Other Philosophers on Ethics

Other Philosophers on Ethics

AJ Ayer, a leading 20th Century philosopher, believed that moral statements are technically meaningless; but they involve emotive and prescriptive element. Essentially, Ayer believed that, because morality has no relation to science, it has no purpose. Charles Stevenson claimed, however, that it is possible to give reason for our likes and dislikes, rather than intuition or emotional desire.

Moore believed that the good was not something that could be defined or reduced to naturalistic categories (Hume): Naturalistic fallacy. Moore’s approach to ethics was a very intellectual and intuitive approach. He believed that, quite simply, man knows what is good through intuition. Intuition is both a rationalist and emotive decision-making about making facts about the world, such as morality. The philosopher Shaftesbury believed the faculty by which we naturally discern the difference between good and evil (known as moral sense). Moral sense is best described briefly as the aggregation of both intuitive morality and naturalistic ethics.

The idea of intuitive morality is that you naturally know the difference between good and evil, without being able to distinguish the knowledge as either intellectual or emotive. A prime example of intuitive morality is the case of Nazi Germany and their philosophy, for it is considered naturally wrong to kill somebody entirely for their race.

Adam Smith believed that the principle of moral sentiment is essentially based on sympathy (sympathy being the innate human desire to identify with the emotions of others). Smith also claimed that if man had a lack of sympathy for other human beings then there is something wrong with you, and you are regarded as immoral. This is an emotive approach, to some extent, as sympathy is naturally considered as a human emotion.

 Levinas on Ethics as ‘first philosophy’

Levinas’ entire method of thinking about the origins and nature of ethics is so very different from the majority of analytic moral philosophy. The roots of moral imperative lie prior to rationality, language, emotions, intuitions, and even the constitution of the self. Ethics, according to Levinas, is grounded in the primordial pre-conscious call of the ‘other’, who calls me into my responsibility for his/her welfare. The ethical encounter with the other is the touchstone of the subject’s freedom.


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