Meta-ethics

Last updated

Meta-ethics is the branch of ethics that seeks to understand the nature of ethical properties, statements, attitudes, and judgments. Meta-ethics is one of the three branches of ethics generally studied by philosophers, the others being normative ethics and applied ethics.

Ethics branch of philosophy that systematizes, defends, and recommends concepts of right and wrong conduct

Ethics or moral philosophy is a branch of philosophy that involves systematizing, defending, and recommending concepts of right and wrong conduct. The field of ethics, along with aesthetics, concerns matters of value, and thus comprises the branch of philosophy called axiology.

In mathematics, logic, and philosophy, a property is a characteristic of an object; a red object is said to have the property of redness. The property may be considered a form of object in its own right, able to possess other properties. A property, however, differs from individual objects in that it may be instantiated, and often in more than one thing. It differs from the logical/mathematical concept of class by not having any concept of extensionality, and from the philosophical concept of class in that a property is considered to be distinct from the objects which possess it. Understanding how different individual entities can in some sense have some of the same properties is the basis of the problem of universals. The terms attribute and quality have similar meanings.

Normative ethics is the study of ethical action. It is the branch of philosophical ethics that investigates the set of questions that arise when considering how one ought to act, morally speaking.

Contents

While normative ethics addresses such questions as "What should I do?", evaluating specific practices and principles of action, meta-ethics addresses questions such as "What is goodness?" and "How can we tell what is good from what is bad?", seeking to understand the nature of ethical properties and evaluations.

Some theorists argue that a metaphysical account of morality is necessary for the proper evaluation of actual moral theories and for making practical moral decisions; others reason from opposite premises and suggest that studying moral judgments about proper actions can guide us to a true account of the nature of morality.

Morality Differentiation of intentions, decisions and actions between those that are proper and those that are improper

Morality is the differentiation of intentions, decisions and actions between those that are distinguished as proper and those that are improper. Morality can be a body of standards or principles derived from a code of conduct from a particular philosophy, religion or culture, or it can derive from a standard that a person believes should be universal. Morality may also be specifically synonymous with "goodness" or "rightness".

Meta-ethical questions

According to Richard Garner and Bernard Rosen, [1] there are three kinds of meta-ethical problems, or three general questions:

  1. What is the meaning of moral terms or judgments? (moral semantics)
  2. What is the nature of moral judgments? (moral ontology)
  3. How may moral judgments be supported or defended? (moral epistemology)

A question of the first type might be, "What do the words 'good', 'bad', 'right' and 'wrong' mean?" (see value theory). The second category includes questions of whether moral judgments are universal or relative, of one kind or many kinds, etc. Questions of the third kind ask, for example, how we can know if something is right or wrong, if at all. Garner and Rosen say that answers to the three basic questions "are not unrelated, and sometimes an answer to one will strongly suggest, or perhaps even entail, an answer to another." [1]

Various approaches of Value theory examine how, why, and to what degree humans value things; whether the object or subject of valuing is a person, idea, object, or anything else.

Moral universalism is the meta-ethical position that some system of ethics, or a universal ethic, applies universally, that is, for "all similarly situated individuals", regardless of culture, race, sex, religion, nationality, sexual orientation, or any other distinguishing feature. Moral universalism is opposed to moral nihilism and moral relativism. However, not all forms of moral universalism are absolutist, nor are they necessarily value monist; many forms of universalism, such as utilitarianism, are non-absolutist, and some forms, such as that of Isaiah Berlin, may be value pluralist.

Moral relativism may be any of several philosophical positions concerned with the differences in moral judgments across different people and cultures. Descriptive moral relativism holds only that some people do in fact disagree about what is moral; meta-ethical moral relativism holds that in such disagreements, nobody is objectively right or wrong; and normative moral relativism holds that because nobody is right or wrong, we ought to tolerate the behavior of others even when we disagree about the morality of it.

A meta-ethical theory, unlike a normative ethical theory, does not attempt to evaluate specific choices as being better, worse, good, bad, or evil; although it may have profound implications as to the validity and meaning of normative ethical claims. An answer to any of the three example questions above would not itself be a normative ethical statement.

Semantic theories

These theories focus on the first of the three questions above, "What is the meaning of moral terms or judgments?" They may however imply or even entail answers to the other two questions as well.

Logical consequence is a fundamental concept in logic, which describes the relationship between statements that hold true when one statement logically follows from one or more statements. A valid logical argument is one in which the conclusion is entailed by the premises, because the conclusion is the consequence of the premises. The philosophical analysis of logical consequence involves the questions: In what sense does a conclusion follow from its premises? and What does it mean for a conclusion to be a consequence of premises? All of philosophical logic is meant to provide accounts of the nature of logical consequence and the nature of logical truth.

Centralism and non-centralism

Yet another way of categorizing meta-ethical theories is to distinguish between centralist and non-centralist theories. The debate between centralism and non-centralism revolves around the relationship between the so-called "thin" and "thick" concepts of morality. Thin moral concepts are those such as good, bad, right, and wrong; thick moral concepts are those such as courageous, inequitable, just, or dishonest. [2] While both sides agree that the thin concepts are more general and the thick more specific, centralists hold that the thin concepts are antecedent to the thick ones and that the latter are therefore dependent on the former. That is, centralists argue that one must understand words like "right" and "ought" before understanding words like "just" and "unkind." Non-centralism rejects this view, holding that thin and thick concepts are on par with one another and even that the thick concepts are a sufficient starting point for understanding the thin ones. [3] [4]

Non-centralism has been of particular importance to ethical naturalists in the late 20th and early 21st centuries as part of their argument that normativity is a non-excisable aspect of language and that there is no way of analyzing thick moral concepts into a purely descriptive element attached to a thin moral evaluation, thus undermining any fundamental division between facts and norms. Allan Gibbard, R. M. Hare, and Simon Blackburn have argued in favor of the fact/norm distinction, meanwhile, with Gibbard going so far as to argue that, even if conventional English has only mixed normative terms (that is, terms that are neither purely descriptive nor purely normative), we could develop a nominally English metalanguage that still allowed us to maintain the division between factual descriptions and normative evaluations. [5] [6]

Substantial theories

These theories attempt to answer the second of the above questions: "What is the nature of moral judgments?"

Justification theories

These are theories that attempt to answer questions like, "How may moral judgments be supported or defended?" or "Why should I be moral?"

If one presupposes a cognitivist interpretation of moral sentences, morality is justified by the moralist's knowledge of moral facts, and the theories to justify moral judgements are epistemological theories.

See also

Related Research Articles

Ethical naturalism is the meta-ethical view which claims that:

  1. Ethical sentences express propositions.
  2. Some such propositions are true.
  3. Those propositions are made true by objective features of the world, independent of human opinion.
  4. These moral features of the world are reducible to some set of non-moral features

Ethical non-naturalism is the meta-ethical view which claims that:

  1. Ethical sentences express propositions.
  2. Some such propositions are true.
  3. Those propositions are made true by objective features of the world, independent of human opinion.
  4. These moral features of the world are not reducible to any set of non-moral features.

Non-cognitivism is the meta-ethical view that ethical sentences do not express propositions and thus cannot be true or false. A noncognitivist denies the cognitivist claim that "moral judgments are capable of being objectively true, because they describe some feature of the world". If moral statements cannot be true, and if one cannot know something that is not true, noncognitivism implies that moral knowledge is impossible.

Moral realism is the position that ethical sentences express propositions that refer to objective features of the world, some of which may be true to the extent that they report those features accurately. This makes moral realism a non-nihilist form of ethical cognitivism with an ontological orientation, standing in opposition to all forms of moral anti-realism and moral skepticism, including ethical subjectivism, error theory ; and non-cognitivism. Within moral realism, the two main subdivisions are ethical naturalism and ethical non-naturalism.

Emotivism is a meta-ethical view that claims that ethical sentences do not express propositions but emotional attitudes. Hence, it is colloquially known as the hurrah/boo theory. Influenced by the growth of analytic philosophy and logical positivism in the 20th century, the theory was stated vividly by A. J. Ayer in his 1936 book Language, Truth and Logic, but its development owes more to C. L. Stevenson.

This Index of ethics articles puts articles relevant to well-known ethical debates and decisions in one place - including practical problems long known in philosophy, and the more abstract subjects in law, politics, and some professions and sciences. It lists also those core concepts essential to understanding ethics as applied in various religions, some movements derived from religions, and religions discussed as if they were a theory of ethics making no special claim to divine status.

Cognitivism is the meta-ethical view that ethical sentences express propositions and can therefore be true or false, which noncognitivists deny. Cognitivism is so broad a thesis that it encompasses moral realism, ethical subjectivism, and error theory.

Ethical subjectivism is the meta-ethical view which claims that:

  1. Ethical sentences express propositions.
  2. Some such propositions are true.
  3. The truth or falsity of such propositions is ineliminably dependent on the attitudes of people.

Universal prescriptivism is the meta-ethical view which claims that, rather than expressing propositions, ethical sentences function similarly to imperatives which are universalizable—whoever makes a moral judgment is committed to the same judgment in any situation where the same relevant facts obtain.

Moral nihilism is the meta-ethical view that nothing is morally right or wrong.

In meta-ethics, expressivism is a theory about the meaning of moral language. According to expressivism, sentences that employ moral terms – for example, "It is wrong to torture an innocent human being" – are not descriptive or fact-stating; moral terms such as "wrong", "good", or "just" do not refer to real, in-the-world properties. The primary function of moral sentences, according to expressivism, is not to assert any matter of fact, but rather to express an evaluative attitude toward an object of evaluation. Because the function of moral language is non-descriptive, moral sentences do not have any truth conditions. Hence, expressivists either do not allow that moral sentences have truth value, or rely on a notion of truth that does not appeal to any descriptive truth conditions being met for moral sentences.

The following outline is provided as an overview of and topical guide to philosophy:

Quasi-realism is the meta-ethical view which claims that:

  1. Ethical sentences do not express propositions.
  2. Instead, ethical sentences project emotional attitudes as though they were real properties.

Secular ethics is a branch of moral philosophy in which ethics is based solely on human faculties such as logic, empathy, reason or moral intuition, and not derived from supernatural revelation or guidance—the source of ethics in many religions. Secular ethics refers to any ethical system that does not draw on the supernatural, and includes humanism, secularism and freethinking. A classical example of literature on secular ethics is the Kural text, authored by the ancient Tamil Indian philosopher Valluvar who lived during the 1st century BCE.

Projectivism in philosophy involves attributing ('projecting') qualities to an object as if those qualities actually belong to it. It is a theory for how people interact with the world, and has been applied in both ethics and general philosophy. There are several forms of projectivism.

Ideal observer theory is the meta-ethical view which claims that ethical sentences express truth-apt propositions about the attitudes of a hypothetical ideal observer. In other words, ideal observer theory states that ethical judgments should be interpreted as statements about the judgments that a neutral and fully informed observer would make; "x is good" means "an ideal observer would approve of x".

The following outline is provided as an overview of and topical guide to ethics:

Objectivity is a philosophical concept of being true independently from individual subjectivity caused by perception, emotions, or imagination. A proposition is considered to have objective truth when its truth conditions are met without bias caused by a sentient subject. Scientific objectivity refers to the ability to judge without partiality or external influence, sometimes used synonymously with neutrality.

References

  1. 1 2 Garner, Richard T.; Bernard Rosen (1967). Moral Philosophy: A Systematic Introduction to Normative Ethics and Meta-ethics. New York: Macmillan. p. 215. LOC card number 67-18887.
  2. Jackson, Frank "Critical Notice" Australasian Journal of Philosophy Vol. 70, No. 4; December 1992 (pp. 475-488).
  3. Hurley, S.L. (1989). Natural Reasons: Personality and Polity. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
  4. Hurley, S.L. (1985). "Objectivity and Disagreement." in Morality and Objectivity, Ted Honderich (ed.). London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, pp. 54-97.
  5. Couture, Jocelyne and Kai Nielsen (1995). "Introduction: The Ages of Metaethics," in On the Relevance of Metaethics: New Essays in Metaethics, Jocelyne Couture and Kai Nielsen (eds.). Calgary: University of Calgary Press, pp. 1-30.
  6. Gibbard, Allan (1993). "Reply to Railton," in Naturalism and Normativity, Enrique Villanueva (ed.). Atascadero, CA: Ridgeview, pp. 52-59.