Philosophy Unit 3

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Define what is meant by a Logical Positivist.

Largly influenced by David Hume who believed emotion was the source of right and wrong, not reason. He also went onto say that the 'is - ought' gap cannot be bridged; you cannot go from a factual statment (an is) to a moral one (an ought).

 Logical positivists took this into account in also believing that moral facts were not like scientific ones. They use scientific methods to verify knowledge (verifacation) which excludes the posibility of moral facts and left them with the conclusion that they were not even facts at all. Statments can only be considered facts if:

1.) They can be proven through definition (analytic)


 2.) They can be experienced through the senses (synthetic)

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Define Emotivism.

Ayer was the leading advocate of emotivism who argued that although moral statments may not be classed as factual they are insightful because they express the feelings of the speaking individual. He claims that moral statments are more like signs of preference or dislike towards a certian topic, this is also known as the 'Boo-Hurrah' theory.

Prior to this, moral statements serve no real purpose, just like the ‘ouch' I express when I tread on a pin. The content is not a justification for someones beliefs, in contrast it is meaningless. However Ayre also considered that these expressions could progress feelings and then stimulate action.

Ayer's theory was developed by Stevenson who believed moral statments were not just expressions but there was actually a disagreement in attitudes.

Stevenson argued that moral judgements contain 2 elements:

1.)       An expression of an attitude based on a belief

2.)     A persuasive element which seeks to influence others





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Why might some reject Ayer's theory?

  • Because you can suggesting a whole variety of causes for peoples moral beliefs, which they believe justify their view. I might say that murder is wrong because Jesus taught against it in the New Testement and because it disrupts civilised society.
  • James Rachels criticised emotivism by arguing that Ayer and Stevenson are wrong to remove reason from moral judgements. He criticises Ayer for drawing a parallel between the ‘ouch’ reaction to stubbing your toe and the ‘that’s wrong’ reaction to reading about a murder in the paper.
  • Furthermore emotivism reduces moral reactions about atrocities such as genocide, murder or rap3 to subjective personal feelings.
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Define Ethical Naturalism.

Ethical Naturalism is a branch of philosophy with a meta-physical basis.

Naturalists fall into 2 categories:

  • Theological naturalists (e.g. Thomas Aquinas) - believe goodness is linked to the will of God as seen in nature. God’s will defines morality: murder is wrong because God commands against murder.
  • Hedonistic naturalists - thought goodness was fact of pleasure or happiness. R. B. Perry suggests that ‘good’ means being an object of favourable interest and ‘right’ means being conducive to harmonious happiness.

They identified that when we make non-moral statments or assertions we can find out if they are true by setting out an experiment and looking at the evidence. This method they believe can also be applied to moral facts, that they can be defined or explained using the same ‘natural’ terms that we would use to define maths or science.

Ethical Naturalists reject the 'is-ought' gap by stating that there is no gap. Murder is wrong (fact), therefore I shall not murder (moral judgement).

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What are the criticisms of Naturalism?

Ethical Naturalism does not allow for moral dispute. If ‘Mother Teresa was good’ simply refers to how the majority feels, then the judgement cannot be wrong or disputed by another person.

(We might change our opinion, but it is still correct as the statement is an expression of differing attitudes at a particular time.)


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What does G. E. Moore believe moral judgements are

G. E. Moore supports the view of Intuitionism and strongly opposes that of Ethical Naturalism.

He claims that we make a moral decision by choosing the action that brings about optimum good things and that therefore, moral disagreements are about the actions that might bring about these good things, not the good things themselves. The good things are self-evident because things that are instinctively good cannot be defined or analysed.


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Why is 'good' indefinable?

Moore says that there are two types of ideas:

a.) SIMPLE ideas that can’t be broken down.

b.) COMPLEX ideas that can be broken down into smaller ideas.  

For example... Yellow is a simple idea. It can’t be described in any other way than to say it is yellow. We may give examples of yellow and yellow things, but we cannot define yellow itself.  

A Horse is a complex idea as a Horse can be defined and reduced. You can give a definition of a horse because a horse has many different properties and qualities and you can analyse a horse and divide up the various elements – quadruped, mammal, herbivore etc.  

But with yellow you can’t go any further. The same he believes, applies to the word good.

Yellow is yellow.

Good is good.


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Define Ethics and the different branches.

 Ethics - often knowa as a system of moral principles, a philosophy dealing with values and the 'rightness' and 'wrongness' of human behaviour.

  • NORMATIVE ETHICS the study of ethical motive of action, can be broken down further into 3 sub-catagories:

Deontology - forms of ethics which revolve around the concept of duty and insist that actions can only be justified on the grounds of obligation or duty, you must live in accordance to these guidelines to be classed as morally good. (Example: Kant's Catagorical Imperative)

Teleology the theory that morality is dependent on outcomes and not concerned with the motive or intention for an action. A teleological approach thus argues that the end justifies the means. (Example: Benthan's Hedonic Calculus)

Virtue - is more concerned with the character of the agent than the outcomes or obligations connected to their actions. To live in coherence with virtue theory one must make moral decisions based upon what actions would make one a good person. (Example: Aristotle Virtue Theory)

  • META-ETHICS - a branch of ethics that looks at moral statments from a language perspective, it considers the words that we use, the way we use them and the structure of the arguments.  (Example: A.J. Ayre's Emotivism)
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Explain Hume's 'is-ought' distinction.

The 'is-ought' distinction is a criticism of ethicists who make normative claims (about what ought to be) based on positive premises (about what is).

Hume argued that one cannot make a normative claim based on facts about the world.

  • "is" statements, describe facts of what is happening.  
  •  "ought" statements describes how things should be happening.

Hume observed that when people are debating a moral issue they begin with facts and slide into conclusions that are normative (conclusions about how things ought to be). Hume argues that ought statements, and other supposed moral knowledge, are not rational.

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How do meta and normative ethics differ and corres

 The differences are that:

  • Meta is theoretical where as normative is a guide to behaviour.
  • Meta is more rigid than normative, there is less flexibility when defining words.
  • Meta believes there is no such thing as moral truth.

And the simirlarities are that:

  • Both have an understanding of words and concepts.
  • Both have an explanation for why we use certain words.
  • Both believe there are reasons behind decisions and that they are not just pre-determined.


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What is the Verification Principle?

 If a statement is neither analytic:

  • True by definition and cannot be false.
  • A priori statements which are true because the wording of the statement verifies its truth e.g. ‘The widow was once married’, ‘the circle is round’. 

nor synthetic:

  • A posteriori statements which can be verifiable or falsified through empirical evidence e.g. ‘It is currently snowing at the South Pole’.

 then the statment says nothing about reality and is therefore meaningless.


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What is Perscriptivism and the Universalizability

  • Perscriptivism is the meta-ethical view developed by Richard Hare who claimed that ethical statements are not just expressions of our feelings. Moral language is also prescriptive, which means that it tells us how we ought to behave.
  • the Universalizability Principle states that when an individual prefers one thing over something else, this implies that this preference would be good for anybody. For example: If x prefers to care for a sick person rather than go to the pub, this implies that if x were to be sick then he or she would wish someone to act in the same way towards them.
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Outline Bradley's theory.

Bradley believed that a moral perspective was determined from self-realisation and from observing one’s position in society.

He rejected hedonism, as pleasure provides no final self-understanding. He opposed Kant’s idea of duty for the sake of duty, on the grounds that it doesn’t guide us in morality or give human satisfaction.

To be a good person, you must work out your position in life where you have a duty to perform the function of that station. Because the good of society is built on a structure of hard work and obedience.

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Define Relativism.

Relativism disagrees with theories that are absolute or universal because the theory  asserts that moral judgments are relative according to each culture or society.

Moral relativism is sometimes connected to tolerance as it gives us an inclination to how we ought to think about or act towards those with whom we morally disagree.

But perhaps relativism can be interperated as anything goes and that there are no limits to tolerence.

It can also be argued that some moral statments rest on errors of fact and perhaps they should be open to improvement.

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Explain Plato's cave analogy.

Plato asks us to imagine a cave where 3 prisoners have been kept all their life. They are facing the cave wall with a fire burning behind them; other objects and animals that are also behind them produce shadows accross the cave wall. The prisoners assume that these shadows are real things because this is their only concept of reality.

He then asks us to imagine that one of the prisoners has been freed. As their eyes adjusted to the outside world they began to discover actual objects and animals and saw the shadows for what they really were.

Plato's metaphor implies that the cave is the world as we see it, a distortion of the truth; that most people are imprisoned by the belief that what our senses reveal to us is the true world. He went on to say that we cannot exit the 'cave' and view the world for what it really is through our senses because they cannot always be trusted. He concluded with the belief that the only way we can gain true knowledge about our surroundings was through reason and thought.

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How does Plato's cave analogy relate to concepts o

Plato believed that things we considered 'true knowledge' did not exist in the world that we perceive through our senses but belonging to a higher form in a transcendent realm. Forms were considered the absolute and perfect things like goodness and beauty which could not be accessed unless you were well educated in this field.

This theory is know as Elitism - the view that only people who possess the ability for complete reorientation of the mind have the capacity for moral knowledge.

This follows on to ask whether you have to be born with this accessability to moral knowledge and that we should view the people who do as 'moral experts', distinct form the rest of society or if anyone can develop their mind to think virtuously if they hold the capacity for reason?

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Explain Virtue Theory.

Aristotle developed virtue theory.

  • He believes the goal of ethics is to draw eudaimonia (human flourishing or happiness) from life. 
  • For Aristotle each thing has a telos (purpose) and each purpose is different for each kind of thing and the purpose for humanity was to be rational. Forms of rationality include intulectual and practical wisdom. Intulectual can be taught while it takes a while to achieve practical wisdom (through experience) 
  • Aristotle believes it can become 'human nature' through practicing virtues and this can be defined as reaching eudiamonia.

Virtues are good character traits (Vices are bad) to find a middle ground between the two was called the golden mean.

Alistair Macintyre points out that virtues can be relative to a particular time or culture.

Virtue ethics is distinct from utilitarianism and kantianism because it is non-cognitivist (instinctive method of decision making), it is 'agent-centred' NOT 'act-centred' or 'outcome-centred'Virtue theory can be considered a form of naturalism.

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What are the advantages and disadvantages of Virtu


  • Explains importance of motive in moral action.
  • Defines moral education as important because being moral is a development process.
  • Does not specify a moral criteria to live by.
  • Reflects changing nature of society.
  • Has self and other-regarding components.


  • Offers no solution to specific moral dilemmas.
  • Not everyone has the ability to become morally developed.
  • Many non-virtuous people live happy lives where as some virtuous people are miserable.
  • Motive isn't always necesarry in a moral action, we should still be pleased if the right thing were to be done with the wrong intention.
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How is Deontology linked to the Categorical Impera

Deontology is a form of ethics which states we are morally obligated to act in accordance with a certain set of principles and rules regardless of outcome.

Kant thought that it was possible to develop a consistent moral system of principles by using reason, he calls this the Catagorical Imperative.

This is an objective method that he uses to distinguish whether an act can be considered moral by...

  •  asking if said action was made universal, would it contradict or undermind itself (as all duties are absolute) and that people should always be treated as valuable.
  •  it should  also not just be used in order to achieve something else (as an end in themselves, not as a means to and end). They should not be tricked, manipulated or bullied into doing things.
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Outline the difference between act, rule and prefe

UTILITARIANISM: A doctrine that states an action is worthy of being completed if it is useful or for the benefit of the majority. Utilitarianism is teleological and takes there 3 different forms...

ACT - An action is only considered right if it produces the greatest balance of pain and pleasure for everyone. Developed by Bentham who argued that pleasure could be calculated in a mathematical way which he calls Hedonic Calculus. This involves adding up all the pleasure an action might produce (for yourself and for others), then deducting the pain; if the action produces more total pleasure than the other courses of action available, then it becomes the right thing to do.

RULE - Bentham's utilitarianism was developed further by his godson, J.S Mill who rejected the idea that utility was entirely about physical pleasure. "Pleasure" he stated, is something enjoyed by animals, but human beings are capable of much more complex feelings, Mill argues that HAPPINESS, rather than pleasure, should be the basis of Utilitarianism which includes physical pleasure but also what Mill calls the HIGHER PLEASURES. He suggests that a good action is one that would maximise everyone's happiness if it was followed generally as a rule so no harm can be inflicted on others as a result.

PREFERENCE - Peter Singer suggests that utility shouldn't be decided by pleasure or happiness, but rather by satisfying preferences. It interprates "good" as meaning preference satisfaction (getting what we want).

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