Meta Ethics can also be called philosophical ethics and is a twentieth century concept. This section of ethics explores the meaning of moral language. The most common passage explored in meta-ethics is the meaning of the words; ‘good, bad, right or wrong’.
When deciding what a meta-ethical question is, its best to look for the use of those words. An example of a meta-ethical question would be, ‘What do we mean when we say that euthanasia is wrong?’ There are two main branches of meta-ethics. One being ethical non-naturalism (also known as intuitionism) and non-cognitivism (which is also know as emotivism).Normative Ethics was dominant up until the end of the nineteenth century, now it is commonly replaced by meta-ethics. The theory begins by establishing what things are good and what things are bad. It also decides how people ought to act and behave, as well as how a person makes moral choices. These choices are based on a person’s culture or religion and form a traditional way of doing ethics.
An example of a normative ethical question would be, ‘Is Capital Punishment right?’There are two further branches of normative ethics; Deontological and Teleological. Deontological theories are concerned with the acts themselves, which are intrinsically right or wrong. Teleological theories are concerned with the consequences or ends of an action and how they determine the goodness of the action, which are extrinsically right or wrong.
To conclude, Meta-ethics relies strongly on the definition and meaning of the moral language used, it is also a modern approach ethics nowadays, whereas normative ethics is based on gaining an understanding of words such as, ‘good’. It is a much more dated approach to ethics which isn’t used to the same extent as it used to be.2. Outline how philosophers have historically tried to define moral goodness.
Although Aristotle studied with Plato for many years, he rejected important aspects of Plato’s thought. Plato believed that there was something, goodness itself, or “the form of the good”, that was independent of any particular good thing. Aristotle, on the other hand, believed that goodness could only be understood in a particular context. We can make sense of something being good for a human being, or a dog, or a tree more easily than we can make sense of something that is “goodness itself”. Aristotle believed that virtue is insufficient to achieve happiness and that we also need a fair amount of luck.G.E Moore believed that there is a difference between good and goodness. The qualities that make something good vary from the goodness itself.
An action may be good because the action is generous, but Moore would argue that good isn’t identical to generosity.When good is added to a sentence its affect is different from normal adjectives. ‘A good red hat’, the good adds a quality to the description. In the sentence, ‘A good person’, adds something to the person, but creates a similar affect to adding ‘tall’ or ‘small’.
A good example is of a knife. A knife can be described as a good knife, which is better than a bad knife, but when we say ‘good’ more often than not, we are referring to the sharpness or brightness. But we don’t mean the good knife is morally better than a bad knife. A person could use a ‘good’ knife to kill someone. So they are using a ‘good’ knife, in the sense that it is sharp, but they are doing a morally bad thing. The moral sense of good refers to actions, consequences, situations, people, choices and lifestyles.
3. Assess the theories; Intuitionism, Emotivism and Prescriptivism when it comes to an understanding of ethical language.Intuitionism was interpreted by three main people and came up with theories for themselves. The first being G.E.
Moore, he declared that moral judgements were based on unreliable intuitive knowledge of good things. He believed that it was impossible to define the term ‘good’. He believed it was a simple idea, like ‘red’. Moore said that non-moral arguments couldn’t be used to establish moral conclusions.H.
A Pritchard argued that moral duty is related to a person’s intuition. He said that reason is a collection of the facts and that intuition determines the course on which a person follows. Not everyone can intuit moral truth, some people’s intuitions are clearer than those of other people.W.D Ross accepted the argument put forward by G.E. Moore argument, saying that goodness was indefinable in natural terms.
He also argued that moral principles wouldn’t be absolute. W.D Ross believed that duties should be judged on first appearances. Therefore when faced with a moral dilemma, the duties and obligations are apparent. These are called ‘prima facie’ duties. There are seven different first appearance duties; keeping promises, amendments made for harm done, gratitude, justice and self-improvement. When making a moral decision our intuition identifies the duties even though our actual isn’t obvious.
W.D Ross believed that things that are right to do and things that are good to do, differed depending on a person’s intention or reason for doing it. He did allow a solution when a person’s duties conflicted. He said that a personal nature of duty and a feeling of obligation to our parents, could overrule the need to provide greater good.The criticisms of intuitionism, changes corresponding to the people who have analysed the theory and developed it themselves. G.E.
Moore declared many things about good and how it couldn’t be defined but he never actually proved his case. H.A Pritchard’s main weakness was that he didn’t discriminate enough between the conclusions when our intuitions differ. Finally, W.D Ross doesn’t seem to take into account the rights of people, even in life/death situations. People also argue that, who knows what is and isn’t a ‘prima facie’, and how can people be sure that what W.D Ross says is correct.
Emotivism is a theory in descriptive ethics that holds that all moral judgements are simply expressions of positive or negative feelings and that all moral statements are meaningless because they cant be verified. Made prominent by logical positivists and the Vienna Circle, in particular by Ayer and Stevenson.This takes relativism to an extreme individualistic position. David Hume influenced this theory; believing that sentiment was the source of right and wrong. Logical positivism is the view that the only really things are those that are either tested or logically correct. All religious, superstitious and supernatural statements are considered meaningless. This philosophy was started by a group called the Vienna circle, and later came to be associated with A.
J Ayer and the branch of philosophy called Emotivism. David Hume acknowledged that moral facts weren’t like scientific ones, concluded that moral facts, weren’t facts at all. Emotivists believe that ethical statements and moral statements are emotive responses that are there just to arouse feelings; this theory is also referred to as the ‘hurrah/boo’ theory and therefore, moral arguments serve no purpose. Only expressing feelings.A.J. Ayer called this theory the ‘hurrah/boo’ theory.
He explained ethical statements/moral judgements as emotive responses such as expressions of preference, attitude or feelings. Ayer is opposed to naturalism and argued that meaningful statements had to be verified sensibly. His theory rejects traditional normative explanations of ethics, both deontological and teleological. He believed moral disagreements were simply noisy shouting matches.In this example; ‘Murder is wrong because Jesus taught against it in the New Testament and because it disrupts civilised society’, Ayer explains this as an attempt to find other things that appeal to emotions. Ayer’s theory rejects traditional normative explanations of ethics, both deontological and teleological.
He takes the language of ethics very seriously.C.L.
Stevenson believed that moral disputes reflected a disagreement in attitudes. Moral judgements express an attitude based on a belief, include persuasive element that seeks to influence others. Real moral disagreements exist, where people actually consider an action to be right or wrong. His emotivism gave more meaning to moral disagreements. He ultimately considered moral statements as being result of subjective opinions, views or beliefs. He said that many moral disagreements weren’t really moral disagreements at all.
Two doctors may disagree about which method to treat a patient, but aren’t disagreeing about necessity of treating the patient.Stevenson though that to say, ‘This is good’, meant, ‘I approve of this, do so as well’. Moral statements were the results of attitudes based on fundamental beliefs, whether religious, moral or political.Emotivism faces the problems, which face non-cognitivism generally. It cannot give a plausible account of moral disagreement (Stevenson’s account only works when a decision has to be made about what to do), or of moral argument, or of the need for consistency in moral thinking.There are criticisms about this theory and people may reject it, suggesting a variety of causes for moral beliefs. Emotivism can only be right if every attempt to give morality an objective rational justification has failed. Emotivism can reduce moral discussions to a mere shouting match.
Ayer may be wrong to compare emotive and moral responses, as moral judgements appeal to reasons. So to conclude, Intuitionists do not agree on the moral principles that they maintain are obvious and apparent.Prescriptivism is the view that sincere moral judgements necessarily express the judger’s overriding commitment about how to act. For example, suppose you say that you think one ought to do something, but you are not committed to doing it in the relevant circumstances, or to having it done to you in those circumstances.The developer of Prescriptivism, R.M.
Hare thought that what made moral prescriptions different from non-moral ones was that any moral judgment about what a particular individual ought to do in some set of circumstances entails a universal judgment about what anyone with that person’s characteristics ought to do in those circumstances.Hare rejected subjective idea of morality in emotivism. He believed that moral statements did more than describe behaviour or expressing attitudes. Hare argued that moral statements had a prescriptive quality because they commanded behaviour, guiding our actions.
Moral statements are made to guide choices, both of our own and other people’s. When someone says that abortion is wrong, a person is trying to prescribe an attitude and say that you would like somebody to come round to your way of thinking.Hare made a case for moral statements having universal and prescriptive qualities, while he also accounts for the work done by A.
J Ayer and C.L Stevenson. R.M Hare’s development of a meta-ethical theory retains objective moral norms presents an alternative to traditional normative ethics.