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

Core philosophy faculty working in Ethics at Edinburgh include:

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Research interests
Professor Michael Cholbi Professor Cholbi writes on a number of topics in theoretical and practical ethics, including death and dying, work and labour, paternalism, equality, procreative and parental ethics, and Kantian moral philosophy.
Professor 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 Alix Cohen Kant’s ethics, Kantian ethics, ethics of belief, epistemic normativity
Professor Tommy Curry Professor Curry's research explores the failure of normative concepts such as democracy, equality, humanism, etc. to eradicate anti-Black racism or address the various processes of dehumanization. He has published on anti-colonial paradigms, Critical Race Theory, and numerous articles in Black male studies.
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

Professor Michael Gill Humean moral philosophy; moral pluralism
Dr David Levy Moral philosophy; moral necessity; understanding; meaning; epistemology; psychology; Plato; Wittgenstein
Dr Barry Maguire Ethics, politics, economics, and metaethics of socialism
Dr Beri Marušić Philosophy of Action
Dr Filipa Melo Lopes Dr Melo Lopes’ areas of research are Social and Political Philosophy and Feminist Philosophy. She has done work on social theory and ontology, the metaphysics of gender, philosophy of disability, as well as normative work in feminist politics and sexual ethics. She is currently working on a project on Simone de Beauvoir's The Second Sex.
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
Professor Shannon Vallor Professor Vallor’s research explores the ethics of emerging technologies, with a focus on artificial intelligence, robotics, algorithmic automation and new social media. Her core research interest is the impact of new technologies on human moral and intellectual virtues and capabilities, and the longer term implications for social and planetary flourishing.

Other faculty and post-docs with interests in Ethics include:

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Research interests

Dr Sarah Chan

(Usher Institute)

Medical ethics, Human enhancement, Gene therapy/modification, Animal ethics, and research ethics

Dr Philip Cook

(Politics)

Political Theory, Political Philosophy, Social Justice, Education and Schools, Children and Childhood, Family Relationships, Children and Democracy, Contractualism, Children and Young People, Child Labour

Dr Elizabeth Cripps

(Politics) 

Climate change ethics, Climate justice, Collective responsibility, Justice and non-human animals, Population and justice, Political theory, Political philosophy, Justice and environment, Parental duties

Professor Luis Duarte d’Almeida

(Law)

Philosophy of Law, Reasons and Reasoning, Legal language, Rights

Professor Tim Hayward

(Politics)

Global justice, political theory, Human rights, environmental values, fairness, Political philosophy

Dr Euan MacDonald

(Law)

Philosophy of Law, Reasons and Reasoning

Professor Claudio Michelon

(Law)

Philosophy of Law, Legal Reasoning, Normative structure of private law

Dr Mihaela Mihai

(Politics)

Critical Social and Political Theory, Arts and politics, Architecture and political theory, Political emotions, Political memory and historical injustice, Comparative constitutionalism, gender, Theories of democracy

Dr Kieran Oberman

(Politics)

Political theory, Political philosophy, Global justice, just war theory, Immigration, Immigration and asylum policy, Distributive justice, Social justice

Dr Mathias Thaler

(Politics)

Genocide, Global justice, Humanitarian intervention, Ideology, International theory, Marxism, Multiculturalism, Reconciliation, Political forgiveness, Democratic theory, Political violence and non-violence, Pragmatism, Critical Theory, Just War theory, Utopia, Dystopia, Art and Politics

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

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

Ethics seminar series

Previous ethics events