Ethics: Inventing Right and Wrong

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This title presents an insight into moral skepticism of the 20th century. The author argues that our every-day moral codes are an 'error theory' based on the presumption of moral facts which, he persuasively argues, don't exist. His refutation of such facts is based on their metaphysical 'queerness' and the observation of cultural relativity.

Product Details

  • Paperback: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin Books (May 17, 1991)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0140135588
  • ISBN-13: 978-0140135589
  • Product Dimensions: 5.1 x 0.6 x 7.7 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 7 ounces

Customer Reviews

Five Stars

 on April 6, 2016
By Sheridan
A seminal classic in the ethical naturalist cannon.

Father of Error Theory

18 people found this helpful.
 on May 21, 2014
By Jaime Andrews
This book is the father of all error theory books. He originates some of the central critiques of moral thought and discourse that guys like Richard Garner rely on (see also: 


 on April 27, 2016
Morality, as commonly conceived, is a delusion; it is, however, indispensable for the flourishing both of society and of individuals. These are the main theses, one concerning the status (part 1), the other the content of morality, (part 2), of J. L. Mackie’s “Ethics: Inventing Right and Wrong”.

A Classic of Contemporary Moral Philosophy

59 people found this helpful.
 on February 16, 2004
By ctdreyer
The first chapter of Mackie’s Ethics: Inventing Right and Wrong is the locus classicus for error theories in contemporary meta-ethics. There he argues that ordinary moral discourse and thought involve an assumption that there are what he calls “objective values,” and that this assumption is false. Consequently, ordinary moral thought and language are infected by an error that precludes any ordinary moral claims and thoughts from being true.

A Classic of 20th Century Ethics Indeed…

23 people found this helpful.
 on August 8, 2006
It might be read as an introduction to Ethics, but it isn’t one. It is rather one of the most important works in 20th century ethics.

Classic defense of "moral skepticism."

33 people found this helpful.
 on November 15, 2000
By Kindle Customer
Mackie wants to convince us that objective values are not “part of the fabric of the universe.” In other words, there are no moral claims that are objectively true, and no moral rules that are objectively binding on us. He gives three arguments in support of this claim. He argues that the best explanation for the diversity of ethical beliefs is that there is no matter of fact that some of us are getting right, while others are getting it wrong. He argues that the very existence of objective values is “queer” (by which he means “weird”), because they would have to have some strange sort of “intrinsic prescriptivity.” And he argues that knowledge of objective values, if there were any, would require some strange, inexplicable form of moral intuition.

Good subjectivist moral philosophy

4 people found this helpful.
 on May 1, 2007
By Marc Vossman
This is a well written, entertaining book. I did not find the arguments in the early part of the book on error theory and the “queerness” of object values convincing, but I do believe that different people have different values, which opens the door for a subjective moral philosophy. At this point, the book does an excellent job in developing and building the ideas behind just such a philosophy. This is the closest to “Humean” moral thought written in the 20th century that I have found (which I consider to be high praise).

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