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What is Meta-ethics?

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(a) What is Meta-ethics? Meta-ethics is a branch of moral philosophy, which looks at the ways in which people use ethical language. Meta-ethical philosophers try to work out what we are doing when we use moral language, because if there is no agreement about the meaning of ethical language, then ethical debate is useless and will never accomplish anything. We all use ethical language when we talk about what is right or wrong, but are we all using it in the same way? What do we mean when we call an action 'right'? This essay will establish different views about Meta-ethics and how we should or shouldn't use ethical language. A name which is often used in discussions about Meta-ethics is David Hume. He was an eighteenth century Scottish philosopher, who was keen to show the potentiality and boundaries of logical argument. Hume asked whether there could be such a thing as moral Knowledge. He was a radical empiricist and a sceptic; he believed that all knowledge had to come through our senses. In his book 'a treatise of human nature' Hume asked what a statement like 'murder is wrong' actually means. He concludes that this statement can not be a fact, although we may be able to see a victim's blood and hear their cries for help, we can't just see the wrongness of the murder. ...read more.


There is still room for people's opinions. But Moore believed that we could make moral judgements, even though we could not do it by using our senses, he believed that we could by using our intuition. Another group who agree with Hume and Moore are emotivists. Emotivists like Ayer believe that when we make moral statements such as 'stealing is wrong' we are merely expressing our emotions about the matter. This view is sometimes described as the 'Boo- Hurrah theory'3 because all we are saying is Boo to stealing and Hurrah to respect for people's property. But emotivism has many criticisms. They say that it does not have enough substance to it because our uses of ethical language could change from one day to the next according to how we are feeling. This makes a statement such as 'murder is wrong' no more important than 'eating too many sweets is wrong'. C.L Stevenson modified Ayer's ideas. He took a similar view but he went on to argue that our ethical statements are not just random, based on the mood of the day, they are based on our beliefs about the world and how it should work. For example, we do not agree with the Holocaust murders not just because they were not to our taste but because we have firm beliefs about human dignity and worth. ...read more.


believed that you could never get an ought from an is, he said that sometimes instead of moving from one step to the next, people often made a great leap and claimed to have proved a point. He called this mistake the 'Naturalistic Fallacy'4, and this comes from the viewpoint of all Intuitionists. Another Intuitionalist; Moore, believed that it is still possible for us to decide whether a moral statement is true or false, even if we cannot use our five senses. He believed that we could use our 'moral intuition' and said "If I am asked 'what is good?' my answer is that good is good, and that is the end of the matter". 5 So Ethical Naturalists and Intuitionalists both believe that goodness is something that can be known. It is not just a matter of opinion, but something which we can be certain about which I agree with. However, emotivists and prescriptivists both disagree with this and say that we cannot have certain knowledge about good and bad things. They argue that moral language is not objective; it goes no further than expressing the preferences and feelings of the person making the statement, or recommending that other people follow their advice. I think that prescriptivism and emotivism have several faults. First of all I believe emotivism doesn't have enough substance to it. ...read more.

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