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Meta-ethics overview

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Cressida Tweed

on 12 March 2016

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Transcript of Meta-ethics overview

Meta-ethics overview
Not to work out how to be moral (that's what normative ethics does)
The point of meta-ethics
-the view that moral truths don't exist.
- moral judgments do exist but they do not represent something factual in the world.
- moral statements are neither true nor false.
- the good is not objective and universal.
- moral truths exist.
- the good is objective and universal.
- moral statements can be true or false.
- there is is moral reality.

Moral realism
- normative theories are naturalist.
- they argue the good is a property of the world, therefore values can be derived from facts.
-the good is an expression of emotion, likes and dislikes
- Ayer: Hurray-booh theory.
- saying killing is wrong is just describing emotion about killing.
- the good doesn't exist in the world as it fails the verification principle; there are no moral properties in the world.

- the Good is not a natural property of the word, but a metaphysical property in the world of forms.
- we can know the good through using reason.
- the Good is a moral truth, which has the same status as mathematical truths.
- so we can know what the Good is in the same way we can solve a mathematical equation.
Plato's rationalism
moral language is rational rather than emotive.
- moral judgments follow rational justification and prescribe actions.
Ethical relativism is the doctrine that the moral rightness and wrongness of actions varies from society to society and that there are no absolute universal moral standards binding on all men at all times. Accordingly, it holds that whether or not it is right for an individual to act in a certain way depends on or is relative to the society to which he belongs.”
but to understand what is meant by the term "good"
Main questions:
- is there such a thing as a moral truth = when I say X is good, am I making a factual claim about the world?
- can we derive values from facts?
- Is the Good objective and universal?

- also called cognitivism.
- moral language expresses
moral facts.
- values can be derived from facts.

Main theories: naturalism, Plato's rationalism, Intuitionism.
eg: human beings seek pleasure avoid pain (fact), therefore the Good is pleasure (value) = hedonistic utilitarianism.

eg: human beings seek happiness and flourishing; therefore they should be virtuous= virtue theory.
What's good about it?
- explains how moral decisions are made.
- bridges the is-ought gap.
- moral truths exist.
- moral progress is possible: we can discover what the good is.
Not so good
- guilty of the naturalistic fallacy: see Moore's intuitionism: the good is not a natural property of the world.

- Plato's criticism: the good is not pleasure, as some pleasures are not good.

the status of the good as a form is explained in three key arguments: The analogy of the cave, the simile of the sun and the divided line.
What's good about it
- accounts for moral progress: we can work out what the Good is through using reason.

not so good
- guilty of elitism: the Good is objective but is it really universal if only the philosopher kings can achieve it.
- Plato fails to actually define the Good: he explains it through similes and analogies.
- problem of moral motivation: Plato fails to explain why I may want to be Good. he assumes knowing the Good necessarily mean I want to do it. I may know that lying is wrong but still decide to lie.
- Moore: starts his argument with a criticism of naturalism: open question argument and naturalistic fallacy, to prove the good is not a property of the world.

Ross: deontological intuitionism.
the good is an intuition,. but we also follow duties that help us make moral decisions.
- prima facie duties: fidelity, gratitude, justice, beneficence, etc...

Whats good about it

- explains why we all agree on certain moral actions: torture, genocide are clearly wrong.
- moral truth and moral progress are possible, simply because the Good exists.
- explains clearly how we form moral judgments; no reliance on the external world.
What's not so good.
If the good is a moral intuition, why do we have conflicting intuitions? some people might argue torture is wrong. refer to relativism: societies have differing moral standards.
it begs the question: what is the good?
- guilty of is-ought gap.

problem with moral motivation: why do I want to follow my moral intuition?
some moral intuitions are clearly immoral: intuitions of nazi officers who thought they were doing the right thing.

Stevenson: moral language is not only about describing emotions but also about convincing others to have similar emotions.

Moral language is prescriptive NOT emotive: when I say killing is wrong, I am not expressing an emotion, I am expressing a command: I think it is wrong and everybody else should think the same. it is also a recommendation: one ought not to kill.
prescriptivism allows for moral judgments to be rational. we make moral decisions based on reasons not just emotions. our moral judgments can be consistent.

R.M. Hare agreed with A.J. Ayer that when we make a moral statement we are just expressing our own attitude, but he thought that we were doing other things too. He thought that when we make moral statements we are also saying what we think other people in similar situations should do. We are prescribing (telling them) what they should do. This is why the theory is called prescriptivism.

Moral arguments are pointless because all we are really saying is “stealing, boo” or “generosity, hooray”.

It reduces moral statements to almost nothing (it is reductive). There seems to be little difference between saying “I don’t like peaches”, and “stealing is wrong”. But surely there is a difference

It can't account for moral progress.

anything can be moral: torture, rape, genocide... as long as someone likes it!
explains moral motivation: If I think lying is wrong because I don;'t like lying, it explains why I don't want to lie.
What's good about it.
explains why we have different moral standards.
descriptive relativism: the fact that societies have differing moral standards.
normative relativism: an action is right if it follows accepted norms of its society.
What's good about it
it distinguishes between moral and non-moral emotions.
explains why moral judgments are dynamic (they don't just express emotions, they are commends) and action-guiding.
understands that reason is at the basis of our moral decisions.
not so good
faces similar problems to emotivism:
- no moral progress because no moral truth.
accounts for moral motivation: my moral commands are the basis of my actions.
moral language is consistent: I don't change my moral judgments in the same way my emotions change.
My emotions change all the time, and so do my moral judgments?
what's good about it?
explains why societies have differing moral standards.
argument for cultural tolerance.
not so good ...
- we can't judge other societies on the grounds that their values differ from our own.
- so torture, rape and genocide could be right...but somewhere else, or here in the future....
- again, no moral progress. Homophobia and slavery were right...at one time!!!
- arguing that we should be tolerant of values that are not our own is objective. if all values are relative, so should tolerance
it makes more sense to argue the Good is a metaphysical rather than a natural property of the world, as we cannot have sense-impressions of the Good.

- also explains why people disagree morally: people get it wrong if they don't have knowledge of the form of the Good.
- He says we all know what the Good is although we can't actually define it. we know what the Good is in the same way we know what yellow is: we can point to it but we can't describe it .
-The good is a moral intuition.
- consequentialism: we choose actions that promote things that have intrinsic value: justice, beauty.
What's not so good
Theories that attempt to bridge the is-ought gap
Searle's promise argument: a promise is descriptive and evaluative at the same time: if I say I promise (fact), I intend to keep it (value)
Mc Dowell: a moral realist who argue that moral properties exist in the world in the same way as secondary properties (in the same way coffee tastes like coffee if someone drinks it, an event has moral properties if someone perceives it.
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