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PHIL315 Are There Moral Facts?

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Are there objective moral facts, or should we embrace moral nihilism or moral relativism? Examination of classic answers to this question developed in 20th- and 21st-century philosophy.

This paper provides an in-depth introduction to one of the most vibrant and fast-growing areas of contemporary philosophy. It introduces some of the main themes and issues in 20th-century and contemporary analytic metaethics. Topics covered will include G.E. Moore on ethical naturalism and the open-question argument; A. J. Ayer's emotivism; Simon Blackburn's quasi-realism; Allan Gibbard's norm-expressivism; John Mackie's "error-theory" of morality; internalism and externalism about moral psychology; and contemporary naturalist moral realism.

Paper title Are There Moral Facts?
Paper code PHIL315
Subject Philosophy
EFTS 0.15
Points 18 points
Teaching period Second Semester (On campus)
Domestic Tuition Fees (NZD) $913.95
International Tuition Fees (NZD) $4,073.40

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One 200-level PHIL paper
PHIL 234
Schedule C
Arts and Music
This paper will particularly appeal to students with interests in ethical theory, philosophy of mind, philosophy of language or metaphysics.
Teaching staff
Convenor and Lecturer: Professor Alex Miller
Seminar Leader: To be advised
Paper Structure
In the lectures we will introduce some of the main topics discussed in 20th-century and contemporary metaethics, including:
  • G.E. Moore's Open Question argument against ethical naturalism and his own brand of ethical non-naturalism
  • A. J. Ayer's emotivist account of moral judgement
  • Simon Blackburn's development of emotivism into his Quasi-Realism
  • Allan Gibbard's norm-expressivist account of moral judgement
  • J. L. Mackie's argument from queerness and error theory of moral judgement
  • Internalist and externalist accounts of the relationship between moral judgement and motivation
  • Nonreductive naturalist versions of moral realism
The seminars will complement the lectures; in particular, we will discuss a number of the primary texts discussed in the lectures. These are all available in Fisher and Kirchin (eds.) Arguing About Metaethics (details below).

  • Final 3-hour exam 70%
  • Two 3,500-word essays 15% each
Teaching Arrangements

This paper is taught via a 2-hour weekly lecture and a 1-hour weekly seminar.


Alexander Miller, Contemporary Metaethics: An Introduction (Cambridge, Polity Press 2013).

Andrew Fisher and Simon Kirchin (eds.), Arguing About Metaethics (London: Routledge 2006).

Graduate Attributes Emphasised
Scholarship, Communication, Critical thinking, Ethics, Information literacy, Research, Self-motivation.
View more information about Otago's graduate attributes.
Learning Outcomes
Students who successfully complete the paper will acquire
  • The ability to make philosophical analyses and to present and assess philosophical arguments to an acceptable standard
  • A broad awareness and grasp of what is at issue in general metaethical debates
  • A demonstrated ability to explain and assess philosophical positions and arguments in their own words
  • An ability to adopt and defend their own position in metaethical debates
  • A detailed awareness and grasp of what is at issue in metaethical debates

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Second Semester

Teaching method
This paper is taught On Campus
Learning management system


Stream Days Times Weeks
A1 Tuesday 15:00-16:50 28-34, 36-41
Friday 13:00-13:50 28-34, 36-41