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Metaethics after Moore$
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Terry Horgan and Mark Timmons

Print publication date: 2006

Print ISBN-13: 9780199269914

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: May 2010

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199269914.001.0001

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How Should Ethics Relate to (the Rest of) Philosophy? Moore's Legacy

How Should Ethics Relate to (the Rest of) Philosophy? Moore's Legacy

(p.17) 1 How Should Ethics Relate to (the Rest of) Philosophy? Moore's Legacy
Metaethics after Moore

Stephen Darwall

Oxford University Press

In the first chapter of Principia Ethica, ‘The Subject-Matter of Ethics’, Moore spends the first four sections explaining his conception of the field of ethics. In these passages, he refers to an ‘ideal of ethical science’ (56) which he divides into two main parts. First, there are semantic and related metaphysical questions about the meanings of moral terms (and the concepts they express) and, second, there are questions about what sorts of items possess the properties which moral terms denote. Two theses emerge from Moore's discussion of the subject matter of ethics. First is the independence thesis, according to which semantic and related metaphysical questions — questions of metaethics — can be pursued independently of and are properly prior to enquiry into substantive matters about the kinds of items that are good or bad, right or wrong, virtuous or vicious. Second, Moore holds a certain primacy thesis, according to which the concept of goodness (and badness) is more fundamental than and can be used to define the concepts of rightness (and wrongness) and virtue (and vice). Thus, for Moore, the study of ethics, properly conducted, should begin with an enquiry focused on the concept of goodness. This chapter challenges both the claims of independence and priority. It argues that although metaethics and normative ethics are properly focused on different issues, they need to be brought into dynamic relation with one another in order to produce a systematic and defensible philosophical ethics. This mutual dependence is owing to the fact that issues of normativity are at the center of the concerns of both metaethics and normative ethics.

Keywords:   Principia Ethics, metaethics, Moore, independence, priority, normative ethics, normativity

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