Dr Nick Mercer

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Dr Nick Mercer

1. Explain the logical positivism principle and how it leads Ayer to reject claims about values, God, and the afterlife. The cornerstone of LP beliefs was the principle of verification. This claims that a statement only has meaning if it is either analytic or empirically verifiable. An analytic statement is true (or false) just in virtue of the meaning of the words; “a bachelor is an unmarried man” is an analytically true, while “a square has three sides” is analytically false. A statement is empirically verifiable if empirical evidence would go towards establishing that the statement is true or false.

For example, if I say “The moon is made of green cheese”, we can check this by scientific investigation. If I say “The universe has 600 trillion planets”, we can’t check this by scientific investigation in practice, but we can do so in principle. We know how to show whether it is true or false, so it is “verifiable” even if we can’t verify it. The principle of verification entails that claims about values, about what is right or wrong are meaningless.

They are neither true nor false because they do not actually state anything. If I say “murder is wrong”, this is not analytic, nor can any empirical investigation show this. We can show that murder causes grief and pain, or that it is often done out of anger. But we cannot demonstrate, in the same way, that is wrong. 2. What objection to logical positivism is based on ethics? “Statements of value” are empirical propositions – they are statements about our psychology or sociology.

For instance, let’s try a though experiment. This one is from Jonathan Haidt. Julie and Mark are brother and sister and they go up to a cabin they know and spend the night there. While spending the night there they have sex with each other, Julie in on the pill and Mark uses a condom so there is no chance that Julie will have a baby.

The next morning they felt pretty good, they don’t feel shameful at all. Is what they did wrong? Incest thought experiment: people have in-built ‘yuck’ instinctive reaction towards incest (evolutionary psychology: evolved to have certain responses that lead to rapid judgments without being subject to reason). This statement of value describes a fact about our evolutionary psychology. 3. What four parts does a typical “system of ethics” have? State which parts are philosophical and which are not, and explain why. 1. Definitions of ethical terms (i. e. the “good”, the “right”)

2. Descriptions of moral experience (feelings of approbation and disapprobation towards certain acts and certain people) 3. Exhortations to moral virtue (prescriptive commands that commend you to act in a certain way or have a certain character) 4. Ethical judgments (the process by which we come to decisions on whether an act or person is moral) Only the first one is philosophical. This is because in defining ethical terms one is an attempt to establish foundations for the claim that there is moral knowledge.

Defining the “good” in terms of the “right” or in terms of “value” is a properly philosophical inquiry because Descriptions of moral experience can be assigned to psychology and sociology. Exhortations to moral virtues are not propositions, they are commands designed to provoke the person into action. Ethical judgments have yet to be classified.

4. Why does Ayer reject the idea that “good” is definable in empirical terms? If we try and define the “good” in empirical terms, i. e. , the “good” is what is pleasurable (what is pleasurable can be empirically verified), or the “good” is what is desired (what we feel towards people and acts can be empirically verified), in both cases we can show that some pleasant things are not good and that bad things are desired.

By doing so we are demonstrating that it is not self-contradictory to say that pleasant things are not good. Empirical statements can be show to be true or false – X is Y, or X is not Y, but they can’t be both true and false – this is a contradiction. Pleasure can be both good and bad; desire can be both good and bad; without contradiction, so it is not definable in empirical terms. 5.

Why does Ayer reject the idea that moral judgments can be known by intuition as self-evident truths? Intuitionism is moral theory that claims that basic judgments about what is good are intuitions. A self-evident judgment has no other evidence or proof but its own plausibility. Intuitionism is a form of moral foundationalism; our intuitions about what is good are self-evident judgments that require no other beliefs to support them. G. E.

Moore argued that the “good” cannot be defined in any other terms as this would be committing the naturalistic fallacy: equating “good” with any natural property like “happiness” Ayer rejects intuitionism on the basis that people disagree about what is intuitively self-evident. 6. How does Ayer analyse moral judgments? What does “Stealing is wrong mean”?

Are such judgments true or false? “Stealing money is wrong” has no factual content. It is like exclaiming “stealing money! ” It is an emotional expression, like saying “boo” to a team you don’t like. Expressions of moral sentiments can’t be true or false, just as feeling in love is not something that can be said to be true or false – your feelings can be misguided but they are not false. 7.

Besides expressing feelings, what do moral judgments do? Arouse feeling on others. They can be prescriptive: “It is your duty to tell the truth” is both an emotive expression and an expression of the command “Tell the truth”. 8. What is the proper citation for determining the validity of a moral judgment? Moral judgments have no objective validity. They are not propositional and cannot be said to be valid or invalid, true or false. The correct citation for a moral judgment is to think of them as emotional exclamations: “Boo-hurrah! ” 9.

On Ayer’s view, does “Stealing is wrong” mean “I disapprove of stealing” or “I dislike stealing”? To say “I disapprove of stealing” or “I dislike stealing” are subjectivist positions. To say “stealing is wrong” is to assert how you feel about stealing, and these statements are propositions about the speaker’s feelings (it is true or false whether the speaker has these feelings or not). For Ayer, the statement “Stealing is wrong” has no propositional content. It gives no indication of the truth of the speaker’s feelings but rather it is just an emotive expression. 10. To what extent are ethical disagreements resolvable by rational means? We attempt to show that someone is mistaken about facts.

Emotivists suggest that we can argue over facts. For instance, I had an argument with my father when he came to Singapore as he refused to eat in a restaurant that was selling Shark Fin soup. His reasoning was that the practice of cutting fins of sharks and throwing them back into the water is cruel and causes great suffering to the shark. I then asked him if he shops at Woolworths which stock eggs laid by battery hens: hens kept in tiny cages their whole lives which is cruel and causes great suffering.

The disagreement could be potentially resolved if my dad excepted that it was logically inconsistent to say that he wouldn’t eat at a restaurant that sold shark fin soup but he would shop at a supermarket that sold eggs laid by battery hens. But once we agree on all the facts in a moral disagreement there still might be a dispute over attitudes. For example, I might hold the attitude that human beings are much more sophisticated animals than sharks or hens and so the suffering of these animals for our purposes is justified. You might hold the attitude that while human being are more sophisticated animals than sharks or hens this does not justify the suffering of these animals for our purposes.


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  • University/College: University of Arkansas System

  • Type of paper: Thesis/Dissertation Chapter

  • Date: 4 November 2016

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