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The Centrality of Normative Ethical Theory

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Bernard Rosen

A normative ethical theory provides a means of arriving at justified moral and value judgments. A clear example of such a theory is J. S. Mill's utilitarianism. When Mill, or any authors, attempt to justify these normative ethical theories they provide meta-ethical arguments. Any attempted justification of the meta-arguments, or the methods they employ, is at the meta-philosophical level and are parceled out to their proper level, thus revealing Mill's full ethical theory. Bernard Rosen argues Mill's critics and supporters address one level or another, often without noting which one it is. The positions of important ethical theorists who have been influenced by, or who criticize Mill are presented. They include A. Sidgwick, G. E. Moore, William James, M. Schlick, A. J. Ayer, R. M. Hare, C. L. Stevenson, William Frankena, and John Dewey. Along the way, a thoroughgoing, pragmatic ethical theory at every level, is set out and defended.