The concrete questions of ethics and of political philosophy necessarily presuppose certain concepts of a more abstract nature, such as those of norm, value and autonomy. Moreover, ethical and political debates are often informed by theoretical presuppositions that remain untheorised. The mission of the « fundamental » axis of the CRE consists in advancing research on the fundamental questions of ethics.
Researchers associated with this axis are concerned with three major sets of questions. The first of these pertains to normative ethics. We might say that the central question of ethics is to know how one ought to act. To answer this question it is necessary to evaluate various moral theories, i.e., to engage in the debate opposing consequentialism, deontology and virtue ethics.
The second set brings together metaethical questions, such as those of moral realism, of the objectivity of values or of the nature of normativity. The question here is to understand the nature of moral judgement, such as the judgement that it is cruel to torture a kitten for pleasure. Is such a judgement true or false? Does it refer to objective facts, or to conventions? And how are we to determine whether such a judgement is correct?
The third set of questions concerns what we may call moral psychology. This discipline bears on questions of psychology relevant to debates in normative ethics and metaethics. What is the relationship between moral judgement and motivation? Is weakness of will possible? What is a moral dilemma? What are the respective roles of reason and of the emotions? What is virtue? What is autonomy?