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Archimedean Metaethics Defended

U Buffalo Legal Studies Research Paper No. 2008-04

Metaphilosophy, Vol. 39, October 2008

31 Pages Posted: 23 Jan 2008 Last revised: 11 Nov 2015

Kenneth M. Ehrenberg

University of Surrey - School of Law

Date Written: 2008


We sometimes append to our moral claims that they are objectively true, or that they are right, even if nobody believes it. These additional claims are often taken to be staking out metaethical positions. So understood, they are representative of a certain kind of theorizing about morality, one which steps outside the practice in order to comment on its status. Ronald Dworkin has argued that external skepticism, rejecting the possibility that these additions can be true (which he calls archimedean skepticism), is not philosophically tenable because it is impossible to step outside such practices to offer comments upon them. I show that an externally skeptical metaethical theory can withstand his attacks, thereby defending the possibility of this kind of meta-theoretical method. Against his argument that these additional claims should be seen as internal, I show that they still make sense as external claims, using aesthetics as an example in which even Dworkin would have to be comfortable with external claims. I then defend four apparently externalist interpretations of the additional objectivity claims: To see them as claims about secondary properties is not to see them as first order claims; to see them as arguing for some form of causal correspondence is to still see them as external; to see them as explaining error is not to see them internally; and that Blackburn's expressivism can maintain an external perspective. In the end, his argument can be turned against itself.

Keywords: metaethics, Ronald Dworkin, H.L.A.Hart, methodology, jurisprudence, legal philosophy, skepticism, objectivity, subjectivity, normativity, description, descriptive methodology

Suggested Citation

Ehrenberg, Kenneth M., Archimedean Metaethics Defended (2008). U Buffalo Legal Studies Research Paper No. 2008-04; Metaphilosophy, Vol. 39, October 2008. Available at SSRN:

Kenneth M. Ehrenberg (Contact Author)

University of Surrey - School of Law ( email )

United Kingdom

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