Intuitionism and Emotivism

Intuitionism, emotivism, the is-ought gap, subjectivity/objectivity

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  • Created by: Sazz
  • Created on: 31-05-10 20:38



  • Morals differ from person to person
  • Non cognitive


  • There are absolute, universal morals
  • Cognitive
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The Naturalistic Fallacy- G.E. Moore

The naturalistic fallacy is the mistake of trying to define goodness in terms of something natural eg. pleasure/survival. Naturalistic moral theories say that we can know morals through reason and examine them like anything else in the natural world.

This is a mistake as goodness is a non-natural and non-definable thing.

For example, Utilitarianism says goodness can be measured in terms of pleasure, when we have no way of objectively knowing that pleasure is a morally good thing.

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The is-ought gap- Hume

The is-ought gap is based on the naturalistic fallacy.

It says that making statements like "Stealing is bad for the community, therefore I ought not to steal" is wrong. This is because Hume believes morals are not empirical so you cannot make statements about them.

Hume's idea's on this are named Hume's Guillotine as he completely separates is and ought.

Statements containing 'is' are cognitive and so can be checked, whereas a statement containing 'ought' is non-cognitive, uncheckable and subjective, therefore one cannot be derived from the other.


Searle says there are some exceptions to this. For example, if something is a promise it implies you ought to keep it by definition.

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Trying to describe good is like trying to describe a colour.

All you can say is 'good is good' and give examples of things that are. Often it is hard to describe why you believe things are good, for example, saving a starving child.

You must therefore use Intuition, an inbuilt faculty that makes moral judgements based on previous sense experience.

The theory benefits from being secular, and it can be applied by everyone quickly and easily as there is no decision making process requiring reason like Utilitarianism.


  • Intuition can be wrong eg. Hitler
  • Surely reason is a more informed and reliable way of making moral choices
  • Intuition cannot be verified
  • Hume- Intuition may be just what we believe based on past experience, not an inbuilt moral force.
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Emotivism- Ayer

Ayer says that we agree on morals up to a certain point but then disagree. For example, we might all agree it is wrong to kill a stranger for no reason, but may disagree on whether it is wrong to kill in self-defence.

However, morals are not objective and cannot be verified right or wrong so it is meaningless to say someone else's morals are wrong. Therefore we can only state our opinion of them. This is called Ayer's boo-hurrah theory. It says morals are only expressions of feeling/emotion towards certain actions.

This backed up by Hume who says 'sentiment is the source of right and wrong'.


  • Some opinions are just wrong eg. that of a serial killer and by following this theory it means we cannot judge or punish them
  • If ethics depended on emotions they could change every day
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Jack Broadbent


Good summary of Meta Ethics! :D

Maybe a bit light on Emotivism; no mention of analytic/synthetic statements.

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