Meta ethics

These cards will help me a great deal when revising over meta ethics. 


What is meta ethics?

The greek word 'meta' means 'above' or 'beyond' 

It is the analysis of ethical language

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Normative ethics

It is different to normative ethics which decides which things are good and bad and gives us a guide for moral behaviour.

Examples of normative ethics:

Kantian ethics


Natural law

Meta ethics is about normative ethics and tries to make sense of the terms and concepts used. 

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Meta ethics

For many people ethical language is about facts which are either right or wrong 

Example- 'abortion is wrong' -true or false?

Although, this may need to be qualified as we can also use ethical language in expressing moral facts about the world which is also interconnected with beliefs and feelings which often come before. 

Example- catholics would say it is wrong being of the sanctity of life. 

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Do ethical statements have meaning?

Moral realists say that moral facts are objective facts that are out there in the world. Things are good and bad independantly of us. 

Example- Moral values such as kind and wicked are real properties of people in the same way that rough and smooth are properties of physical objects. 

This view is related to cognitive language. 

Cognitivists would say that moral statements describe the world. 

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Non cognitivists

Non cognitivists would say that if someone makes a moral statement they are not describing the world but expressing their feelings or telling people what to do. 

They say that moral statements are not descriptive and cannot be described as true or false- they are subjective. 

Meta ethics is not concerned with what the right or wrong action is in a particular circumstance but with what it means to be moral. 

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Cognitive theories of meta ethics

Cognitivism is the view that we can have moral knowledge

People who hold this view about ethical language believe that ethical statements are about facts and can be proved true or false.

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Ethical naturalism

The theory that holds that all ethical statements are the same as non ethical (natural) ones. They are all factual and can be verified or falsified. 


Thomas Moore was executed for his beliefs. 'Thomas moore was a good man' can be true or false. 

Can be determined by looking at the evidence such as death certificate and eye witness accounts.

An ethical naturalist would claim that we can do the same for the second statement by looking at his personal behaviour. E.G. kind,unselfish man

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Criticisms of ethical naturalism

G.E. Moore argued against ethical naturalism and called the attempt to identify goodness with a natural quality a mistake. 

He said the claim that moral statements can be verified or falsified using evidence is to commit the naturalistic fallacy. 

He based his argument on David Hume who thinks that to derive an 'ought' from an 'is' is logically invalid. 

He says we cannot infer from a description of how the world is to how the world ought to be. 

Moore used the 'open question argument 

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