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Meta-Ethics Author: John Waters

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1 Meta-Ethics Author: John Waters
Socratic Ideas Limited © All Rights Reserved

2 M E T A H I C S Wittgenstein Russell David Hume G.E. .Moore G.J.
Warnock A.J.Ayer W.D.Ross R.M. Hare

3 Metaethics Prescriptivism Normative Ethics First-order moral discourse
Aquinas G.E Moore First-order moral discourse Application of ethical theories e.g. Natural law, Utilitarianism, Kant. What one ought to do… Second-order moral discourse Beyond or after ethics Analyses ethical language, structure, meaning. In what sense are statements true? Is there a foundation for ethical language? Bentham A.J. Ayer Wittgenstein J.S. Mill Kant R.M. Hare

4 Analysis of Meta-Ethics
Cognitive (moral judgements can be known) Non-cognitive (moral judgements cannot be known) Naturalism Non-naturalism (Intuitionism) Emotivism Prescriptivism Non-definable property Commends Universal action Empirical Yah / Boo

5 Ethical Naturalism George was elected War against Empirical Assessment
Aquinas Kant Bentham Mill Ethics can be understood like other empirical statements Empirical Assessment George was elected President of the USA. War against terrorism is good. Both statements can be proven to be either true or false through observation or evidence

6 Socrates says... Ethical naturalism may argue that, on utilitarian grounds, it can be proven that war against terrorism produces the greatest happiness for the greatest number. Or, on Kantian grounds, war against terrorism is in accordance with upholding international law and order, (cf. United Nations) and so can be universalised. J. S. Mill Kant

7 Problem of Ethical Naturalism: Commits the Naturalistic Fallacy
Cannot deduce an OUGHT from an IS. Cannot move from FACTS to VALUES Cannot move from EPISTEMOLOGY (knowledge) to ETHICS (G.E. Moore, Principia Ethica)

8 According to GE Moore a definition of the Naturalistic Fallacy is:
“Confusing `Good’ with a natural or metaphysical property Committing the naturalistic fallacy means one is either: or holding it to be identical with such a property.” (Source: C. Lewy, G.E. Moore on the Naturalistic Fallacy, p.297)

9 Ethical Theories which Commit the Naturalistic Fallacy:
Divine Command Theory – God is the source of morality, so whatever God wills is good. ` ` God is good’ is analytically true - by definition. Natural Law: As nature has been created by God it has within it laws which ought to be followed. This will lead to human happiness. Utilitarianism considered by analysing human nature it is possible to prove, scientifically, that people psychologically desire pleasure. Kant claimed that our categorical duties are a priori, and being grounded in reason follow from logical considerations.

10 Naturalist Fallacy Vulnerable To The OPEN Question
War against terrorism upholds international law George is a brother Statements are sound IF they are not vulnerable to an OPEN question Is war against terrorism good? Is George male? Meaningful Question Meaningless Question Original statement is sound Original statement is unsound

IF Ethical Naturalism were true it would not make any sense to ask an `Open Question’. The conclusion would already have been proven. For example the question, `George is a brother, but is George male?’ is meaningless. However, ethical naturalism is not proven as an open question may be put, and such a question is meaningful. For example, a utilitarian may think war against terror provides the greatest happiness for the greatest number. However, the question may still be asked, “Even if war against terror provides the greatest happiness for the greatest number, is it still good?” And, crucially, such a question is meaningful.

12 With the removal of an objective foundation for
Sartre’s Existentialism rejected Ethical Naturalism’s view that there is any one given view of human nature. Divine Command Rejected Rejected Utilitarianism Rejected Duty Rejected Natural Law 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 or wrong. Ethical Naturalism is therefore false, as 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. For Sartre Ethical Naturalism is a self-deception of our responsibility to choose.

13 Non-Naturalism (Intuitionism)
G.E. Moore W.D. Ross G.E. Moore, Principia Ethica 1903 “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.” (GE Moore) “In the same way we know what`good’ means but cannot define it.” (GE Moore) Like the colour Yellow Goodness is like beauty A quality found in things But which cannot be defined.

14 Non-Naturalism (Intuitionism)
G.E. Moore “Good means Good Self-evident.” “A Simple idea: cannot be broken down into simpler Ideas.” Certain words in the dictionary are non-definable e.g. `not’ – a simple word; cannot be defined further than the simple building block we use it to define other ideas.

15 G.E. Moore’s Intuitionism
According to Philippa Foot, G.E. Moore’s central thesis was that “goodness is a non-definable property discovered by intuition.”

16 Problems of Moore’s Intuitionism
G.E. Moore What if one is ethically colour blind? (Yellow is Green or Good is evil?) Lacks an authoritative foundation for ethics. Was G.E. Moore himself an intuitionist or an Ideal Utilitarian? What to do when intuitions conflict? e.g. do not lie, protect innocent life?

17 Intuitionism lacks an objective assessment for right and wrong
What if one is ethically colour blind? (Yellow is Green or Good is Evil?) Virtue is Vice? Christian virtues of humility and obedience are detrimental to the human spirit, individuality and the intuitive evolutionary need for self-assertion. Vice is Virtue The vice of pride, condemned by St Paul, is to be regarded as a virtue - otherwise humanity will remain subservient. Nietzsche, Beyond Good and Evil, argued that what is good may be evil and what is evil may be thought to be good. Intuitionism lacks an objective assessment for right and wrong

18 Intuitionism Lacks an Authoritative Foundation for Ethics
Rejects “Man is the measure of all things.” (Protagoras) Divine Command Jean Paul Sartre Protagoras Magisterium Offers the individual too much freedom. May suffer from anti-nomian problems, similar to those of Sartre’s Existentialism? Duty

19 An Intuitionist or an Ideal Utilitarian?
G.E. Moore is famous for his analysis of ethical language in Principia Ethica, 1903, where he famously asserted that: Good is a non-definable property. This led to Moore being labelled an intuitionist, as “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.” (Ethica, 1903) However, closer analysis reveals that, “it seems self evident that our duty is to do what will produce the best effects upon the whole, no matter how bad the effects upon ourselves may be and no matter how much we ourselves may lose by it.” (Ethica, p.143) As an Ideal utilitarian Moore suggests that there are three intrinsic goods: Pleasure, Friendship, Aesthetic appreciation – and so right actions are those which increase / promote these in the world for the most people. G.E. Moore ( )

20 W.D Ross: Prima Facie Duties
Prima Facie duties “at first glance” which the mature person recognises intuitively through reason What should one do when intuitions conflict? For example: Do you lie to a gunman to protect the intended innocent victim? Protect innocent life. Do not lie W.D. Ross Prima Facie Duties are conditional, not absolute, and may change depending on the situation.

21 W.D. Ross was an intuitionist who argued that the mature person intuitively knows what is good.
“Morals, like the principles of mathematics, are self-evident, to the mature mind….. The moral order expressed in propositions is just as much part of the fundamental nature of the universe as is the spatial or numerical structure expressed in the axioms of geometry or arithmetic.” (Ross) Morality is objective, but morals are conditional – whether they should be followed depends on which is one’s over-riding duty in the particular situation. When a conflict between duties arise one should follow the over-riding duty. W.D. Ross

22 W.D. Ross Six Prima Facie Duties
(Duties one ought to follow, intuitively in the absence of an over-riding duty) Fidelity – faithful to promises made. Gratitude – appreciation for support offered. Justice – impartial, equal treatment of others and distribution of pleasure Beneficience – help for others. Self-improvement – self-fulfilment Non-malificence - avoid harming others. Ross does not rank these duties in order of importance. The mature person intuitively knows these prima facie duties are true and may follow the appropriate duty given the demands of the particular situation.

23 i.e. ethical statements are neither true or false.
Emotivism Ethical statements merely express a person’s emotions. They have no cognitive, knowledge content. i.e. ethical statements are neither true or false. e.g. “Torture is good.” Boo! Hooray! Desmond Tutu Saddam Hussein

24 Emotivism Became popular through the work of Alfred Ayer and Logical Positivists. Ethical Statements simply express an individual’s emotion. Yah – Boo theory of ethics Importance of David Hume. A.J. Ayer

25 “Take any action allowed to be vicious: wilful murder, for instance
“Take any action allowed to be vicious: wilful murder, for instance. Examine it in all lights, and see if you can find that matter of fact, or real existence, which you call vice. In which ever way you take it, you find only certain passions, motives, volitions, thoughts. There is no other matter of fact in the case. The vice entirely escapes you, as long as you consider the object. You will never find it, till you turn your reflection into your own breast, and find a sentiment of disapprobation, which arises in you, towards this action. It lies in yourself, not in the object. So that when you pronounce any action or character to be vicious, you mean nothing, but that from the constitution of your nature you have a feeling or sentiment of blame from the contemplation of it.” (Hume)

26 Hume - Sentiment Morality cannot be proven empirically.
Rather, it is a question of personal sentiment. “Reason is and ought to be the slave of the passions.” Justification for such thinking lies in Hume’s analysis of language; known as “Hume’s fork”

27 Hume’s Fork Analytic or Synthetic statements Analytic Statements
Hume categorised two kinds of knowledge as being either Analytic or Synthetic statements Analytic Statements (Tautologies) Explain `relation of ideas’ Formal, abstract knowledge e.g. Mathematics 2 + 2 = 4, and Logic Synthetic statements (Empirical statements) Explain `matters of fact’ Derived from the five sense - empirical knowledge based on impressions from sense experience.

28 Verification Principle (Criterion for meaningful statements)
A.J. Ayer, “A statements is either analytic or synthetic to be meaningful” Tautologies (Analytic) True by definition e.g. Maths, Grammar Two Types of Statement Empirical (Synthetic) Sense experience Scientific observation Logical Positivists (20th century) Verification Principle Ethical statements: Neither True or False according to Verification Principle, therefore meaningless

29 Problems of Emotivism

30 Verification Principle does not pass its own test!
Verification Principle determines whether statements are meaningful Meaningful statements are either tautological or empirical Verification Principle is neither tautological or empirical Therefore the verification principle is itself MEANINGLESS

31 Emotions Influence Knowledge Claims
With regards to the abortion debate it is interesting to note that the contentious issue, “Is the foetus a life with potential or a potential life.” The difficulty arises in so far as people’s emotions colour their interpretation of the evidence. Peter Singer believes the foetus is of little moral value, lacking personhood. Whilst the Pope believes it is an innocent human being from the moment of conception.

32 Challenges to Emotivism Emotions: based on Beliefs
Philippa Foot G.J. Warnock G.J. Warnock Ethics is not concerned with emotions but whether claims are valid; can be supported by reasoned argument. Philippa Foot Emotions are based on beliefs. If one can show beliefs are inaccurate it is possible to change emotions. Emotions Based on Beliefs or Reason so emotions can change

33 Emotions Based on Beliefs (Open to Rational Challenge?)
When Osama Bin Laden claims he is killing innocent people because he believes it is the will of Allah… One might rationally ague against this by appealing to the writing of the Koran which condemns the killing of innocent life. If it can be shown that emotions are based on incorrect beliefs such emotions should be abandoned.

34 PRESCRIPTIVISM (Non-cognitive)
R.M. Hare Rejected I N S T E A D Emotivism Ethical language expresses the subjective individual’s emotions Descriptivism Ethical language simply describes choices people make. PRESCRIPTIVISM Must have a logical, syllogistic, structure No objective right or wrong, but Ethical language is action guiding Universalise moral principles

35 Prescriptivism – A Kantian Influence
Hare’s idea of universalising moral maxims can be seen to have its roots in Kant’s categorical imperative. At the heart of prescriptivism is the importance of logic and consistency within ethics. For Hare it is inconsistent to advocate a moral approach and yet not be prepared to assert that others in a similar situation should not act in a similar fashion. Reason and logic would suggest that universal application is central to ethics.

36 Problems of Prescriptivism Too General…allows for universal evils?
As with Kant’s categorical imperative it is possible for prescriptivism to universalise moral maxims which are intrinsically evil. For example, Hitler’s desire to universalise the genocide of the Jews would be logically acceptable for those who support prescriptivism. Hare recognises the importance of putting oneself in the other’s position, so being able to universalise one’s moral maxims. However, if one is fanatical it might be assumed that one would think the particular group deserved to be punished.

37 ? A Possible Way Forward Naturalism Intuitionism Emotivism
Prescriptivism Geoffrey Warnock

38 Entropy / Anti-Entropy
Hobbes G.J. Warnock Entropy Principle of Social Relations This theory points to the limitations of resources, intelligence, knowledge, rationality and sympathy. As a consequence the social fabric tends to fall apart, producing a state of nature in which chaos reigns; classically outlined by Thomas Hobbes. Geoffrey Warnock considered that it was the role of ethics do offer an anti-entropic response, to offer order and structure within society.

39 Entropy / Anti-Entropy
Hobbes G.J. Warnock Ethics is Anti-entropic G.J. Warnock counteracts limited sympathies by upholding virtues which help make for an ordered society: 1. Non-maleficience: non harm 2. Beneficience: social cooperation 3. Impartiality: upholding justice 4. Truthfulness: so avoiding self-deception Such principles offer a vision for human flourishing. For Warnock whilst morality is not absolute, it is objective.

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