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

Topics: Ethics, Morality, Immanuel Kant, Philosophy, Virtue, Deontological ethics / Pages: 4 (913 words) / Published: Sep 8th, 2013
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 analytical (true by definition) nor able to be verified as a synthetic statement they are meaningless. He believed this as he was a logical positivist.

Stevenson, however, disagreed with Ayer and developed his hurrah-boo theory of emotivism. Stevenson claimed that while ethical statements are an expression, they are more than ‘like’ and ‘dislike’ as there is a strong conviction or belief involved. To say ‘Murder is wrong’ is showing your strong belief that murder is wrong.

Warnock disagreed with emotivism as he believed that ethical statements are more than like and dislike, as otherwise this would make any ethical debate a meaningless shouting match about taste. Furthermore, if ethics was tied up in emotion then ethics would change with people’s mood, which doesn’t happen as people often stick by their convictions not only through bad moods but through difficult and trying times. Stevenson’s development of emotivism does deal with that issue, but it could be argued that by changing emotivism to be about belief, then it is no longer emotivism as it has moved away from its core idea.

Richard Hare is an advocate of prescriptivism, which would disagree with the concept that ethical statements are no more than emotions as he believed

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