Presentation is loading. Please wait.

Presentation is loading. Please wait.

Meta-ethics Issue 1: The Problem of Naturalism

Similar presentations

Presentation on theme: "Meta-ethics Issue 1: The Problem of Naturalism"— Presentation transcript:

1 Meta-ethics Issue 1: The Problem of Naturalism
MUST – distinguish between naturalism and non-naturalism SHOULD – relate your major theories to this distinction COULD – consider the question: does meta-ethics help us understand morality? 1

2 Meta-ethics Emotivism Intuitionism How we use ethical
language and where it comes from. Intuitionism Our intuition tells us what is right or wrong Emotivism What is right or wrong is simply an emotional response to a situation Prescriptivism When I say something is right I’m trying to get you to think the same 5

3 Our ethical journey so far......
ETHICS META-ETHICS NORMATIVE ETHICS Intuitionism Emotivism Prescriptivism ABSOLUTE RELATIVE G.E. Moore H.A. Pritchard W.D. Ross A.J. Ayer C.L. Stevenson R.M. Hare Natural Law Virtue Ethics Thomas Aquinas Aristotle

4 Meta-ethics Meta-ethics is concerned with what we mean when we use words like ‘good’ ‘bad’ ‘right’ ‘wrong’. It is not a normative system of ethics – its does not tell us what we can and can’t do. Instead, it encourages us to think “what do I mean by saying stealing is wrong?”


6 Issues Is morality a natural feature of the world (naturalism)?
Is morality objective (measurable fact) or subjective (up-to-me)? What do we mean when we say “stealing is wrong”? The fact/value problem - can I make a prescriptive statement “I ought” from a descriptive statement? 6

7 Ethical naturalism = bad idea
Issue 1: what is Naturalism? Are our ethics a real part of our natural existence. Can we give a natural explanation of goodness? Ethical Naturalism This is the view that morals can be defined or explained in natural terms, or supported through the observation of the world in science. Naturalists develop their ideas with non-moral evidence. If we define goodness as pleasure, we may look at evidence of pleasure and pain in actions. If we say that goodness is whatever God desires, we will look for evidence of God’s purposes in the natural world. Ethical Non-Naturalism A famous ethical naturalist F.H. Bradley argued that goodness is a natural aspect of society, as people reach “self-realisation within the community”. The problem with this is that it gives a narrow account of goodness and some might disagree. The philosopher G.E. Moore criticised ethical naturalism for its tendency to associate goodness with varying and often contradictory properties. He believed that defining goodness in terms of natural facts is mistaken, referring to this as the ‘naturalistic fallacy’. Ethics: a natural factor of the world around us? Moore: Ethical naturalism = bad idea

8 Forms of naturalism Ethical naturalism can take several different forms. A major difficulty is the exact definition of "nature," "natural," and "natural law."  Various examples of ethical naturalism are as follows: Ethical values are reducible to natural properties; eg a good action is an action in conformity with the proper function of a thing as in the Stoic/NL notion of "activities which result from a thing's nature." "Virtue ethics" includes the doctrine that ethical good is the realisation of the capacities of a human being as "living well and doing well in the world." Ethical values are a distinctive kind property-—not reducible to those studied by the physical sciences but possibly studied by the social sciences (eg Psychology). 8

9 A natural (psychological) fact?
Daniel Nettle writes, "[I]t has become clear in the last couple of decades that if behaviour often follows from life events, life events often follow from personality.  Indeed, the propensities to experience positive and negative life events have recently been found to have substantial genetic heritability, since identical twins are much more similar in terms of life events that fraternal twins are.  The only explanation for such a finding is that there is inherited variation in personality, and this leads, through situation selection and situation evocation, to similar patterns of situations.  Indeed, life itself can be seen as a meandering run through possibility space, in which each act we perform has an effect on the landscape of eventualities we will face next.  By mature adulthood, at least, in affluent and liberal societies, life consists in responding appropriately to situations that we have in significant part, consciously or unconsciously, chosen for ourselves. (David Nettle,Personality (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2007), 47.) 9

10 Examples of naturalism
Utilitarianism, good = pleasure or happiness. Natural law, good = natural rational purpose. Virtue ethics, good = agreed social goal of eudaimonia or flourishing. 10

11 A straw-man argument Generally speaking, to define ethical naturalism as a doctrine implying that natural actions are right and unnatural actions are wrong is to set up a straw-man argument. It is easy to demonstrate that “natural” cannot precisely mean “good”. Think of sexual ethics: I might naturally feel lustful but that doesn’t mean it’s good to sleep with the first person I meet. Similarly, to be gay may be seen by some to be “unnatural”, but that doesn’t mean being gay is morally wrong. We must be careful how we use “natural” in “naturalism”. 11

12 Summary Naturalism Links moral terms with some kind of natural property. Natural in that they are found in the natural world, specifically the natural realms of human psychology and human society. Many modern philosophers, like Alasdair MacIntyre or the utilitarians, are naturalists. “Every type of item which is appropriate to call good - including persons and actions - has, as a matter of fact, some specific purpose or function. To call something good is therefore also to make a factual statement. To call a particular action just or right is to say that it is what a good man would do in this situation; hence this type of statement too is factual...once the notion of essential human purposes disappears from morality, it begins to appear implausible to treat moral statements as factual” (After Virtue, 1981:59).

13 Key question: verifiability
The key question of the possibility of the adequacy of ethical naturalism is whether morality is amenable to observational testing. Or is observational evidence irrelevant to moral judgments? The basic issue of observational testing depends upon whether moral principles can be tested and confirmed in the way scientific principles are. For example, suppose we accept the following statement as an ethical principle: murder is wrong. The empirical question is this situation would this action constitute murder (eg think of abortion case by case). see 13

14 Meta-ethics Issue 2: The is/ought question
Can I move from: A description “pleasure feels nice” To a prescription: “pleasure is good”? 14

15 Issue 2: The fact/value problem
The problem of determining whether values are essentially different from facts, whether moral assessments are derived from facts, and whether moral statements can be true or false like factual statements. Meta-ethics is used as a type of inquiry to address the fact- value problem. Text David Hume (18thC) raised the fact/value issue. He argued there was no such thing as a moral fact. AJ Ayer (20thC) later developed this idea.

16 The is/ought fallacy Hume: The Fallacy of Deriving Ought from Is.
Hume was a naturalist himself, but believed a. we need to supply a clear argument for moving from descriptive statements to moral statements and b. that moral statements were empirically meaningless. Philosophers therefore refer to Hume’s fork: statements about the real world are either analytic or synthetic. Moral statements are neither - and so empirically meaningless. Moral statements can only be subjectively meaningful or “up to me”. Moore: The Naturalistic Fallacy

17 Hume’s missing premise
“In every system of morality which I have hitherto met with, I have always remarked, that the author proceeds for some time in the ordinary way of reasoning, and establishes the being of a God, or makes observations concerning human affairs; when of a sudden I am surprised to find, that instead of the usual copulations of propositions, “is”, and “is not”, I meet with no proposition that is not connected with an “ought”, or an “ought not”.”

18 We tend to move from “is” (a description) to “ought” (a prescription)
Moral theories begin by observing some specific facts about the world, and then they conclude from these some statements about moral obligation. In other words, they move from statements about what is the case to statement about what ought to be the case. Hume was a naturalist himself (morality derives from a natural feeling of sympathy), but is asking us to provide the missing premise. Example?

19 Example I like pleasurable experiences.
It’s going to be pleasurable going to Kudos nightclub tonight. Therefore, going to Kudos is good. Missing premise: the pleasure I will experience at Kudos will build me up as a person and strengthen my friendships. The missing premise explains why the pleasure is good. 19

20 Intuitionism The philosopher G.E. Moore criticised naturalism. Instead he said we have an infallible intuitive knowledge of good things. e.g. I don’t need to observe a murder to know that killing someone is wrong – I just know it is. Text Bertrand Russell and G.E. Moore: best mates Moore set out his ideas about ethics in his book Principia Ethica (1903), taking on the common naturalistic ideas in moral philosophy. Good “cannot be defined” and philosophers have wasted their time trying. His counter-suggestion was what he called ‘moral intuitionism’.

21 Continued …. When I make a moral decision I am simply choosing the outcome that will bring about these good things. To say “X is wrong” is to say I have a special perception or intuition that X is wrong.

22 Simple v Complex Moore argued that there are simple and complex ideas.
Complex = ‘horse’ can be broken down into animal, mammal, quadruped, equine. Simple = ‘yellow’ we can’t break it down any further.

23 Moral terms are simple ‘Good’ ‘Bad’ ‘Right’
‘Wrong‘ Are simple terms: ‘Good’ is simply ‘good’. “If I am asked “what is good?” my answer is that good is good, and that’s an end of the matter….there is no intrinsic difficulty in the contention that “good” denotes a simple and indefinable quality. There are many other instances of such far the most valuable things, which we can know or imagine, are certain states of consciousness which may be roughly described as the pleasures of human intercourse and the enjoyment of beautiful objects” (G.E. Moore, Principia Ethica 1903:6-10, 188)

24 The open question argument
A test devised by Moore to help determine whether a moral theory commits the naturalistic fallacy. For any property that we identify with “goodness” we can ask, “Is that property itself good?” So “it may be pleasurable, but is it good?”

25 Ayer’s expression of this
“It is not self-contradictory to say some pleasant things are not good, or that some bad things are desired” (Ayer, 1971:139). 25

26 Is the naturalistic fallacy itself fallacious?
Moore's theory regards the idea of goodness as though it were a thing, the fallacy of hypostatization. Moore commits a mistake by equating “good” with “yellow”. “Good” is a general, complex term, like “colour”, not a specific, non-reducable term like “yellow”. Good = colour (has subcategories - generosity, kindness, love, just as colour has subcategories - red, yellow, blue). The issue in ethics is: what are the equivalents to yellow/blue in the idea of colour?

27 Weaknesses of intuitionism
Intuitionists have failed to agree on what the moral good is which supposedly is self-evident. Moore had a teleological view, emphasising the promotion of happiness and the appreciation of beauty. Ross, however, emphasised duty. It is a highly individualist approach to ethics does not give us concrete justifications for ethical behaviour – all it claims is that goodness is indefinable. Intuitionism does not help us to resolve moral disputes and does not set out a clear decision making process. Contrast this with Utilitarianism, for example, which gives us the utility principle: the greatest good for the greatest number. 27

28 Moral judgements cannot be proven
Moore further argued that moral judgements cannot be proven empirically. We cannot observe pleasure and then say that goodness is identical with pleasure. Moore did not believe in objective morality.

29 W.D. Ross - Intuitionism Ross accepted Moore’s version of ethics and also added that in any given situation moral duties or obligations become apparent. These are called prima facie duties. Prima facie means ‘at first appearance’ Text

30 Prima Facie Duties Ross listed the following as prima facie duties:
Keeping a promise, Reparation for harm done, Gratitude, Justice, Beneficence, Self-improvement, Non-maleficence. He acknowledged that this list might not be complete.

31 Emotivism A.J. Ayer was a Logical Positivist. He believed that meaningful statements had to be verified synthetically or be true analytically, otherwise they are meaningless.

32 Meta-ethics Issue 3: Is “good” an expression of emotion?
A.J. Ayer believed I’m not adding anything to the facts of the case when I use “good’ or “bad”: I am simply evincing a feeling. 32

33 Moral statements are empirically meaningless
A statement is meaningful if and only if it is either tautological or empirically verifiable. Derives from Hume’s fork: meaningful statements are either analytic or synthetic. Analytic: 2+2 = 4 or “all bachelors are unmarried”. Synthetic: John is a bachelor (this could be true or false: we need to apply the verification test and ask him).

34 Analytic Statements 1 + 1 = 2 All triangles have 3 sides
All spinsters are unmarried women All of these statements are true in themselves – they are true by definition.

35 There’s a squirrel in that tree
Synthetic Statements It’s snowing There’s a squirrel in that tree That chair is brown These are all synthetic statements - they can be verified by our five senses.

36 So what are moral statements?
Moral statements cannot be verified synthetically or analytically. Therefore they are not truths or facts. Moral statements are simply expressions of preference, attitude or feeling.

37 Moral facts don’t exist
The presence of an ethical symbol in a proposition adds nothing to its factual content. Thus if I say to someone, “you acted wrongly in stealing that money”, I am not saying anything more than if I had said simply “you stole that money”. In adding that this action is wrong I am not making any further statement about it. I am simply evincing my moral disapproval of it. It is as if I said “you stole that money” in a peculiar tone of horror, or written it with the addition of some special exclamation marks”. (Ayer, 1971:142)

38 Strengths of command in Ayer’s Emotivism
However, in this theory it is not the case that all emotive statements are equal. Moral statements arouse feelings, but with three different strengths of command. So, implying a duty is the strongest form of statement. Saying that one ‘ought’ to do something is less strong. Finally, merely stating that something is good/bad is very weak. This is all emotion, but it functions with different intensity.

39 Problems with emotivism
The verification theory of meaning doesn't pass it's own test - it’s neither analytic nor synthetic. Do we conclude it is meaningless? There is a problem with Ayer’s view that ethical disagreements are disagreements in attitude. We believe we are disagreeing about facts (such as agreed goals, or a common view of welfare, or the facts of pleasure or pain being caused). Moral language seems to say more than merely express emotions.

40 Emotivism – ‘boo’ ‘hurrah’
Moral statements come from our emotional responses to situations. When I say murder is wrong I am saying ‘murder – boooooooo!’ When I say giving to charity is good I am saying ‘charity - hurrrrrah!’

41 C. L. Stevenson Stevenson added to Ayer’s theory by asserting that when we make moral statements we are not only expressing our emotional response to a situation but we are also trying to persuade others to have the same emotional response.

42 The Removal of Reason The removal of reason is one of the major criticisms of emotivism and intuitionism. James Rachels argues that it is wrong of Ayer to make a connection between the ‘ouch’ response when you stub your toe and the ‘that’s wrong’ reaction when you see details of a murder on the news. Ayer commits the fallacy of restricting the options: “good” (argues Ayer) either describes a moral fact, or expresses a moral feeling. “Emotivism overlooks a third possibility: moral truths are truths of reason; that is, a moral judgement is true if backed up by better reasons than the alternatives”. (Rachels 1993:40)

43 Prescriptivism Moral statements have their own logical structure. They are both prescriptive and universal. The only coherent way to behave morally is to act on judgements that you are prepared to universalise.

44 Meta-ethics Issue 3: Does moral language have a special logic?
Is it descriptive of a moral fact? Is it prescriptive, strongly urging, prescribing, directing, giving force to the moral “ought”? Is it a special sort of language, neither analytic (true by definition), nor synthetic (empirically true or false), but meaningful in terms of its own type of language-game? 44

45 Hare and Prescriptivism
Moral judgments have both a descriptive (fact) and prescriptive (value) element. The prescriptive element is conduct- guiding and recommends that others adopt our value attitude Moral judgments add a prescriptive element to the descriptive element, the prescriptive being the more important element. Moral language is different from descriptive language - it has its own logic, one we recognise.

46 The logic of moral reasoning
There is a logic to prescriptive judgments. Moral judgments do not have truth value but they do have a logical form. Hare is inspired by Kant’s view that ethical statements have a logic of universalisability. This means if I call an action “evil” I take an attitude to such actions such that any like action is also seen as evil. “By calling a judgment universalisable I mean only that it logically commits the speaker to making a similar judgment about anything which is either exactly like the subject of the original judgment or like it in the relevant respects. The relevant respects are those which formed the grounds of the original judgment” (Freedom and Reason, p. 140).

47 Universal prescriptivism
In making moral judgments we both describe and prescribe. “You are a good person” describes some characteristic about you. But it also prescribes and commends. It says “I strongly approve of this characteristic”. "When we call a car or a watch or a cricket-bat or a picture "good," we are commending all of them. But because we are commending all of them for different reasons, the descriptive meaning is different in all cases". (Hare 1952: 118)

48 Hare: the importance of moral principles
Principles are central to moral reasoning. Principles serve as major premises in our moral arguments. We acquire or learn a basic set of principles. Then we learn when to use or when to subordinate those principles. We choose when, where, and why to apply our specific principles but we are committed to them and to universalizing them.

49 Hare’s analogy: driving a car
The Language of Morals Hare’s analogy: driving a car We may illustrate this process of modifying principles from the example already used, that of learning to drive. I am told, for instance, always to draw into the side of the road when I stop the car; but later I am told that this does not apply when I stop before turning into a side-road to the offside -- for then I must stop near the middle of the road until it is possible for me to turn. Still later I learn that in this manoeuvre it is not necessary to stop at all if it is an uncontrolled junction and I can see that there is no traffic which I should obstruct by turning. When I have picked up all these modifications to the rule, and the similar modifications to all the other rules, and practice them habitually as so modified, then I am said to be a good driver, because my car is always in the right place on the road, travelling at the right speed, and so on. The good driver is, among other things, one whose actions are so exactly governed by principles which have become a habit with him, that he normally does not have to think just what to do. But road conditions are exceedingly various, and therefore it is unwise to let all one's driving become a matter of habit. One can never be certain that one's principles of driving are perfect -- indeed, one can be very sure that they are not; and therefore the good driver not only drives well from habit, but constantly attends to his driving habits, to see whether they might not be improved; he never stops learning.1 49

50 Criticisms of prescriptivism
1. It is too broad and allows for conduct that we typically deem immoral. It permits fanaticism. 2. It permits trivial judgments to count as moral ones as long as we can universalise them. 3. It allows the moral substance in life to slip away from ethical theory. 4. There are no constraints on altering one's principles, as Hare still maintains there is no objective truth.

51 Intuitionism and Emotivism are both very different from the normative ethical theories we’ve looked at: Kant, Natural Law, etc. Which do you think is best? The idea that ethical language is non-factual is extremely radical. Are there no moral truths? Your view counts. Ideas to Evaluate Criticisms of religious language are a bit like criticisms of some ethical theories, because both can be ‘metaphysical’. Could it be that claims about God or what is ultimate are all meaningless? The idea that we ‘just know’ right or wrong intuitively is really intriguing, but can we agree? Do we have to learn our morals through discussion and reason instead? 51

52 52

Download ppt "Meta-ethics Issue 1: The Problem of Naturalism"

Similar presentations

Ads by Google