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n05_meta_ethcs-3 - Philosophy 2410 Notes T.H Irwin DRAFT...

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Philosophy 2410 Notes T.H. Irwin DRAFT, NOT FOR PUBLICATION. DO NOT QUOTE, CITE, COPY, OR CIRCULATE WITHOUT PERMISSON V: META-ETHICS  ISSUES  IN META-ETHICS 'Meta- ethics'  marks  a contrast  with  normative  ethics  or moral  theory.  In moral  theory  we try to  work  out  the  most  reasonable  account  of what  is morally  right  (and  for that  purpose  we  examine,  for instance,  utilitarian  and  Kantian  normative  theories).  In meta- ethics  we do not   ask  questions   within  ethics,  as  we have  been  doing.  We ask  questions   about  ethics.  We ask   what  sorts  of judgments  we make  when  we make  moral  judgments,  and  what  we are  talking   about.  Discussion  of relativism  already  some  meta- ethical  questions,  in so far as  it raises  a  general  issue  about  the  objectivity  of moral  judgments.   The same  general  issue  could  be  raised  by asking  how  far moral  judgments  are  like  or  unlike  scientific  judgments. 1  Our  normal  view of physical  science  and  of our  common  sense   beliefs  about  the  world  is that  they  give us  knowledge  of objective  facts  and  of objective  reality.   They tell us  about  things  that  exist  independently  of us  and  of our  beliefs;  and  they  tell us   facts  about  them  that  are  independent  of our  beliefs  and  theories.  Our  believing  something   does  not  make  our  belief true. It is not  obvious  that  we can  treat  ethics  in the  same  way.  In some  areas  there  is  persistent  moral  disagreement.  We might  try to explain  this  disagreement  by saying  that  moral   judgments  do not  tell us  about  objective  facts  at  all, but  are  more  like expressions  of our   tastes  or sentiments.  With  expressions  of taste,  persistent  disagreement  does  not  surprise  us.   Why not  think  of moral  judgments  in that  way? 2 Some  of the  different  questions  that  arise  in meta- ethics  are  these: 1. SEMANTIC QUESTIONS.  What  do moral  judgments  mean?  How should  we understand   them?  More  specifically - are  they  meant  as  statements,  or are  they  more  like expressions  of  emotion,  or commands?  The  choice  is between  a descriptive  theory  and  various  sorts  of non- descriptive  theory. 2. EPISTEMOLOGICAL QUESTIONS.  How, if at  all, do we know  that  moral  judgments  are   true?  Can  we claim  to know  the  truth  of a moral  judgment  in the  way we can  claim  to know   the  truth  of, say,  a scientific  judgment?  This  is often  put  as  a question  about  how  we can  get  from  facts  to values,  or about  how  we can  get from  an  'is' to an  'ought'.  The  choice  is between  
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