Philosophy

Ethics

With a particular interest in meta-ethics, normative ethics, and political philosophy

Ethics is a central area of philosophy, with exciting recent developments. Philosophy at Edinburgh has a unique wealth of research talent in this area, doing important work in central areas of meta-ethics, normative ethics, and political philosophy. We regularly host research events such as international conferences, workshops, reading groups, as well as hosting visiting scholars.

Research questions

Some of the questions we are currently investigating include:

  • What do moral (and, more generally, normative) sentences mean? What, for example, does it mean to say that an action is morally wrong?
  • In what senses, if any, are reasons for action context-dependent?
  • What's the best explanation of the meaning of deontic modals such as 'ought' or 'should' that figure centrally in the statement of many moral claims?
  • Is morality well understood in terms of general principles and systematic theories?
  • What is the relationship between ethical norms and other kinds of norms, such as the norms of belief?
  • Is morality well understood in terms of promoting the best outcome?
  • Is moral thought affective? If so, how?
  • What is the most plausible formulation of rule-consequentialist moral theories? Are any such indirect forms of consequentialism defensible?
  • What is distinctive about evaluative thought and talk?
  • Can moral responsibility and free will be reconciled with a plausible naturalistic conception of agency in the world?
  • How is the supervenience constraint on ethical thinking best understood? Does it favour any particular meta-ethical views?
  • What role should equality play in a plausible theory of justice?
  • In what sense, if any, are moral and other values objective?
  • How might obligations to provide reparations for historical injustices be best understood?
  • Is moral knowledge possible?
  • What is the relevance of collective agency for moral and political philosophy?

People

Staff working in this area include:

Dr Matthew Chrisman Meta-ethics; philosophy of language; epistemology; the norms of belief; inferentialist approaches to the meta-ethical debate between descriptivists and expressivists; environmental ethics
Dr Guy Fletcher

Meta-ethics; ethics; history of ethics; 'hybrid' theories of moral thought and talk; well-being; value; consequentialism; John Stuart Mill's ethical theory

Dr David Levy Moral philosophy; moral necessity; understanding; meaning; epistemology; psychology; Plato; Wittgenstein
Dr Elinor Mason Moral philosophy; consequentialism; moral responsibility
Professor Michael Ridge Meta-ethical expressivism; ecumenical expressivism; moral particularism and moral generalism
Dr Debbie Roberts Ethics; meta-ethics; evaluative concepts and properties; overlap between meta-ethics and metaphysics; philosophy of mind and philosophy of maths; theory/anti-theory debate in normative ethics; particularism and generalism
Dr Patrick Todd Free will, moral responsibility, and determinism; "manipulation arguments" for incompatibilism; philosophy of religion and metaphysics

Postgraduate study

MSc Philosophy (specialisation in Ethics available)

MSc Epistemology, Ethics and Mind (full online course)

PhD and MSc by Research programmes

Meetings and events

The ethics reading group meet regularly to discuss relevant papers. Contact Rick Sendelbeck for more information.

Ethics reading group

Email Rick Sendelbeck

We also host a range of seminars and workshops on relevant topics

Previous ethics events