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Critically Assess the View That Ethical Judgements Should Be Based on Natural Properties or Nature

Autor:   •  May 22, 2011  •  Essay  •  1,706 Words (7 Pages)  •  1,616 Views

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Critically assess the view that ethical judgements should be based on natural properties or nature

In this essay I will explain the idea of meta-ethics through ethical naturalism, part of ethical cognitivism and ethical non-cognitivism. I believe that ethical judgements cannot be based on natural properties or nature because I don’t believe that anything is objectively right or wrong, and therefore ‘good’, for example, doesn’t have any natural properties (something objective that can be identified empirically) and so cannot be defined.

I will first approach ethical naturalism. Ethical naturalism claims that ethical statements can be translated into factual statements, and therefore can be verified or falsified. In other words, moral statements can be proved or disproved through empirical evidence. For example, saying “X killed someone” and “X is a bad person” would both be viewed as factual information to the ethical naturalist, as they believe that through behaviour one can judge whether or not someone is a good person. In this case the behaviour of X killing someone has defined him or her as a bad person. However, does killing someone actually make you a bad person? What if X killed this person to save him or herself, or to save someone else’s life? So killing someone doesn’t necessarily define ‘bad’. Now to say “X is a bad person” means that you have made two presuppositions. The first being that it can be proven by empirical evidence, and the second that it is mass approved, i.e. something that is generally thought to be either right or wrong by most people, or it can be proved through a scientific method. Here all ethical statements are basically reduced down to statements of approval and disapproval.

However there are huge problems with this theory. The first, thought of by Hume, is that it isn’t possible to get an ‘ought’ statement from an ‘is’ statement. Ethical naturalists try to make ‘good’ and ‘bad’ etc. descriptive, rather than evaluative. Hume says that this isn’t possible, if one person says “X is a bad person” doesn’t mean X is a bad person, nor does it mean someone else will say, “X is a good person”. Ethical statements simply cannot be derived from fact because the former (ought) is evaluative and the latter (is) is descriptive. This exposes the fundamental philosophical flaw of ethical naturalism- that value judgements can be deduced from actual statements.

Hume’s law is backed up by Brandt, who expands on this idea. He says that the only time an ethical conclusion can be made from a statement is if the original statement had an ethical component in it to begin with. For example, if a certain act maximised happiness for all is seen as ‘right’, then in that specific situation, telling a lie to someone would be seen as ‘right’ because it would maximise happiness for all


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