Contemporary ethical theory begins with G. E. Moore (1873–1958). Moore opened up new issues for consideration and altered the focus of ethical discussion.
Moore believed that the task of the ethical philosopher is to conduct a “general inquiry into what is good.”This seems reasonably straightforward, down to earth, and useful. If you know what good or goodness is, and if you know what things are good, then you also know what proper conduct is, right? This, at any rate, is what Moore maintained, because he believed that the morally right act is the one that produces the greatest amount of good
In an influential book, The Right and the Good (1930), W. D. Ross (1877–1970) defined his purpose as “to examine the nature, relations, and implications of three conceptions which appear to be fundamental in ethics—those of ‘right,’ ‘good’ in general, and ‘morally good.’”
Moore, as we noted, believed that that which alone makes right actions right is that they produce more good than alternative actions do. This seems reasonable enough, does it not? If a course of action is right, it must be because it is more productive of good than are alternative courses of action. But Ross disagreed. Certainly, he wrote, it is right and morally obligatory and our duty (these expressions all mean the same, for Ross) to bring into existence as many good things as possible. But the production of maximum good is not the only thing that makes an act right: we have other duties than to bring about good results. For example, it is your duty to keep promises, Ross said.What makes it right for you to do what you have promised to do is not that your doing it will produce more good, as Moore thought, but simply the fact that you promised to do it. Ross’s views are similar in this regard to those of Kant. Kant, too, proposed a duty-based moral philosophy and was committed to the idea that our moral duty is self-evident. A duty-based moral philosophy is known as a deontological moral philosophy. Deontological ethics are usually contrasted with consequentialist
The utilitarians defined the rightness of an action in terms of the happiness it produces as a consequence. Accordingly, moral judgments in effect are a type of factual judgment, a judgment about how much happiness some action produces. Moore and Ross denied that the rightness of an act or the goodness of an end can be defined in terms of happiness or any other natural property or thing. (They disagreed with each other about the relationship between rightness and goodness.) But like the utilitarians, they believed that moral judgments are a type of factual judgment.thics and virtue ethics, as explained in Chapter 10The contemporary British linguistic philosopher
R. M. Hare (1919–2002) said that the function of moral discourse is not to express or influence attitudes but rather to guide conduct. A moral judgment, according to Hare, is a kind of prescriptive judgment that is “universalizable”: when I make a moral judgment such as “You ought to give Smith back the book you borrowed,” I am prescribing a course of conduct, and my prescription is general and exceptionless (i.e., I believe that anyone else in the same or relevantly similar situation ought to conduct himself or herself similarly).
That emotivism misrepresents, or indeed trivializes, moral discourse is now fairly widely accepted by contemporary philosophers.
Despite their differences, Moore, Ross, and the emotivists all agreed that descriptive statements and value judgments are logically distinct. If you say that (1) I did not do what I promised you I would do, you are making a purely descriptive statement. If you say that (2) I did not do what I ought to have done, you are making a value judgment. Most of the philosophers of the first half of the twentieth century accepted Hume’s opinion that “you cannot deduce an ‘ought’ from an ‘is’” and held that it is a mistake to think that any moral value judgment is logically entailed by any...
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