Analytical Philosophy and The Error Theory of Moral Statements
For philosophers in the Anglo-American analytical tradition statements involving moral values have caused concern because of their similarity to statements about objects and events in the physical world. Compare:
- Littering is commonplace in Chiang Mai
- Littering is wrong
Both have the same grammatical structure, but the way we might verify the first is quite different from the way we might want verify the second. We can verify the first statement by observations made in the physical world, but, according to David Hume, no amount of physical world observation can verify statements of the second type. Hume's view is summarized as “you can not derive ought from is”. Whereas statements of the first type must be true or false, some philosophers have argued that moral statement are neither true nor false. Richard M. Hare, for example, argues that moral statements are in fact imperatives (commands). For him the statement “littering is wrong” means “do not litter”, and “do not litter” is neither true nor false.
In sharp contrast to people like Hare, J. L. Mackie contended that moral statements are false. Mackie's view discomforts Crispin Wright who says that it “relegates moral discourse to bad faith”. Wright is not saying that all moral statements are bad faith. What he is saying is that if Mackie is correct, and somebody believes that Mackie is correct, then that person will be guilty of bad faith whenever he makes a moral statement.
Famous quotes containing the words moral, statements, theory, analytical, philosophy and/or error:
“Whether there be any such moral principles, wherein all men do agree, I appeal to any, who have been but moderately conversant in the history of mankind, and looked abroad beyond the smoke of their own chimneys. Where is that practical truth, that is universally received without doubt or question, as it must be, if innate?”
—John Locke (16321704)
“The wise man regulates his conduct by the theories both of religion and science. But he regards these theories not as statements of ultimate fact but as art-forms.”
—J.B.S. (John Burdon Sanderson)
“Wont this whole instinct matter bear revision?
Wont almost any theory bear revision?
To err is human, not to, animal.”
—Robert Frost (18741963)
“I have seen too much not to know that the impression of a woman may be more valuable than the conclusion of an analytical reasoner.”
—Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (18591930)
“This philosophy of hate, of religious and racial intolerance, with its passionate urge toward war, is loose in the world. It is the enemy of democracy; it is the enemy of all the fruitful and spiritual sides of life. It is our responsibility, as individuals and organizations, to resist this.”
—Mary Heaton Vorse (18741966)
“It is as certain as it is strange that truth and error come from one and the same source; for that reason one must often not do something to the detriment of error since one would do also something detrimental to truth.”
—Johann Wolfgang Von Goethe (17491832)