Meta Ethics can simply be defined as the nature of ethical evaluations.
In basic terms it defines what is meant by a word used in an ethical statement. A meta-ethical theory, unlike a normative ethical theory, does not contain any ethical evaluations, it evaluates the evaluations. In meta ethics there are two kinds of belivers, those who say ethical terms can’t be diffined – the non-naturalists, and those who say ethical terms can be diffined – the naturalists. To compare the two, we will look at the differences between the two beliefs using the term ‘good’.
We use good in everyday life, for example most people would agree that Nottingham Forest are a good football team, expecially when campared to a team like Derby County. But can we actually define what good is? G. E. Moore a non-naturalist said goodness is a simple, undefinable, non-natural property. He didn’t mean that goodness is a ‘super special’ word, it just means it can’t be reduced to natural properties like human needs, wants, pleasures, and so forth. So Moore thought that goodness is indefinable. Now that doesn’t mean that talk of goodness is quite meaningless. It’s just that you can’t formulate what this meaning is in a definition.
You can’t say, for example, “goodness” means “pleasure. ” Some people would say that for a word to be meaningful it must be difined, but can you define the word ‘thing’? So Moore’s claim, which is the central claim of the non-naturalist, is that “good” is indefinable. And if that’s the case, then the meaning of sentences containing word good can’t be explained entirely in terms of sentences not containing the word good. You can’t substitute the pleasure, or needs, or anything like that for the word good. We say that something is rounded if it’s round, some therefore we can say something is good if it contains goodness.Like with everything there are some problems with non-natrualistis thought. If Moore says that goodness is a non-natural property, then how does he know that anything is good? If you could know that cake is good by some natural process (say, just by eating it and having a pleasant taste sensation), then you could identify the goodness of the cake as some natural property that that natural process detected.
For example, the cake gives you pleasure; that’s how you know it’s good; so you can say that the cake’s goodness is just the same as, and is reducible to, the fact that it can give you pleasure.That’s the idea. That’s how you’d know that the cake is good, if you thought that goodness might be a natural property. But if you’re Moore, and you think that goodness isn’t a natural property, then how do you know that anything is good? How do you distinguish the good things from the bad? Unlike the non-naturalists, naturalists believe that ethical terms can be defined. They believe that words like ‘good’ can be defined using other words, as they are natural properties and can therefore be defined by other natural properties.So the fact that ethical sentences can be reduced to nonethical sentences is really like saying that ethical sentences are a kind of shorthand, a kind of useful abbreviation, for claims about what are ultimately nonethical facts about human needs, desires, and so on. People would then ask, if good can be defined, how do you define it? One definition states that good is estentially ‘Hedonism’ another word for pleasure. Despite the fact that many philosophers use the theory of naturalism, there are very few actual definitions of good.
Many philosophers also don’t believe that their defintions are reductions of the word good. “Anything people approve of must be good” This is an interesting statement, because it seems obvious but it’s not something which we regually think about. Would we agree to something if we don’t think it’s right? To start with it must be decided as to what good/right is, most people would say it’s a situation where an advantageous outcome occurs. Then we have to decide wether or not we all have the some view as to what is good, again most people would agree that we don’t.So with these two facts in place it seems difficult to say wether or not we all do what we think is right. For example if I saw a man beating to death another man, I would say he is commiting an evil act. But the man himself may believe what he is doing is right.
The natualist would say that from defining evil we can decided if his act is good or evil. On the other hand the non-naturalist would say that we simply can’t decide wether his act is evil or good. So we say that we all make decisions based on what is good can’t really be backed up.But from our own experience we can probably confirm that we don’t always make decisions based on what is right.
For example a Forest fan verbally abuse a De*by fan, knowing full well that what he does is wrong. A girl may agree that abortion is wrong but feel in her situation it is the best decision to make. We tend to make wrong decision only if we feel they will lead to better outcomes, in much the same way as proportionalism. In conclusion we can see that there are many different ways in which the term ‘good’ is used in Meta ethics.
In Intuitionism it is used to describe moral principles that are self evidently right.In Emotivism, when we say something is ‘good’, it is what we see as being right according to out emotions and feelings. Prescriptivism on the other hand uses reason and logic to determine what is ‘good’. Utilitarianists perceive something to be ‘good’ pending the results that follow the action.
How we determine what is ‘good’ or ‘bad’ to ourselves, greatly depends on which ethical view we take to situations as a result of our opinion. There is no one definition for what is ‘good’ and so it is down to us to decide which one we believe to be right and then try to live our lives accordingly.