Meta- Ethics What do we meanwhen we use ethical language?
Meta-Ethics• Meta-ethics is concerned with what we mean when we use words like ‘good’ ‘bad’ ‘right’ ‘wrong’. •• It is not a normative system of ethics – its does not tell us what we can and can’t do
BackgroundThe philosopher David Hume was an empiricist: heargued that things can only be ‘real’ or ‘meaningful’ ifthey can be verified or proved by our five senses. e.g.: I know oranges exist because I have seen, smelt, touched and tasted them
Ethical NaturalismA branch of ethics called Ethical Naturalism developed from empiricism and the ideas of David Hume.These ethicists argued thatwe observe the worldaround us and create moraltheories to fit ourobservations.
An Example…If we could prove, empirically and provide proof, that women make better parents than men (i.e. if this was a fact) Then we could argue than men should not be single parents. (moral judgement)
Is-Ought Gap• Many opponents of the naturalist position argue that we cannot make the leap between a FACT (is) and a MORAL JUDGEMENT (ought).
Naturalistic Fallacy• This jump from an is to an ought, from fact to moral judgement is what critics of Naturalism call the Naturalistic Fallacy.
Is this really ethics?• Is this form of naturalism what we would call ‘ethics’ or is it sociology, or psychology?
IntuitionismThe philosopher G.E. Moore criticised naturalism. Instead he said we have an infallible intuitive knowledge of good things.e.g. I don’t need to observe a murder to know that killing someone is wrong – I just know it is.
Continued ….• When I make a moral decision I am simply choosing the outcome that will bring about these good things.
Simple v ComplexMoore argued that there are simple and complex ideas.Complex = ‘horse’ can be broken down into animal, mammal, quadraped, equine.Simple = ‘yellow’ we can’t break it down any further.
Moral terms are simple‘Good’‘Bad’‘Right’‘Wrong’Are simple terms ‘Good’ is simply ‘good’.
Moral judgements cannot be provenMoore further argued that moral judgements cannot be proven empirically.We cannot observe pleasure and then say that goodness is pleasure.
W.D. Ross - IntuitionismRoss accepted Moore’s version of ethics and also added that in any given situation moral duties or obligations become apparent.These are called prima facie duties.Prima facie means ‘at first appearance’
Prima Facie Duties• Ross listed the following as prima facie duties:Keeping a promise, reparation for harm done, gratitude, justice, beneficence, se lf-improvement and non-maleficenceHe acknowledged that this list might not be complete.
EmotivismA.J. Ayer was a Logical Positivist. He believed that meaningful statements had to be verified either synthetically or analytically otherwise they are meaningless.
Analytic Statements 1+1=2 All triangles have 3 sides All spinsters are unmarried womenAll of these statements are true in themselves – they are true by definition
Synthetic Statements It’s snowing There’s a squirrel in that tree That chair is brownThese are all synthetic statements - they can be verified by our five senses.
So what are moral statements?Moral statements cannot be verified synthetically or analytically. Therefore they are not truths or facts.Moral statements are simply expressions of preference, attitude or feeling.
Emotivism – ‘boo’ ‘hurrah’Moral statements come from our emotional responses to situations.When I say murder is wrong I am saying ‘murder – boooooooo!’When I say giving to charity is good I am saying ‘charity - hurrrrrah!’
C. L. StevensonStevenson added to Ayer’s theory by asserting that when we make moral statements we are not only expressing our emotional response to a situation but we are also trying to persuade others to have the same emotional response.
The Removal of ReasonThe removal of reason is one of the major criticisms of emotivism and intuitionism.James Rachels argues that it is wrong of Ayer to make a connection between the ‘ouch’ response when you stub your toe and the ‘that’s wrong’ reaction when you see details of a murder on the news.
PrescriptivismMoral statements are objective. They are both prescriptive and universal. The only coherent way to behave morally is to act on judgements that you are prepared to universalise.
Prescriptivism• Moral statements are objective. They are prescriptive and universalThe only way to act morally in any situation is to respond in a way that we would be prepared to say that EVERYONE should have to behave.
A summary of meta-ethics… Meta-ethics How we use ethical language and where it comes from. Intuitionism Emotivism Prescriptivism Our intuition tells What is right or wrong When I say something us what is right is simply an is right I’m trying or wrong emotional response to get you to think to a situation the same
Our ethical journey so far … ETHICS NORMATIVE ETHICS META-ETHICS Intuitionism Emotivism Prescriptivism ABSOLUTE RELATIVE G.E. Moore A.J. Ayer H.A. Pritchard R.M. Hare C.L. Stevenson W.D. Ross Natural Law Virtue EthicsThomas Aquinas Aristotle