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3. Ethical Non-Naturalism

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About this Lecture


In this module, we explore the concept of ethical non-naturalism, which holds that moral properties exist but are not natural properties. In particular, we think about: (i) G. E. Moore’s objections to ethical naturalism (introduced at the end of the previous module) and his concept of the ‘naturalistic fallacy’; (ii) the nature of the ‘naturalistic fallacy’ given that the ‘open-question argument’ is just as potent against non-naturalistic analyses as naturalistic ones; (iii) some of the problems associated with positing a new kind of property (non-natural properties) – what are they? what distinguishes them from natural properties? how do we to know about them?; (iv) Moore’s answer to these challenges – the idea that we have an additional, moral sense that allows us to ‘perceive’ non-natural ethical properties; (v) one of the problems with Moore’s answer – the creation of a completely new faculty of knowledge; (vi) two views on what makes a statement ‘meaningful’ – that of David Hume and the Vienna School – and the extent to which non-naturalist ethical statements are ‘meaningful’ in each case.


In this course, Dr Iain Law (University of Birmingham) provides a comprehensive introduction to the field of philosophy known as metaethics. In the first module, we provide an introduction to metaethics itself, including the difference between metaethics and normative ethical theories such as utilitarianism and virtue ethics and some of the key questions that metaethics poses. In the second and third modules, we explore two approaches to metaethics that agree moral properties exist (moral realism) but disagree as to the nature of these properties: naturalism and non-naturalism. In the fourth module, we explore two arguments from David Hume that move us towards a view that contribute to how we think and talk about metaethics, before turning in the fifth, sixth and seventh modules to three accounts of metaethics that agree that moral properties do not exist (moral anti-realism) but disagree as what is going on when we make a moral statement – A. J. Ayer and Emotivism, R. M. Hare and Prescriptivism, and J. M. Mackie and Moral Error Theory.


Iain Law is a Senior Lecturer in Philosophy at the University of Birmingham. His main interests are in meta-ethics, applied ethics and ethical theory, and he is currently working on papers in moral theory, moral psychology, the philosophy of medicine and applied ethics.

Cite this Lecture

APA style

Law, I. (2021, January 01). Metaethics - Ethical Non-Naturalism [Video]. MASSOLIT.

MLA style

Law, I. "Metaethics – Ethical Non-Naturalism ." MASSOLIT, uploaded by MASSOLIT, 01 Jan 2021,