Moral error theory is roughly the view that morality is a (perhaps biologically-useful) illusion. More precisely, error theory combines a cognitivist, representationalist view of moral judgments with an antirealist view of the moral domain. Error theorists typically reason as follows: moral judgments aim to represent the world as being a certain way, morally speaking, and are thus capable of being either true or false depending on whether the world has the moral features one takes it to have. However, the world is morally void in that there are no moral facts, properties, or values ‘out there in the world’ to be discovered. Thus, our moral judgments are typically false. When we judge, for example, that slavery is immoral, we are (perhaps unknowingly) projecting our feelings, wants and demands onto the world and mistakenly thinking that we’ve come into cognitive contact with objective moral facts. While error theorists widely agree about the nature of morality and moral judgment, they disagree about what to do with moral discourse--an issue that has come to be known as the now-what problem. Some error theorists who address now-what problem contend that morality is a useful fiction which, with some qualifications, should be retained. Adherents of this approach are called moral fictionalists. It should be noted, however, that some fictionalists are not error theorists. Mark Kalderon, for example, rejects the view that moral judgments aim to represent the world as being a certain way, morally speaking. He contends, instead, that propositions (including moral ones) aim to describe the world, but that people use these descriptive propositions to express non-representational mental states.
The most prominent defense of error theory in the 20th century is arguably Mackie 1977. For a dissenting view, see Berker 2019. Joyce 2001 provides a more detailed defense of error theory. Joyce 2005 defends error theory on both philosophical and scientific grounds. Other noteworthy defenses of error theory include Streumer 2017, Olson 2014, Garner 2007, and Burgess 2007. Core readings in moral fictionalism include Nolan et al 2005 , Joyce 2005 , and Kalderon 2005.
|Introductions||Joyce 2013 is an introductory article on error theory. Eklund 2010 is an introductory article on fictionalism as presented and defended in various areas of philosophy, including general metaphysics and the philosophy of mathematics.|
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David Bourget (Western Ontario)
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