What is this thing called Metaethics?  book cover
1st Edition

What is this thing called Metaethics?

ISBN 9781138827622
Published October 13, 2016 by Routledge
176 Pages 3 B/W Illustrations

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Book Description

Are moral standards relative to cultures? Are there any moral facts? What is goodness? If there are moral facts how do we learn about them? These are all questions in metaethics, the branch of ethics that investigates the status of morality, the nature of ethical facts, and the meaning of ethical statements. To the uninitiated it can appear abstract and far removed from its two more concrete cousins, ethical theory and applied ethics, yet it is one of the fastest-growing and most exciting areas of ethics. What is this thing called Metaethics? demystifies this important subject and is ideal for students coming to it for the first time. Beginning with a brief historical overview of metaethics and the development of a "conceptual toolkit," Matthew Chrisman introduces and assesses the following key topics:

• ethical reality: including questions about naturalism and non-naturalism, moral facts, and the distinction between realism and antirealism

• ethical language: does language represent reality? What mental states are expressed by moral statements?

• ethical psychology: the Humean theory of motivation and the connection between moral judgement and motivation

• ethical knowledge: intuitionist and coherentist moral epistemologies, and theories of objectivity and relativism in metaethics

• new directions in metaethics, including non-traditional theories and extensions to metaepistemology and metanormative theory.

Additional features such as chapter summaries, questions of understanding, and a glossary make this an ideal introduction to metaethics.

Table of Contents





Chapter 1. Four Key Issues

Questions about Ethics and Metaphysics

Questions about Ethics and Epistemology

Questions about Ethics and Philosophy of Language

Questions about Ethics and Philosophy of Mind

Chapter 2. Nonnaturalism

A More Precise Characterization

The Case for Nonnaturalism

Arguments against Nonnaturalism

Chapter 3. Expressivism

Arguments in Favor of Expressivism

Versions and Objections

Chapter 4. Error Theory & Fictionalism

Mackie’s Arguments for Error Theory

Objections and Replies

Versions of Fictionalism

Chapter 5. Naturalism

Neo-Aristotelian Naturalism

Relativism as a Form of Naturalism

A Posteriori Naturalism

A Priori Network Naturalism

Chapter 6. Summary and Chart

The Four Main Areas

Costs and Benefits

Chapter 7. Theories That Are Hard to Classify in Traditional Terms

Beliefs or Desires—Why Not a Bit of Both?

Ethical Facts—Why do they have to be "out there"?


Chapter 8. Outstanding Issues

From Metaethics to Metanormative Theory

From Metaethics to Metaepistemology 



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Matthew Chrisman teaches and researches ethics, epistemology, and philosophy of language at the University of Edinburgh, UK. He also works on action theory, political philosophy, deontic logic and the ethics of climate change.


"This is an outstanding introductory text that combines clear, concise, and detailed coverage of all of the traditional metaethical positions, with original and distinctive treatments of new developments in metaethics, and with a fascinating discussion of how metaethical thinking relates to more broadly normative issues. It will be an excellent resource for students and their teachers alike."
Michael Brady, University of Glasgow, UK