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Chapter Twelve: The Fact-Value Problem. Metaethics Philosophizing about the very terms of ethics Considering the structure of ethics as an object of inquiry. Fact-Value Problem.

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Chapter Twelve: The Fact-Value Problem

  • Metaethics
  • Philosophizing about the very terms of ethics
  • Considering the structure of ethics as an object of inquiry

Fact-Value Problem

  • The problem of determining whether values are essentially different from facts, whether moral assessments are derived from facts, and whether moral statements can be true or false like factual statements
  • Metaethics is used as a type of inquiry to address the fact-value problem.

Hume and Moore: The Problem Classically Stated

  • Hume: The Fallacy of Deriving Ought from Is
  • Moore: The Naturalistic Fallacy

The Fallacy of Deriving

Ought from Is


In every system of morality which I have hitherto met with, I have always remarked, that the author proceeds for some time in the ordinary way of reasoning, and establishes the being of a God, or makes observations concerning human affairs; when of a sudden I am surprised to find, that instead of the usual copulations of propositions, is, and is not, I meet with no proposition that is not connected with an ought, or an ought not.


The Fallacy of Deriving

Ought from Is

  • Moral theories begin by observing some specific facts about the world, and then they conclude from these some statements about moral obligation.
  • In other words, they move from statements about what is the case to statement about what ought to be the case

Moore: The Naturalistic Fallacy

  • It is a fallacy to identify “good” with any specific natural property such as “pleasure” or “being more evolved”
  • G. E. Moore claims that a concept like the “Good” is indefinable because it is a simple property, a property that has no parts and thus cannot be defined by constituent elements

Open-Question Argument

  • A test to help determine whether a moral theory commits the naturalistic fallacy
  • For any property that we identify with “goodness” we can ask, “Is that property itself good?”

Ayer and Emotivism

  • Ayer's Two Pronged Approach:
  • Argues that the fact-value problem arises because moral statements cannot pass a critical test of meaning called the verification principle
  • Ayer's solution is that moral utterances are only expressions of feelings, a position called emotivism

Verification Principle

A statement is meaningful if and only if it is either tautological or empirically verifiable


Ayer's Theory

  • Emotivism holds that moral judgments do not have truth values.
  • Moral judgments are expressions of our attitudes.
  • These judgments express our feelings and help us to persuade others to act as we desire.

Criticisms of Emotivism

  • The verification theory of meaning doesn't pass it's own test
  • There is a problem with their view that ethical disagreements are disagreements in attitude
  • Morality seems deeper than mere emotions or acting on feelings or attitudes

Hare and Prescriptivism

  • Moral judgments have both a descriptive (fact) and prescriptive (value) element.
  • The prescriptive element is conduct guiding and recommends that others adopt our value attitude
  • Moral judgments add a prescriptive element to the descriptive element, the prescriptive being the more important element

The Logic of Moral Reasoning

  • There is a logic to prescriptive judgments
  • Moral judgments do not have truth value but they do have a logical form


  • In making moral judgments one has to say that one would make the same judgment in all similar cases. A judgment is not moral unless the agent is prepared to universalize his or her principle
  • Universalizability is both a necessary and a sufficient condition for moral principles


  • Principles are central to moral reasoning.
  • Principles serve as major premises in our moral arguments.
  • We acquire or learn a basic set of principles.
  • Then we learn when to use or when to subordinate those principles.
  • We choose when, where, and why to apply our specific principles but we are committed to them and to universalizing them

Criticisms of Prescriptivism

1. It is too broad and allows for conduct that we typically deem immoral

2. It permits trivial judgments to count as moral ones

3. It allows the moral substance in life to slip away from ethical theory

4. There are no constraints on altering one's principles



Links moral terms with some kind of natural property. Natural in that they are found in the natural world, specifically the natural realms of human psychology and human society


Naturalism and the Open-Ended Argument

Moore's theory regards the idea of goodness as though it were a thing, the fallacy of hypostatization

It's a category mistake to treat a functional term as though it were a thing