Meta-ethics concerns whether at least some ethical judgments are what one might call facts. In particular, a cognitivist who subscribes to realism, rather than the error theory or something similar, holds that they express believed propositions which are sometimes true. As soon as they try to defend this view, they'll need to discuss the relationships between

  1. "things whose status as facts aren't in meta-ethical dispute because of logical or empirical bases for them" and
  2. "things whose potential status as further facts is part of what we're debating".

In short, the "is" & "ought" as Hume construed them.

What names can we give these two things that don't presuppose any specific view in meta-ethics? In particular, simply calling 1 "facts" seems inappropriate for this, as it implies 2 (whatever they be called), by contrast, don't comprise facts. I'm sure the need for terminology that doesn't have this problem has led someone to suggest something more workable, but I've not encountered it.

Popper certainly didn't. In Facts, Standards and Truth: A Further Criticism of Relativism, his 1961 addendum to The Open Society and Its Enemies, Popper talks a lot about a dualism between facts and standards, which, on my best attempt to read it without finding him contradicting himself, would make these his terms for 1 and 2. Therefore, I suspect a "neutral" pair of terms postdates 1961.

A further clarifying edit, to address the close vote: I'm sorry if this question came across as opinion-based, but literally all I want to know is whether anyone's invented an alternate to "is statements and ought statements" that doesn't suggest anti-realism. That's a factual question about terminology in the literature. I'm assuming from people's responses that they haven't, or at least not very famously.

  • 1
    From what I understand (see Eidlin's paper), Popper's fact/standard dualism is similar to the usual fact/value distinction, between natural (non-moral) facts and norms, the difference is that he admits rational criticism of standards themselves. So his "facts" do not apply to either 1 or 2. I do not think there is any standard terminology for distinguishing 1 and 2 (mainly because 1 is essentially empty), but people may talk of non-controversial vs controversial moral principles if need be.
    – Conifold
    Commented Feb 27, 2020 at 9:36
  • @Conifold Why would you say 1 is essentially empty? Meta-ethicists tend to agree, for example, that observable effects of policies are factual; those are the kind of "is" Hume says can't get an "ought".
    – J.G.
    Commented Feb 27, 2020 at 10:09
  • It is hard to tell whether what you mean in 1,2 are first order moral facts or meta-principles. The post suggests the former, but the example in the comment is of the latter. Either way, "One answer often offered is that, at a suitably abstract level, there are premises or principles that everyone in fact accepts... But of course such claims hardly do much work", SEP, Moral Epistemology.
    – Conifold
    Commented Feb 27, 2020 at 10:37
  • I've edited the question to make my definition clearer.
    – J.G.
    Commented Feb 27, 2020 at 10:43
  • 1
    J.G. Comment noted, answer withdrawn.
    – Geoffrey Thomas
    Commented Feb 29, 2020 at 12:51

1 Answer 1


You say

Meta-ethics concerns whether at least some ethical judgments are what one might call facts.

Whereas Wikipedias article on meta-ethics:

Meta-ethics is the branch of ethics that seeks to understand the nature of ethical properties, statements, attitudes, and judgments. Meta-ethics is one of the three branches of ethics generally studied by philosophers, the others being normative ethics and applied ethics.

While normative ethics addresses such questions as "What should I do?", evaluating specific practices and principles of action, meta-ethics addresses questions such as "What is goodness?" and "How can we tell what is good from what is bad?", seeking to understand the nature of ethical properties and evaluations.

Thus not really very different from traditional ethics...

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