Suppose I decide to give someone some food for moral reasons, e.g. because I think they have a right to it. Is this irrational for the moral error theorist? What if I think that right is amoral? What if it's because I want to keep them alive in order to torture them after? What if I think it's moral to torture them?

The idiom "might makes right" means our ideas of right and wrong are shaped by power. Does that mean, for the moral error theorist, might makes (a belief) irrational?

There are no substantive hits for those terms together, but it's always been unclear to me what a life that is transparently amoral to itself could amount to, as you can see from the first paragraph.

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    Moral error theorists need not be error theorists about normativity, or rational norms, more broadly; also, "if and only if" is far too strong, since an error theorist could think we have irrational beliefs unrelated (or only very indirectly related) to moral considerations. Commented Jul 8, 2023 at 2:54

1 Answer 1


Moral Error theorists aren’t against doing things that are judged as moral - they simply hold that moral statements point at the existence of principles or foundational abstract objects which do not in fact exist. In your examples the error theorist would say you are wrong to say that there is a moral right to food, or moral principles around torture or might.

That’s not necessarily to say anything about rationality or reasons as such, because the error theorist regarding moral statements doesn’t need to be an error theorists about mental states. You might be acting rationally for reasons completely unrelated to your beliefs about morality, and simply be wrong in your assertions about why you’re acting the way you are.

So in other words:

  • Moral Error theory doesn't commit someone to a position about the rationality of an action or belief, even if that action proports to be a moral statement, because the falsity of moral principles may be separate from someone's reasons for acting or believing.
  • i'm not sure if you've just sidestepped the question. can you respond to the stated questions?
    – user66697
    Commented Jul 7, 2023 at 19:49
  • Edited - hopefully that's a bit clearer?
    – Paul Ross
    Commented Jul 7, 2023 at 20:29
  • I don't quite follow, but thanks
    – user66697
    Commented Jul 7, 2023 at 20:34

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