Metaethics & the autonomy of morality

Philosophers' Imprint 8:1-16 (2008)
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Abstract
Some philosophers have been attracted to the idea that morality is an autonomous domain. One version of this idea is the thesis that non-moral claims are irrelevant to the justification of fundamental normative ethical theories. However, this autonomy thesis appears to be in tension with a pair of apparent features of metaethical theorizing. On one hand, metaethics seemingly aims to explain how morality fits into our broader conception of the world. On the other, metaethical theorizing appears to have potential normative ethical implications. This apparent tension may help to explain some contemporary worries about metaethics as a philosophical project. This paper examines three responses to this tension. The first response seeks to resolve the tension by claiming that metaethical theories must be neutral between normative ethical theories. The second response seeks to eliminate the tension by appealing to a deep divide between practical and theoretical reasoning. I show that each of these responses would require a radical reconception of metaethics. I argue that such a reconception is not required in order to resolve the apparent tension between metaethics and the autonomy thesis. I show that this tension is merely apparent, and can be dissolved without casting doubt on metaethics as a project. I argue that on the picture that results, whether the autonomy thesis is true itself depends upon metaethical fact.
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First archival date: 2021-03-05
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