My PhD is an attempt to take one of the less favoured positions in metaethics, moral relativism, and defend it particularly against one of the more popular and active schools of thought, moral error theory.
Among the various intuitions which people have about ethics and metaethics, some degree of moral relativism is quite common. Yet while there are academic philosophers who defend versions of it, to quote the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, 'moral relativism has the unusual distinction - both within philosophy and outside it - of being attributed to others, almost always as a criticism, far more often than it is explicitly professed by anyone.' This is not without reason, as there are some very tricky questions raised by moral relativism, particularly about normativity. I aim to contribute to the efforts to answer those questions.
Moral error theory, on the other hand, involves the counterintuitive thesis that there are no objective values, and therefore all moral judgments are systematically false. Despite sounding odd to the layman, moral error theory has been intensively debated over the past few years, and has been powerfully defended by a number of illustrious thinkers. I aim to show how moral relativism and moral error theory can both be used in a novel way to describe moral practise as it currently is, and how it should be conceived of in the future.
This project was motivated by preoccupations with the objectivity of morality and nihilism. In my Masters dissertation, I argued against Divine Command Theory, and now I am interested in arguing against the objectivity of moral values in general. Thus I see a rejuvenated form of moral relativism as a post-nihilist possibility for making sense of a world of devoid of 'thou shalt', while retaining a genuinely moral dimension in human life.
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