CPBD 008: Stephen Finlay – The Error in the Error Theory

by Luke Muehlhauser on October 11, 2009 in Ethics,Podcast

cpbd008Today I interview ethical philosopher Stephen Finlay about his 2008 journal article “The Error in the Error Theory.” Finlay takes a unique strategy against the arguments of leading moral anti-realist Richard Joyce, who defends an “error theory” about morality. Topics I discuss with Dr. Finlay include:

  • What’s wrong with error theory?
  • What do moral terms mean?
  • Can moral claims be true?
  • Can there be morality without God?

guest stephen finlayDownload CPBD episode 008 with Stephen Finlay. Total time is 1:22:38.


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{ 8 comments… read them below or add one }

Ben October 11, 2009 at 11:34 pm

Sweet. Finally!


Penneyworth October 12, 2009 at 1:42 pm

His paper debunks error theory (which says that it is an error to presuppose objective moral facts) by undermining the presupposition that there must be objective moral facts in order to make moral claims. Surely this is the most trivial of semantic shifts.

You did an excellent job with the interview, and asked many follow up questions that I was hoping you’d ask. Still, he offered just as little content and seemed to have no other points than trivial semantic quibbles, and comes across as just as much of an emotivist as Mackie and the rest.

Still, it’s funny when someone with an australian accent says “decade.” It sounds like “dick-eyed.”


Jeff H October 13, 2009 at 5:52 am

Good interview. I realized when listening that you sound a lot like Jim from the US version of The Office. If he ever gets a sore throat, I think they should call you up to dub over his lines for him.

Lol anyway I don’t have much to add to the meta-ethics debate, so I won’t try to come up with something brilliant to say about the interview. It was interesting, but something I’ll have to think about further. Thanks!


Karl October 18, 2009 at 10:38 pm

Luke – Just wanted to say that I really enjoy your podcasts. I know you’re very busy but I would love to see more interviews on substantive philosophical matters like this one. I enjoy your approach and attitude in the interview also…very refreshing. Thanks.


Ben November 3, 2009 at 4:05 am


Finally got around to listening. It is good to see that you are apparently more receptive to Finlay on some important accommodationist concepts. I’d been concerned. ;)



Richard Wein March 29, 2010 at 9:41 am

My comment comes a bit late in the day, so I don’t know if anyone will see it. I’ve only just started listening to the CPBD podcasts. I really enjoyed this podcast. My thanks to both participants.

I agreed with Stephen Finlay on quite a lot, though possibly not on his central point. I think the attempt to give a single interpretation to moral statements is doomed to failure, because they mean different things to different people, and even carry more than one meaning at the same time. I’m a moral anti-realist. That is, I reject the existence of absolute, objective moral truths (as I think Finlay does), but I don’t take any single position on what moral statements “mean”.


lukeprog March 29, 2010 at 10:09 am


In that case, you should listen to my interview with Don Loeb. You may be sympathetic with his theory of moral incoherentism.


Garren December 17, 2010 at 2:16 am

I’ve written a bit about another of Finlay’s papers: “Oughts and Ends.”



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