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Ohio Open Ed Collaborative
Ethics, Metaethics, Oah0462, Philosophy
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Education Standards

5 Metaethics


This section includes introductory and intermediate resources for metaethics. It includes links to open education textbooks with chapters on metaethics that can be used for a brief introduction to meta-ethics, as well as original source readings on topics in meta-ethics. A link to Plato's Euthyphro is included for discussion of the Euthyphro problem, which is related to criticisms of Divine Command Theory and issues having to do with the source and justification of moral judgments. As well, portions of Hume's Treatise is included as it regards the source and justification of moral judgments. There are also links to G. E. Moore's Open Question argument and other links to help students understand the main issues in metaethics. The textbook chapters and original source materials can be used together to orient students to the main issues, as well as to introduce them to the original arguments.

Learning Objectives

  1. Recognize basic ethical concepts and ethical theories, such as, absolutism, descriptivism, relativism, absolutism, naturalism, intuitionism, utilitarianism, Kantianism, and virtue ethics. Other ethical concepts specific to meta-ethics that students may learn in this module: naturalism/non-naturalism, realism/non-realism, cognitivism/non-cognitivism, conventionalism, subjectivism, prescriptivism, emotivism
  2. Demonstrate increased awareness and understanding of complex issues and complex ethical issues as presented in philosophic texts.
  3. Demonstrate exposure to and recognition of philosophical arguments addressing traditional and contemporary ethical and moral issues within the contexts and traditions that inform them.
  4. Comprehend, analyze, and evaluate diverse philosophical arguments regarding ethical matters within the contexts and traditions those matters are cast.
  5. Develop an ability to (re)present complex philosophical ideas, theories, and perspectives fairly, objectively, and critically.

Recommended Textbook Resources

Ethics for A-Level  (Dimmock & Fisher)

Licensed under a CC-BY 4.0 International License.

Introduces students to some of the main issues in meta-ethics, including:

  • a discussion of cognitivism/non-cognitivism (and its varieties),
  • realism v. anti-realism,
  • naturalism v. non-naturalism,
  • intuitionism,
  • G.E. Moore's meta-ethical theory,
  • W. D. Ross,
  • The Argument from Queerness (J.L. Mackie) and objections to the Argument from Queerness.
  • common student errors in learning meta-ethics,
  • key terminology for meta-ethics,
  • issues to consider.

Suggested Use: This chapter would be needed for a more in-depth discussion of traditionally covered topics. 

An Introduction to Philosophy (G.E. Moore and W.D. Ross)

Licensed under a a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

Covers the topics below not covered by Ethics for A-Level:

  • Conventionalism
  • Divine Command Theory
  • Moral Relativism

Suggested Use: This chapter would provide an introductory discussion of meta-ethics alone.

Supplemental Content/ Resources

Helpful tools for student understanding of the main issues in meta-ethics. 

David Hume's Treatise of Human Nature, BOOK III OF MORALS, PART i OF VIRTUE AND VICE IN GENERAL.

Suggested Use: The content here would work nicely alone or as a supplement to one of the textbook chapters above. The link is from early modern texts, which provides notes to help the reader, so it is nicely accessible for students who aren't familiar with Hume's writings. The link contains Part ii, but this part isn't necessary for meta-ethics. The discussion here covers Hume's view that moral judgments aren't a species of reason, as they fall under neither matters of fact or relations of ideas. This part also covers Hume's view that morals are derived from a moral sense.

G. E. Moore, Principia Ethics, Excerpt, 1903

Suggested Use: The illustrations may be helpful to beginning students, in particular. Please see chapter 6, page 130 for the Euthyphro. Students/Instructors may wish to focus on 10a - 11b for the Euthyphro problem, specifically, as it relates to Divine Command Theory and problems with treating a Divine Being as the source of morality.The pdf included here contains Plato's entire Euthyphro in an open resource book containing three of Plato's dialogues.

Crash Course: Meta-ethics (PBS) You Tube Video – 9 mins., 33 seconds

Crash Course: Divine Command Theory (PBS) You Tube Video – 9 mins., 01 second

Hume Is-Ought Problem (Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy) (Cohon, Rachel, "Hume's Moral Philosophy", The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Fall 2018 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.)

Introduction to Meta-ethics (Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy)

Mackie’s Argument from Queerness --

Moore’s Open Question Argument (an argument against the view that goodness is a natural property, such as pleasure):

"Moore's Moral Philosophy", The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Fall 2015 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.)