To what extent is Ethical Language meaningful?

We often hear of people being told how they should behave and they should live their lives; sometimes through advice and sometimes via the governments of countries. However, we can never truly know what ‘good’ and ‘bad’ is, there is nothing that confirms or denies what each of these mean, there is only your opinion. Looking at the meaningfulness and usefulness of ethical language is known as Meta ethics. It also sets out to understand terms used in descriptive ethics. Ethical language is divided into cognitive language, which is both realist and objective, drawing ethical statements from nature and believing it to be true fact.

On the other hand there is non-Cognitive language which is anti-realist and subjective. Ethical Naturalists and Logical Positivists believe only Cognitive language is true as it describes facts. While Descriptivists and Prescriptivists argue, although when referring to ethical language it may be subjective, it still has significance and has meaning. Ideas on morality can only be understood as opinion.

Eighteenth century philosopher David Hume suggested that ethics amounts to sentiments and ideas on morality can only be understood as emotional opinions.

Ethical opinion is simply subjective and only when a situation arises where harm of some form comes into play, it shouldn’t matter what other people decided to do. An example of this is abortion, many people say that abortion is bad full stop as it is taking away an innocent life, but this would be a subjective statement that cannot be tested. However, Ethical Naturalists argue that ethical language can be understood by non-ethical and natural terms.

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Therefore they represent facts and can be proven to be either true or false. For example, ‘abortion takes away innocent lives’ this is saying that abortion is effectively murder and ending an innocent life is morally wrong. In this sense Ethical Naturalists would argue ethical language is meaningful as it can be proven and justified by real life empirical evidence as you can sometimes witness the trauma of experiencing an abortion. Ethical Naturalists also argue that ethical language shows what good means if an object or an action fulfils its duty. For example if a knife cuts well, it is a good knife and fulfils its purpose.

Consequently ethical language is showing what terms such as ‘good’ mean through the ‘content of purpose’ within an ethical statement and is therefore meaningful in informing us on ethical terms such as ‘good’ or ‘bad’. Yet, ethical Naturalists disregard the complexity of ethical language which is the critique put forward by G E Moore. Moore argues that we can ask ‘what is good’ which leads to an open argument which could possibly go against the Ethical Naturalist view of ethical language as meaningful. G E Moore’s ‘what is good’ could also lead to it being said that ethical language as meaningful is not fully sufficient. People often disregard the ideas and views from Ethical Naturalists due to how it could possibly allow and justify immoral acts such as murder and theft, therefore going against Ethical Naturalists and saying that regardless ethical language cannot be understood. This could suggest that to a low extent is ethical language meaningful.

To conclude, I believe that ethical language is meaningful to a certain extent. This is because it can have some meaning in some cases; however in the more severe cases or murder and theft, it can sometimes suggest that it is right when it is actually morally wrong. Therefore, I conclude that ethical language stands correct in some cases, however in others it stands to be corrected due to the lack of morality it sometimes holds.

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To what extent is Ethical Language meaningful?. (2016, Mar 16). Retrieved from

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