Meta ethics helps to establish what constitutes good or bad moral or ethical behaviour. It examines what we mean when we talk about things that are good, bad, right, wrong, moral and immoral. Meta ethics is not trying to show something is wrong or right but only to examine the way in which the normative moral arguments have been presented. There are practically 4 theories to Meta ethics, each by separate scholars or philosophers.
The first is by G.E. Moore and his theory of intuitionism. He is most famous for his theory of ‘good’ and was interested in making ethics a science. In his published work Principia Ethica he agued that that term goodness was indefinable because every individual’s definition of the term was different. The term can be identified what it was but not defined. Intuitionism is fundamental moral principles which cannot be proven but are recognised in cognitive thoughts.
The second theory is that of A J Ayer and the term logical positivism. This was a term which could not be answered by moral philosophy but only by evidence. It is to do with establishing how the truth or falsehood of certain prepositions can be demonstrated. If no evidence can be revealed then it is meaningless yet this can be argued with other theories. A part of logical positivism is analytical or logical terms which are those known by definition and look at both sides of the argument. The sentences used are often those which are tautological meaning they are just another way of saying things. Next are synthetic statements. These can only be verified by observation or examination which means facts have to be involved. Finding out the truth of the statement can only be established through further research and more information. Finally there are meaningless statements which unlike the term suggests are not meaningless but are statements which cannot be tested. These are often statements of opinion which cannot be proved or disproved therefore they do not say anything about moral ethics, but only show that of emotivism.
Emotivism is based on people’s emotive response to other people, events, situations, viewpoints and principles; this means they are interested in how people feel about a particular thing. The scholar of emotivism is C.L. Stevenson says that with emotivism even if the individual supports their perspective with statements for instance saying ‘abortion is wrong’ then the statement that god only has the right to give and take away life is still only finding reasons to back up their emotive response. Once all the arguments have been removed from the statement then all that is left is that individuals feelings and viewpoint which have no real substance to them because they cannot be argued against. A theory in emotivism is the boo-hurray theory. This is a statement which is followed with a response in which the individual approves or disapproves of the statement. Both of the individuals could inevitably want the same thing but the process could be different based on the attitudes and beliefs of the individuals. Problems in emotivism are that it does not make a connection between moral judgements and reasons. Emotivists see moral judgements like commands and are a way of trying to influence other people’s views about things yet they should be accepted because they play a great part in ethics only when weighing up the two sides.
The final theory is prescriptivism. The scholar associated with this R.M. Hare. He argued that moral statements do not just express a feeling but recommend that something should be done as well. This is a way of dealing with ethical language because it does not just say that the statement is right or wrong etc but that a prescribed action should be taken. This theory supports some moral judgements such as ‘murder is wrong’ because it can be related to the law of the land and that murder is not only wrong, it is against the law. The theory also is a formula to tell us how to avoid trouble and that if the correct behaviour which has been prescribed by those individuals in authority was broken, then there would be chaos. This suggests that moral statements are not commands like those suggested in emotivism but recommendations or guidelines to living in a civilised society. These rules need to be universal so that everyone can live by them and the prescribed action can also be taken to those who break those rules. Some statements do not have to be true or false but are prescribed an action to being accepted or rejected.
Meta ethics deals with a wide range of theories which initially means that it cannot be simplified into saying that it only deals with the moral language of right, wrong etc but supports the statements of which arguments are formed which now can be objectively argued with evidence to back it up. Some parts of meta ethics show that moral statements are only ones of personal views therefore they cannot be generalised but from theories like prescriptivism we know that the course of action may be different but the attitudes and beliefs of the end results could be the same.