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

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Introduction

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.

Middle

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.

Conclusion

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.

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