If normative ethics provides us with a (rationally defensible) theory of right and wrong action, we still need a theory that can tell us something about ‘rightness’ and ‘wrongness’ and what is involved in using these terms. There are many different types of meta-ethical theories. It is worth familiarising yourself with some of the more well-known ones as it will help you to understand how these different theories fit together and the kinds of philosophical problems they throw up. Here is a list of positions (and representative philosophers) for you to look up and familiarise yourself with:

Universalism e.g. Kant, Rawls

Relativism e.g. Marx, Nietzsche, Freud

Realist/Cognitivist e.g. Plato, Hare

Anti-Realist/Non-Cognitivist e.g. Blackburn

Intuitionism e.g. Moore

Emotivism e.g. Ayer

Prescriptivism e.g. Carnap

The following books might be good places to start your research…

R. Lindley, “The Nature of Moral Philosophy” in G.H.R. Parkinson (ed.) An Encyclopaedia of Philosophy. [Ch. 23, pp. 517-540]

R. M. Hare “A Taxonomy of Ethical Theories” in Sorting Out Ethics (Oxford, O.U.P., 1997, p. 42)


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