Building bridges in ethics: connecting ethics and metaethics

Dr. Jussi Suikkanen will lead a new 18 month project, funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council, on the connection between normative and metaethics.  In his words:

‘The research project will have two parts. These parts will be pursued simultaneously, even if the results of the first part will help to guide the second part. The first part will investigate how different philosophers have understood the connection between metaethics and normative ethics in the past. I will look at the attempts to show that the main views in metaethics do not have any consequences for what is right and wrong. These arguments have usually been put forward by those who defend the idea that moral language expresses our desires and emotions and by those who think that moral qualities of actions are of their own unique kind. I will also critically examine the arguments that have tried to draw moral conclusions from metaethics or metaethical conclusions on the basis of what is right and wrong. For example, Richard Hare famously argued that because moral claims express general prescriptions some form of utilitarianism is true.

The second part of the project develops a new way of understanding the connection between normative ethics and metaethics. I will argue that normative ethicists will need to explain why their favourite ethical theories are knowably true. In such explanations, they will have to rely on metaethical views about moral language, thought and properties. This means that normative ethicists must do metaethics and metaethicists normative ethics. I will also argue that the best views in metaethics will constrain which ethical theories are defensible. If this is right, then these areas of moral philosophy are deeply intertwined and therefore making advances in these fields will require much more co-operation between metaethics and normative ethics.’