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PHI 192 (3)


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PHI 192
Ben Bradley

A.J. Ayer Reading: A Critique of Ethics PHI 192 Intro: His central argument relies on the verifiability criterion of meaning • He says that a claim can be meaningful only if it is empirically verifiable or is true by definition • Article is about emotivism which is the view that moral judgments essentially express our emotions rather than describe the way the world is o Moral statements are therefore neither true nor false from the point of view of an emotivist • If there is no truth in ethics, then there is no ethical knowledge Article: 4 main clauses of ethical contents o 1: propositions which express definitions of ethical lens, or judgments about legitimacy or possibility of certain definitions o 2: propositions describing the phenomena of moral experience and their commands o 3: Exhortations to moral virtue o 4: ethical judgments • Only the first can be said to constitute ethical philosophy • The second must be assigned to psychology or sociology • The third does not belong to any branch of science because they are merely commands or ejaculations designed to provoke the reaction to a certain value • The fourth is not of ethical philosophy but we don’t know what they belong to o This is the category that all ethical items belong to Can statements of Ethical Value be turned into empirical fact? • Ayer is not interested in reducing the whole ethical sphere to a fundamental term or a set of fundamental terms • He is interested in reducing the whole ethical sphere of ethical terms to non-ethical terms • Utilitarianism and subjectivism contend that it is possible o Subjectivism is wrong because it is self-contradictory o Utilitarianism is wrong because it cannot be said that “x is good” is equivalent to “x is pleasant” or “x is desired” in all circumstances The validity of ethical judgments is not determined by felicific tendencies of actions, any more than by the nature of people’s feelings; but that it must be regarded as “absolute” or “intrinsic” and not empirically calculable • Utilitarianism and subjectivism are rejected because they attempt to analyze our existing ethical notions Ayer cares about expressions of moral judgments “x is wrong” instead of expressions of ordinary sociological propositions “x is wrong” when it constitutes a sentence such as something being repugnant to the moral sense of a particular society • He cares about normative ethical concepts, not descriptive ethical concepts Absolutists are wrong because there are no empirical tests to be made • They cite “intellectual intuition” by saying the “know” their morals are correct; but someone else might also “know” their morals are correct o We cannot empirically test one’s opinions about their own knowledge Ayer admits that the fundamental ethical concepts are unanalyzable inasmuch as there is no criterion by which we can test the validity of the judgments in which they occur • Unlike absolutists (who posit the same), Ayer and emotivism can give an explanation of fact • They are unanalyzable because they are mere pseudo-concepts o The presence of an ethical symbol in a proposition adds nothing to its factual content (“you acted wrongly in stealing that money” is not saying anything more than “you stole that money”) o Therefore emotivists believe that an ethical symbol merely interjects the speaker’s own tone in the matter and holds no factual value When he says a certain action is right or wrong, he is not making any factual statement, not even a statement about his own state of mind • Instead h
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