Date of Degree


Document Type


Degree Name





Catherine Wilson

David M. Rosenthal

Committee Members

Stefan Bernard Baumrin

Samir Chopra

Douglas Lackey

Subject Categories



Philosophy, Religion and Theology, Constructivism, Expressivism, Intentionality, Interactionism, Metaethics, Realism


Metaethics has traditionally focused on the meaning of moral statements, the referents of moral terms, and the justification of moral claims. This dissertation focuses on the thoughts in virtue of which our moral statements have their meaning and our moral claims have their content. These "moral mental states," as I call them, are best understood as having both intentional and volitional aspects and, corresponding to each aspect, as having satisfaction conditions involving both correctness and success in action. Put simply, our moral mental states are not only responsible for changing the world; they are responsible for changing the world in better ways, rather than worse ones. Using this framework, I examine three current metaethical frameworks (moral realism, constructivism, and expressivism/quasi-realism) and assess their adequacy in accounting for both kinds of these satisfaction conditions. I argue that none of the approaches succeeds in meeting basic constraints imposed by a robust view of moral mental states and propose my own view (interactionism). On my account, we often change our moral stances once the outcomes of the plans they recommend becomes known. Taking this as its basis, interactionism holds that a moral mental state is correct or incorrect based on the content (roughly, approval or disapproval) of the moral mental state one would hold in light of this improved information. Accordingly, the procedures for confirming moral content are similar to those for confirming scientific content: hypotheses and observations play a central role, and we must occasionally defer to other inquirers on issues that exceed our capacity for investigation. I conclude by presenting three empirical hypotheses that claim that we do, as a matter of course, have other-regarding interests and that, in a significant number of cases, our self-regarding and other-regarding interests overlap.


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