DOI: 10.4324/9780415249126-L145-1
Version: v1,  Published online: 2012
Retrieved October 20, 2020, from

6. Other questions

Metaethics encompasses many other kinds of question beyond those canvassed above. This section sketches a couple more, but cannot be comprehensive.

One of the oldest metaethical questions concerns the status of moral truth: is it ‘objective’, or merely ‘relative’ to particular individuals or societies? People often say things like ‘morality is all relative’, but this is vague and allows for a variety of disambiguations (see Moral relativism). (1) Often what seems to be meant is the uninterestingly trivial claim that different individuals or societies vary in their moral beliefs (although what is implied may be the nontrivial claim that in morality there is only ‘opinion’, and no truth). (2) Some philosophers suggest that moral claims are relativistic in their content, so that different individuals make different claims when asserting the same sentence (e.g. Harman 1975). When disagreeing over whether it is wrong to eat pork, for example, a Muslim may really be claiming that it is wrong-according-to-Islam to eat pork, while a Christian may really be claiming that it is not wrong-according-to-Christianity to eat pork. A central difficulty for this kind of moral relativism is that it implies that seemingly rival moral claims do not stand in a logical relation of contradiction with one another and therefore those making these claims do not genuinely disagree. (3) Alternatively, moral relativism may be taken to be the view that one and the same moral claim can have different truth values for different individuals or societies. While philosophers have traditionally viewed the idea of relative truth as incoherent, it has recently acquired new respectability. A relativist can argue that just as the sentence ‘Now it is raining here’ can be true as indexed to one place and time but false as indexed to others, similarly ‘Doing A is wrong’ is true as indexed to one standard but false as indexed to another.

Another important set of metaethical questions concerns the precise nature and justification of morality. What sort of guide to action is morality, and where does it come from? Some of the many answers given to the latter question include: God, society, desires, and rationality. Unless morality is nothing other than the practical requirements of rationality itself, we encounter a further question about the rational justification of morality. This is one of the oldest and most important questions of moral philosophy: why be moral?

Citing this article:
Finlay, Stephen. Other questions. Metaethics, 2012, doi:10.4324/9780415249126-L145-1. Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Taylor and Francis,
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