Metaethics and Moral Epistemology

Eight classes x 90 minutes

Sessions 1–4: Michaelmas, Weeks 1–4, Mondays 1100–1230
Sessions 5–8: Lent, Weeks 1–4, Thursdays 1200–1330

Faculty Board Room, Raised Faculty Building, Sidgwick Avenue

Dr N Krishna (nk459)

This class will be split over Michaelmas and Lent terms. The intended audience for this is Part II students studying for the Cambridge Philosophy tripos; MPhil students and PhD students are welcome to attend, though their interests will be subordinated to those of undergraduates in the event of any conflict. The class will involve short presentations from the convener or volunteers, but be focused on discussion of the set readings. Students interested in this course are strongly advised also to attend the lecture course on ‘Intuitionism and Testimony’ in Lent Term. Glossary: [R] denotes required reading that all participants will be expected to have read; [C] denotes a classic text; [S] denotes a survey. Cambridge students may contact the convenor (nk459) for access to scanned copies of all set readings, available here (password-protected).


Michaelmas Term

  1. Moral realism and the naturalist challenge

[R] Philippa Foot, Natural Goodness (New York: Oxford University Press, 2001), 26–51.

Simon Blackburn, “In the Beginning Was the Deed,” in Ruling Passions: A Theory of Practical Reasoning (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1998), 48–51.

[S] Stephen Darwall, Allan Gibbard, and Peter Railton, “Toward Fin de Siècle Ethics: Some Trends,” The Philosophical Review 101, no. 1 (1992): 115–89.

Rosalind Hursthouse, “Naturalism,” in On Virtue Ethics (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2001), 192–216.

[S] Matthew Lutz and James Lenman, “Moral Naturalism,” in The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, ed. Edward N. Zalta, Fall 2018 (Metaphysics Research Lab, Stanford University, 2018). [URL]

[C] G. E. Moore, “The Subject-Matter of Ethics,” in Principia Ethica, ed. Tom Baldwin (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1993), 53–88.

[S] David Papineau, “Naturalism,” in The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, ed. Edward N. Zalta, Winter 2016 (Metaphysics Research Lab, Stanford University, 2016). [URL]

Huw Price, “Naturalism without Representationalism,” in Naturalism Without Mirrors (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011), 184–199.

Bernard Williams, “Naturalism,” in Truth and Truthfulness: An Essay in Genealogy (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2002), 22–27.

  1. Naturalism, error theory, fictionalism

[R] Richard Joyce, The Myth of Morality (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2001), 1–29, 206–31.

Terence Cuneo, “The Parity Premise,” in The Normative Web: An Argument for Moral Realism (New York: Oxford University Press, 2007), 89–114.

[S] Hallvard Lillehammer, “Companions in Guilt: Entailment, Analogy and Absorption,” in Companions in Guilt Arguments in Metaethics, ed. Christopher Cowie and Richard Rowland (Routledge, forthcoming).

[C] J. L. Mackie, “The Subjectivity of Values,” in Ethics: Inventing Right and Wrong (New York: Penguin Books, 1977), 15–49.

  1. Emotivism, expressivism, quasi-realism

[R] Simon Blackburn, “How to Be an Ethical Antirealist,” Midwest Studies in Philosophy 12, no. 1 (1988): 361–375.

[C] AJ Ayer, “Critique of Ethics and Theology,” in Language, Truth and Logic, 2nd ed. (New York: Dover Publications, 1952), 103–25.

Simon Blackburn, “Quasi-Realism No Fictionalism,” in Fictionalism in Metaphysics, ed. Mark Eli Kalderon (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005), 322–338.

[C] Philippa Foot, “Moral Arguments,” Mind 67, no. 268 (1958): 502–513; reprinted in Virtues and Vices and Other Essays in Moral Philosophy (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1978), 96–109.

David Lewis, “Quasi-Realism is Fictionalism,” in Fictionalism in Metaphysics, ed. Mark Eli Kalderon (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005), 314–321.

[S] Mark Schroeder, “What is the Frege-Geach Problem?,” Philosophy Compass 3, no. 4 (2008): 703–720.

  1. Perspectivalism

[R] Bernard Williams, Ethics and the Limits of Philosophy (With a Commentary on the Text by A. W. Moore), Reissue (Abingdon: Routledge, 2006 [1985]), 132–173. Also, AW Moore, ‘Commentary on the text’, 216–19 of the 2006 Routledge edition.

[S] Simon Blackburn, “The Absolute Conception: Putnam vs Williams,” in Reading Bernard Williams, ed. Daniel Callcut (Routledge, 2008); reprinted in Practical Tortoise Raising (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2010), 245–61.

[C] Iris Murdoch, “The Sovereignty of Good Over Other Concepts,” in Existentialists and Mystics, ed. Peter J. Conradi (London: Penguin Books, 1999 [1967]), 363–85.

John McDowell, “Values and Secondary Qualities,” in Morality and Objectivity, ed. Ted Honderich (Boston: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1984), 110–29; reprinted in Mind, Value, and Reality (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1998), 131–150.

Hilary Putnam, “Objectivity and the Science—Ethics Distinction,” in The Quality of Life, ed. Amartya Sen and Martha Nussbaum (New York: Oxford University Press, 1993), 143–57.

Lent Term [tbc]

  1. Constructivism

* Christine M. Korsgaard, “Realism and Constructivism in Twentieth-Century Moral Philosophy,” Journal of Philosophical Research 28, no. Supplement (2003): 99–122; reprined in The Constitution of Agency (New York: Oxford University Press, 2008), 302–25.

John Rawls, “Kantian Constructivism in Moral Theory,” Journal of Philosophy 77, no. 9 (1980): 515–572.

Sharon Street, “What Is Constructivism in Ethics and Metaethics?,” Philosophy Compass 5, no. 5 (2010): 363–384.


  1. Genealogical debunking

* Sharon Street, “A Darwinian Dilemma for Realist Theories of Value,” Philosophical Studies 127, no. 1 (2006): 109–166.

Amia Srinivasan, “The Archimedean Urge,” Philosophical Perspectives 29, no. 1 (2015): 325–362.

Bernard Williams, “Philosophy as a Humanistic Discipline,” Philosophy 75, no. 4 (October 2000): 477–96; reprinted in Philosophy as a Humanistic Discipline, ed. A. W. Moore (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2008), 180–199.


  1. Relaxed realism

* Ronald Dworkin, “Objectivity and Truth: You’d Better Believe It,” Philosophy & Public Affairs 25, no. 2 (1996): 87–139.

Thomas Nagel, “Ethics,” in The Last Word (New York: Oxford University Press, 1997), 101–26.

Derek Parfit, “Metaphysics,” in On What Matters, vol. 2 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011), 464–87.

T. M. Scanlon, “Metaphysical Objections,” in Being Realistic about Reasons (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2014), 17–52.


  1. Pragmatism

* Richard Rorty, “Private Irony and Liberal Hope,” in Contingency, Irony, and Solidarity (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1989), 73–95.

Huw Price and David Macarthur, “Pragmatism, Quasi-Realism and the Global Challenge,” in The New Pragmatists, ed. Cheryl J. Misak (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2007), 92–120; reprinted in Huw Price, Naturalism without Mirrors (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011), 228–52;

Huw Price, “Two Paths to Pragmatism,” in Naturalism without Mirrors (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011), 80–111.

Huw Price, “From Quasirealism to Global Expressivism – and Back Again?,” in Passions and Projections: Themes from the Philosophy of Simon Blackburn (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2015), 134–52.