Meta-Ethics and Ethical Language (The 'is-ought' gap (Leads to…
Meta-Ethics and Ethical Language
What is Meta-Ethics?
Contrasts with normative ethics
(working out which actions are right/wrong)
and descriptive ethics
(comparing and describing moral behaviours).
More concerned with the meaning (if any) of 'goodness'.
would be centred around
what 'goodness' or 'morality' is
, however an
answer to these questions would be a normative ethical claim
, dealing with whether you are
being 'good' or 'moral' in your actions
, an example being a utilitarian claim, that an action is good if it produces the greatest good for the greatest number.
'character' / 'custom'
Study of underlying ethical ideas or ethical language.
Moral uses of the term 'good' are circular
(a good ac
Naturalism v Non-Naturalism
The view that
morals can be defined or explained in natural terms
, or supported by observation of the world in science.
Develop ideas with
. If 'goodness' means 'pleasure', we look at evidence of pleasure and pain in actions. If 'goodness' is whatever God desires, we look at evidence of God's purposes in the natural world.
Famous ethical naturalist,
F. H. Bradley
'goodness' is a natural aspect of society
. People reach 'self-realisation' within the community.
naturalism gives a narrow account of goodness.
G. E. Moore
naturalism associates goodness with varying and often contradictory properties.
Defining goodness in terms of natural facts is mistaken -
Moore - our morals are non-natural
: not apparent in the world around us, and cannot be defined by the world around us.
The 'is-ought' gap
Similar idea to Moore's non-naturalism put forward by
We cannot move logically from a statement about how the world
to a statement about how we
ought to act
because he made a clear cut between facts and ethics.
Leads to conclusion that there is
no such thing as a moral fact
H. A. Pritchard
Moral obligations form immediate apprehensions
(we accept immediately that it is the case and it requires no further explanation) - likened to mathematics (1 + 1 = 2 and no further discussion needed).
Intuitions involve more than just goodness, but a sense of obligation
. There is a gap between saying something is good and saying we ought to do it.
Resolving a moral dilemma involves
weighing up contrasting obligations and deciding which is more important
Positive view of human nature
- people have genuine obligations and duties to fulfill.
Pritchard's idea of duty is very subjective
- not clear if there is a 'right' way to solve dilemmas.
W. D. Ross
Moral principles are not absolute or defined in natural terms.
Developed idea of
prima facie duties
(obvious, clear and apparent duties). We are bound by these unless there is some other compelling reason.
Seven PF duties
: promise keeping, reparation for harm done, gratitude, justice, beneficence, self-improvement and non-maleficence.
choose between the duties on the basis of judgement
- no logical system for working it out.
G. E. Moore
'Good is good, and that is the end of the matter'
. It is an indefinable and completely simple idea. Philosophers are wasting their time trying to define it.
Compares to colour yellow
- can only be known directly through intuition - yellow is just yellow and that's all there is to it.
We don't explain it in terms of something else (naturalistic fallacy) - same as goodness.
we have an intuitive sense of right and wrong
: almost by instinct we know what is valuable.
Moore did not think we can prove an intuition, and it may be that they are wrong
. Could leave ethical debate in quite a weak position.
'naturalistic fallacy' seems persuasive
- we can always criticise those who associate the good with something else.
Pritchard and Ross' view that duties are self-evident gives a
positive outlook on human nature
Key ethicists are broadly in agreement
(Moore, Pritchard and Ross)
Intuitionists have failed to agree on what the moral good is
(even though supposedly self-evident). Moore had a teleological view (promotion of happiness and appreciation of beauty) whereas Ross emphasised duty.
Does not prescribe a rigid morality
- allows that intuitive judgements may be wrong
Highly individualist approach to ethics
- does not give us concrete justifications for moral behaviour (because goodness is indefinable)
Clear account of the meaning of 'good'
in ethics - simple and known directly
Does not help us to resolve moral disputes
- no clear decision-making process.
Contrasts with Utilitarianism for example (gives us Utility Principle)
- view that morals can be understood purely as emotional responses.
A. J. Ayer
Took up Hume's argument that
ethics only amounts to sentiments (feelings)
applied his Verification Principle
(language is only meaningful if it can be verified)
to religious beliefs and moral ideas.
Our statements merely reflect our feelings about something / someone
, our approval or disapproval, e.g. 'lying is wrong' is just like saying 'boo to lying'.
stating something is right or wrong is not making a factual statement
, merely expressing moral sentiments.
Ethics just amounts to our subjective feelings, therefore Ayer's theory is often called the
not all emotive statements are equal
- they all arouse feelings but with
three different strengths of command.
2) Saying someone 'ought' to do something
3) Stating something is good/bad
1) Implying a duty
C. L. Stevenson
Similar ideas to Ayer, but instead of just differing emotions , there are
real disagreements in attitudes
attitudes are based on beliefs
Statements like 'capital punishment is wrong' are
shaped by prior beliefs
to this are
not just differing emotions but different underlying convictions
more meaning to moral disagreements
, whereas Ayer only sees them as conflicts of feelings
Able to explain complex meaning of ethical terms and gives hope for resolving ethical disputes.
- emphasises underlying beliefs and definitions
emotivism removes reason from moral judgement
- we naturally appeal to reason in many walks of life.
Easy to think of ideas which link to Emotivism
- lots of examples of people making moral claims with great conviction and less proof
Inadequate to say that condemnation of terrible crimes is 'just emotion'.
Surely some things are intrinsically wrong.
Ayer lacks problem of speculative and metaphysical ideas
- based on observation of behaviour
Vardy: emotivism is an 'ethical non-theory' because it
only discusses emotion and does not deal with the idea of actions being ethical