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Moral Error Theory and Normative Ethics


Admission requirements

Admission to this course is restricted to BA students in Philosophy, who have successfully completed their first year, and who have also completed at least 10 EC’s of the mandatory components of their second year, including:

  • Political Philosophy


This is a course in contemporary analytic metaethics on moral error theory, according to which ordinary moral judgments are truth-apt but never true. We will consider various arguments for and against moral error theory. We will also ask whether normative ethics and political philosophy are possible after moral error theory, and in order to do this we will assess various proposals for how to respond to error theory, including but not limited to fictionalism and revolutionary expressivism. Authors to be discussed include J.L. Mackie, Richard Joyce, and Jonas Olson.

Course objectives

This course aims to:

  • give students knowledge of moral error theory and the various ways in which normative ethics and political philosophy might be possible if moral error theory is true;

  • acquint student with key writings on moral error theory and its implications for normative ethics and political philosophy, including current and cutting-edge research on this topic.

Students who successfully complete the course will have a good understanding of:

  • moral error theory and its implications.

Students who successfully complete the course will be able to:

  • practice, refine and further develop oral argumentation and presentation skills in analytic philosophy;

  • critically compare and synthesize the theories and concepts of the authors discussed and to apply them to contemporary conceptual debates and problems in writing.


See: BA Filosofie

  • Filosofie, BA3 – BA Plus-traject or Standaardtraject

See: BA Philosophy: Global and Comparative Perspectives

  • Philosophy, BA3 - Global and Comparative Perspectives

Mode of instruction

  • Seminars

Class attendance is required.

Course Load

Total course load (10 EC x 28 hrs): 280 hours

  • Attending seminars (13 × 3 hours): 39 hours

  • Preparation of classes and study of literature: 130 hours

  • Preparation of mid-term essay: 50 hours

  • Preparation of final essay: 61 hours

Assessment method


  • Mid-term essay of 2,000 words

  • Final essay of 2,500 words


The final mark for the course is established by determination of the weighted average of several subtests:

  • Mid-term essay: 40%

  • Final essay: 60%


One resit will be offered, covering the entire course content and consisting of an essay. The grade will replace previously earned grades for subtests. Students who have obtained a satisfactory grade cannot take the resit.

Exam review

How and when an exam review will take place will be disclosed together with the publication of the exam results at the latest. If a student requests a review within 30 days after publication of the exam results, an exam review will have to be organized.


Blackboard will be used for:

  • posting texts and other documents (syllabus, assessment criteria, etc.);

  • announcements.

Reading list

To be announced.


Enrolment through uSis is mandatory.
General information about uSis is available on the website

Students are strongly advised to register in uSis through the activity number which can be found in the timetables for courses and exams.

Registration Studeren à la carte and Contractonderwijs

Not applicable.


Dr. W.F. Kalf


Not applicable.