Explain what scholars mean when they say that ethical statements are no more than expression of opinions.

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Francesca Ricci. Theology Essay (Ethics) 21st October, 2003. Meta- Ethics.

Explain what scholars mean when they say that ethical statements are no more than expression of opinions. (33)

Before this question can be answered, terms such as meta- ethics and theories associated with this topic must be explained to ensure that all the terms are understood in the correct way.

Meta- Ethics explores the meaning and function of moral language. Instead of looking at whether abortion is right or wrong, meta- ethics looks at methods to use and how to approach the issue.

Meta- ethics is important because if there is ‘no agreement about the meaning of ethical language (some argue that it has no real meaning at all), then ethical debate is pointless and will never achieve anything.’(1)  

Meta- ethics looks at questions like, What, if anything, do we mean when we use words such as ‘good’ or ‘bad, ‘right’ or ‘wrong?’ When we use these words, what are we doing? Are we expressing our approval? And do we all mean the same when we say something is good? This is harder to answer than it first appears.

A meta- ethical theory, unlike a normative ethical theory, does not contain any ethical evaluations.

Some of the approaches used are divided into cognitivist and non- cognitivist views. Cognitivist views hold the opinion that moral statements are about facts, things that are true or false.

‘If someone has a cognitivist view of moral language, then he or she believes that statements such as ‘stealing is wrong’ are propositional, and their truth or falsity can not be known.’ (1)

Non- cognitivist views hold the opinion ‘that moral statements are not propositions at all, but perform some other, different function of language.’ (1)  

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Some of the theories that fall into meta- ethics include:

Ethical intuitionism (Ethical Non- Naturalism): Holds the view that there are objective moral properties and that sometimes we have intuitive awareness of moral properties or of moral truths.

Ethical naturalism (Definism): Is a theory that states ethical terms can be defined; the meaning of ethical sentences can be given in totally non- ethical terms. Ethical theories are like facts, and moral truths can be established so long as the evidence is looked at.

‘Naturalism is the view that ethical sentences express propositions and that they can be reduced to ...

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