Complete Meta-ethics revision notes!

My revision notes for OCR A2 Ethics.


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Charlotte Round
Meta-ethics revision notes!
What does it mean to say that something is right or wrong? What do the words that are used
in the debate actually mean?
Meta-ethics looks at the basis on which ethical theories are derived. It also provides
opportunity for philosophers agree the terms by which an ethical debate is going to
proceed. This is called prolegomena and helps to prevent contributions to a debate working
at cross-purposes.
Meta-ethics is not concerned with particular moral theories as normative ethics are or how
theories can be applied to particular issues. Meta-ethics asks;
What do we mean by `good', `bad', `right' and `wrong'?
Do such concepts exist independent of human feelings?
How can we discover if they do, and if so, what do we mean by them?
Cognitive and non cognitive
Cognitivists believe that moral concepts are real things. Non-Cognitivists argue that `good'
`bad', `right' and `wrong' have no actual existence; they are matters of personal choice.
Cognitivism and non-Cognitivism have strengths and weaknesses. The main strength of
Cognitivism is that it takes seriously the existence of moral absolutes ­ it is argued that
morality is too important to be a matter of personal opinion.
Non-Cognitivists claim that the primary strength of their position is that it accepts the world
as it is. Morality is simply a matter of personal choice, it allows for moral flexibility as
opinions develop and change.
Ethical Naturalism
Naturalism refers to something which can be tested ­ moral statements are propositional
and can be verified empirically. Explaining moral terms in a non moral (factual) way.
The naturalist approach is to treat ethical statements the same as non ethical statement
that can be either; verified or falsified.
1. Ethical terms can be defined using non ethical terms. E.g. Eating cake is right because
it makes people happy.
2. Ethical conclusions can be drawn from non ethical statements. E.g. we could say that
abortion ends the life of a foetus, therefore, abortion is wrong.
An advantage of naturalism is that is provides a scientific basis for ethics and seeks to avoid
appeal to intuition in ethics.

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A naturalistic view of ethics argues that, once verified by nature, moral statements are
objectively true.
David Hume; Hume claimed the attempt to go from what is to what ought to be is a
fundamental mistake.
We could say `children are starving' (which is a fact) and `you ought to feed them' (which is
prescriptive). Hume argued that no moral prescription (feeding the children) should follow
from fact and ought to should follow an ought.…read more

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believes that no proposed natural property can pass the test of the open question
argument. This implies that all moral theories fail that are based on anything other than
moral intuition. It is only of secondary importance whether an action produces pleasure, is in
accord with the will of God, or is conducive to reason.
What truly matters is whether we simply recognise the goodness of a particular
action.…read more

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Had similar ideas to Moore and Pritchard. Ross believed moral principles are not absolute or
defined in natural terms. Ross developed the idea of prima-facie duties (meaning duties we
have at first sight). In any situation we only have which are apparent.
1. Promise keeping
2. Reparation for harm done
3. Gratitude
4. Justice
5. Beneficence
6. Self-improvement
7. Non-malefience
Ross thought that right and obligation were indefinable and all we needed to know is what
we think is right.…read more

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"Boo-Hurrah theory" Emotivism is the idea that the meaning of ethical language is not
knowledgeable as its use is only an expression of emotion.
A.J Ayer;
For Ayer, the claim `murder is wrong' is not based on any objective moral principle.…read more

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Stevenson is able to explain complex meaning of ethical terms ­ emphasising
underlying definitions and beliefs
Peter Vardy criticises Ayers emotivism as he says it is an ethical `non-theory' because
it only deals with emotions. It doesn't address whether something is ethical or not.
James Rachels criticises emotivism for removing reason from moral judgements. If
they don't appeal to reason they become pointless
It seems inadequate to say terrible crimes are down to emotion.…read more

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If you think it's wrong for someone to
steal from you, you must think it is wrong for you to steal from someone.
Prescriptivism finds a place for reason in moral debate (unlike emotivism)
Prescriptivism see's a guiding aspect, rather then influencing someone through
emotion ­ making ethical discussion more rational
Singer claims there is no relevant difference between the suffering of people and
the suffering of animals.…read more


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