Open Access Te Herenga Waka-Victoria University of Wellington
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The Possibility of an Impossible Ethics

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posted on 2024-03-15, 02:28 authored by Will Evans

Moral error is a sceptical position regarding morality, analogous to the atheist’s position on religion; according to a moral error theorist no moral judgements are ever true. Moral fictionalism is a response to the situation created by error theory; even if all statements about morality are false, we should nevertheless carry on with a make-believe, or fictional, moral discourse. Some of the arguments made in favour of moral error theory, specifically the argument from queerness, render morality impossible, rather than just contingently false. While this is not a problem for error theory in and of itself, it does pose an issue for fictionalism as a response to error theory: If morality is not possible, then there is good reason to believe that morality is not conceivable, not imaginable, and therefore not something that we can make-believe in. This may initially seem to be disastrous to the fictionalist's position; however, there is strong reason to believe that we can imagine the impossible, and thus fictionalism can be saved from the problem of an impossible morality. This does not return us to where we began, it allows for a fictionalism that also has an impossible content as well as form. This possibility of imagining an impossible morality allows fictionalism to be of much more use than any actual normative moral system.


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Date of Award



Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington

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Degree Grantor

Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington

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Degree Name

Master of Arts

ANZSRC Socio-Economic Outcome code

280119 Expanding knowledge in philosophy and religious studies

ANZSRC Type Of Activity code

1 Pure basic research

Victoria University of Wellington Item Type

Awarded Research Masters Thesis



Victoria University of Wellington School

School of History, Philosophy, Political Science and International Relations


Joyce, Richard