Examine the different ways in which ‘good’ is used in meta-ethics Essay

Custom Student Mr. Teacher ENG 1001-04 10 September 2017

Examine the different ways in which ‘good’ is used in meta-ethics

a) “Examine the different ways in which ‘good’ is used in meta-ethics.”

Meta-ethics is the study of the meaning of moral language. It describes presuppositions and language of morality. There are a number of different ethical theories for the meaning of good used in meta-ethics. The four main headings under which most acceptable theories can fit under in some shape or form. These are Ethical Naturalism (or Definism), Intuitionism, Emotivism and Presciptivism.

Definism theory states that all ethical statements are similar to non-ethical statements and can, therefore, be approached in the same way. In the same way that we can verify a scientific fact, ethical naturalism theory states that we can verify an ethical statement. They are both prepositional. Definism states that ethical statements are just a type of short hand for more complex propositions. So therefore, in terms of Ethical Naturalism, if I were to use the term ‘good’ in a number of examples, it would just be a ‘summary’ word to sum up all the other words I wish to have incorporated into my sentence.

For example, in the sentence: “I am good at football,” the word good is used to mean ‘skilled’ or ‘talented.’ This does not mean that ‘good’ means ‘skilled’ or ‘talented’, but simply that both of these words are incorporated in the single use of ‘good.’ In another sentence, ‘good’ could be used as a short hand for a completely different set of words. In the sentence, “It is good to see you,” ‘good’ is used to mean ‘pleasant’, ‘nice’ or ‘heart warming.’ Again this does not mean that ‘good’ means ‘pleasant’ or ‘nice’, but simply that both these words are incorporated in the single use of ‘good.’

A contradictory theory to Definism is Intuitionism. Intuitionism states that ‘good’ is indefinable. Intuitionism also holds that basic moral truths are objective and stand independently of what people my fell or think. Intuitionism holds that we should pick out our moral principles through what we think or feel. There is no definition of good that can always hold true. For example, if someone were to define good as ‘pleasing’, an Intuitionist would respond by pointing out that not all pleasing things are good.

A similar theory to Intuitionism is Emotivism. An Emotivist believes that moral judgements simply express our feelings on a subject. If someone were to claim something was ‘good’, an Emotivist would see this as an emotional exclamation, not a truth claim, and would take it to mean that the person approves of the thing/action/person etc.

Another fairly similar theory is Prescriptivism. Prescriptivists believe that in using moral language such as ‘good/bad’ or ‘right/wrong,’ we are simply prescribing our opinions. In other words were are saying, ‘do this, and let everyone do the same in the same situation.’ Therefore, if someone were to say ‘giving to charity is good,’ what he or she is really saying is ‘you ought to give to charity.’ This again, means that ‘good’ not used as a universal truth, but in this case it is used as a universal prescription.

In summary: in Definism, the term ‘good’ is simply a ‘short hand’ for more complex propositions that apply to that particular example. In Intuitionism holds that good in indefinable and therefore has no universal meaning. Emotivists believe when we use the term ‘good or make other moral judgements, we are simply expressing our feelings. So, therefore, if I say something is ‘good,’ this is simply an exclamation and therefore cannot be true or false and cannot be reasoned upon. Lastly, Prescriptivism holds that when we say something is ‘good’ we are prescribing a particular opinion and making it known to other that we feel they should do the same.

b) “Anything people approve of must be good. Discuss…”

The response to this question depends on how we define the term ‘good.’ Can we loosely define ‘good’ as moralistic? There is a common theory that believes that our morals our simply a product of our culture and background. Therefore, there will be different moral codes in different societies. If each individual society has equal validity, it must be agreed that there can be no universal moral code. This theory is called Cultural Relativism. Cultural Relativism therefore holds that ‘good’ means ‘socially approved.’ Therefore if we rearrange the above statement, replacing the word ‘good’ with the Cultural Relativist’s definition, we find ourselves looking at a slightly odd sentence which looks as follows: “Anything that people approve of must be socially approved”.

Now there are two ways to interpret this sentence. The first would be to question the number of people included in the generalization of the word ‘people.’ If the sentence is intended to mean, “if anybody approves of something, it must be socially approved”, then the statement is not true. However, we can also take the sentence to mean, “If the majority of people within a society approve of something, then it is said to be socially approved.” If we swap ‘good’ back into the sentence we end up with a statement that looks like this: ” if the majority of people within a society approve of something then it is good.” Thus we have formed the central principle of Cultural relativism.

In terms of the other theories that define ‘good’, only one can be applied. Definism would argue that the statement is simply a short hand for more complex propositions. So in this case, ‘good’ is used to mean ‘beneficial’ or ‘correct.’ Since this is possibly true, Ethical naturalists would have a fairly strong argument here. Emotivism, Intuitionism or Prescriptivism cannot really apply here as they are all subjective and based on opinion and in this case good cannot be used an exclamation of opinion.

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