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The plausibility of moral error theories

Casey Knight, University of Massachusetts Amherst


The project that resulted in this work had two main goals. The first was to sort out the most plausible form of the moral error theory, the view made popular by J.L. Mackie in his Ethics: Inventing Right and Wrong. Second, I aimed to determine the extent of its plausibility. The first three chapters of this dissertation are the result of my attempt to accomplish the first goal, and the last two chapters are a consequence of the second. In the end, I argue that the most plausible version of the error theory (viz., Richard Joyce's development of Mackie's views) is not true. Along the way, I make three additional novel contributions to the meta-ethical literature. First, I provide a close reading of Mackie's work, and I argue that he has been misinterpreted thus far in the literature. Second, I attempt to clarify the linguistic and metaphysical components of the error theory. Third, I explicate a novel view in meta-ethics that isn't a direct descendent of Mackie's views, but which is, in many important respects, similar to his view. I call the view 'moral indecisionism', since its main thesis seems to agree with Hume when he writes, "The chief obstacle ... to our improvement in the moral ... sciences is the obscurity of the ideas, and ambiguity of the terms."

Subject Area


Recommended Citation

Knight, Casey, "The plausibility of moral error theories" (2013). Doctoral Dissertations Available from Proquest. AAI3589060.