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Metaethics: Moral Anti-Realism

2. Why be an Anti-Realist?

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About this Lecture


In this module, we outline four reasons why a philosopher might adopt the position of anti-realism: (i) the lack of scientific evidence for the existence of moral properties; (ii) the strangeness of moral properties, even if they did exist; (iii) consistency with one’s pre-existing philosophical commitments (e.g. A. J. Ayer and his ‘verification principle’); and (iv) atheism. After that, there is a brief discussion of the advantages and disadvantages of moral anti-realism vs. moral realism.


In this course, Dr Luke Elson (University of Reading) explores what it means to be a moral anti-realist. We begin in the first module by thinking about what moral anti-realism actually is. After that, in the second module, we outline four reasons why someone might be an anti-realist. In the following three modules, we think about three anti-realist positions: first, A. J. Ayer’s theory of emotivism; second, R. M. Hare’s theory of prescriptivism; and third, J. L. Mackie’s Error Theory. In the sixth and seventh modules, we think about two of the major weaknesses of anti-realism: first, its inability to explain moral disagreements; and second, its inability to explain moral progress. Finally, in the eighth module, we think about the extent to which moral anti-realism leads to nihilism. And in that case, why be moral at all?


Luke Elson is a Lecturer in the Department of Philosophy at the University of Reading. His research interests include ethics, reasons and rationality, especially when they involve vagueness.

Cite this Lecture

APA style

Elson, L. (2019, February 27). Metaethics: Moral Anti-Realism - Why be an Anti-Realist? [Video]. MASSOLIT.

MLA style

Elson, L. "Metaethics: Moral Anti-Realism – Why be an Anti-Realist?." MASSOLIT, uploaded by MASSOLIT, 27 Feb 2019,

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