Toward a Pragmatist Metaethics
The pragmatist tradition in philosophy tends to focus on the pioneering work of its founding trio of Charles Pierce, William James, and John Dewey, who together proposed and developed a distinctive kind of naturalist empiricism. Though they disagreed sharply over central issues concerning truth and meaning, the original pragmatists shared a commitment to the primacy of practice and human experience, and a corresponding distaste for abstract philosophical theorizing. It comes as no surprise, then, that pragmatist work in value theory tends to focus on normative and applied ethics; there is very little in classical pragmatism that one would count as meta-ethics.
But philosophical landscapes change, and the area of meta-ethics is at present vibrant with philosophical debates that matter for moral practice, despite their being abstract. It turns out that getting a workable and attractive conception of moral life requires one to address the technical questions of meta-ethics. Accordingly, contemporary pragmatists need to work out a pragmatist meta-ethics.
In Toward a Pragmatist Metaethics (Routledge, 2016), Diana Heney gathers crucial philosophical resources from the classical pragmatists in providing a distinctively pragmatist defense of moral cognitivism and meta-ethical generalism. Her book combines a nuanced reading of the history of pragmatism with a sophisticated intervention in contemporary meta-ethical theory.