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Ethical Non-Naturalism

Introduction | Ethical Intuitionism
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Ethical Non-Naturalism is the meta-ethical doctrine that ethical statements express propositions that cannot be reduced to non-ethical statements in the way that Ethical Naturalism assumes. It therefore holds that it is not possible to define "good", for example, in terms of one or more natural properties (e.g. "pleasant", "more evolved", "desired", etc), and that it is in fact indefinable in that it cannot be defined in any other terms. Thus, the meaning of sentences containing the word "good" cannot be explained entirely in terms of sentences not containing the word "good".

Ethical Non-Naturalism is a type of Moral Realism and assumes Cognitivism (the view that ethical sentences express propositions and can therefore be true or false). However, the doctrine's major apologist, the British philosopher G. E. Moore, claims that a naturalistic fallacy is committed by any attempt to prove a claim about ethics by appealing to a definition in terms of natural properties (which is the basis for the doctrine of Ethical Naturalism). To call goodness "non-natural" does not, however, mean that it is in some way supernatural or divine; it simply means that goodness cannot be reduced to natural properties such as needs, wants or pleasures, or to other terms which can be physically seen, touched or measured.

Ethical Intuitionism Back to Top

Ethical Intuitionism is a variant of Ethical Non-Naturalism which was developed in an attempt to address the epistemological problem, inherent in Ethical Non-Naturalism, of how we can ever know that anything is good, how we can distinguish good from bad, and how we can justify our moral beliefs.

The doctrine claims that we sometimes have intuitive awareness of moral properties or of moral truths. It is suggested that humans have a special faculty, a faculty of moral intuition, which tells us what is good and bad, right and wrong. Moral intuition is supposed to be a mental process (although different from other, more familiar faculties like sense-perception), and that moral judgments are its outputs. The ordinary notion that approximates moral intuition is what we refer to as conscience.

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