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

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

“Anything people approve of must be good” Discuss.

Meta-ethics is the part of ethics which investigates the true nature of ethical statements and its other properties. It questions what it is to be morally right or wrong.

Meta-ethics goes into two categories; these being cognitivism and non-cognitivism.

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Cognitivists or Natrualists say that moral statements describe the world. If I were to say that murder is wrong, then the cognitivist would say that I have recognised an asset of wrongness to the act of murder. Whether or not murder has an asset of wrongness is objective, therefore this statement is either objectively true or false. However Ethical Naturalism states that ‘good’ can be defined, therefore an action is able to be found ‘good’ or bad by studying the empirical evidence and weighing up all the facts, hence moral statements can be verified and falsified.

They also base their views on that on that good is found in fulfilling the purpose of the object, this is based on the Aristotelian views. So if we were to analyse euthanasia to see whether it is ‘good’ we would have to gather the evidence and weigh out the good points and the bad points, and how it relates to everybody involved happiness. This is much like the hedonic calculus in utilitarianism where everybody is considered in the decision making process. The word ‘good’ is used by Ethical Natrualists to describe a certain act that has been proven by the empirical evidence to give the highest amount of happiness and is found to have no or a minor bad effect.

Intuitionists or non-naturalists believe that you cannot analyse ‘good’ as a property, so therefore cannot believe in anything that people recognise as ‘good’. They also believe that if it is contradicted a duty you ought to know, as in the Prima Facie Duty. Intuitionists approve of actions as they believe it is your intuition that is telling you to make a decision, in a sense you know always what to do in moral or ethical dilemmas, we have a priori sense of moral truths. R Therefore if your moral intuition is telling them what there doing, or about to do is ‘good’ then Intuitionists would approve of this act.

However one could then argue that then if your moral intuition is telling you that it is ‘good’ to murder then in a sense they may have to approve of this action if it is a priori knowledge that this is what they think is ‘good’. This is a main criticism of Intuitionism as everyone’s intuition varies subjectively according to every individual. People’s views vary, for example some by claim that they instinctively know that that taking drugs is wrong, but others may disagree.

This seems to show intuition comes from social conditioning and how one is raised, rather than having a priori knowledge of ‘good’ and ‘bad’. Thus, meaning that ethical and moral intuition varies between different cultures and backgrounds. On the other hand, some other ethical theories suggest that we don’t gain or have this ‘moral intuition’ we learn how to deal with moral dilemmas intellectual, moral and cardinal virtues in Virtue Ethics; or in Kantian Ethics we act throughout a sense of duty and reason.

Cognitivists believe that ‘good’ is what we can prove to be a result of empirical evidence, so when we bring all the facts together the end result shows that it is ‘good’. Emotivism is a branch of Cognitivism which was brought about by A.J Ayer, in Emotivism he suggested that by making a moral statement one is expressing the personal feelings and within them are trying to persuade others to do as they are with that moral statement; he believed that analytical and synthetic statements are the only significant statements. Therefore Ayer thought by using the word ‘good’ we are subjectively showing what we feel to be ‘good’ consequently making the word meaningless and not objective.

Ayer followed on his work from philosophers such as G.E Moore, David Hume and Ludwig Wittgenstein whom was part of the Vienna Circle who invented ‘Logical Positivism’ which is the theory that any true claim has to be proven by sense experience therefore concluding that ethical statements cannot me true claims as they cannot be verified through sense experiences. This agrees with Ayer’s claim that ethical statements are a product of feelings.

Non-cogntivists however make a clear difference between facts and values believing that no ethical statement can be proved right or wrong, or similarly ‘good’ or bad e.g. “abortion is wrong”.

Within Non-cogntivism lies Prescriptivism. It tells us what ‘ought’ to be done and that these statements are moral because they are universal. Hare believes ethical statements to be universal because when you say, you ‘ought’ to do this it relates to everyone in that or similar situation, as he considered ethical statements to be imperatives. He also saw the difference between the two types of the usage of the word ‘good’, it can be used as an adjective e.g. “It is a good chair”, and in the prescriptive sense; in telling others what is correct and right.

Perscriptivists believe if we state something to be ‘good’ that we are approving of something and therefore are saying others should approve of it too. Hare would then say that if people are approving of this action then the action is ‘good’.

Overall, contained within Non-cognitivism; Emotivists and Perscriptivists both believe that the word ‘good’ is subjective and is way for us to prescribe or persuade our opinions onto others, therefore giving the word no objective moral truth.

The statement “Anything people approve of must be good” can be discussed by Cognitivists; they would look at whether or not people would approve of action as empirical evidence. They would not agree with this statement due to the fact may be seen to others as wrong, or may cause some sort of pain, and may stop the fulfilment of a purpose. G.E Moore states that by proving ethical statements commits the naturalistic fallacy, which is that the word ‘good’ cannot be defined by using natural facts. This idea by Moore is based on work by David Hume who said an is cannot result from an ought, in conclusion Moore and Hume would disagree with the above statement; as we cannot define the word ‘good’.

Moore believed that ‘good’ is an unanalysable property in which we use to describe what we know from our moral intuition (Intuitionism).

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