Meta-Ethics: Cognitive Theories

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Cognitive theories

Cognitivism is the view that we can have moral knowledge. People who hold cognitive theories about ethical language believe that ethical statements are about facts and can be proven true or false

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Ethical Naturalism

This theory hold that all thical statements are the same as non-ethical statements-they are all factua; and can be verified or falsified. If we want to lmow if euthanasia is right or wrong we simply look at the evidence so as to test the veracity of the statement, thus arguing that euthanasia ends suffering and so is therefore right. The word "good" becomes synonymous with something to give it meaning for example, good is the greatest good for the greatest number (Util) or good is doing one's duty (Kant)

F.H.Bradley (social naturalist) - Goodness is determined using the measures of fulfilling our role in the community

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Criticisms for Ethical Naturalism

G.E.Moore called the attempt to identify goodness with a natural quality a mistake. He said that claiming moral statements to be verified and falsified using evidence is to commit the naturalistic fallacy.

Moore- "Everything is what it is and not another thing" "Good is good and that is the end of the matter"

David Hume argued that to derive "ought" from "is" is logically invalid

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Intuitionism: G.E.Moore

Moore said that good is a simple, unanalysable property just as a primary colour is. Moore adapted a version of Utilitarianism in that he said that right acts are those that produce the most good, but that goodness cannot be identified with some natural property and cannot be defined. He argued we cannot use our senses to tell whether something is good, but our "moral inuition" so we can say whether a moral statement is true or false. We recognise goodness when we see it and Moore called this a "simple notion" and explained it as trying to define a colour which we cannot do without showing an example of it.

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Intuitionism: H.A.Prichard

Prichard discusses the moral claim "ought" by saying that no definition can be given, cimilarly to Moore's idea about "good". Prichard thought reason and intuition are two types of thinking. Reason looks at facts of a situation and intuition decides what to do. He thought intuition would show which particular action was right and where our moral obligation lies. He recognised the problem of people's morals being different and argued that this is because some people have developed their moral thinking further than others. He does not explain why. Where there is conflict between obligations, he says we must look at the situation and decide which obligation is better. However, he also stated that intuition is not something everyone could use to prove goodness.

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Intuitionism: W.D.Ross

Ross added that "right" and "obligatory" are as indefinable as "good", he was a deontologist, arguing that it was obvious that certain types of actions, which he called prima facie duties, were right. In any particular situation we would come to recognise certain prima facie duties. He listed 7 classes:

Duties to fidelity, reparation, gratitude, justics, beneficence, self-improvement and non-maleficence. 

When these conflict, Ross says we must follow the one we think is right in the situation ad sometimes one will have to give way to another- they are duties at first sight. Ross does not tell us how we know what a prima facie duty is or how to decide which one to obey in cases of conflict. Its seems that Ross would say that this depends on a person's moral maturity

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Criticisms for Intuitionism

The idea of knowing what is good by intuition and not by empirical evidence is not proved conclusively by Moore - he says you either agree or have not thought about it properly. If the naturalistic fallacy shows you cannot infer value judgements from natural facts by means of evidence obtained through the senses, then "non-natural" facts and "intuition" shroud the issue in mystery. Virtue ethicists say it is our emotions and practical wisdom that give us the intuitive knowledge.

How can we be sure that intuitions are correct since people may come to different conclusions. As sense experience cannot be used, how can we decide between our intuitions? If they contradict then both cannot be right but will be for the person whose intuition tells them what to do. We can never know which intuition is true or false because we do not all recognise goodness intuitively in the same way. Moral intuitions come largely from social conditioning and differ betweem cultures, so it is hard to see how such intuitions can be a reliable guide to objective ethical truths

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