When you have learnt all your normative ethical theories, you may feel that all you have to do is apply them to the various problems and issues which confront people.
It is worth remembering though that the very terminology you have been using can come up for scrutiny. Words we take for granted like right and wrong can still be examined.
“It’s right to kill flies
Is it right because the Bible says so?
Is it right because there is plenty of evidence to support the idea?
Is it right because intuitively that’s what people think?
Is it right, although no one can trace the reason why?
Not sure a fly would agree!
On the other hand “Killing flies is right”
Could just be your own personal emotive reaction to the flying insect
Could be what you are recommending to others
That in a paragraph is what Meta-Ethics is all about.
Moral statements are about facts.
They make statements and are propositions. They state that something is – or is not.
Moral statements are not propositional.
Such statements may be an expression of feelings and as such would not be followed by a question about truth or falsity.
Back to Cognitivism
Is dealing with something out there.
Something which exists within the person experiencing it.
What is right or wrong is decided by God and is probably revealed in the Bible for Christians.
Non moral evidence may be used in order to reach a decision about right or wrong.
Naturalists treat moral statements as propositions.
They believe it is possible to establish moral facts by looking at the evidence.
They believe that statements such as “stealing is wrong” can be verified. Possible non-moral evidence might be “because victims lose precious possessions” or “criminals, if caught will go to prison.”
This was a knock-out blow to Ethical Naturalism – you must know G.E. Moore 1903 book Principia Ethica. He challenged the principle of using non-moral evidence to explain moral values. Moore claimed that terms like “goodness” cannot be defined.
Equally one cannot observe what is … and then move to say what ought to be.
Vardy observes “It is common for men to seek sexual pleasure, but it does not follow that this is what all men ought to do every Friday night” – you cannot make an “ought to” out of an “is”.
People know what is meant by goodness or evil.
We have a moral intuition – we just know!
We recognize goodness intuitively.
See the advances in this idea by H.A. Prichard and W.D. Ross.
Synthetic Moral Realism
It is not possible to determine what the foundations of moral judgements are, but it is clearly the case that they exist. Know about Andrew Fisher.
Now for Non-Cognitivism
You must know about A.J. Ayer
Ayer had belonged to a group of philosophers who had become known as logical positivists.
They believed that knowledge had to be capable of being verified. (You had to be able to prove it was true).
Ayer felt that this excluded all moral facts and so also rejected naturalism.
Ayer believed that sentiment was the source of right and wrong. All ethical statements and moral judgements are emotive responses. He claimed that such statements were expressions of preference, attitude or feeling.
“Henry is good”
“Murder is bad”
This has become known as the boo hurrah theory.
To say murder is bad causes people to boo.
To say “Henry is good” causes a cheer – boo hurrah theory
Good to know as well C.L. Stevenson
This is associated with R.M.Hare
Ethical statements are expressions of opinion.
They are also universal.
They not only express our views but prescribe them to others.