Meta-Ethics

Naturalism

  • Ethical naturalists are absolutists. They believe that right and wrong are fixed features of the universe.
  • They thinks that there are facts about right and wrong. Morals are not about different points of view, tastes and opinions, but are about facts of the natural world.
  • Morals are not merely invented by human beings. If everyone in the world thinks that a particular course of action is morally good, they could all be wrong and in fact it could be bad.
  • Ethical naturalism holds that we can tell what is right and wong by looking at the world around us and using our reason. Morality is a feature of the universe that we can percieve.
  • Many normative ethical systems (such as utilitarianism, situation ethics or Kantian ethics) have elements of naturalism in them. For example, they might claim that happiness is a good thing, or that agape love is an important goal.
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Naturalism Scholars

Aquinas - was an ethical naturalist. He thought that we could use our reason and our powers of observation to access the facts about what is moral and immoral. He was a theological naturalist as he believed goodness comes from the will of God.

Philippa Foot - defended ethical naturalism by saying that we can observe morality when we see people's behaviour. We call sommeone a 'good person' or an 'honest person' because of our observations. Virtues can be recognised. Just as we can see in the natural world whether an animal is an excellent example of its kind or is defective, we can also see excellence or defectiveness in the moral character of people.

F.H.Bradley - said that we discover moral obligation from society. He said that moral activity is finding out your position in society and carrying out your duties.

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Criticisms of Naturalism

  • Empiricists criticise naturalism on the grounds that right and wrong cannot be experienced with the senses. We can see that hitting someone makes them unhappy, but we cannot see that making someone unhappy is wrong. Morality is not observable empirically, they argue.

G.E.Moore (book- 'Principa Ethica') - says that ethical naturalism makes a basic error: mral statements cannot be verified using empirical evidence- that is to commit a naturalistic fallicy. Moore says that definitions of natural terms proposed by ethical naturalism produce open questions which don't carry automatic answers.

Sartre - his existentialism rejected Ethical Naturalism's view that there is any one given view of human nature. With the removal of an objective foundation for human nature, there is no basis on which Ethical Naturalism can assert an ethic to be right and wrong. There is no objective natural view of what it is to be human - it is up to the individual to use their freedom to choose their own values.

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Intuitionism

G.E.Moore"Good is a non-definable property."

"We know what 'yellow' is, and can recognise it whenever it is seen, but we cannot actually define it. In the same way, we know what 'good' means but cannot define it."

Goodness is a quality found in things but cannot be defined, in the same way that we know beauty when we see it but we have trouble defining it.

H.A.Prichard - argued that it is a mistake to try to find reasoned arguments to support what we feel our moral obligations to be. He thought that duty is not the same as the good thing to do, but goes beyond it- we might know by intuition what is the good thing to do, but the idea that we have a moral duty to do that good thing is adding something extra. Prichard thought that we know by intuition which of our moral obligations are more important than others.

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Intuitionism 2

W.D.Ross - thought that goodness could not be defined by making reference to other things. He developed intuitionism by introducing the idea of prima facie duties- duties which seem obvious at first sight, when faced with a moral problem. These are followed unless there is an even more compelling duty which overrides it. Ross listed seven prima facie duties, but did not think the list was complete: promise-keeping, repairing harm done, gratitude, justice, beneficence, self-improvement and non-maleficence.

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Intuitionism Criticisms

  • If we know what goodness is just by intuition and it is impossible to define, then it becomes impossible to resolve disagreements about what is right and wrong or good and bad. People might have different intuitions about what is good.
  • It can be argued that intuition is not a faculty in itself but is the same thing as human reason. Intuition might be the way reason works when it needs to take a shortcut. If intuition is just short-cut reasoning then we might be expected to support our intuitions with some reasoned justification.
  • It is difficult to know what to do when intuitions conflict. Sartre uses the example of a boy who want to go to war and fight for his country but also needs to look after his dying mother.

Nietzche - argued that what is good may be evil and what is evil may be good.

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Emotivism

  • Emotivists hold that ethics arise as a result of our emotional responses. 
  • Emotivism is an ethical non-naturalist position, because unlike naturalism, emotivism hold tht there are no facts about right and wrong.
  • According to emotivism, when we say thing like 'stealing is wrong' we mean that stealing envokes in us emotions of disapproval. When we say 'helping others is good' we mean that helping others gives us good feelings,
  • Emotivism is sometimes known as the 'hurrah/boo' theory because our statements about what is good and bad, right and wrong are seen as expressions of our feelings, not reference to any actual facts.
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Emotivism Scholars

A.J.Ayer - was a leading emotivist, He hekd that statements such as 'stealing is wrong' cannot be meaningful facts as they cannot be tested using the five senses. In Ayer's view, a statement is only meaningful if it can be empirically tested, and ethical statements cannot be. Therefore ethical statements must be about something other than facts. Ayer thought ethical statements were about emotion.

C.L.Stevenson - developed Ayer's thinking, saying that moral language has an emotive element and also a 'prescriptive' element. When I say 'stealing is wrong', I mean, 'I dislike stealing and I encourage you to dislike it too.'

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Emotivism Criticisms

  • Emotivism challenges the idea that there is any such thing as good and bad beyond our personal preferences and tastes. This seems counter-intuitive to many people when facedd with terrible crimes or acts of great heroism or generosity. Statements such as 'genocide is evil' seem to many people to be far more than just 'I happen to dislike genocide.'
  • If emotivism is accepted then there is no compelling reason for people to act morally. If an ambulance driver happens to not have a preference for doing her job properly and responding to a call, there is no 'bigger' reason why she should.
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MacIntyre's Criticism for Emotivism

MacIntyre criticises emotivism for several reasons:

  • Emotivists confuse meaning with use- for MacIntyre, what is important about moral language is the significance it has for those who use it.
  • Stevenson presents the idea of an unpleasant world where people are trying to force their beliefs on each other- MacIntyre does not think thay moral language and behaviour works for this.
  • Emotivism is no help to us in making a distinction between morality and feelings about other things, such as our tastes in music and food.
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