Meta Ethics

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  • Created by: KMuir
  • Created on: 15-04-14 19:17


Meta-ethics: the analysis of ethical language.
Normative ethics: different moral codes of behaviour e.g. Kantian ethics, Natural Law.
Ethical naturalism/cognitivism: moral values can be derived from sense experience.
Ethical non-naturalism/non-cognitivism: ethical statements cannot be derived from sense experience.

Ethical Naturalism 

ü  Cognitive and objective

ü  Ethical and non-ethical statements are the same

ü  Ethical statements can be verified and falsified


Ethical statements are the same as natural (non-ethical) ones – they are factual and so can be verified or falsified. E.G. to find out whether euthanasia is wrong or right you look at the evidence to test the veracity of the statement. It could be argued that euthanasia ends the suffering of an individual; therefore euthanasia is right. If you find supporting evidence for a statement you can prove it true, otherwise until proved right the statement is false.


G.E.Moore: argued against ethical naturalism and claimed the attempt to identify goodness with a natural quality was a mistake. To claim that moral statements can be verified or falsified using evidence is to commit the naturalistic fallacy – claim that good cannot be defined. “To derive an ‘ought’ from an ‘is’ is logically invalid” – David Hume. Moore used the ’open question argument’: if we claim that happiness is a naturally good thing we could always ask ‘is happiness good?’, but if happiness is naturally good this question makes no more sense than asking ‘does happiness make people happy?’ However it does make sense and so we have to conclude that goodness is not a property of happiness. Just because goodness ought to make people happy this does not mean that it does. The possibility of different opinion means we cannot have absolute ethical statements e.g. just because an act makes someone feel happy it does not necessarily mean the act is good.

Intuitionism – G.E.Moore

ü  Good is indefinable

ü  There are objective moral truths

ü  We know these moral truths by intuition

Good is a simple, unanalysable property. Right acts are seen as those which produce the most goodness, but goodness cannot be identified with some natural property such a pleasure or goodness which cannot be defined, these are subjective. We can use moral intuition rather than our senses to tell whether something is true or false. Simple notion – we recognise goodness when we see it. We know what ‘yellow’ and can recognise it when seen, but we cannot define yellow. Just as we cannot explain what ‘yellow’ is by means of definition, but only by showing someone an example, so likewise we can only explain what goodness is. “We know what good is but we cannot actually define it.”

H.A. Prichard

ü  Obligations are as indefinable as good

ü  Intuition decides what to do in a situation

ü  Some peoples intuition is better developed than others

Two types of thinking: reason – facts of a situation and intuition


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