The Invention and Re-invention of Meta-ethics

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In this article we pose three questions: 1) What are the questions that gave rise to the introduction of the concept and subdiscipline of meta-ethics? 2) What characterises the view of meta-ethics as a subdiscipline of moral philosophy? And 3) is it in fact possible to uphold a systematic distinction between normative moral philosophy and meta-ethics in a way that allows us to see these two aspects of moral philosophy as independent subdisciplines? In trying to answer these questions, we trace two different roads in the shaping of the current understanding of meta-ethics: the introduction of the word in analytical moral philosophy and the characterisation of meta-ethics in the formative period of meta-ethics and in contemporary introductions. Among the characteristics ascribed to meta-ethics, we identify a special focus on normative neutrality, and we furthermore show that this idea of neutrality as the defining characteristic of meta-ethics cannot be upheld. Our aim is to show that meta-ethics cannot be characterised or construed in a way that is normatively neutral and independent of other work done in normative ethics. We therefore challenge the claim that meta-ethics makes up a subdiscipline that is independent of other work done in moral philosophy. Instead, we suggest a reflective view of the relationship between meta-ethics and normative ethics, according to which we should acknowledge that meta-ethics is inherently normative, and that meta-ethical questions are interwoven with normative questions in moral philosophy.

TidsskriftThe Journal of Value Inquiry
StatusE-pub ahead of print - 18. feb. 2023

Bibliografisk note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2023, The Author(s), under exclusive licence to Springer Nature B.V.


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