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An Introduction to Contemporary Metaethics [Paperback]

Alex Miller
4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)

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7 Aug 2003
This introduction provides a highly readable critical overview of the main arguments and themes in twentieth–century and contemporary metaethics. It traces the development of contemporary debates in metaethics from their beginnings in the work of G. E. Moore up to the most recent arguments between naturalism and non–naturalism, cognitivism and non–cognitivism. A highly readable critical overview of the main arguments and themes in twentieth century and contemporary metaethics. Asks: Are there moral facts? Is there such a thing as moral truth? Is moral knowledge possible? Traces the development of contemporary debates in metaethics from their beginnings in the work of G. E. Moore up to the most recent debates between naturalism and non–naturalism, cognitivism and noncognitivism. Provides for the first time a critical survey of famous figures in twentieth century metaethics such as Moore, Ayer and Mackie together with in–depth discussions of contemporary philosophers such as Blackburn, Gibbard, Wright, Harman, Railton, Sturgeon, McDowell and Wiggins.


Product details

  • Paperback: 328 pages
  • Publisher: Polity Press; 1 edition (7 Aug 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 074562345X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0745623450
  • Product Dimensions: 2.5 x 15 x 22.9 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 371,966 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
  • See Complete Table of Contents

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" An Introduction to Contemporary Metaethics provides for the first time a critical survey of famous figures in 20th Century metaethics together with in–depth discussions of contemporary philosophers and will be an invaluable resource for students, teachers and professional philosophers with interests in contemporary metaethics." Philosophical Inquiry "A precise and accessible reading of a rather complicated subject." Syzetesis "In this book Alexander Miller, an established expert in moral philosophy, provides a concise, clear and insightful account of the central issues of metaethics. He manages to make these difficult issues accessible to those who are new to this area of philosophy, while offering original contributions to the debates that will be of interest to experts in the field. This is an engaging and accomplished introductory work." Philip Stratton–Lake, University of Reading "Miller’s book is ambitious, lucid, and comprehensive – an extremely useful and detailed study of the field. I wish it had been available when I taught my graduate seminar in moral realism, for it would have made an excellent reference work throughout the course – both for its clear exposition and its rigorous critical perspectives. I recommend it to all serious students of metaethics." John Corvino, Wayne State University

From the Back Cover

An Introduction to Contemporary Metaethics provides a highly readable critical overview of the main arguments and themes in twentieth–century and contemporary metaethics. It traces the development of contemporary debates in metaethics from their beginnings in the work of G. E. Moore up to the most recent arguments between naturalism and non–naturalism, cognitivism and non–cognitivism. Individual chapters deal with: the open–question arguments and Moore’s attack on ethical naturalism; A. J. Ayer’s emotivism and the rejection of non–naturalism; Simon Blackburn’s quasi–realism; Allan Gibbard’s norm–expressivism; J. L. Mackie’s ‘error–theory’ of moral judgement; anti–realist and best opinion accounts of moral truth; the non–reductionist naturalism of the ‘Cornell realists’; Peter Railton’s naturalistic reductionism; the analytic functionalism of Frank Jackson and Philip Pettit; the contemporary non–naturalism of John McDowell and David Wiggins; and the debate between internalists and externalists in moral psychology. The book will be an invaluable resource for students, teachers and professional philosophers with interests in contemporary metaethics.

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In this chapter I provide a brief account of the territory covered in mathematics, an of the main philosophical positions in metaethics to be covered in detail in the curse of the book. Read the first page
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
This is a very well structured guide to contemporary metaethics. Arguments both for and against the positions taken by some key actors in metaethical debates are clearly layed out, well explained, and well analysed.

If you are considering buying this book then make sure it is the right one for you. It is not a complete guide to metaethics, but focuses on contemporary issues around cognitivism and non-cognitivism. Also the word "introductory" is always a relative phrase and should generate the question - introductory for whom? I guess a book about metaethics is aimed at the specialist reader and this certainly is not aimed at the beginner. There is a very short and useful introduction which positions the main metaethical theories, but after that it gets into tight argument quickly. If you are reasonably used to philosophical debate and have a grounding in ethics and metaethics this could prove a very worthwhile guide. If you do not, it probably won't. (If you are looking for a gentle introduction to or explanation of metaethics - try elsewhere!)
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent and easy to understand. 29 April 2011
By Rob
Format:Paperback
Really brilliant introduction to contemporary debates. I bought this when taking a module in meta ethics and it was far better than any of the set course books that we had to read. In fact I could have got by using this book alone.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Clearest guide into Metaethics 24 Nov 2012
By CB
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Was recommended this book by my ethics tutor in my second year of a philosophy degree. He had used it for his degree when he was studying. It really helped me get to grips with the basics and just clarify things.
Really well laid out and definitely helped me get the grade I did.
Very useful for any ethics course or just as a very clear introduction
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Amazon.com: 4.0 out of 5 stars  1 review
83 of 84 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A Helpful Guide to Contemporary Positions in Meta-Ethics 16 Feb 2004
By ctdreyer - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
Miller has written a good book that covers a lot of the territory in contemporary meta-ethics. The book is structured around two basic debates within the field: the debate between cognitivists and noncognitivists, and the debate between realists and anti-realists.
The presentation of the material reflects the canned history of twentieth-century meta-ethics that should be familiar to anyone with some knowledge of the area. Our story begins with G. E. Moore's Principia Ethica, which is the subject of the second chapter of Miller's book. Moore's Principia (along with the work of Prichard, Ross, et al.) involves a defense of a particularly puzzling and problematic form of moral realism, namely non-naturalist intuitionism, and includes his famous Open Question Argument, which is the focus of Miller's chapter.
The second part of our story, and the remainder of Miller's book, begins with a backlash against Moore. Moore's non-naturalist intuitionism included the following views: that central components of moral language are indefinable, that moral facts can only be known as self-evident intuitions, and that moral properties are sui generis and not reducible to natural properties. A rejection of views of this sort gave rise to various forms of noncognitivism found in Ayer (who is Miller's representative of early noncognitivism), Stevenson, Hare, et al. that dominated English-language meta-ethics in the middle of the twentieth century. These philosophers rejected Moore's non-naturalist metaphysics and intuitionist epistemology as inconsistent with a naturalistic conception of the world. They also rejected moral realism because they thought Moore's OQA, or something similar to it, showed that realism was committed to defending those doctrines of Moore's that they found untenable (and perhaps incredible). The route out of the metaphysical and epistemological problems relating to morality, they thought, was to be found in a distinctive account of the nature of moral language. In particular, they argued that moral language is used to express our emotions and attitudes, or to prescribe certain actions for ourselves and others. However, the noncognitivists ended up running into all sorts of problems in accounting for our ordinary beliefs about ways in which moral language can be used, the possibility of moral knowledge, the existence of correct answers to more questions, and the objectivity of morality. In Miller's book, we see contemporary thinkers like Simon Blackburn and Allan Gibbard, who defend forms of noncognitivism, wrestling with these problems.
Still, their answers don't satisfy everyone, and some thinkers returned to a form of cognitivism: that is, they began to defend the position that ethical language purports to describe a realm of moral facts. And this brings us to the third part of our history of contemporary meta-ethics and of Miller's book: the backlash against (at least the earlier, cruder forms of) noncognitivism. All these cognitivists are concerned with finding a place for ethics within a naturalistic conception of the world. The first such thinker Miller discusses is John Mackie, who defended cognitivism but argued that all our ordinary moral claims fail to be true since there are no objective moral facts to describe. Others have a more sanguine view of possibilities for moral truth and knowledge, however, and they combine their cognitivism with a form of moral realism. Some of these thinkers argue that moral claims can be reduced to claims that are part of the natural and social sciences; others argue that moral claims aren't reducible in this sense, but that this doesn't impugn their naturalness since moral claims, like claims in other areas, can be natural without being reducible to the subjects of the natural sciences.
There are a couple of things that need to be said about what this book is not. First, despite its grounding in history, Miller's book isn't intended as a history of twentieth-century meta-ethical thought. Only the first two chapters of the books seem to be accurately described as history, and the work of major figures like Hare, Stevenson, Prichard, Ross, et al., isn't brought into the discussion at all. (For a brief discussion of historical matters concerning the relevant period, one might try Warnock's Contemporary Moral Philosophy.) Second, while the book does often present Miller's own judgment on the argument he discusses, it isn't a work that presents and criticizes the views of others as part of a defense of the author's own take on the issues at hand. (Introductions to meta-ethics of this variety can be acquired by reading works like Mackie's Ethics: Inventing Right and Wrong, Harman's The Nature of Morality, and Smith's The Moral Problem.)
Rather than a history or an argument for a distinctive position, Miller's book takes the form of a philosophy textbook: it is filled with brief discussions of several arguments for and against many of the positions that are defended by working meta-ethicists. The book does have some notable virtues for a textbook that takes this format. One such virtue is that the topics covered are well-chosen: the book covers most of the positions that you'll need to wade through the literature on these issues, along with the most important arguments for and against those positions. Another is that the coverage of some of these positions is quite broad for an introductory survey (the chapters on Blackburn's quasi-realism, Cornell realism, reductivist forms of naturalism, and McDowell's views are each at least thirty pages). Unlike many books of this sort, Miller's amounts to more than a laundry list of positions and arguments since many of the positions face similar problems and some thinkers appear as both proponents of certain views and critics of others. In addition, the prose is clear throughout, and this clarity isn't achieved through dumbing down the arguments. Finally, each chapter includes helpful suggestions for further reading in the relevant primary sources.
At the present time, this book is the one to pick up if you want a sense of the various positions being defended in meta-ethics. So the book is a perfect supplement for courses surveying contemporary issues in meta-ethics that are aimed at graduate students and advanced undergraduates.
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