The argument from morality is an argument for the existence of God which explores the metaethical basis of moral rules, in particular their ontological basis. In order to better understand the argument and whether or not it is successful it is important that theists and atheists have a clear concept of what metaethics is and the different positions that philosophers have held. In this article I will attempt to explain what sorts of questions moral ontology tries to answer and how this fits in with other branches of ethics. I will then briefly list a few of the answers that people have tried to give, although I will not evaluate them in detail but will instead include some links so that those who are interested in exploring them further can do so. As such, this article will not be arguing for any particular position and instead is simply trying to increase awareness of the different positions that philosophers have held.
The Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy explains that “Metaethics is a branch of analytic philosophy that explores the status, foundations, and scope of moral values, properties, and words. Whereas the fields of applied ethics and normative theory focus on what is moral, metaethics focuses on what morality itself is.” Moral ontology attempts to answer a number of questions including: Does morality exist? What kind of value is a moral value? Where do moral values come from? Why are moral values binding? Is morality absolute and universal, or does morality vary from time to time and person to person, and if so, in what way? Each different metaethical theory will answer these questions in different ways.
I will now sketch four positions that philosophers have held. One such view is moral relativism. Moral relativism is the view that “moral judgments are true or false only relative to some particular standpoint (for instance, that of a culture or a historical period) and that no standpoint is uniquely privileged over all others.” Within this larger position there are a number of views. One is cultural relativism which holds that culture is the source moral values. This basically means that it is your culture that decides what is right and wrong. There are certain advantages to this position, for example, there do seem to be different moral values in different cultures (although to what extent this is true is debated), and cultural relativism might explain this. However, there are also disadvantages to this position as Milos Bogicevic points out “Cultural relativism fails to answer why one should do what their respective culture proscribes. Merely pointing to the fact that certain practices are long-standing tradition to justify certain behavior is fallacious. It translates facts into values by deriving a prescriptive from a descriptive account.” However, this position is held by some philosophers and there is a lot of literature exploring it.
Another common position is constructivism. Constructivism is the view that “insofar as there are normative truths, for example, truths about what we ought to do, they are in some sense determined by an idealized process of rational deliberation, choice, or agreement”. It is important to note that this does not merely mean that we discover or explore morality through rational deliberation; rather it is the view morality is ‘constructed’ through rationality. This distinction is an important one. As such, if one accepted constructivism, then we could say that rationality and morality are two sides of the same coin. There are many advantages to constructivism, for example it would allow for an objective morality without having to appeal to anything external to the human mind. However, there are also weaknesses with constructivism for example, which form of rationality should we use? And why are we obliged to be rational? Most people would want to be rational but it is less clear why we are, in some way, obliged to be rational. However, there is a lot of literature on these questions which make for interesting reading.
Another common position (particularly among Christians!) is divine command ethics. This is the view that in some way morality is dependent upon God. However, within this broad view there are a number of different positions. There are advantages to divine command ethics, for example, it would allow for transcendent, universal and absolute moral rules. There are also disadvantages, for example, it remains unconvincing to non-believers, and theists are still required to explain the relationship between God and morality by solving the Euthyphro dilemma and so on.
Finally, another position is moral non-realism (also called anti-realism and irrealism). There are a number of positions within this view, some of which are similar to forms of subjectivism, and some of which deny that morality or moral rules exists at all. There are obvious intuitive difficulties with this position; however, there are some philosophers who are prepared to adopt this position.
I have now briefly introduced four positions that philosophers have held. This list is by no means exhaustive and there is a huge amount of very interesting literature out there. In conclusion metaethics is important because whichever position we adopt will influence which normative ethical theory we subscribe to and whether we believe in morality at all. As such, it is important that theists and atheists have some understanding of metaethics. It is also important that any Christian advocating the moral argument for the existence of God, and any atheist criticizing the argument, has some understanding of metaethics in order to make for a more interesting and fruitful conversation.
 Emrys Westacott. “Moral Relativism”, The Internet Encylopedia of Philosophy. Available at: http://www.iep.utm.edu/moral-re/ [Accessed on 25/06/2013].
 Bogicevic, Milos, (2013). “Cultural Relativism And Human Rights.” International Journal Of Rule Of Law, Transitional Justice And Human Rights, 3 (3). pp. 151-156.
 Bagnoli, Carla, “Constructivism in Metaethics”, The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Winter 2011 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.), URL = . [Accessed on 25/06/2013].
 For an introduction to moral anti-realism see: http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/moral-anti-realism/#ChaMorAntRea.