Note by lucy-hook, updated more than 1 year ago
Created by lucy-hook over 6 years ago


A-Level Philosophy Note on Meta-ethics, created by lucy-hook on 05/27/2014.

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Ethical Naturalism All ethical statements can be translated into non-ethical ones - verifiable factual statements. 'X is good' can be defined be referring to some combination of naturalistic properties/characteristics. 'Hitler was evil' can be verified or falsified by looking at his behaviour.

Ethical naturalism can also be seen as more to do with the science of the human mind.  Here all ethical statements are reduced to expressions of approval or disapproval, personal or general 'Mother Teresa is good' simply means 'I approve of Mother Teresa. 

Hume's Law = "you cannot derive an 'ought' from an 'is'Hume himself was a ethical naturalist in that he believed that when we call an action 'vicious' or 'virtuous' we are referring to certain feelings of moral approval or disapproval. It may be empirically true that Joe feels a certain way about incest and this is why he says that incest is 'wrong' but this does not mean that incest is wrong because Joe feels it is. This is because ethical judgements about what we ought to do cannot be derived from statements of fact. The former is evaluative whilst the latter is descriptive.

Criticisms of Ethical Naturalism

Therefore one cannot say Anne cheated in the exam therefore Anne ought to be expelled. The statement requires another premise. 

Moore's Naturalistic Fallacy = it is impossible to define words such as good and badBased on the 'open-question' techniqueThe phrase 'I know Jack is unmarried and male, but is he a bachelor?' is meaningless. The first part of the sentence supplies the end to the second.The phrase 'I know Hitler was evil because he killed lots of people' can still be questioned. It is meaningless to say 'I approve of it, but do I approve of it?' but it is not meaningless to say 'I approve of it, but is it good?'. Therefore the identification with approval and good cannot be supported. Therefore any theory which suggests that any natural property is identical with the good life fails. Goodness can not be grasped by a direct act of observation. 

Ethical Non-naturalism Moore argues that ethical statements can not be regarded as true or false on the basis of observable evidence We can decide, however, whether a moral proposition is true or false through moral proposition When we say something is 'good' we are referring to an indefinable quality, something which cannot be analysed, but that we can recognise as being possessed by someone or not It is like 'yellow', a simple notion that cannot be explained to someone who doesn't know it However, unlike yellow, 'goodness' cannot be observed, it is a non-natural property. 

Criticisms of Ethical Non-naturalism What is Moore claiming to know by intuition? If goodness is undetectable then how can Moore assert that there are some things which we intuitively know are intrinsic goods and some things which we know are intrinsic evil. Surely some factual information is required? One simply know that it is good to help old ladies cross the road but what if the old lady is really a terrorist? Like ethical naturalism, Moore's theory rules out moral disagreement. If I intuit that 'the sun will shine tomorrow' and you intuit that it will not we can check who is right through sense-experience. However we cannot rely on observations and therefore we are forever prevented from knowing which intuition is true since the only method of verification to intuitionism is intuition itself. 

What is good? Good is good, and that is the end of the matter

By intuitionism Moore does not mean that we possess some special insight or 'sixth sense'. It is rather that we know an action to be right without being able to give reasons why it is right. 

Ethical Non-Cognitivism Ayer argued that all ethical propositions are cognitively valueless due to the verification theory -> The function of ethical language is therefore purely emotive i.e. to express feelings or emotions. They are therefore more like boos or hurrahs.  Ethical statements are also used to arouse feelings in others e.g. when a mother tells her son 'stealing is wrong' she is hoping to pass on the feeling that stealing is wrong to her child. Moral disagreement is not about genuine moral beliefs but about disagreement in factual belief. 

The verification principle of meaning:A sentence is only meaningful if it can be shown to be  analytically true (bachelors are unmarried men) empirically true or false (Emily is wearing green) A statement which is neither expresses literally nothing; it is of no cognitive value. 

Criticisms of non-cognitivismIf the distinction between right and wrong offers only an account of the speaker's feelings this causes problems.Imagine I come across a person who is being tortured. I will say "it is always wrong for a person to be put through such pain" - i will view pain as an intrinsic evil. However I can not say this, that the event is wrong irrespective of my feelings towards it because moral statements are not meaningful. What if I am wrong about the torture and the person is really a saddomasacist who is bloody loving it. WIth the cognitive element removed all ethical judgements are equally valid. 

Prescriptivism For Hare the statement 'X is good' is not only to express an attitude but to commend - 'to guide choices, our own or other peoples, now or in the future' Like emotivism Hare believes there are no moral facts but the difference comes in that the speaker is not merely expressing what he feels is right but appealing to his listener as a rational being. Embedded in imperatives like 'never lie!' is an appeal to reason. Therefore ethical statements have cognitive elements.  It is partially cognitive in that it is referring to actual characteristics an action has and because it conforms to standards of criteria or goodness we commonly have.  Hare also argues that when I say 'X is good' because it has Y then I am committed to the idea that all Xs with Y are good. I universalise the characteristic. Another appeal to reason. 

How emotivism fails and prescriptivism wins Emotivism does not recognise that a cognitive element is necessary for the support of moral judgment. I must give reasons that X is good.  Emotivism does not recognise that all moral judgements, far from referring to individual approval, function also as universal guides to choice. 

Ethical naturalism


Ethical non-cognitivism

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