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7. J. L. Mackie and Moral Error Theory

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About this Lecture


In this module, we think about J. M. Mackie’s moral error theory, focusing in particular on: (i) the fact that so far in our discussion, all moral realists have been cognitivists, and all moral anti-realists have been cognitivists; (ii) Mackie’s view that moral properties do not in fact exist (moral anti-realism) but that moral utterances are in fact (erroneous) statements about the real world (cognitivism); (iii) Mackie’s argument for cognitivism; (iv) Mackie’s two arguments for moral anti-realism – the argument from relativity (which makes use of the so-called ‘inference to the best explanation) and the argument from queerness; and (v) Mackie’s view on the emotivist account of moral language.


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 - J. L. Mackie and Moral Error Theory [Video]. MASSOLIT.

MLA style

Law, I. "Metaethics – J. L. Mackie and Moral Error Theory." MASSOLIT, uploaded by MASSOLIT, 01 Jan 2021,

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