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Emotivism as an Ethical Theory

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Introduction

Explain what scholars mean when they say ethical statements are merely expressions of opinion. How far do you consider such views to be justified? Emotivism is a moral theory based on people's emotive responses to other people, events or principles. Emotive response simply means what a person is feeling towards something. It can be said emotivism deals principally, if not exclusively, with human feelings. If, for example, I was to say euthanasia is wrong, then according to emotivism, all I am doing is announcing how I feel about euthanasia. Emotivism also argues that even if I can give reasons as to why I believe euthanasia is wrong, all I would be doing is finding reasons which appeal to my emotions in order to support my position. Followers of emotivism argue that if we strip away all the 'rational reasons' for doing A rather than B, at root, all we are left with is a personal preference based on feelings of approval or disapproval and so the theory is often referred to as the 'Boo-Hurrah' theory. E.g. STATEMENT: Euthanasia is wrong. RESPONSE: Boo! STATEMENT: Euthanasia is right RESPONSE: Hurrah! This may seem to many, to be a rather crude and unthinking moral theory and one may ask if it constitutes a moral theory at all. Many people question what emotivism suggests. That is, if all conduct is simply about how we feel, can anything be right or wrong? ...read more.

Middle

Instead, the three realms are emotive. They deal with issues rooted in feelings of approval or disapproval, like or dislike. They cannot be proved or disapproved. Two names most commonly associated with the theory of emotivism are A.J. Ayer (1910-1988) and C. Stevenson (1908-1979). Ayer made a huge impact on British philosophy with his book 'Language, Truth and Logic' (1934). He agreed with logical positivists in that he thought that ethical statements were meaningless and remained outside the legitimate arena of investigation 'we can see why it is impossible to find a criterion for determining the validity of ethical judgements...because they have no objective validity whatsoever... they are pure expressions of feeling and as such do not come under the category of truth and falsehood' (Language, Truth and Logic, Gollancz, 1970, p.108) Ayer uses the example of stealing to explain his ideas. On a common-sense level, most people would think it is wrong to steal. Ayer however would not. Ayer argues that there is simply no way to verify that stealing is actually wrong. '...it is as if I had written ''stealing money!'' where the size and thickness of the exclamation mark shows...that a special sort of moral disapproval is the feeling which is being expressed'. However, Ayer was not centrally concerned with morality or ethical theory. It is not until we get to the work of Charles Stevenson that we find a fully articulated version of the emotivist theory. ...read more.

Conclusion

Hare called this 'Universalisability' and it can be seen to have a great deal in common with the Kantian doctrine of moral imperatives. The principal difficulty with emotivism is that if we accept it as the most justifiable analysis of moral discourse, then all moral debate becomes so much hot air. If we accept emotivism, them when we talk about moral issues (although we may be persuading others to believe what we believe or it might be helping release our feeling) ultimately we would be talking about things that have no significant meaning. This is plainly improbable. We not only feel that the murder of thousands of Jews in the Second World War was wrong, we also believe that we are justified in saying that we know it was wrong. Morality cannot be reduced simply to how we feel about something. It involves the use of reason and the recognition that some human qualities and experiences can be demonstrated to be more objectively positive than other qualities and experiences. For example, it is an empirical fact that caring for children is better than neglecting them. Therefore, the rational moral response is to care for children and not to neglect them. At root, emotivism seems too reductive. It cannot be accepted that a crime as terrible as (for example) genocide can be reduced to two simple sets of competing attitudes. Human nature, given its richness and complexity, arguably needs a moral account that can cope with such depth and diversity. ...read more.

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