“Ethical Language Is No More Than Expressions of Emotion.” Discuss.

928 Words Aug 25th, 2013 4 Pages
Ethical statements could be said to be no more than expressions of emotion depending on whether you take a cognitive approach to meta-ethics or a non-cognitive approach, and which branch of that approach you believe in.

Ayer was an emotivist and therefore took the non-cognitive approach to meta-ethics. He believed that ethical language is subjective and not objective. He said that ethical statements are merely expressions of liking or disliking a certain action, so if you say that ‘Murder is wrong’, you are simply saying ‘I don’t like murder’. He called this approach the hurrah-boo theory and claimed that any expression of emotion was the same as saying ‘ouch’; it is meaningless. He said that as ethical statements are neither
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However, while this may work for some ethical statements, others such as ‘Abortion is wrong’ may not be the same; many people who are pro-choice or pro-life don’t want everyone to have to go by their decision and think that it is a personal decision. Therefore Hare’s concept that when people make ethical statements they are or should be universalisable and according to the Golden Rule of Christianity, doesn’t work in all ethical situations, and so his argument against ethical statements being merely expressions of emotion is flawed.

Intuitionism takes a cognitive view of ethical language and is the belief supported by H. A. Pritchard that people know what is ‘good’ or ‘bad’, ‘right’ or ‘wrong’, intuitively, and that people generally hold the same views. Although the words cannot be explained because they are simple and can’t be broken down, we know what we mean by them; it cannot simply be explained by saying that we ‘like’ or ‘dislike’ an action as it is more than that.

The problem with this branch of meta-ethics is that although it says we know by intuition what ethical words mean, it doesn’t explain what the meanings are, and because of this how can we claim that people intuitively know what the words mean if meanings cannot be compared. Furthermore, if they are claiming that we intuitively know what the words mean, then why do emotivists, naturalists,

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