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Explain the different ways in which 'right' and 'wrong' are used in metaethics

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Charles Johnson 20 January 2003 Explain the different ways in which 'right' and 'wrong' are used in metaethics In metaethics, the terms "right" and "wrong" show someone's feelings about a certain moral issue. Metaethics explores the meaning and function of moral language. Meta-ethicists explore what, if anything is meant by terms such as "good", "bad", "right" and "wrong". A meta-ethical question is "What do we mean when we say that sex before marriage is good?" One type of meta-ethics is ethical naturalism. This has the basic ideas that ethical terms can be defined or explained using the 'natural' terms that are used to define mathematics or science, and also that morals could be based on the same kind of observation of the world as used in science. Ethical naturalists say that moral truths are like numbers or chemical properties, and people use logic to conclude ethical truths. They will conclude that something is "wrong" from observation and analysis. This means that moral facts according to ethical naturalism aren't views or opinions (the persons feelings such as likes or dislikes). ...read more.


W. D Ross said in a moral dilemma, there are various duties or obligations that we hold that are apparent. We should follow a particular duty (the 'prima facie') unless a higher duty exists that compels us to pursue that instead. Ross also differentiated between thing that are right to do, and things that are good to do. To help an old lady across the road is the right action -the right thing to do- but if you are just doing it to gain praise from your minister who is also walking along the road, then it isn't good, because the motivation or intention isn't good. Emotivism and David Hume say that sentiment is the source of right and wrong. If you decide to help someone, you do so because of feelings, not reason. Hume believed that there was a common feeling for each other's welfare, and we all have a capacity for compassion, which has nothing to do with reason. He said you couldn't go from a factual statement (an 'is') ...read more.


The judgement that something is red is descriptive because it describes, but also it is universal because it applies to anything similar. Moral statements also hold this principle too- seen in the N. Testament ("do unto others what you would have done unto yourself"), and in Kant's teachings ("Act only on the maxim through which you can and at the same time will that it should become a universal law.") Hare argued that moral statements have this universalisability, and it is in our interest to prescribe the advice to others, as we would want to have such advice given to ourselves. In conclusion I can see that meta-ethics sees 'right' and 'wrong' in many different ways. Naturalists used reason to justify moral statements such as ones including "right" and "wrong", Intuitionists used a special moral sense to discover the correct moral statements, Emotivists denied the existence of moral facts as being meaningful in any way beyond personal opinion, and Prescriptivists produced an ethical theory that sought to make moral statements objective. ...read more.

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