Metaethics - PL595

Location Term Level Credits (ECTS) Current Convenor 2019-20
Canterbury Spring
View Timetable
5 30 (15)







What makes it the case that certain actions, such as stealing and sharing, have ethical value? Are ethical values such as goodness and badness, compassion and cruelty, mind-independent ethical properties, properties that exist no matter what anyone thinks, desires, aims at and the like? Or are there no such ethical properties at all and when we call something good we are just expressing our emotions and feelings about a non-ethical world? Are there any other positions available?

This course is designed to introduce you to some of the most exciting and interesting philosophical literature in recent years, which brings together ethics and metaphysics with a little epistemology and philosophy of language. The first half of this course will examine (what are often called) "metaethical" questions such as those above. We will then move on to discuss debates concerning moral psychology and motivation. When one says 'charity-giving is good' is it a matter of necessity that one will be motivated to some extent to give to charity? Or is it possible for one to make such a judgement and have no motivation at all (and for such a judgement to count as a legitimate moral judgement)? At the end we will see how these questions concerning psychology are integral to the earlier debates of metaphysics.


This module appears in:

Contact hours

Total Contact Hours: 40


Also available at Level 6 (PL569)

Method of assessment

• Essay (2,500 words) – 60%
• Summary (1,000 words) – 30%
• Seminar Performance – 10%

Indicative reading

Indicative Reading List

Fisher, A. and Kirchin, S. (eds.) (2006). Arguing about Metaethics, London: Routledge
Miller, A. (2003). An Introduction to Contemporary Metaethics, Cambridge: Polity
McNaughton, D. (1988). Moral Vision. Oxford: Blackwell
Shafer-Landau, R. and Cuneo, T. (eds.) (2007). The Foundations of Ethics: An Anthology. Oxford: Blackwell

See the library reading list for this module (Canterbury)

Learning outcomes

On successfully completing the module, Level 5 students will be able to:

Outline and show understanding through clear expression of selected authors and topics in contemporary metaethics (content);
Demonstrate the foundations of skills in exegesis, critical analysis, and assessment of a small selection of contemporary journal articles in metaethics (research/content);
Outline and show understanding through clear expression of the arguments for and against (including counter replies, etc.), and the relationships between the topics covered in the class;
Engage with original metaethics texts;
Engage in philosophical argumentation.

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