Eric Wampler

Date of Award


Degree Name

Master of Arts



First Advisor

Dr. Michael S. Pritchard

Second Advisor

Dr. Joseph Ellin

Third Advisor

Dr. David Newman

Access Setting

Masters Thesis-Campus Only


The Ideal Observer theory is a possible ethical naturalist position in metaethics, describing the meaning of ethical statements as that of which human beings with an idealized psychological state would approve. It has been met with several criticisms, including the charge of circularity and doubts about its prediction of the convergence of moral judgments of idealized psychologies. In this paper, I will argue that the Ideal Observer theory has more potential than its critics acknowledge. In particular, recent studies in cognitive science on the role of empathy and altruism suggest further investigation of the Ideal Observer theory may be fruitful.

I will argue the following: (1) a contemporary formulation of the Ideal Observer theory, namely Roderick Firth's, coupled with a cognitive scientific position regarding empathy's role in altruistic pro-social motivation, namely Martin Hoffman's, results in a simpler, more streamlined version of Firth's original theory; and (2) cognitive scientific studies, like Hoffman's, vindicate the theory from the charge of circularity and strongly suggest that the empirical facts support the theory's required moral convergence.

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