Jamieson, Ch 3: Meta-ethics


1.       Branches of ethics

          a.       Meta-ethics: Meaning and status of moral claims

                    i.        Is there a moral reality? Is there a domain of distinctive moral facts? Are moral utterances true or false? What sort of things make them true/false?

          b.       Normative ethics

                    i.        Moral theory: What makes acts right/wrong?

                              (1)     Maximizing good consequences? Respecting individuals?

                    ii.       Practical ethics: Moral evaluation of particular practices or acts.

          c.       Environmental ethics often thought to be a branch of practical ethics, but it claims to have significant implications for the rest of ethics as well

                    i.        E.g., Evidence for realism; Extends domain of moral considerability


2.       REALISM

                    i.        As env. ethics emerged in response to developing env. crisis, many in env. ethics embraced realism

                              (1)     Most secure foundation for duties to nature

                              (2)     If realism makes sense for human ethics, makes sense for nature ethics

3.       Realism: Moral language states facts about the world rather than expressing attitudes of speakers (subjectivism)


4.       Realism takes moral language at face value treating it as if it states facts about the world

          a.       It treats moral statements as like empirical, factual statements

          b.       Both the claim

                    i.        gorillas are vegetarian (empirical claim)

                    ii.       gorillas are valuable (moral/evaluative claim)

          c.       Are assertions that seem to state facts about the world

          d.       Whose truth makers are properties of the world

          e.       They are true or false depending on whether the world has the properties claimed

          f.       Moral statements are true when what they corresponds with the way the world is


5.       Realism ignores relative controversy in verifying moral claims

          a.       Unlike verifying empirical (factual) claims, verifying moral claims is controversial

          b.       Debatable what the truth makers of moral claims are in a way not debatable what the truth makers of empirical, factual claims are

          c.       Is this true about the two gorilla statements above?

                    i.        Might we rationally agree on all the facts about gorillas and still (rationally) disagree on whether they are valuable, but not on whether they are vegetarian

          d.       Empirical facts don’t seem to settle moral controversies as they settle non-moral controversies


6.       Two types of realism: (1) Naturalism (2) Non-naturalism

          a.       Naturalism: natural (scientifically, empirically discoverable) facts are the truth makers of moral claims

                    i.        E.g., Pleasure (or consciousness) is valuable; pain is bad

          b.       Non-Naturalism: non-natural facts (facts that are not empirically verifiable) are what make moral claims true


7.       Non-naturalism (G.E. Moore’s view)

          a.       Truth-makers for moral claims are non-natural facts

          b.       There exists a moral reality distinct from the reality that science investigates

8.       Critique of non-naturalism (no special world or faculty involved in morality)

          a.       Not plausible to believe in a domain of facts beyond possibility of scientific investigation

          b.       Requires that there is some special faculty/ability to access this reality, one beyond our ordinary abilities to reasons and perceive that allows us access to the natural world

                    i.        But we are not aware of any such faculty

          c.       We in fact justify moral claims by appeal to everyday, natural facts not some otherworldly set of facts

                    i.        Pedro is a good man because he devotes time to others, how he treats his family


9.       G.E. Moore’s open question argument against naturalism

          a.       Identifying good/value/morality with any natural fact fails because we can always meaningfully ask if that natural fact really is good/valuable

                    i.        And if it is meaningful to ask this, then good/value is not identical to the natural fact in question (and hence does not make it true)

          b.       For example

                    i.        Naturalist might claim that pleasure is good

                    ii.       But not implausible/irrational to question this and ask, but is pleasure really good?

                    iii.      Where as it would be irrational to ask

                              (1)     if the gorilla is really a vegetarian after seeing that it never ate meat

                              (2)     Or if this three sided figure really is a triangle


10.     Naturalist response to the open question argument:

          a.       “We are not making a claim about meaning of moral terms and the open question argument falsely assumes we are”

          b.       Moore falsely assuming that naturalism is a claim about the meaning of moral terms (that naturalists claim good means the same as a natural fact)

                    i.        That, e.g., good means pleasure

                    ii.       Since it does not mean this, it always makes sense to ask if it does

          c.       But naturalism is not claiming that moral claims mean the same thing as the natural fact that makes them true

          d.       H20 example

                    i.        Water does not mean the same thing as H20, and yet water is H20

                    ii.       Similarly, good does not mean pleasurable, but pleasure is good nonetheless.


11.     Jamieson response to the naturalist: No clear procedure for verifying the claimed identities between moral and natural properties

          a.       Still unlike theoretical identifications in science (water is discovered to be H20) where there is a clear procedure for searching out and verifying these identities

          b.       Naturalist claims about the identification of moral properties with natural properties have no clear method of discovery or verification


12.     Another problem for naturalism

13.     Naturalism can’t account for moral motivation and that moral claims are tied to action

          a.       Natural facts don’t themselves provide any reason or motivation to act

          b.       Learning a set of natural facts, about say a chemical reaction or the geography of Asia, do not by themselves motivate us to respect protect or promote them (the chemical reaction or Asia)

          c.       If moral facts are natural facts, why are they any different from other natural facts in their power to motivate


14.     Beliefs about the world are inert; it is desires that motivate.

          a.       So realism that equates moral properties/claims with facts (and beliefs) about the world, takes away morality’s ability to motivate


15.     Environmental ethics wants moral claims to motivate action so this is a problem for them adopting realism.



17.     Subjectivism: Moral language expresses attitudes of the speakers rather than stating facts about the world

          a.       It is practical, aimed at action, rather than belief


18.     Moral utterances are not about the world but about speakers

          a.       Gorillas are vegetarian: is about the world

          b.       Gorillas are valuable: is about the speaker


19.     Three types of subjectivism: Simple subjectivism, emotivism, prescriptivism

          a.       “Gorillas are valuable” means

                    i.        I approve of gorillas (simple subjectivism)

                              (1)     Reports speakers attitudes

                    ii.       Hurrah for gorillas (emotivism)

                              (1)     Expresses emotions/attitudes

                    iii.      Protect gorillas (prescriptivism)

                              (1)     Gives orders


20.     Subjectivism’s strength is that it can explain the connection between moral language and motivation (which was trouble for realism)

          a.       If I approve of something (gorillas), I will be motivated to protect it


21.     Problems with simple subjectivism

          a.       It’s a version of realism: Moral claims are true or false statements about the world, namely the speaker’s attitudes

          b.       Makes disagreement impossible: You say gorillas are valuable and I say not. But it is both true that you approve of gorillas and that I do not approve of them. No disagreement; both can be true.

          c.       Makes people infallible: Implies that people are never wrong about their sincerely held moral beliefs


22.     Emotivism avoids these problems of simple subjectivism by giving up the idea that moral utterances assert statements that are true or false

          a.       Not infallible, because my moral utterances are not true or false

          b.       Disagreement is possible because we disagree in our attitudes

23.     Jamieson’s critique of emotivism: Trivializes moral language

          a.       “Why should I care that you go around saying ‘hurrah’ for this or that?”

          b.       Why should I care that you have positive (or negative) feelings for gorillas?


24.     Prescriptivism treats moral language as disguised imperatives (orders)

          a.       Moral language involves giving people orders (while using language that looks like it is making claims about the world)

          b.       Gorillas are valuable means “Hey you, protect gorillas”


25.     Problem: Subjectivism can’t account for moral reasoning (because it makes facts about the world irrelevant to moral claims)

          a.       Because subjectivism (emotivism, prescriptivism) gives up the view moral language is true or false, that it reports fact about the world

          b.       It can’t rely on those facts to provide reasons for the moral utterances

          c.       Facts about the world are the most plausible candidate for good reasons for moral utterances/claims

          d.       Facts about the agent (all subjectivism can appeal to) do not seem to be good reasons



          a.       Goal to “reconcile the object-relatedness of realism with the motivational insight of subjectivism”

27.     Jamieson looks for a position between realism and subjectivism

28.     Wants morality to have all these features:

          a.       Involve fact stating discourse, be truth apt

          b.       Involve expressions or imperatives

          c.       Be practical and be under-determined by facts

          d.       Have a special connection to motivation that ordinary fact stating language does not

          e.       Involve reasons but not so strongly as to imply moral judgment

                    i.        Two people might understand all the reasons for a moral judgment and still have different opinions


29.     Dispositionalism is a view of morality that has both realist and subjectivist features


30.     Dispositionalism: Moral properties are like color properties, dispositions by subjects with certain sensibilities to have certain experiences

          a.       Moral properties like secondary qualities, which are response dependent (depend on the nature of the perceiver) as well as guided by the world

          b.       Primary qualities: position and size of Mars

          c.       Secondary qualities: color of Mars (red)

                    i.        Mars is red due to its physical qualities but also do to perceptual features of perceivers


31.     Moral statements like “gorillas are valuable” are true because of both facts about the world (about gorillas) and because of the characteristic response those facts elicit in valuers like us

32.     Variations on dispositionalism

          a.       To avoid relativism and cases where the characteristic response is problematic (e.g., word is populated by racists)

                    i.        Some stipulate that the response must be “merited” or “appropriate”

          b.       Some stipulate that the response in question is the response of “ideal observers,” those who are properly informed and rational



          a.       First two are “end in itself” value; second two “self-sufficient” value


34.     Four senses of intrinsic value

          a.       IV as End value

                    i.        What is of ultimate moral value

                    ii.       Other things obtain their value by relation to what is of ultimate value

                    iii.      Instrumental value is what is valuable only because it is conducive to realization of intrinsic value

                    iv.      Example: If pleasure of IV then skiing might be seen as valuable not for own sake but because it produces pleasure (which is IV)

          b.       IV as Morally considerable

                    i.        IV as a ticket admitting one to moral community,

                    ii.       Gives one moral standing

                    iii.      Object of primary moral concern

                    iv.      It’s good/interests must (morally should) figure in our decision making

                              (1)     Unlike mere things, that do not matter in themselves

                              (2)     Whose value is derivative from their relationship to things that are morally considerable

                    v.       Utilitarian artifacts (shirt, pencil, car) are not morally considerable

          c.       IV as Non-relational value

                    i.        “Inherent value”

                    ii.       Value of the thing depends entirely on what inheres in the thing itself            

                    iii.      If the thing were the only item in the universe, it would still have value

                    iv.      Many env. items are valued because unique and rare (end. Species) and these are relational properties

                              (1)     So they aren’t IV in this sense

          d.       IV as Objective value

                    i.        A type of value that can exist even if no one values it

                    ii.       Value independent of valuers

                    iii.      If such value exists, realism about value is true

                    iv.      Last man argument for objective IV (p. 73-74)

                              (1)     Dale’s reply: We are experiencing this world in our imagination and this governs our response

                                         (a)     Wrong here reflects a judgment of destroyer’s character: amazing act of cosmic vandalism


35.     Regress argument for IV only proves IV in sense of end value, not all four types of IV (and Jamieson doesn’t even think it proves that)

          a.       Can’t have an infinite chain (or circle) of instrumental value

          b.       If something is of instrumental value, then something must be of intrinsic value


36.     Some valuable things seem neither to be clearly intrinsic nor instrumental

          a.       Value photo of mother because represent one’s mother

          b.       Value tail-wagging of the dog next door because it reminds me of cheerful exuberance of my childhood dog

          c.       Value lover’s smile because it embodies her kindness and generosity

          d.       Value each step of ascent of Mt. Whitney as part of a valuable experience of climbing the mountain

          e.       Perhaps some of these are cases of both types of valuing?

          f.        Aesthetic valuing of nature intrinsic or instrumental?