottForschler (talk) 20:57, 5 May 2008 (UTC)
"Ontology in Ethics" is from the 1985 tribute to John Mackie Morality and Objectivity (Ted Honderich, editor). I don't know what you're dividing line for early and late Hare is, though, so I guess the paper might be moot for the point you are trying to make. "Off on the Wrong Foot," however, is from the 1996 collection On the Relevance of Metaethics (Joyce Couture and Kai Nielsen, editors). Of course, I could be misunderstanding Hare, here, so please let me know if you think that is the case. As you mention, Hare sometimes put his arguments in odd ways. I have also been thinking about a suggestion by Brian Leiter that insofar as the metaphysical thesis is the real issue between realism and anti-realism, non-cognitivist realism may be a logically possible (if idiosyncratic) position to hold. It is something to think about (indeed, I have made a note of it on the moral realism article).
But given Hare's rejection of the ontological issue, it may be that he just doesn't fall under either classification. If we take this to be the case, Hare is important enough for this position to be noted in the article. (Maybe something along the lines of "While the realist/anti-realist debate has often been seen as one of the fundamental issues of metaethics, philosophers such as R. M. Hare have taken it to be fundamentally vacuous. Hare, then, would count as neither a realist nor an anti-realist, his metaethics consisting entirely of other issues." That's just off the top of my head, though, so it will need cleaning up.) Postmodern Beatnik (talk) 14:22, 6 May 2008 (UTC)
I roughly would say "Language of Morals" (1950-something) is early Hare, "Moral Thinking" (1982) is later Hare; I'm not sure about the intermediate "Freedom and Reason." The key difference I think is relevant is that in the earlier work he said that certain hard-core "fanatics" could not be ratioanally compelled to adopt utilitarian morality (or any other reasonable moral system for that matter); in the later work he thought he had closed that gap and could make the deriviation more rigorous. Hence anything after 1982 which suggested that a deep-level cultural relativism was OK would indeed be puzzling, and I need to check that essay (after the grading onslaught ends... :-) That 1996 essay is also in Hare's collection "Objective Prescriptions and other essays", which I've read once but don't recall this particular one. In general the suggestions above seem to be good ones.
For what it's worth, I think Hare often created unnecessary trouble for himself with the way he put some of his points, even though some of the ideas which I think (or hope?) he was really getting at were excellent. I have similar thoughts about Sartre; at times he says things that sound wildly subjectivist, but if you read "Existentialism is a humanism" carefully, especially the passages on how chosing against freedom is self-contradictory and hence morally wrong, it looks like there's actually an ethical rationalism trying to get expressed there as well. But his insistence on quirky, poetic, and often startling ways of expressing himeself didn't make him his own best advocate, and invites misinterpretation. Back to Hare, I see an obvious way of making him more of a standard realist: simply note that "utilitarianism is obligatory" is not merely an objective prescription, hence neither true nor false, but the implicit--or explicit?--assertion that the failure to be a utilitarian cannot be objectively prescribed. Why Hare failed to take this last step towards a more straightforward realism with good old truth and falsity, I never quite understood. But of course we must distinguish in articles between what an author said of himself, and what further implications or fruitful possibilities their thought suggests, and document each appropriately.--ScottForschler (talk) 16:50, 6 May 2008 (UTC)

So, I'm still wondering about this last point; do the different definitions of "realism" in the meta-ethics article reflect confusion with the literature on meta-ethics itself? If so we should note this; the current text suggests that everything is crystal clear and undisputed. Or is there a clear definition, in which case some of the contrary definitions are simply wrong? Again, my main concern is here is over the correct classification of both ethical rationalism, and Hare in particular. If realism entails "ought statements are true or false," he's not a realist. But if anti realism means "value judgments are not objective," then he is a realist. I have no objection to using the former definition and classifying him as an anti-realist, as long as it is made clear that anti-realists can still be committed to objectivity in moral judgment; the current article does not make this clear, indeed it denies this, and hence unfairly represents Hare's position.--ScottForschler (talk) 19:32, 5 May 2008 (UTC)

We've been dealing with some of this (especially regarding Hare) above, but I wanted to make a note about the literature. Historically, the term "moral realism" has not always had a single meaning, nor has the term always been employed. The models put forth by Joyce and Väyrynen are attempts to sum up the ways in which things have historically played out as well as to arrange the issues logically. But even if it is in need of touching up, the robust model has a lot of currency and is worth using as a template. Postmodern Beatnik (talk) 14:39, 6 May 2008 (UTC)

PB, I finally got to a library and looked at Hare's essay on Foot again: as I very storngly suspected, he does //not//endorse cultural relativism in this work, and to think he did is a serious misreading. He says, rather, that CR is an inevitable consequence of what he calls "descriptivist" theories of ethical statements, and the point is: so much the worse for descriptivist theories, but look here at some forms of non-descriptivism like mine... Now whether his argument or terminology is good or not, he is absolutely not endorsing CR. So I renew the insistance that this article must be reorganized, and "realism" and its implications more carefully defined, so that Hare is //not// labelled as holding that values are non-objective, for he insists that they are; he only quibbles about applying the word "true" to moral judgments. So call him an anti-realist if this means "ethical statements can be true", but then note that anti-realism needn't mean non-objective; or if realism includes all objective theories, then fit him in there; but the current mish-mash of definitions has got to go. Since you know more about "realism" debates than I, I'll give you first crack at it, or invite others to do; I could go in myself and remove the inconsistencies but the end result might be a hack job.--ScottForschler (talk) 00:32, 20 May 2008 (UTC)

I've been busy/away for a bit, but having read the paper again just now, I remain unconvinced. On this much I agree with you: Hare does not endorse cultural relativism, as such, but argues that any descriptivist theory is destined to collapse into such a view. I remembered that part incorrectly, and that is entirely my fault. However, in paragraph four of section three he explicitly states: "Speaking for myself, the truth-conditions of moral judgements are the grounds on which they are made, and these vary with the mores of those who make them." This is what I was remembering (albeit hazily) and this alone is sufficient to demonstrate that the sort of objectivity you say Hare claims for moral statements is not the sort of objectivity that has been argued over by moral philosophers for millennia (à la the metaphysical thesis). In fact, I am not familiar with Hare ever claiming that his moral theory is objectivist. All I recall is that he demonstrates how prescriptivism maintains the essential elements of supervienience (no moral difference without a descriptive difference) and universalizability without recourse to realist conceptions of morality. Hare, then, rejects all three of the theses of robust moral realism: he does not agree with realist semantics (descriptivism/cognitivism), epistemology (that moral statements are literally true), or metaphysics (that moral truths are grounded the same way as other truths -- e.g. about science or history).
As for changing the definitions of realism and anti-realism, I am a bit confused as to what you have done. The proposal I began making on the talk pages of various metaethical articles several months ago was to uniformly employ the robust model of moral realism as our acting definition. The primary reason for this is that it is the model of metaethics that has the greatest currency among philosophers these days. IEP, SEP, and Macmillian all employ the robust model -- though, unsurprisingly, Sayre-McCord resists the Zeitgeist and employs his own model in his SEP article. Here on Wikipedia, there has been no resistance towards using the robust model, including from you as far as I can tell. Our definitions, then, are given to us directly by the model, even if it is left to us to clarify them. Postmodern Beatnik (talk) 00:52, 7 June 2008 (UTC)
I can't defend Hare on what I think is his frankly bizarre claim, admittedly found in the article in question, that the truth-conditions of a moral statement are the grounds on which it is made, varying according to the mores of the speaker. He seems to be using some rather narrow idea of a "truth condition" here. What is important to recognize is that the tenor of this brief remark, especially if taken to mean that nothing else can be said about what makes a moral claim acceptable beyond whether it meets something called a "truth condition" as defined here, is ENTIRELY misrepresentative of, and perhaps even contrary to, the body of Hare's moral theory. We should not categorize individuals on the basis of off-hand remarks, but on the basis of their work as a whole (and if they go through significant phases, we should note this as such). He clearly argues that ethical claims are objective, and insists more upon their objectivity as time goes on. True, he denies that this objectivity lies in "truth", which again I personally think is a bizarre and misleading way to put things, but it is his opinion and I have seen many stranger ones in philosophy. Since we are here to categorize first and evaluate second (and then only describing sourced evaluations found elsewhere), he must be counted as believing in objective morality.
As for the claim that Hare rejects all three theses of what you call "robust moral realism," let me first point out that the phrase "robust moral realism" appears nowhere in the article; the word "robust" appears once, where I added it to express a possible distinction in what might be meant by "realist." No citations to this so-called "robust realist model" are found in the article, and it is not described by name, or even consistently as far as I can tell. Nor have you given specific citations to this in talk (you mention several encyclopedias, but not which articles to look at--Moral Realism? Realism? etc.). Now, as you put it, Hare may indeed reject the three theses you list--but it would still be entirely incorrect to say that, since Hare is not a "robust moral realist" in this specific sense, he does not believe that moral statements can be objectively validated, as the original article said and the current still implies in parts. If the model says that only its kind of realism can be objective, and it turns out that one or more philosophers don't believe in that kind of realism but still defend moral objectivity (whether it correctly follows from their premises is yet another question, of course), then so much the worse for the model. In conclusion, if this specific model is so important, it should be defined, sourced, and specifically noted to be one specific proposal about how to define realism, not beyond challenge, and not one that defines for all time what objectivity in morality means.
I'm not sure why you think I'm not "resisting" the robust model--for months I've been strongly resisting the assumption that it is the only way to defend objective morality; however, I'm heartly endorsing and even begging that it be more clearly defined, sourced, and listed as one proposal amongst several for classifying ethical theories, including as a proposal (if this is what it is, in part) for defining what is meant by objectivity in morality.
After writing the above, I checked both the wikipedia article on [1], and several print sources. The former at least distinguishes robust from minimal forms of realism, and is more precise about describing the metaphysical thesis; but even it is flat out wrong in assuming that you must at least meet the mimimal form (for example, agreeing that some moral propositions are true) in order to believe that "there are objective moral values" (quoting its first sentence)--since, again, Hare stands as a stark counter-example. Again, I don't defend him on this point; as a pragmatist, I think that Hare's description of the objectivity of moral statements meets all the qualifications one needs to say that they are true. He didn't think so, and I must respect that when describing him. But that at best would show that he was confused about when to use the word "true," not about whether morality is "objective." Any description of his moral view which classifies his later work as treating morality as non-objective is wrong, wrong, wrong. No wonder he got angry with a lot of other philosophers who kept misidentifying him! He may have invited misidentification; but an honest reading will plainly show that certain superficial classifications of him, however plausible when reading isolated sentences, or just his early works, are mistaken.
Worse, however, is the fact that the wikipedia Moral Realism article is cribbed extensively from the Moral Realism entry in the latest MacMillan Encyclopedia of Philosophy. And while the original article at least at some points notes that this "robust" model is one possible view amongst others, the wikipedia one simply assumes that this is the only game in town, and ends up (again!) making misleading mistakes about Hare (which the MacMillan article does not) on the assumption that this specific definition of realism is required for objectivity.--ScottForschler (talk) 13:14, 20 June 2008 (UTC)

Moral relativism is not nessecarily anti-realist[edit]

If by moral relativism we mean the opposite of moral absolutism, then relativism may of course be morally realist. To say that moral turth is relative is not to say that it does not exist, but rather an admission that it does exist and is ("being" being an exclusive property of that which exists) relative. —Preceding unsigned comment added by (talk) 21:02, 8 May 2008 (UTC)

Well, you have a point, and may be right, if moral realism is the thesis that "moral facts, of whatever kind, exist." (IOT and DCT would of course also be realisms under this definition.) Now it is generally thought that this is not enough to count as realism, that the moral facts must also be "robust," which is cashed out as something like "independent of what particular minds happen to think about morality, as individuals or groups." In which case it is not a form of moral realism, nor is DCT, and Ideal Observer Theory may or may not be. I'm still waiting to see if someone can document a clear, consistent definition of moral realism which resolves this and related issues; as noted in above discussions, there are at least two different definitions of realism in the article, under one of which Hare, for example, counts as a realist, while under the other he does not. So this and other questions may hinge on this issue.--ScottForschler (talk) 22:20, 8 May 2008 (UTC)
I don't think that's the point our anonymous commenter is making. Richard Joyce has made the point, here for example, that the objective/subjective and absolute/relative dichotomies concern orthogonal matters (despite our confused terminiology). As such, what has been called moral relativism or metaethical moral realism (MMR) should be called something like "group subjectivism." This is perhaps quite true, but I don't think it is a problem so long as we are clear about how we are using the term "moral relativism" (which is, after all, still the dominant label). Postmodern Beatnik (talk) 12:53, 9 May 2008 (UTC)
The Joyce article does make a very important distinction, but I'm not sure how this shows that I have misread the commenter, assuming some convention understandings of the terms being used. Indeed, I read Joyce's conclusion as leaving space for the commenter's point. If it is the subjective-objective distinction which characterizes moral realism (the latter requiring objectivity), then if this is *all* it requires, then since a statement like "it is wrong for agent A to do X" is objectively true according to moral relativism just if A lives in a culture whose rules forbid X, it follows that moral relativism is committed to objective moral facts, and hence is a form of moral realism. Now if moral realism *also* is thought to require that moral facts be robust in a way that don't depend on the particular beliefs of any persons or group thereof (is this what is meant by absolutism? Joyce doesn't define the term) then it wouldn't be a form of moral realism. But this seems to add something to Joyce's definition. I'm not against adding it as long as we're clear on this and have grounds for doing so in the literature, but I agree so far that this distinction needs to be made more clear and consistently held to throughout the article, while important possible variations and finer distinctions (such as those Joyce discusses) may be worth mentioning as well.--ScottForschler (talk) 15:37, 10 May 2008 (UTC)
I agree that the article leaves room for our anonymous commenter's point. Indeed, I would say it makes room for the point. The reason I thought you originally missed his meaning is that the distinction, as presented in Joyce, does not rely on realism being the thesis that "moral facts, of whatever kind, exist." Joyce employs the robust model of metaethics, and so DCT and other subjectivisms count as anti-realism for him. Relativism, then, states that moral statements are indexical, whereas absolutism suggests they are not. While this is not fully explored in the Joyce supplement, it could be argued that certain acts are situationally relative but still objectively right or wrong. That is, on a Kantian view suicide is absolutely wrong (wrong for all people in all circumstances at all times). But cutting someone open with a knife is relative (murder does not treat someone as an end, surgery does). So here we have a relativist realism (or at least relativism in realism) that does not make moral truths relative to a person or a culture. Reading the original comment again, however, I am no longer sure that this was the point being made. If it was just a defense of the minimal model, then you are correct in your responses. Sorry for being a bit quick on the draw! Postmodern Beatnik (talk) 13:37, 11 May 2008 (UTC)

Reorganizing the categorization[edit]

I'm wondering if, in light of the disagreements over what does or does not constitute moral realism, anti-realism, etc, it might be more productive to use a table or tree labeled with the distinguishing theses (the semantic thesis, etc) to categorize the positions - very similar to the nested lists we have now, just labeled differently - and then follow that up with a section stating (and citing) different definitions of which clades of that tree should be labeled with which term?

So you'd have something like:

  • Theories which hold that moral sentences assert factual propositions:
    • Theories which hold that such propositions are sometimes true:
      • Theories which hold that such propositions assert mind-independent facts:
        • Theories which hold that such facts are reducible:
          • Naturalism
        • Theories which hold that such facts are irreducible:
          • Intuitionism
          • Rationalism
      • Theories which hold that such propositions assert mind-dependent facts:
        • Ethical Relativism
        • Individualist Subjectivism
        • DCT
        • IOT?
    • Theories which hold that such propositions are never true:
      • Error theory
  • Theories which hold that moral sentences do not assert factual propositions:
    • Emotivism
    • Imperativism
    • Prescriptivism

(Of course that's an incomplete and possibly incorrect tree there but I'm in a rush at the moment).

Followed up by "according to source1, moral realism encompasses only those theories which hold that moral sentences can truthfully assert propositions about mind-independent facts, while according to source2 realism encompasses...".

Thoughts? —Preceding unsigned comment added by Pfhorrest (talkcontribs) 01:08, 18 September 2008 (UTC)

My apologies for that poorly-organized first foray into your talk page here, I was in a bit of a rush and things got somewhat garbled. I originally was going to propose a table, so that things could be more neutrally categorized according to different orthogonal features; however as soon as I sat down to suggest that it dawned on me that that would require a table of more than two dimensions, awfully difficult to represent on a website... and that drove that thought careening off into the mess above.

Instead, I would like to suggest that the page be reorganized into subsections on different, orthogonal distinctions, with the different particular metaethical theories being listed within each category as appropriate. So for example, one subsection would discuss the realist-vs-antirealist distinction, and would list things much as they are now (though in a less space-consuming way perhaps). Another subsection would discuss the universalist-vs-relativist distinction, in which case IOT, DCT, and Hare's Prescriptivism (which all prescribe the same morality for all people) would be grouped together with the "realist" theories, and in opposition to moral relativism, individualist subjectivism, emotivism, etc (which all tolerate disagreements between different peoples' moral judgements). Perhaps another subsection would discuss cognitivism-vs-noncognitivism, and another objectivism-vs-subjectivism, etc.

In short, I think the way metaethical theories are categorized here focuses too heavily on the realist-vs-antirealist distinction. As important as that distinction is, it obscures some important groupings of theories which appear widely separated in this format, particularly the universalist theories, which include all of the "realist" category, and some but not all of both the "subjectivist" and "noncognitivist" categories of "anti-realism". -Pfhorrest (talk) 02:54, 18 September 2008 (UTC)

Sorry to keep following up to my own comments here, but after some attempts to graph the problem I no longer believe that the above is necessary; a table could work, with minimal modification to the structure of the nested lists present now. However, I'm not experienced enough with wiki code to recreate that image without dropping into actual XHTML tables; though I'll gladly do so if that's the appropriate way, and you all like this idea. -Pfhorrest (talk) 07:10, 18 September 2008 (UTC)

Here is the beginning of a revised nested list more akin to the structure in the image above; I'm still unsure how to break out the "universalism" box without using XHTML tables, so I've just incorporated some notes on universalism into the text as it is... but this is a start at least.

  • Cognitivist theories hold that evaluative moral sentences express propositions (that is, they are "truth apt" or "truth bearers", capable of being true or false), as opposed to non-cognitivism.
    • Objectivist theories hold that such propositions are about "robust" or "mind-independent" facts, that is, not facts about any person or group's subjective opinion, but about objective features of the world; as opposed to subjectivism. Objectivist theories are generally all universalist, that is, they hold that the same things are right and wrong for all people everywhere; however, there are non-objectivist, even non-cognitivist theories which are also universalist.
      • Moral realism holds that there are objective moral propositions which are actually true, as opposed to error theory.
        • Reductive varieties of realism hold that moral facts are reducible to some form of non-moral facts.
          • Ethical naturalism holds that there are objective moral properties and that these properties are reducible or stand in some metaphysical relation (such as supervenience) to entirely non-ethical properties. Most ethical naturalists hold that we have empirical knowledge of moral truths. (See Alasdair MacIntyre.)
          • Moral rationalism, also called ethical rationalism, holds that there are objective moral properties which are reducible to or derived from principles of practical reasoning. Our moral intuitions may sometimes be based on an implicit awareness of such reasoning, which philosophical reflection can make explicit. (See Immanuel Kant.)
        • Ethical intuitionism and ethical non-naturalism are forms of realism which hold that there are objective and irreducible moral properties (such as the property of 'goodness'), and that we sometimes have intuitive or a priori awareness of moral properties or of moral truths. (See G.E. Moore.)
      • Error theory holds that ethical claims do express propositions about objective facts, but that such claims are generally false. On an error theory, all ethical statements have a truth value: false. Thus the statement "Murder is bad" is false AND the statement "Murder is good" is false according to an error theory. J. L. Mackie is probably the best-known proponent of this view. (Note that error theory is also sometimes associated with moral skepticism, but they have some slight differences. Error theories are a type of moral skepticism, but there are other types of moral skepticism.)
    • Subjectivist theories hold that moral statements are made true or false by the attitudes and/or conventions of observers.
      • Moral relativism (compare "cultural relativism") holds that for a thing to be morally right is for it to be approved of by society; this leads to the conclusion that different things are right for people in different societies and different periods in history. Though long out of favor among academic philosophers, this view has been popular among anthropologists, such as Ruth Benedict.
      • Individualist subjectivism holds that there are as many distinct scales of good and evil as there are subjects in the world. This view was put forward by Protagoras.
      • Ideal observer theory holds that what is right is determined by the attitudes that a hypothetical ideal observer would have. An ideal observer is usually characterized as a being who is perfectly rational, imaginative, and informed, among other things. Though a subjectivist theory due to its reference to a particular (albeit hypothetical) subject, Ideal Observer Theory still purports to provide universal answers to moral questions.
      • Divine command theory holds that for a thing to be right is for a unique being, God, to approve of it, and that what is right for non-God beings is obedience to the divine will. This view was criticized by Plato in the Euthyphro (see the Euthyphro problem) but retains some modern defenders (Robert Adams, Philip Quinn, and others). Like Ideal Observer Theory, Divine Command Theory purports to be universalist despite its subjectivism.
  • Non-cognitivist theories hold that ethical sentences are neither true nor false because they do not express genuine propositions.
    • Emotivism, defended by A.J. Ayer and C.L. Stevenson, holds that ethical sentences serve merely to express emotions. So "Killing is wrong" means something like, "Boo on killing!"
    • Quasi-realism, defended by Simon Blackburn holds that ethical statements behave linguistically like factual claims and can be appropriately called "true" or "false", even though there are no ethical facts for them to correspond to. Projectivism and moral fictionalism are related theories.
    • Prescriptivism, defended by R.M. Hare holds that moral statements function like imperatives. So "Killing is wrong" means something like, "Don't kill!" Hare's version of prescriptivism requires that moral prescriptions be universalizable, and hence actually have objective values, in spite of failing to be statements with truth-values per se.

If nobody object to this in the next few days, I'm going to be bold and apply this to the article. Please comment. Thanks. -Pfhorrest (talk) 22:44, 18 September 2008 (UTC)

Pfhorrest, I find this proposal quite acceptable on first glance. Thanks for taking this on, I feel that I & others hit an impasse a few months ago and no one had the energy or confidence to proceed further. I am tempted to want to call Hare a moral rationalist still, and would suggest that moral rationalim could include his non-cognitive theory, which clearly has a rationalist base. But I don't know that ever used that term himself. So one possibility is that the article on moral rationalism could just state that qualification, and note how Hare's view might be a deviant version of, but essentially in the spirit of, moral rationalism. Alternately we could make finer distinctions here, but I'm not sure that's necessary. I say, proceed with your suggested revisions and we'll see if something better occurs to anyone later.--ScottForschler (talk) 16:23, 19 September 2008 (UTC)
Actually I think you do have a pretty good point that Hare could be called a rationalist. I think perhaps, rather than listing rationalism on-par with naturalism, it ought to be treated more like universalism, with notes in each theory's summary, as appropriate, whether this theory is empiricist or rationalist.
To be completely honest I think there are some serious problems with these standard methods of categorization, for my own personal metaethical stance (which is actually much like Hare's) is notoriously difficult to fit into this scheme: I want to say that ethical sentences do 'express propositions', inasmuch as they can be universally "true" or "false", correct or incorrect (which would make me a realist); but that the nature of those propositions is fundamentally different not only from "natural" propositions but "non-natural" or "supernatural" ones as well, proposing that things be rather than proposing that they are, and as such do not really predicate properties per se at all, and are more akin to imperative than indicative sentences (which would make me a noncognitivist); though they can still be correct or incorrect, and universally so, and what makes them so is akin to the truth criteria of ethical statements in Ideal Observer Theory (which according to this categorization would make me a subjectivist). I have my own solution to this categorization issue, but that would constitute significant original research and so unfortunately cannot be used here :( -Pfhorrest (talk) 20:56, 19 September 2008 (UTC)

I just had another thought: break down the page into sections for the three questions referenced at the top; semantics, metaphysics, and epistemology. What we have now would serve as a basis for the semantics section, and primarily discuss cognitivism vs noncognitivism. The metaphysics section would discuss universalism vs relativism. The epistemology section would discuss rationalism, rational intuitionism, sentimentalism, and empiricism. So Hare, for a good example, would be listed as a noncognitivist, a universalist, and a rationalist (or perhaps a rational intuitionist?). Does that sound good to everyone? -Pfhorrest (talk) 22:58, 19 September 2008 (UTC)

That might be useful, but I have some concerns still. Rationalism as I understand it is not merely an epistemological claim, but also a proposal about semantics (that "right" means something like "consistently approvable/endorsable"). Presumably this also has implications for how we might find out about what is right and wrong, but I don't think this is the core of the view. Which makes me realize that the definitions on the moral rationalism page are misleading in this respect. No doubt, Kant and Hare are epistemological rationalists in the sense that they think it is possible to use reason alone to reach moral truths, but the reason they think this is so is that moral truths are, simply, truths about reason, and this is what is most distinctive about their views.--ScottForschler (talk) 23:57, 20 September 2008 (UTC)
Hmm... I understand your concern there but that would seem to raise the same problem we've been having with categorizing Hare to begin with. Admittedly I'm not at all an expert on him (I only know of him through wikipedia), but from what I gather he claims his theory to be both what would be categorized here as noncognitivist (since moral sentences are like imperative, not indicative, sentences), and yet also what would be categorized here as rationalist. Now, if rationalism makes a semantic claim and not just an epistemic one, it must either be a cognitivist theory or a noncognitivist one since those categories are mutually exhaustive. So if Hare is both rationalist and noncognitivist, and rationalism makes a semantic claim, then rationalism must be a form of noncognitivism.
However, archetypical rationalists like Kant certainly seem happy to call moral claims "true" or "false", so that can't be so. So either Hare is making contradictory claims (or we're misunderstanding him), or rationalism does not entail a semantic claim. However, perhaps like how intuitionism (an epistemic claim) strongly suggests non-naturalism (a semantic claim), but does not entail it, rationalism (an epistemic claim) could strongly suggest cognitivism (a semantic claim), but not entail it, and Hare is just an example of that latter possibility. -Pfhorrest (talk) 06:42, 22 September 2008 (UTC)
I think you're right in the end, rationalism doesn't make a semantic claim; and it also seems to suggest cognitivism but Hare (for reasons I disagree with, though respect) bucks this trend. You stated this more clearly and correctly than I did above. One day I'll get around to editig the ethcial rationalism page more to clarify points such as this, thanks for discussing it.--ScottForschler (talk) 20:05, 2 October 2008 (UTC)
  hello everyone. i read your disscussion so far. it made me wonder about hare and rationalism, i still dont anderstand why
calling him rationalist. it is true that he claims that moral truths can be, by principal, revealed by ratio, but he is not
clearly claiming for the existance of such truth. maybe i didnt undestand him quite right, but i think he evokes the view that
everyone can put forward any moral proposition, and there is not necessarily only one that is true. rationalism, on the other
hand, is the view by which there is only one truth, like math, which can be revealed a-priori by ratio. hare, so i understood,
didnt dicuss the possibility of someone being wrong in their moral propositions, he just tried to show what do we mean when we
declair a moral proposition. have i missed something?  thanks for your great work so far guys.  matan.Hametaken
(talk) 23:40, 6 September 2009 (UTC)  —Preceding 

unsigned comment added by (talk) 23:27, 6 September 2009 (UTC)

More extensive reorganization[edit]

I am in the process of attempting a more extensive organization/reorganization of not just the listing of meta-ethics articles here, but of all of the meta-ethics articles on wikipedia, focusing on bringing them all into agreement with each other and with the main article on meta-ethics here. In the process of this, it has become clear to me that there is some contradictory use of terminology in different articles (and sometimes within the same article), and I would like to clear that up, move content around, and add redirects and disambiguations as necessary, so as to make this reorganization possible.

In particular, the terms whose meanings are in question are:

  • moral realism
  • moral objectivism
  • moral universalism
  • moral absolutism
  • moral relativism.

For your reference, I have diagrammed my proposed solution to the problem yet again, in more detail this time. Dotted lines indicate disambiguation links; dotted boxes indicate disambiguation articles; boxes with grey text are for categorical display only and do not represent actual wiki articles.

As has already been discussed here to a great degree, realism is rather contentious. From what I have read, the consensus seems to be that there are two senses of moral realism:

  • a "robust" sense which makes a semantic claim that moral judgements are cognitive assertions of factual propositions, an alethic claim that some such propositions are true, and a metaphysical claim that such propositions are about mind-independent features of the world; and
  • a "minimal" sense which merely claims that some moral judgements are in fact correct and that their correctness is independent of anyone's opinions on the matter, without making any semantic or metaphysical claims about the nature of such judgements (e.g. they may be subjective or even noncognitive).

As far as I can tell, the minimal sense of moral realism makes the exact same claim as moral universalism: the same moral judgements are correct or incorrect everywhere regardless of what people anywhere think is correct or incorrect. Furthermore, some senses of moral objectivism (in particular as used in a sourced quote on moral absolutism and some of the text on moral relativism) seems to mean the exact same thing as well.

Currently, our article on moral objectivism defines it in essence as robust moral realism minus the alethic claim; it is the set of all robust realist theories plus error theory. However, both the page on moral nihilism (where error theory redirects) and the SEP article on moral anti-realism seem to imply that error theory is a subcategory simply of cognitivism, not of objectivist cognitivism specifically; and the latter article in turn dubs non-error-theoretic forms of cognitivism as "moral success theory", encompassing both objectivist and subjectivist cognitivisms. If we adopt that notion of error theory in our taxonomy here, that would make our "moral objectivism" equivalent to our "robust moral realism".

However, in light of the frequent equivocation of universalism, realism, and objectivism, and the previous contentions on the moral objectivism page about the inclusion of Rand's objectivist ethics (which are now a separate article), I propose that rather than having moral objectivism just redirect to moral realism, we make it a disambiguation page directing people to either moral realism, moral universalism, or Objectivist ethics. Furthermore, I propose that we make moral realism discuss robust moral realism specifically and explicitly, diverting people to moral universalism for discussion of minimalist moral realism. The "also called..." parenthetical expression in the opening sentence on moral universalism can then list "moral objectivism" and "minimalist moral realism" as synonyms.

Further still, it seems that moral absolutism is being partly equivocated with universalism/objectivism/minimalist-realism, and partly differentiated as an "anti-contextual" class of theories, for lack of a better term; a class of theories opposed to situational ethics, consequentialism, etc. I would like to suggest that that article be used solely to discuss the latter type of theory, and that readers be again diverted to moral universalism for the general concept of a universal/objective/absolute/"non-relative" system of morality.

Which brings me to my last and most difficult point. Moral relativism. Just what the heck is it? From what I can tell just reading wiki here, the term is used in several distinct ways:

  • As the opposite of moral absolutism (of the "anti-contextual" sort)
  • As the opposite of moral universalism/objectivism/minimalist-realism.
  • As a specific semantic theory, a type of subjective cognitivism holding that moral sentences express propositions about the prevailing opinions of cultures.

I'm not really certain what the best course of action regarding this term is, but I have a rough thought. Just as I have recently created a (stub) article on individualist ethical subjectivism, we could create an article on cultural ethical subjectivism (or some other better-established equivalent term), clearly identify it as the main form of moral relativism in its own intro and the intro to moral relativism, and then have the former article focus on the specific semantic theory and the latter article focus on the more general issue of non-universalistic yet non-nihilistic ethical theories.

This still leaves the issue of "anti-absolutism" unresolved. The moral absolutism article suggests that consequentialism may be the best antonym, yet consequentialism is usually considered a class of normative ethical theory, not a meta-ethical theory. In my personal opinion consequentialism per se seems metaethical (just saying "I'm a consequentialist" doesn't tell your audience anything about what in particular you think is right or wrong, any more than "I'm a universalist" or "I'm a relativist" does), but this is wikipedia and my personal opinion isn't what matters. So I'm looking for ideas here.

A few other tangential thoughts:

  • there's a discussion going on over on Talk:Expressivism about the possibility of merging it and Noncognitivism. I'm not entirely certain that's the right course of action, but if we do go through with it I'm thinking we should merge them to Expressivism and have Noncognitivism distinguish between that and theological noncognitivism and noncognitivism in general.
  • I think we should move Cognitivsm (ethics) to either Moral cognitivism or Ethical cognitivism.
  • On that line of thought, I think we should standardize on whether articles on meta-ethics should be called "moral whatever" or "ethical whatever", when there are two such equivalent terms. Some terms, like value pluralism, escape this problem, but I think we could probably agree on some standard for all the others.

So, that's about it. I'm going to be directing people here from the talk pages of the various topics in question, so that discussion can all happen here in a centralized place. -Pfhorrest (talk) 10:06, 4 October 2008 (UTC)

I like most of this. And thanks for taking on this project. Two thoughts: (1) I may have spoken too quick when saying earlier that moral rationalism (my bailiwick) makes no semantic claim; what I should have said is that it does not make a single semantic claim, but includes any of several semantic views: Hare's universal prescriptivism, as well as the more robust views of Kant and most other rationalists (I'm not sure whether to call those naturalist or non-naturalist, it depends on whether "natural" includes logic; I'm tempted to say logic is natural, but non-empirical). These are minimally and robustly realist, respectively (thanks for this distinction!) But it definitely excludes all the other semantic categories you list, so it's not entirely semantically neutral.
(2) I used to think of "absolutist" ethics as a synonym for deontology, until I saw someone using "absolutism" to attack "wimpier" deontologists, so perhaps it's really a sub-category of deontology (as opposed to the Ross version, in which duties are prima facie but not absolute). But either way, it is a normative, not a meta-ethical view. I also think consequentialism is a normative view, or rather a family of normative views. Just because you don't know whether someone calling himself a consequentialist will, say oppose or support the death penalty, doesn't make the view non-normative; you don't know that of any given virtue ethicists or deontologist, either. But you do know what considerations they will find relevant. You also don't know from any of these claims what their meta-ethical position is, or at least not much about it: saying "we should do good work" or "we ought to be honest" is compatible with just about all the meta-ethical theories, except perhaps error theory. There is perhaps something we can call "meta-ethical consequentialism," perhaps the view that "right" just means "produces good consequences," but that's certainly not the standard use of the term. Hare, for one, meant something quite different by "right," but still thought that because of what it meant, it turned out that we ought to be consequentialists.--ScottForschler (talk) 21:20, 6 October 2008 (UTC)
Thanks for the feedback and general vote of confidence. Your two points actually raise some rather interesting questions. The first is about naturalism and non-naturalism. The way naturalism and non-naturalism are listed now, they're basically characterized as reductive and non-reductive forms of (robust) realism: non-naturalism says natural properties are simple and irreducible, while naturalism says they reduce to natural facts. However, there are two problems which make those categories, described as such, neither mutually exhaustive nor mutually exclusive.
  • The first is, as you sort of mention, the possibility of non-moral facts other than "natural" facts (which I take to be synonymous with "physical" facts and thus exclusive of purely logical or mathematical facts); that leave open room within realism for things which are neither naturalism nor "non-naturalism" (if the latter is taken to mean that moral properties are an irreducible class of their own) such as Kantianism appears to be.
  • The second is that according to the article on ethical naturalism, there are non-reductive forms of naturalism, which hold that moral properties are not reducible to natural properties, but merely supervene upon them. If I recall correctly, even Moore himself accepted that there can be no change in moral properties without a change in natural ones; he just denied that moral terms or properties could be strictly reduced to natural ones. So again, if ethical non-naturalism is taken as the stance that moral properties are an irreducible class of their own, then some forms of naturalism are also forms of non-naturalism.
These problems may (hopefully) be our own misstatement of these terms; however, I worry that there may actually be some confusion within the literature itself, which would make neatly categorizing them a problem. I'm realizing a similar issue with regards to non-cognitivism and expressivism; for the most part they seem like coextensive terms, but according to the expressivism page there are cognitivist forms of expressivism, ala Horgan and Timmons. (Personally I think Hare should be put into such a category, if it is valid at all). Yet I imagine that robust realists would deny that any form of expressivism could be cognitivist, and this disagreement seems to me to stem from different understandings of the term cognitivism. (As an aside, I think a similar misunderstanding about the terms belief and desire underlies the disagreement between Kantians and Humeans regarding whether there are such things as "moral beliefs").
Anyway, enough with that. Your second point raises another issue. I don't think I've ever actually seen the term "moral absolutism" used in philosophical literature. Normative classes and writings talk about virtue ethics vs deontology vs consequentialism, and metaethics classes and writings talk about naturalism, non-naturalism, subjectivism, expressivism, and so forth. For that matter, I don't recall seeing "moral universalism" or "moral relativism" used too frequently either, at least not in philosophical literature (anthropology, politics, etc, all the time, as with "absolutism"). The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy doesn't appear to have any article on moral absolutism or moral universalism (or moral objectivism for that matter), and its article on moral relativism treats absolutism, objectivism, and universalism synonymously. I found an interesting site for some class at Oxford University discussing relativism vs absolutism, but its sense of absolutism appears to be different from that used by SEP. Google's "define:" function only returns definitions from wikipedia here, so that's of no use, and (which is usually quite helpful in surveying dictionaries for definitions) only returns search results (mostly wiki again) for those terms, not definitions.
The point I'm getting at is, are universalism, relativism, and absolutism really academic philosophical terms at all? If so, we need to find definitive definitions of them and work from those. If not, we should redirect or disambiguate from those articles to articles on the relevant formal terms, and list their colloquial synonyms as "(also known as foo or bar)" in the ledes of the target articles.
Quick postscript, I have a related question regarding moral nihilism. Metaethical or normative category? And what is the name of its negation, into which both universalism and relativism fall? I gather from earlier discussion on this page that there is a much older sense of "realism" which could serve that role, but further overloading that term is the last thing we need to do here... -Pfhorrest (talk) 06:26, 7 October 2008 (UTC)

Ideal observer theory under ethical subjectivism?[edit]

Robert Firth, who is responsible for the modern version, held that ideal observer theory is objective, essentially because it does not depend on the existence of experiencing agents. This is not undisputed, but I think is very good reason not to just group ideal observer theory under subjectivism. Warm Worm (talk) 21:35, 29 April 2011 (UTC)

The meaning of "objective" seems to vary from from one author to the next, much like "realism". The standard we settled on for categorizing the various metaethics article is to use the "robust" sense of Moral realism, by which anything which is not realism in that sense is either subjectivism, error theory, or noncognitivism; and then to disambiguate "moral objectivism" between that and Moral universalism (and Rand's crap). Ideal observer theory is definitely objective in the sense synonymous with moral universalism, but since it defines morality in terms of the attitudes of a particular entity, albiet a hypothetical one, that makes it strictly subjectivist in the sense contrasted with the objectivity criteria of the "robust" sense of moral realism. --Pfhorrest (talk) 01:40, 30 April 2011 (UTC)

I want to clarify that I mean Roderick Firth, I'm not sure what my brain was doing there.

Yeah, there's definitely not total agreement on what exactly is meant by "objective" and "subjective." I would guess part of that stems from the tremendously vague definitions that are frequently thrown about of objective as "mind-independent" and subjective as "mind-dependent."

Firth's use of "objective" is distinct from universalism. He considers a view subjective if under it moral propositions would be false by definition if no experiencing agents existed, and objective if not. I see that the ethical subjectivism page is based on a definition from Richard Brandt. Brandt though seems to have accepted Firth's classification of ideal observer theory as objective: (I'm of course not sure if you have full jstor access, but even if not, you can see him say it is objective without comment on the first page, and he says nothing contrary to that in the rest of the text.)

I wouldn't have a real issue with the classification it if it was just article categorizing, but whether the theory is objective or subjective is part of the actual encyclopedic content. Summarily saying ideal observer theory is subjective based on a Wikipedia standard without further comment is misleading. Like you said, there isn't real consensus on what is meant by "objective" and "subjective." Why do these articles make it seem like there is?

Maybe this is something that would best be dealt with on the ideal observer theory talk page? I guess I'll probably make a similar post there. I don't really know the protocol for this sort of thing. Warm Worm (talk) 11:41, 5 May 2011 (UTC)

I've been thinking about this a bit more, and I'm curious as to why the decision was made to use robust moral realism for classification purposes. The minimal moral realism/anti-realism distinction is fairly clear cut, but once the objectivism condition is added some views weave between between realism & anti-realism based on how "objective" is understood.

Anyway, I'm interested in working on the ethical subjectivism article & expanding to discuss various ways in which the distinction can be understood. I've noticed you're especially active on the meta-ethics topics so I wanted to run it by you first; do you think that would be useful? It wouldn't be immediate, just sometime in the nearish future. Warm Worm (talk) 16:00, 5 May 2011 (UTC)

I would be happy to see more written on the various different uses of terms and distinctions between them, like there currently is on Moral realism, which is where the discussion that lead to the current metaethics article organization came from. The one thing I want to be cautious about is making sure that each article remains on one particular topic, not on many different topics which are variously referred to be the same term. IIRC wiki policy is that articles correspond to topics, not to terms, though I can't find that policy article right now but I'm in a rush to sleep soon. Basically, I want to avoid what was going on at articles like Moral absolutism, which couldn't seem to tell whether it was talking about the opposite of relativism, the opposite of consequentialism, or what.
In an attempt to fix that problem, I've tried to make sure:
  • that if there is a topic with only one associated term, but other topics for that same term, that the articles for those other topics are listed in disambiguation at the head of the article (like moral realism);
  • that if there is a term with only one associated topic, but other terms for that same topic, the article for that topic is named with that term, with other terms for the topic mentioned immediately in the lede (like moral universalism);
  • that if there is a term with several associated topics, all of which have other, less ambiguous associated terms, then the article for that term is a disambiguation page (like moral objectivism); and
  • that if there is a term with several associated topics, none of which have other, less ambiguous associated terms, that the article under that term clearly distinguishes between the different senses (like moral relativism).
Anyway good luck with the editing, I'll be watching (all these pages are on my watchlist) and will comment if I have any objections to anything. :) --Pfhorrest (talk) 07:44, 6 May 2011 (UTC)

Wrong Link to Richard Garner[edit]

Just a note: In the first line of the first section "Meta-ethical questions", when you click on the Link "Richard Garner" you end up at a Wiki page that refers to a different Richard Garner (a Canadian sports broadcaster) than the one actually referred to in this article. — Preceding unsigned comment added by (talk) 05:01, 7 January 2012 (UTC)

Muddled hed[edit]

From the hed:

Meta-ethics is one of the three branches of ethics generally recognized by philosophers, the others being normative ethics and applied ethics. Ethical theory and applied ethics make up normative ethics.

This seems, if not contradictory, at least confused, since it suggests that applied ethics is both part of and counter-posed to normative ethics. Can someone clarify, either here or in the article? · rodii · 17:30, 21 April 2012 (UTC)

Good catch, thanks. Not sure where that came from. Fixed now. --Pfhorrest (talk) 02:27, 22 April 2012 (UTC)
Thanks. · rodii · 15:07, 29 April 2012 (UTC)

Why does Daniel Dunn redirect to this article?[edit]

Does anyone know why Daniel Dunn redirects to this article? Senator2029 (talk) 19:04, 28 April 2012 (UTC)

I have changed it to now redirect to Daniel Donne. If there are objections, please let me know. Senator2029 (talk) 19:21, 28 April 2012 (UTC)


The article's Emotivism section, which is set forth near the end of this Semantic Theories section, states that in the emotivist view '..."Killing is wrong" means something like "Boo on killing!" ' A negative of that 'Boo' quotation is that it implies that the speaker of the ethical statement is childlike, unrefined, etc, in the emotivist view. Is there some more-dignified phrasing?, e.g. 'Killing sickens me' or 'Killing disgusts me.' -Bo99

Those don't mean the same thing as either "Killing is wrong" or "Boo on killing!". Ayer might say yours mean something that can be true or false whereas his do not.—Machine Elf 1735 06:15, 17 June 2014 (UTC)
But is there some more-dignified phrasing?, e.g. 'Down with killing!' Bo99 (talk) 14:53, 17 June 2014 (UTC)
We should use an actual example given by Ayer. "Boo..." is well known because it's almost nonsensical.—Machine Elf 1735 15:37, 17 June 2014 (UTC)
Wikipedia is allowed to paraphrase more-primary sources, such as Ayer. So pls reconsider 'Down with killing', because the 'Boo on killing' phrase tends to harm philosophy's reputation. But if you insist on using only examples given by Ayer, pls consider the sentence '..."Killing is wrong" means something like speaking of killing with horror.' Bo99 (talk) 15:47, 17 June 2014 (UTC)
We should keep the current wording for reasons already explained above. — goethean 19:04, 17 June 2014 (UTC)
I see essentially three reasons above, all allowing or favoring inclusion of Ayer's alternative sentence (quoted in my immediately-preceding posting, at the end). Bo99 (talk) 23:13, 17 June 2014 (UTC)

So the sentence at issue, near the end of this Semantic Theories section, would be expanded, to state in full,
'So "Killing is wrong" means something like speaking of killing with horror, or, in extreme short form, "Boo on killing!" '
Bo99 (talk) 14:37, 18 June 2014 (UTC)
Please see WP:OR.—Machine Elf 1735 19:49, 18 June 2014 (UTC)
The sentence quoted just above is not original research or original thought; it's Ayer's thoughts. Bo99 (talk) 19:55, 18 June 2014 (UTC)


I offer no excuse for the following question other than my own curiosity. Can anyone name me a contemporary (living as of 2015) academic/published thinker on ethical/meta-ethical questions whose views may fairly be described as (a) cognitivist, (b) intuitionist, (c) consequentialist, and (d) pluralist. It seems a natural combination. It amounts to saying we can have knowledge of what is good, through intuition (rather than inference), that acts which INCREASE in sum of goodness so understood are right actions, but that there may be a plurality of conflicting right courses of conduct.

I think for example that Isaiah Berlin would probably have qualified on all counts if I had asked 20 years ago. Any suggestions will be very appreciated. Christofurio (talk) 17:48, 15 February 2015 (UTC)

Technical Language[edit]

As someone with little grounding in philosophy, some sections of this article are too dense to get through - shorter sentences, reduced use of jargon, and clear explanation of terms before their use (or immediately following their initial use) would help a lot. As an example, this sentence explaining non-centralism in the Centralism and Non-centralism section:

  • "Non-centralism has been of particular importance to ethical naturalists in the late 20th and early 21st centuries as part of their argument that normativity is a non-excisable aspect of language and that there is no way of analyzing thick moral concepts into a purely descriptive element attached to a thin moral evaluation, thus undermining any fundamental division between facts and norms"

Phrasing like "non-excisable," the extreme length of this sentence, and use of the word normativity without explaining its meaning make these passages a challenge to understand for laymen. I'm proposing adding the {{Technical}} tag to the article to help address this. (talk) 18:55, 9 September 2016 (UTC)

  1. ^ Moral Realism