PHIL4107 Metaethics

6 points
Not available in 2020UWA (Perth)Face to face
Details for undergraduate courses
  • Honours option in Philosophy [Bachelor of Arts (Honours)]
Normative (or 'first-order') ethics is concerned with questions such as—Which acts are morally wrong? Which states of affairs are morally good? What character traits are virtues? By contrast, metaethics studies evaluates the semantic, epistemological and metaphysical commitments of first-order ethical discourse. Do moral sentences such as 'eating animals is wrong' express propositions that are capable of being true or false? If so, are any such propositions actually true? Does their truth depend upon subjective factors, such as our attitudes or conventions, or are these truths 'stance-independent'? If the latter, how can we come to know these truths? Can moral truths be discovered using empirical methods such as direct observation and inference to the best explanation? Do we know them by way of a prior intuition, instead? Suppose we find that there are no moral truths at all. In that case, how can we make sense of our first-order moral discourse? Is it a mere fiction that some acts are wrong? If so, should we keep the fiction? Or should we just discard our moral vocabulary altogether? These are the central questions addressed in the unit.
Students are able to (1) strengthen generic intellectual skills such as analysing and critically assessing arguments, constructing and expressing arguments of one's own, and constructing and expressing explanations of phenomena; (2) demonstrate their knowledge of the core philosophical problems that arise in connection with the nature and existence of moral facts, the meanings of key terms in our moral vocabulary, and the nature and possibility of moral knowledge; (3) demonstrate their understanding of the most influential contemporary metaethical theories such as moral realism, ethical naturalism, ethical non-naturalism, constructivism, expressivism and nihilism; and (4) critically address a series of fundamental questions regarding the metaphysics and epistemology of moral facts/truths.
Indicative assessments in this unit are as follows: (1) an essay; (2) participation; and (3) test. Further information is available in the unit outline.

To pass this unit, a student must: (a) achieve an overall mark of 50 per cent or higher for the unit; and (b) achieve the requisite requirements(s) or a mark of 50 per cent or greater, whichever is higher and specified in the unit outline, for the participation component.

Supplementary assessment is not available in this unit.
Unit Coordinator(s)
Assistant Professor Michael Rubin
Unit rules
sufficient units in the relevant major at the specified standard for entry to the honours specialisation
Contact hours
seminars: 1 x 2-hour seminars per week for 10 weeks
  • The availability of units in Semester 1, 2, etc. was correct at the time of publication but may be subject to change.
  • All students are responsible for identifying when they need assistance to improve their academic learning, research, English language and numeracy skills; seeking out the services and resources available to help them; and applying what they learn. Students are encouraged to register for free online support through GETSmart; to help themselves to the extensive range of resources on UWA's STUDYSmarter website; and to participate in WRITESmart and (ma+hs)Smart drop-ins and workshops.
  • Books and other material wherever listed may be subject to change. Book lists relating to 'Preliminary reading', 'Recommended reading' and 'Textbooks' are, in most cases, available via the Booktopia Textbook Finder, which has the functionality to search by course code, course, ISBN and title, and may also be posted or available at the appropriate school's administrative offices. Where texts are listed in the unit description above, an asterisk (*) indicates that the book is available in paperback.