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Analytic ethics

DOI: 10.4324/9780415249126-L003-1
Version: v1,  Published online: 1998
Retrieved April 18, 2024, from

Article Summary

Moral philosophy has traditionally been divided into normative ethics and meta-ethics. Normative ethics concerns judgments about what is good and how we should act. Meta-ethics, with which ’analytic ethics’ is typically identified, seeks to understand such judgments. Are they factual statements capable of being literally true or false (cognitivism)? Or are they commands or expressions of attitude, capable only of greater or lesser appropriateness or efficacy (noncognitivism)? Cognitivists focus on whether the facts to which they claim moral judgments correspond are discovered from experience, or whether they occupy a different realm, as do mathematical facts. Noncognitivists, in contrast, arguing that moral judgments are not fact-stating, ask if they signal our feelings or commitments, or are imperatives of conduct.

Other questions concerning moral judgments include whether they are subjective or objective, and how they are connected to motivation. Analytic ethics therefore not only concerns the meaning of moral terms, but ranges over such areas as epistemology, metaphysics and the theory of action. As a field it remains full of controversy. It has developed approaches that afford specific insights into morality, and contributed to our understanding of the functions of thought and language.

Citing this article:
Railton, Peter. Analytic ethics, 1998, doi:10.4324/9780415249126-L003-1. Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Taylor and Francis,
Copyright © 1998-2024 Routledge.

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