I'm trying to clarify my moral position, so I've been doing a lot of research into ethics (both meta-ethics and normative).

On one hand, I definitely align with utilitarianism (especially rule utilitarianism). That seems to be a "Moral Universalism" position, in that it should apply to all people at all times, regardless of culture. This seems, from my understanding, to be a moral realist position.

However, on the other hand, I also find myself agreeing with Non-cognitivism: I don't believe that moral claims are "propositions" that can be true or false. This is clearly a moral anti-realist position.

My question is: are these two positions contradictory? Or am I just misunderstanding the terminology?

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    Non-cognitivism is about the nature of moral claims (where they come from), utilitarianism is about their content (how good/bad is determined), so, in this sense, the two are independent of each other. However, utilitarianism merely asserts that good is determined by maximizing utility, whatever the basis for adopting this "good" might be, "it should apply to all people at all times, regardless of culture" is not part of it. That is moral realism and incompatible with non-cognitivism.
    – Conifold
    Mar 17, 2021 at 9:38
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    @Conifold From my understanding, "it should apply to all people at all times, regardless of culture" is a statement of "moral universalism", NOT "moral realism".
    – gardenhead
    Mar 17, 2021 at 15:46

2 Answers 2


R. M. Hare was both a noncognitivist and a utilitarian. This begins a discussion of his emotivism and universal prescriptivism that spells out how he reconciled these attitudes and viewpoints, albeit imperfectly (even from his own perspective; the intro to the article relates a dream he had about self-doubt that he had achieved the goal he set for himself).


Yes. You can hold the non-cognitivist, emotivist position, "I approve of actions that follow a rule whose following tends to maximize the total utility," in the same way that someone can hold the emotivist position, "I disapprove of murder."

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