Sunday, 2 January 2011

Background to meta-ethics

Background to meta-ethics

  • Meta-ethics is the study of the meaning of ethical words such as ‘good’ and ‘bad’. Does good mean something I agree with? or something that fulfills its purpose? or something that has moral worth? or is it an opinion? or is it a religious teaching in the Bible? Personally for the meaning of good is something that has moral worth and I judge moral worth through my own criteria e.g. does it promote justice, happiness etc?
  • Normative ethics is the study of right and wrong whereas meta-ethics is the study of the language used not the actions.
  • Ethical statements can be verified using empirical evidence and for many this is a way to judge the accuracy of ethical statements. However, many people tend to use religious or cultural teachings as opposed to empirical evidence to make an ethical statement.
  • A person who uses empirical evidence to work out the validity of the statement is called a cognitivist.
  • A person who says worth do not have meaning and are not subject to be being true or false are called non-cognitivist. They believe that ethical statements are an expression of opinion.
Logical Positivism 

  • A bunch of philosophers in the 1920s called the Vienna Circle developed this.
  • They looked at ethical language from a scientific rather than naturalistic perspective.
  • In order to work out whether statements were true or not they came up with the verification principle.
  • The verification principle suggested a statement is only true if it can be verified by an actual experience or tautology ( a logical statement that we can know to be true by definition)

Difficulties with the verification principle
  • Too rigid suggesting you cannot make facts about history as there is no empirical evidence.
  • Scientific laws are meaningless e.g. gravity is not constant everywhere as I cannot be in more than one place and once and measure it.
  • Richard Swinburne proved that universal statements which appear to be meaningful are nonsense in the eyes of the verification principle e.g. ‘all humans are mortal’.
  • Any subjective statements or statements about work of art are nonsense.

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