Date of Award

May 2015

Degree Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts



First Advisor

Stanislaus Husi

Committee Members

Miren Boehm, Robert Schwartz


Contractarianism, Expressivism, Metaethics


This thesis examines two of the more modern developments in the field of metaethics, expressivism and rational choice metaethics. Metaethics deals with a number of questions surrounding what we actually do when we engage in moral thought and speak in moral language. I approach the debate through the question of the objects of moral language. As metaethics has diversified away from straightforward moral realism, a number of candidates have been proposed as the actual referents of the moral terms we use. In expressivism, the object of moral language is taken to be certain nonpropositional attitudes held by the speaker of a morally tinged sentence. In rational choice metaethics, the object of moral language is taken to be choices made by agents, evaluated through the lens of rational choice theory. I examine expressivism and rational choice metaethics, concluding that both retain serious problems. For expressivism, I attempt to defend against a serious semantic issue, the negation problem, proposing a solution based on what I call implicit planning. Ultimately, I find the negation problem cannot be evaded and that expressivism is therefore unworkable. For rational choice metaethics, I show that its creator, David Gauthier, does not believe that the view can support some of our moral intuitions, even though all of them are meant to be derivable from its starting principles. For this reason, I find rational choice metaethics also unsuccessful.

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