Red X iconGreen tick iconYellow tick icon


    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. 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; the relevance of Hume’s No-Ought-From-Is to meta-ethical debates; Aristotelian virtue ethics as a form of naturalism; the connection between meta-ethics and commitment; and contemporary naturalist moral realism.

    About this paper

    Paper title Are There Moral Facts?
    Subject Philosophy
    EFTS 0.15
    Points 18 points
    Teaching period Semester 2 (On campus)
    Domestic Tuition Fees ( NZD ) $981.75
    International Tuition Fees Tuition Fees for international students are elsewhere on this website.
    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.
    Contact and

    Teaching staff

    Course co-ordinator and lecturer: Professor Alex Miller

    Lecturer: Professor Charles Pigden

    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 mostly discussed in the lectures. Some will be available in Fisher and Kirchin (eds.) Arguing About Metaethics (details below), others will be available via Blackboard or as handouts.


    • Final 3-hour exam 70%
    • Two 3,000-word essays, each worth 15%
    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


    Semester 2

    Teaching method
    This paper is taught On Campus
    Learning management system


    Stream Days Times Weeks
    A1 Monday 14:00-14:50 29-35, 37-42
    Thursday 14:00-15:50 29-35, 37-42
    Back to top