Today's post, Setting Up Metaethics was originally published on 28 July 2008. A summary (taken from the LW wiki):


What exactly does a correct theory of metaethics need to look like?

Discuss the post here (rather than in the comments to the original post).

This post is part of the Rerunning the Sequences series, where we'll be going through Eliezer Yudkowsky's old posts in order so that people who are interested can (re-)read and discuss them. The previous post was Changing Your Metaethics, and you can use the sequence_reruns tag or rss feed to follow the rest of the series.

Sequence reruns are a community-driven effort. You can participate by re-reading the sequence post, discussing it here, posting the next day's sequence reruns post, or summarizing forthcoming articles on the wiki. Go here for more details, or to have meta discussions about the Rerunning the Sequences series.

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2 comments, sorted by Click to highlight new comments since: Today at 3:52 AM

This actually came up in the last rerun, but it's relevant to this one too:

If you say, "Killing people is wrong," that's morality. If you say, "You shouldn't kill people because God prohibited it," or "You shouldn't kill people because it goes against the trend of the universe", that's metaethics.

Metaethics is a philosophical term of art, and so in some sense we can use it as we like, but among those who use the term I think almost everyone would consider the above three claims to be straightforwardly ethical ones. A meta ethical question in line with these would be something like 'is the wrongness of killing, if it is wrong, a property of an act, or of people who perform the act'? The whole point of meta ethical discourse is supposed to be to isolate a number of issues concerning ethics that float free of any and all positive ethical positions, and the above claims do not. I'm not sure if this has any important consequences for EY's claims.


So what we should want, ideally, is a metaethic that: (1) Adds up to moral normality, including moral errors, moral progress, and things you should do whether you want to or not; (2) Fits naturally into a non-mysterious universe, postulating no exception to reductionism; (3) Does not oversimplify humanity's complicated moral arguments and many terminal values; (4) Answers all the impossible questions.

Egoism &/or Might is Right.

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