Difference between revisions of "Metaethics"

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'''Metaethics''' is one of the three branches of ethics usually recognized by philosophers, the others being [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Normative_ethics normative ethics] and [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Applied_ethics applied ethics]. It’s a field of study that tries to understand the metaphysical, epistemological and semantic characteristics as well as the foundations and scope of moral values. It worries about questions and problems such as "Are moral judgments objective or subjective, relative or absolute?", "Do moral facts exist?" or “How do we learn moral values?”.
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'''Metaethics''' is one of the three branches of ethics usually recognized by philosophers, the others being [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Normative_ethics normative ethics] and [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Applied_ethics applied ethics]. It’s a field of study that tries to understand the metaphysical, epistemological and semantic characteristics as well as the foundations and scope of moral values. It worries about questions and problems such as "Are moral judgments objective or subjective, relative or absolute?", "Do moral facts exist?" or “How do we learn moral values?”. (As distinct from object-level moral questions like, "Ought I to steal from banks in order to give the money to the deserving poor?")
  
==Metaethical theories==
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==Metaethics on Less Wrong==
The metaethical positions are defined by the way authors try to answer the mentioned questions. Garner & Rosen (1967) have proposed a division of such theories based on three major concepts or types of questions: ''Semantic'', ''Substantial'' and ''Justification''.
 
  
The first group of theories deals with questions pertaining the meaning of moral terms. That is, it tries to solve questions such as "What does right or wrong actually mean?" or "What do people refer to when they say something is right?". It can be further divided into ''Cognitive'' and ''Non-cognitive theories'', regarding whether we consider moral values to have a logical structure, expressing truth beliefs, or simply represent emotional responses.
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Eliezer Yudkowsky wrote a Sequence about metaethics, the [[Metaethics sequence]], which Yudkowsky worried failed to convey his central point; he approached the same problem again from a different angle in [[Highly Advanced Epistemology 101 for Beginners]]. From a standard philosophical standpoint, Yudkowsky's philosophy is closest to Frank Jackson's moral functionalism / analytic descriptivism; Yudkowsky could be loosely characterized as moral cognitivist - someone who believes moral sentences are either true or false - but not a moral realist - thus denning that moral sentences refer to facts about the world.  Yudkowsky believes that moral cognition in any single human is at least potentially about a subject matter that is 'logical' in the sense that its semantics can be pinned down by axioms, and hence that moral cognition can bear truth-values; also that human beings both using similar words like "morality" can be talking about highly overlapping subject matter; but not that all possible minds would find the truths about this subject matter to be psychologically compelling.
  
The substantial theories, on the other hand, try to find the answer to the nature of moral judgements. That is, they try to answer questions such as "Are moral values universal, or do they vary from context to context?". This theories can be grouped in three major clusters. ''Moral universalism'' postulates that a universal system of ethics is the foundation of all moral judgements and, as such, moral values are absolut. On the opposite side, ''Moral relativism'' introduces the idea that these values vary from culture to culture and are sensitive to context - there is no absolute standard. Parallel to both these kinds of theories emerges ''Moral nihilism'', asserting that there are no actions or decisions better than others, right and wrong being non-existent.
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Luke Muehlhauser has written a sequence, [[No-Nonsense Metaethics]], where he claims that many of the questions of metaethics can be answered today using modern neuroscience and rationality. He explains how conventional metaethics or "Austere Metaethics" is capable of, after assuming a definition of 'right', choosing the right action given a situation - but useless without assuming some criteria for 'right'. He proposes instead "Empathic Metaethics" which utilizes your underlying cognitive algorithms to understand what you think 'right' means, helps clarify any emotional and cognitive contradictions in it, and then tells you what the right thing to do is, ''according to your definition of right''. This approach is highly relevant for the [[Friendly AI]] problem as a way of defining human-like goals and motivations when designing AIs.
  
Finally, justification theories are worried with how we can justify moral positions or the the need to act morally. It's mainly an epistemological field that tries to solve the problem of deciding whether we can have actual knowledge about moral truths. If we deny such fact, we are faced with ''Moral skepticism'', which asserts no one can have access to knowledge about moral decisions - thus encompassing most non-cognitive theories. On the other hand, if we assume knowledge is possible, we are faced with theories claiming we can gain it through inference - ''Empiricism'' or ''Ethical rationalism'' - or without it, with an ''Ethical intuitionism''.
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==Further Reading & References==
 
 
==Metaethics and Rationality==
 
Luke Muehlhauser has begun a sequence, [[No-Nonsense Metaethics]], where he claims that many of the questions of metaethics can be answered today using modern neuroscience and rationality. He explains how conventional metaethics or "Austere Metaethics" is capable of, after assuming a definition of 'right', choosing the right action given a situation - but useless without assuming some criteria for 'right'. He proposes instead "Empathic Metaethics" which utilizes your underlying cognitive algorithms to understand what you think 'right' means, helps clarify any emotional and cognitive contradictions in it, and then tells you what the right thing to do is, ''according to your definition of right''. This approach is highly relevant for the [[Friendly AI]] problem as a way of defining human-like goals and motivations when designing AIs.
 
  
==Further Reading & References==
 
 
*Garner, Richard T.; Bernard Rosen (1967). Moral Philosophy: A Systematic Introduction to Normative Ethics and Meta-ethics. New York: Macmillan. pp. 215
 
*Garner, Richard T.; Bernard Rosen (1967). Moral Philosophy: A Systematic Introduction to Normative Ethics and Meta-ethics. New York: Macmillan. pp. 215
 
*[http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/metaethics/ Metaethics] in the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy
 
*[http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/metaethics/ Metaethics] in the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy
  
 
== See Also ==
 
== See Also ==
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*[[Metaethics sequence]]
 
*[[Metaethics sequence]]
 
*[[No-Nonsense Metaethics]]
 
*[[No-Nonsense Metaethics]]
 
*[[Complexity of value]]
 
*[[Complexity of value]]
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*[[Highly Advanced Epistemology 101 for Beginners]]
 
*[[Utility]]
 
*[[Utility]]

Latest revision as of 01:39, 25 November 2014

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Metaethics is one of the three branches of ethics usually recognized by philosophers, the others being normative ethics and applied ethics. It’s a field of study that tries to understand the metaphysical, epistemological and semantic characteristics as well as the foundations and scope of moral values. It worries about questions and problems such as "Are moral judgments objective or subjective, relative or absolute?", "Do moral facts exist?" or “How do we learn moral values?”. (As distinct from object-level moral questions like, "Ought I to steal from banks in order to give the money to the deserving poor?")

Metaethics on Less Wrong

Eliezer Yudkowsky wrote a Sequence about metaethics, the Metaethics sequence, which Yudkowsky worried failed to convey his central point; he approached the same problem again from a different angle in Highly Advanced Epistemology 101 for Beginners. From a standard philosophical standpoint, Yudkowsky's philosophy is closest to Frank Jackson's moral functionalism / analytic descriptivism; Yudkowsky could be loosely characterized as moral cognitivist - someone who believes moral sentences are either true or false - but not a moral realist - thus denning that moral sentences refer to facts about the world. Yudkowsky believes that moral cognition in any single human is at least potentially about a subject matter that is 'logical' in the sense that its semantics can be pinned down by axioms, and hence that moral cognition can bear truth-values; also that human beings both using similar words like "morality" can be talking about highly overlapping subject matter; but not that all possible minds would find the truths about this subject matter to be psychologically compelling.

Luke Muehlhauser has written a sequence, No-Nonsense Metaethics, where he claims that many of the questions of metaethics can be answered today using modern neuroscience and rationality. He explains how conventional metaethics or "Austere Metaethics" is capable of, after assuming a definition of 'right', choosing the right action given a situation - but useless without assuming some criteria for 'right'. He proposes instead "Empathic Metaethics" which utilizes your underlying cognitive algorithms to understand what you think 'right' means, helps clarify any emotional and cognitive contradictions in it, and then tells you what the right thing to do is, according to your definition of right. This approach is highly relevant for the Friendly AI problem as a way of defining human-like goals and motivations when designing AIs.

Further Reading & References

  • Garner, Richard T.; Bernard Rosen (1967). Moral Philosophy: A Systematic Introduction to Normative Ethics and Meta-ethics. New York: Macmillan. pp. 215
  • Metaethics in the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy

See Also