Jonas Olson presents a critical survey of moral error theory, the view that there are no moral facts and so all moral claims are false. In Part I (History), he explores the historical context of the debate, and discusses the moral error theories of David Hume and of some more or less influential twentieth century philosophers, including Axel Hagerstroem, Bertrand Russell, Ludwig Wittgenstein, and Richard Robinson. He argues that the early cases for moral
error theory are suggestive but that they would have been stronger had they included something like J. L. Mackie's arguments that moral properties and facts are metaphysically queer. Part II (Critique) focuses on these arguments. Olson identifies four queerness arguments, concerning supervenience, knowledge,
motivation, and irreducible normativity, and goes on to establish that while the first three are not compelling, the fourth has considerable force, especially when combined with debunking explanations of why we tend to believe that there are moral properties and facts when in fact there are none. One conclusion of Part II is that a plausible error theory takes the form of an error theory about irreducible normativity. In Part III (Defence), Olson considers challenges according to which that
kind of error theory has problematic ramifications regarding hypothetical reasons, epistemic reasons, and deliberation. He ends his discussion with a consideration of the implications of moral error theory for ordinary moral thought and talk, and for normative theorizing.
Jonas Olson is Reader in Practical Philosophy at Stockholm University. He received his PhD from Uppsala University in 2005. In 2005-2008 he was a Fellow at Brasenose College and Departmental Lecturer in Moral Philosophy at the University of Oxford. He has held visiting positions at the University of Otago, CEPPA (Centre for Ethics, Philosophy, and Public Affairs) at the University of St Andrews, and at Universite de Montreal. Olson works mainly in metaethics, value theory, and history of moral philosophy. He is co-editor with Iwao Hirose of The Oxford Handbook of Value Theory (OUP USA, forthcoming) and he has published several articles in peer-reviewed collections and journals, such as Australasian Journal of Philosophy, Ethical Theory and Moral Practice, Hume Studies, Mind, Oxford Studies in Metaethics, Philosophical Quarterly, Philosophy and Phenomenological esearch, Ratio, and Utilitas.
PART I: HISTORY; PART II: CRITIQUE; PART III: DEFENCE