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Topics in Moral Theory

Help in Discussing the following (for full questions, see attached PDF file)

1: Ethical Objectivism

2. Emotive Theory

3. Social Contract Theory

4. Plato's metaphysical theories

5. Meno's statement "to desire beautiful things and to have the power to acquire them"


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Question 1: Ethical Objectivism is the belief that ethical positions exist independent of any personal or divine intervention. Ethical laws are eternal and immutable. In Ethical Subjectivism, ethics is either from a divine source, the "divine command theory", which is that God wills ethics, or we can have ethics eminating from a human source, which leads to variations on moral relativism.

Metaethics is the part of ethics which asks "what is meant by the terms we use in ethical discourse?" So the questions in meta-ethics are of the sort "what is the meaning of good"? whereas normative ethics asks the question "what are good actions"? Meta-ethics does not evaluate whether something is good or not-that is a normative ethical function.

Cultural Moral Relativism is the belief that moral decisions are based on cultural perspectives; you must consider the culture a person comes from when evaluating their moral beliefs, and one can judge them from a perspective outside of their culture. It is important to mention that cultural norms are never clear-cut; there are certainly cultural norms, but things that are repulsive to outsiders (such as slavery) are usually not so clearly supported within the cultural as well. Although slavery was justified by pre-Civil War southerners, the justifications offered have an implicit understanding that slavery itself does not look very good.

Question 2. Emotive Theory-I am assuming that the Emotive Theory we are talking about is the classic position offered by AJ Ayer in "Language, Truth, and Logic"-there are later variations by Hare and Stevenson in particular that are often cited as well.

In Ayer's position, ethical statements are not propositions, but simply express the feelings of the speaker; as such they give us no cognitive information.

Epistemology is the theory of knowledge, so it is very clear what the epistemological implications are of Ayer's position.

He also argues tha Metaphysics-the study of the fundamental nature of being-is nonsense, and that metaphysical statements give us no information.

If you answer this question, I would say read the book. ( It is attractive, amusing, and well written, and it presents the arguments clearly and provocatively.

When answering the part about "Torture is Wrong", keep it clear that the emotivist is not saying that torture is right, but is merely evaluating whether the statement is an expression of things we can know or things we can feel.

Question 3. Social Contract Theory is the belief that moral obligations stem from an agreement that one makes to live in a society and to follow the rules of that society. The idea is that in order to "play the game' of living with others, there needs to be some rules to the game, and by living in a society with others we are agreeing to follow those rules. The question of "moral sphere" is interesting, for in Social Contract theory, one can ask whether ...

Solution Summary

Various topics in moral theory is discussed, compared and contrasted (see above).