Read the following and identify and develop the final conclusion as well as considering any intermediate conclusions. Then click on the text to see a possible answer. Examine how this differs from your answer and discuss whether these differences are significant.
'Ethical statements are not the same as non-ethical statements.' Evaluate this statement
Ethical naturalism is empiricist in orientation and argues that ethical propositions are no more than statements of fact that can be justified by appeal to the natural world. Therefore ethical statements are not ‘beyond’ non-ethical statements. Although there are different ways to interpret ethical statements they all relate to what is actually real and objective. For instance, Mill sees ethical statements as, really, statements about pleasure or pain. For Bradley, it is all about realising the concrete universal and through self-realisation finding one’s duty. These different ways at least agree that ethical and non-ethical statements are the same. Evolutionary ethics argues that it is all to do with how we assess and adapt biologically, psychologically and socially just like Charles Darwin’s drunken monkey. If we know that fire is hot then we do not touch the flame; how is this any different from deciding how to live ethically when we know that violence causes pain and so avoid it?
We may feel, deeply, that a moral sentiment is ‘real’, absolute and provable like any claim about the ‘objective world’; for example, it is directly related to actions that we can work out a sense of justice in society. Indeed, this viewpoint reflects not only Naturalism but also moral viewpoints based on religion and revelation. For example, the parable of the Good Samaritan in Christianity teaches through clear actions that it is good to help someone in need or who is suffering. There is nothing metaphysical about that, and therefore ethical statements are the same as non-ethical statements.
However, there are clear challenges to Naturalism. Moore argued that contrary to ethical Naturalism, ethical statements are ‘a priori’ matters of truth just as with mathematics and can be identified through use of one’s intuition. In this sense ethical propositions are very different to non-ethical propositions. Firstly, Hume’s ‘is-ought problem’ can be used to show that Naturalism is wrong – you cannot derive a value from a fact. Therefore, ethical statements are not the same as non-ethical statements. Secondly, the ethical term ‘good’ is indefinable because it is a simple notion like the word yellow but it is also self-evident; non-ethical statements are not self-evident and so not the same as ethical statements. Thirdly, the term 'good' always raises an open-ended question when we attempt to define its meaning with reference to a natural or non-ethical property. All these arguments present ethical propositions and language as very different to non-ethical statements.
It could be argued that ethical language is value laden in a different way to non-ethical language. For example, the statement ‘this is a good door’ is not an ethical statement and yet uses the word good. The judgment made may be down to its specific purpose, such as opening easily, looking good, retaining heat in a house or to its durability. However, when we make the statement, ‘this is a good person’, the goodness element is not entirely about ‘purpose’ if we did have one, but is more about the person’s moral qualities. It is something very different and so linguistically, ethical statements are very different to non-ethical statements.