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What is meta-ethics?

The analysis of ethical language. It is about normative ethics and tries to make sense of the terms and concepts used.


What is normative ethics?

A term used to describe different moral codes of behaviour; rules b which we make moral decisions (e.g. Utilitarianism, Natural Law, Kantian ethics, Virtue ethics)


Why can it be difficult to establish whether ethical statements are true or false?

Ethical statements are not just about observable facts, but are often statements about what we believe should happen and so are not very easy to establish as true or false, as they may be expressions of points of view that are not shared by everyone.


What is the main question that philosophers of meta-ethics try to answer?

Can our ethical statements have any meaning?


What are moral realists?

They hold that moral facts are objective facts that are out there in the world. Things are good and bad independently of us. Moral values, such as kind and wicked, are real properties of people in the same way that rough and smooth are properties of physical objects.


What is ethical cognitivism?

A theory that moral values can be derived from sense experience. According to cognitivists, moral statements describe the world; it is either objectively true or false. It is the view that we can have moral knowledge.


What is ethical non-cognitivism?

A theory that ethical statements cannot be derived from sense experience. According to non-cognitivists, when someone makes a moral statement they are not describing the world, but expressing their feelings or telling people what to do. They would say that moral statements are not descriptive, they cannot be described as true or false- they are subjective.


What is meta-ethics concerned with?

The are not concerned with what the right or wrong action is in a particular circumstance, but with what it means to be mora.


What is ethical naturalism?

This theory holds that all ethical statements are the same as non-ethical (natural) ones.they are all factual, and can therefore, be verified or falsified. It can be proved true or false by looking at the evidence.


What is naturalistic fallacy?

The claim that good cannot be defined.


Why did G E Moore argue against ethical naturalism?

He said you cannot decide what is good by supporting your meaning of Good with evidence from any naturalistic property. You cannot say something is good because it is pleasurable, happy, virtuous (these qualities being naturalistic properties). Moore says you can't define moral terms good/bad in non-moral terms. He calls this the naturalistic fallacy.


How does G. E Moore arrive at his thinking about ethical naturalism?

From his open question technique, a formula used to test whether definitions were correct or not correct. He argues that all naturalistic definitions of ethical questions will result in open questions, and therefore will be inaccurate- using non-moral terms to define moral terms- the naturalistic fallacy. We cannot define something by mere observation, and so the attempt to bring some agreed meaning to the terms good/bad is no further forward.


What is the open question technique?

A closed question is a nonsense question because the first part of the question has already answered the second part of the question; e.g. George is a brother, but is he male and a sibling? An open question is a sensible question, as we need further information from outside the question to answer the question. E.g. George is a brother, but is he a teacher? Moore concludes that a definition will be correct only when the question asked is closed and incorrect when the question is open.


Who did G E Moore base his argument against ethical naturalism on?

He based his argument on David Hume, who thinks that to derive an 'ought' from an 'is' is logically invalid. We cannot, he says, infer from a description of how the world is to how the world ought to be.


What alternative moral theory does G E Moore offer to ethical naturalism?

Intuitionism. He says we cannot define an ethical term from observation and we cannot decide whether a moral statement is true or false from our senses. However, we can use our moral intuition. Our intuition cannot be explained to someone else- it is intuition; it cannot be defined, it is just known and crucial decisions can be based on this.


What is the problem with intuitionism?

Two different people could have different intuitions about the same thing and both people would be right since for each person their intuition is right for them. We cannot objectively decide which moral proposition is right using this theory. We we are left with the difficulty in meta-ethics of working out a common understanding of ethical terms good/bad/right/wrong.


How does G E Moore criticise ethical naturalism using the open question theory?

For any natural property, it always makes sense to ask 'is it good?' and the fact that we can even ask this question shows that 'good' and 'bad' cannot be the names of natural properties in the way that 'rough' and 'smooth' are. To question whether something is good, still allows the possibility of people having different opinions, so moving from a factual objective statement to an ethical statement of values does not work because it leaves an open question that has not been answered.


What did G E Moore believe about moral properties?

He believed there were moral properties, but that this properties, such as goodness is a 'non-natural' property which is indefinable. It is a simple, unanalysable property, just as a primary colour is.


How did Moore say we could say whether a moral statement is true or false?

Through his theory of intuitionism. We cannot use our senses to tell whether something is good, but we can use our 'moral intuition' and so we can still say whether a moral statement is true or false. We recognise goodness when we see it- we just know if something is good. He called this a 'simple notion'.


How did G E Moore explain what he meant by a 'simple notion'?

He explained it by saying it is rather like trying to define the colour yellow- just as we cannot explain what 'yellow' is by means of definition, but only be showing someone an example, so likewise can only explain what goodness is.


What quote does G E Moore use to describe a 'simple notion'?

"We know what 'yellow' is and can recognise it whenever it is seen, but we cannot actually define yellow. In the same way, we know what good is but we cannot actually define it."


What quote does G E Moore use to say that goodness cannot be defined?

"If I am asked 'What is good?' my answer is that good is good, and that is the end of the matter. Or if I am asked 'How is good to be defined?' my answer is that it cannot be defined, and that is all I have to say about it"


What is H.A Prichard's view on moral obligation? (intuitionism)

He discusses the moral claim 'ought' by saying that no definition can be given to this word, but, we all recognize its properties- everyone recognises when we ought to do a certain action, so moral obligations are obvious.


What does H.A. Prichard say allows us to reach a moral decision? (intuitionism)

Prichard thought there were two types of thinking- reason and intuition. Reason looks at the facts of a situation and intuition decides what to do. In any situation, Prichard thought that intuition would show which particular action was right and where our moral obligation lay.


How did H.A Prichard address the problem that people's morals are different? (intuitionism)

He recognised this problem, but said this was because some people had developed their moral thinking further than others. He does not explain why, nor does he attempt to list any fundamental obligations or moral virtues. However, according to him, it would seem that intuition would not be something that everyone could use to prove goodness.


What does H.A Prichard say we should do if there is a conflict of obligations? (intuitionism)

He simple says we must look at the situation and decide which obligation is greater. If there is a conflict of intuition, than you use your reason to decide what to do.


In what ways does W.D. Ross' intuitionism agree with Moore's and H.A. Prichard?

He agreed that 'right' and 'obligatory' are as indefinable as 'good


What does W.D. Ross say about about moral obligation? (intuitionism)?

He was a deontologist, arguing that it was obvious that certain types of actions, which he called prima facie duties, were right. In any particular situation we would come to recognise certain prima duties. He listed seven classes of prima facie duties.


What are W.D Ross' seven classes of prima facie duties? (intuitionism)

1. Duties of fidelity (e.g. promise-keeping)
2. Duties of reparation- when we have done something wrong
3. Duties of gratitude
4. Duties of justice
5. Duties of beneficience- helping others
6. Duties of self-improvement
7. Duties of non-maleficence- not harming others


What does W.D Ross say we should do when these prima facie duties conflict?

He says we must follow the one we think is right in the situation, and sometimes one prima facie duty will have to give way to another- this is why Ross called the prima facie duties: they are duties at first sight. However, he does not tell us how we know what a prima facie duty actually is or how to decide which one to obey in cases of conflict. He seems that he would say this depends on a person' moral maturity.