Metaethics essay

This is an essay on a metaethics past paper question for the OCR exam board, AS level Religious Studies. I hope you find it helpful, i got an A for it.

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a) Explain, with examples, the use of language in metaethics
Metaethics is the use and function of language when one comes to making moral
decisions. It holds that before anyone can establish what is good or bad moral
behaviour we need to establish if we can define the words. The theory of metaethics
holds that if one is unclear about the nature and meaning of words, one can not make an
authoritative claim about how people should act.
A key question within metaethics is "are ethical dilemmas subjective or objective?". If
they are subjective this would mean that the "right" action in a moral dilemma is a matter
of opinion and there is no evidence to proof the "goodness" of the action. However, if
they are objective this means they are true for everyone because they are external facts
or evidence to proof that a certain action is the "right" one. Many philosophers disagree
on whether moral values are subjective or objective.
There are many theories within metaethics these include emotivism, prescriptivism and
intuitionism. Emotivism was born when logical positivists embraced a scientific method
for verifying knowledge, a process of verification which excluded the possibility of moral
facts. This theory was influenced by David Hume, a Scottish philosopher who rejected
naturalism. He believed that sentiment is the source of "right" and "wrong". Hume
believed that mankind has a common feeling for each other's welfare and that we all
have the capacity for compassion but it has nothing to do with reason. The leading
British exponent of the theory of emotivism was A.J Ayer. Ayer argued that meaningful
statements had to be verified either synthetically or analytically. A synthetic fact is a fact
that can be tested by one's senses, for example "It is raining outside". An analytic fact is
a fact that is true by definition, for example "All widows are women". Ayer held the view
that as moral statements can't be verified synthetically or analytically they are
meaningless. Ayer explained that ethical statements and moral judgements as emotive
responses, such as expressions of preference, attitude or feeling. He maintained that
moral statements are like grunts, screams or cheers, to arouse feelings or express
pain. Therefore this is known as the "hurrah/boo theory". This theory holds that to say
"lying is wrong" is like saying "boo to lying" and is simply expressing an opinion against
lying. Likewise to say "charity is good" is like saying "hurrah to charity", it isn't a
meaningful ethical statement according to this theory.
Prescriptivism is a metaethical theory that holds that moral statements are not simply
describing an opinion but have an intrinsic sense that others ought to agree with and
follow that moral view. R.M Hare rejected the subjective idea of morality in emotivism.
He believed that moral statements did more than describe behaviour or express
attitudes. Universal prescriptivity was born when Hare combined prescriptivity and
universalizability. Universal prescriptivism holds that moral language is action guiding,
this includes one's own actions and it attempts to persuade others to come round to

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Hare maintained that reason has a role to play in moral
Intuitionism claims that ethical statements can't be derived from empirical sense
experience. In other words a person need not use scientific observation or logical
analysis to identify what is good. Instead, (the intuitionist would argue), the individual
recognises what is good and it is done intuitively. The three main exponents of
intuitionism are G.E Moore, H.A Pritchard, W.D Ross. The main work of G.E Moore
was Principia Ethica.…read more

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This theory holds that to say a moral action is "good" or "bad" is simply giving
one's opinion about that action and is not a meaningful ethical statement. So according
to the "hurrah/boo theory" to say "charity is good" is like saying "hurrah" to that charity
and to say "lying is bad" is like saying "boo" to that action, hence the name of the theory.…read more


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