This is the course page for the 2002 Philosophy 2B lectures on meta-ethics, taken by Richard Holton (email:

The set book for this part of the course is The Moral Problem by Michael Smith


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Handout One

Handout Two

Handout Three

Handout Four

Handout Five

Readings, Links etc

Objectivism, Subjectivism, Expressivism

On non-naturalism in general, have a look at Mike Ridge's entry Moral Non-Naturalism in the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy

A kind of subjectivism (under the label 'speaker relativism') is defended by Jamie Dreier in Internalism and Speaker Relativism.

The Frege-Geach problem was first raised as a problem for expressivism by Peter Geach; see his article Assertion.

The most prominent expressivist responses to the problem have come from Simon Blackburn, in a series of articles, and from Allan Gibbard in his book Wise Choices, Apt Feelings. For a clear presentation of their views, together with the relevant references, and a critique, see Mark van Roojen Expressivism and Irrationality .


On psychopaths, and the contrast with autism, see Jeanette Kennett, Autism and Empathy Philosophical Quarterly July 2002, vol. 52, pp. 340-357. (If this link doesn't work, try going to the Philosophical Quarterly via the library Electronic Journals page.)

Internalism is defended and taken to justifiy a certain form of subjectivism in the Dreier article mentioned above.

David Brink defends his version of externalism against Smith's criticisms in his Moral Motivation in the Ethics Symposium on The Moral Problem mentioned below.

The idea that morality works as a constraint on action, without thinking that every action has to be motivated directly by it, is discussed in Marcia Baron The Alleged Moral Repugnance of Acting from Duty and in Barbara Herman On the Value of Acting from the Motive of Duty

Smith's Positive Proposal

There is a Symposium on Smith's Moral Problem in Ethics Vol 108 (1997) with articles by David Brink, David Copp and Geoff Sayre-McCord, together with responses by Smith. Brink's paper, which is largely focussed on Smith's argument against externalism, also provides a nice summary of Smith's path, together with some good references. Copp and Sayre-McCord's papers are focussed on a criticism of Smith's positive proposals.

My discussion of the Muggletonians is in Smith, Value, and the Muggletonians.

Discussion Questions

1. Is Objectivity really a feature of our moral practices? Can non-cognitivist and/or subjectivist approaches overcome the problems that have been raised for them?

2. Is there any truth in the doctrine(s) of moral internalism?

3. Are desires and beliefs distinct existences? Does this mean that a belief can never motivate?

4. How successful is Smith's solution to the moral problem?