• Join over 1.2 million students every month
  • Accelerate your learning by 29%
  • Unlimited access from just £6.99 per month

Analyse the arguments which philosophers use to claim that ethical language is not meaningful but emotive.

Extracts from this document...


Analyse the arguments which philosophers use to claim that ethical language is not meaningful but emotive. Principally the claim that ethical language is not meaningful but emotive stems from the theory of logical positivism, a variant of the verification principle. Logical positivists argue that because there is no logical basis or sense data to back up ethical statements, ethical statements are, therefore, meaningless. A.J. Ayer, who was the first exponent of this argument, said that since ethical language is meaningless, it just expresses our emotions or feelings. Logical positivism is a theory of meaning and states that language only has meaning if it can be verified logically (analytically) or by sense experience (synthetically). Analytic facts are verified by definition; often they are mere tautologies such as 'all bachelors are unmarried men,' or 'one plus one equals two.' These are statements, which are verified a priori, their truth is found simply by looking at their constituent parts. To suggest that a bachelor was anything other than an unmarried man would simply be a contradiction. Synthetic facts on the other hand are facts, which are verified by observation or sense data. ...read more.


Therefore, ethical statements cannot be verified analytically. Now, in order for ethical language to be verified synthetically an empirical basis for moral language would have to be found. The normative subjectivist and utilitarian positions have both attempted to present a system for defining what is 'good' or 'right', which can be reduced to facts. The rightness of actions is defined by subjectivists as that which is approved of by an individual or group and similarly by utilitarians as the quantity of pleasure resulting from the action. The essential test for Ayer was "whether statements of ethical value can be translated into statements of empirical fact" (Ayer 2001, 106). If the subjectivist or utilitarian views were true Ayer's test would have been satisfied since their respective definitions of right present a verifiable measure that would satisfy the logical positivist principle. Both the approval of an individual or group and the amount of pleasure resulting from an action are not fundamentally different from facts and therefore would satisfy the logical positivist principle. However, neither subjectivism nor utilitarianism presents a satisfactory argument, which reduces what is right to an empirical measure. ...read more.


Therefore, absolutism cannot prove that ethical terms have an empirical root and therefore, given that the subjectivist and utilitarian theories have likewise failed, it has been shown that ethical language is meaningless because it cannot be verified by any factual observations. Hence, the inclusion of ethical-terms in propositions adds no meaning. The example given by Ayer was that to say 'You were wrong in stealing that money' adds no extra meaning to the statement 'You stole that money,' since, as was previously demonstrated, making an ethical statement about the rightness or wrongness of stealing is meaningless. Ayer stated that ethical language, therefore, merely expresses our feelings at the time. Since the supposed factual element of ethical language has been removed, we are merely left with its emotive element. To conclude, Philosophers have used the logical positivist position to argue that there are no ethical positions, which can support the verification of ethical language by analytic or synthetic methods. Therefore, on the basis of this argument ethical language is rendered meaningless and therefore should only be considered by its emotive content. ...read more.

The above preview is unformatted text

This student written piece of work is one of many that can be found in our AS and A Level Practical Questions section.

Found what you're looking for?

  • Start learning 29% faster today
  • 150,000+ documents available
  • Just £6.99 a month

Not the one? Search for your essay title...
  • Join over 1.2 million students every month
  • Accelerate your learning by 29%
  • Unlimited access from just £6.99 per month

See related essaysSee related essays

Related AS and A Level Practical Questions essays

  1. Religious Language cannot be proved, therefore it is meaningless

    that to them and within their frame work of life and their beliefs, god exists, and therefore the statement for them is meaningful. It can be said that meaning is based on interpretation. For example, if one adopts a realist stand point especially that of a naïve realist, it may

  2. Consider the arguments for and against paid organ donation.

    to receive one freely, and an increase in materialism in the donation system would undermine these underlying ethics, because people would no longer feel they are under an obligation to donate organs, since they are paid for doing so. This would not just affect the kidney donation system, but other

  1. Evaluate the claim that conscience is a reliable guide to ethical decision making.

    The rational nature of conscience must in itself have a purpose, and as this drive and structure seem to direct, this purpose is in the governing of ourselves. Thus Butler establishes the primacy and the authority of conscience. However, we are still left asking the question: how do I know if my conscience is right?

  2. Discuss the claim that ethical and religious language is meaningless.

    Also, why, if my moral obligations are self-evident, do I have dilemmas over conflicting duties? The issue of verification is also raised; intuition may be considered to be a meaningless concept itself, since it is non-verifiable. The meaning of language and the principle of verification was at the forefront of debate in the 20th Century movement known as Logical Positivism.

  1. Explain what scholars mean when they say that ethical statements are no more than ...

    To simply say "Caring for your children - hurrah!" ignores these important points. When we talk about the "Boo-Hurrah Theory", we may be tempted to ask whether it actually constitutes an ethical theory at all. The whole idea seems rather crude and infantile, reducing matters of serious moral importance to a simple 'yay' or 'nay'.

  2. The Ethical Debate Concerning Cloning.

    As laid out in Christian teachings, God is the originator of all life as we know it. Man is merely His steward and carries out His will. There is a certain "sanctity and inviolability under God of every human life which He has created."

  1. Explain why there maybe problems about the meaning of ethical language

    The same applies to 'beneficial' which could be interpreted to mean; pleasant, healthy, productive, useful, life-enhancing. How to define good in a moral sense has puzzled philosophers for thousands of years, but there has been two main approaches; a teleological and deontological approach.

  2. How are religious and ethical principles used in the abortion debate?

    is consistent with a situationist approach. If a woman has been raped, abortion may be an act of love and compassion. Fletcher's situation ethics maintains that you should act in the best interests of those affected, yet the real question is what counts as being in someone's best interests.

  • Over 160,000 pieces
    of student written work
  • Annotated by
    experienced teachers
  • Ideas and feedback to
    improve your own work