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what is meant by meta-ethics?

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Alex McPhee Religious Studies- Ethics Q3a) Describe what is meant by meta-ethics. Meta-ethics is a term used to describe the language of morality and the study of what we are actually doing when we use words such as "good", "bad", "right" and "wrong"; when we talk about something being good is our belief just subjective or are we referring to something objective, factual and real? Meta-ethical philosophers concentrate on trying to define what our moral language actually means rather than trying to find the answers to ethical issues. Studying this language is difficult, partly because we use these words in everyday conversation (for instance, "I found a good pair of walking boots."), whereas in a moral context the words can mean something very different. The philosophers who approach these questions can be categorised in various ways, for example having cognitive or non cognitive views. A cognitivist believes moral statements are about facts and can be classified as true or false. They believe that a statement such as "murder is wrong" is propositional and therefore its truth can be known. A non-cognitivist believes that moral statements are not propositions and are neither true nor false. ...read more.


This theory is known as the "boo-hurrah" theory because Ayer believed all we are saying when we make that statement is "boo to stealing" or "hurrah to respect for others property". We are basically grunting our approval or disapproval. C.L. Stevenson took a similar view and agreed that ethical statements are just expressions of our attitudes but went on to say that these attitudes are not just based on a certain mood but are based on our views on the world and the way it should work. He stated that there is more to a statement than the boo-hurrah theory, because you could agree with something to an extent and acting upon your thoughts means more than just saying boo or hurrah to it. Stevenson also believed that the words you use can persuade people to agree with your point of view. Emphasizing certain words (such as using the word baby instead of embryo) will put a more persuasive side to your argument and people use these emotive words both naturally without thinking, and sometimes use these words to an advantage to strengthen their argument. This kind of approach is called prescriptivism, and a philosopher who was a well known prescriptivist was R.M.Hare. ...read more.


Moving from an objective factual statement to a subjective statement leaves open questions which have not been answered. "Good", Moore said is indescribable and cannot be equated with anything else. He uses the colour yellow to explain this theory. If we are asked to describe the colour yellow we will end up giving examples of yellow things rather than giving yellow itself a definition. We know what it is, and we recognise it when we see it but we cannot describe it. Likewise we recognise goodness intuitively but we cannot describe it. Influenced by Moore and also called an Intuitionist was W.D.Ross. He criticises part of Moore's theory and says certain actions are right and wrong in themselves and are separate from their good or bad consequences. Actions are either right or wrong but the goodness is defined by their intentions, (e.g. it might be right giving up time to help at an old peoples home but if the motive is to get points on my UCAS form it would not be good). He believes then that right is an act which is suitable in a certain situation, Like Moore, Ross found there was a sense of right and wrong but this intuitive sense is different in everyone. ...read more.

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