Electronic Thesis and Dissertation Repository


Doctor of Philosophy




Dr. Anthony Skelton


The main goal of this dissertation is to develop and defend the thesis that theories about the nature of moral judgment must be understood as carrying moral commitments. This has profound consequences for the methodology of metaethics. Specifically, it implies that theories about the nature of moral judgment cannot be understood as empirical hypotheses.

There have historically been many attempts to develop a philosophically satisfying theory that characterizes the nature and content of moral judgments. Many philosophers have thought that such theories are best understood as morally neutral hypotheses about human psychology. Recently, a number of philosophers have attempted to approach this question by treating theories about the nature of moral judgment as empirical hypotheses that can be confirmed or disconfirmed by psychological and neuroscientific evidence. I argue that this methodological presupposition is mistaken.

In the first and second chapter, I articulate and defend a test for identifying moral propositions and use it to demonstrate that a number of prominent metaethicists have mistakenly thought that theories about the nature of moral judgment are morally neutral. The third chapter begins with an argument that moral propositions cannot be identical to or definable in terms of empirically-confirmable hypotheses. I then show that this conclusion undermines several empirically-informed theories of moral judgment put forward by Shaun Nichols, Jesse Prinz, and Richard Joyce.