Intuitionism Strengths And Weaknesses

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Intuitionism came about as a post-utilitarian perspective, and was largely developed as an ethical theory by Moore, Pritchard and Ross. As the name of the theory tells us it is concerned with humans intuition, Sidgwick came to the conclusion that ethics was not based on a unifying principle but rather on human intuition.

Today, an intuitionist is thought of as someone who holds particular views about the way in which we come to find out what actions are right and which are wrong. Apparently, we group basic moral principles because of our ‘intuition’.

Moral principles are capable of being true and known through a special faculty; ‘moral intuition’. W. D. Ross and Pritchard, claimed that they are ‘facts’ about what is morally right and wrong and that our understanding of these is sufficient to deserve the title ‘knowledge’.

We know that something is good by intuition: it is self-evident, “good is something known directly by intuitionism”1 G. E. Moore wrote that what is good, or morally good, cannot be defined by humans, just as yellow also cannot.

We all know what yellow is in sensory terms but the only way to describe yellow is to use other colours which does not help someone who is colour blind, “Good can be defined no more successfully than yellow. “2 However, we know instantly what yellow is, and we know instinctively what is morally good; they are both self-evident to us.

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Moore thought that what makes an action good or otherwise are the aims of the person in question when carrying out that action. Moore then went on to make a distinction between the aims and the consequences of an action: the aims are decided intuitively before the action and determine its moral nature.

Strengths Of Emotivism

The consequences are determined retrospectively, therefore not determining morality. Harold Arthur Pritchard developed Moore’s ideas further, he thought that “moral obligation just is, and it can be perceived by our intuition. ” This means that moral obligation is something that a person could just know, it was not quite the same as feeling certain or failing to think or not questioning. The most evident strength of intuitionism is that the Judaeo-Christian tradition teaches that human beings are made in the likeness of God, therefore having his laws ‘written in their hearts’.

This clearly supports the intuitive approach. The good person knows what is morally good because he/she is designed to know. Paramount to this idea is a) there is an absolute moral code b) that we have the ability to recognise it. Moreover, it is likely in practice that the majority of moral agents act at least partly from intuition on the majority of occasions when they have to make a moral decision. A weakness of the system is to assume that we can know A because of B. We cannot, in fact, say something is right because we intuit it to be that way.

An intuitionist would say that humans only have their moral hunches and intuitions to guide them, so we have to rely on this by default. Unlike the scientific world in the world of morals, an intuitive moral decision is often held to be right because the person feels it to be so. This can be seen as a criticism of intuitionism because moral decisions making is more of an art form that an exact science. The apparent weaknesses of intuitionism could be summed up by saying when asking ‘why should I be good? ‘ ‘Because you just know you should’.

Emotivism, as its name suggests, is the moral theory based on people’s emotive responses to other people, events, situations, viewpoints and principles. Emotive response in this context is simply referring to a person’s feelings about something. Thus, Emotivism is concerned principally, if not exclusively, with how people feel about something. This can be clearly seen in someone who says abortion is wrong, because according to Emotivism all they are doing is announcing how they feel about abortion. Even if they give a number of reasons why they feel this way, for example it goes against the sanctity of life.

All the person is doing is finding other reasons which appeal to their emotions in order to support their initial position. When we remove all the so called rational reasons or arguments for doing A rather than B or believing in X rather than Y, then at root what we are left with is just a personal preference based on feelings of approval or disapproval. This is why the theory is commonly known as the ‘Boo-Hurrah’ theory; when a statement is approved of the response is ‘Hurrah’ and when a statement is disapproved of then the response is ‘Boo’.

The weaknesses of the emotive theory of ethics are as follows; most people believe the need for a moral code. Most moral codes prescribe anti-social acts such as murder, stealing, cheating, deceiving, offending others. Integrity, honesty, loyalty, ‘decency’ are also common moral requirements. If there is such a thing as a basic moral code, then Emotivism which is relative cannot be an exhaustive or complete system. Also, if everyone operates morally solely on their emotions then there should never be the problem of what to do, they would simply follow their strongest feeling on the issue.

However, reality is different. For example; I may have huge sympathy for an elderly patient in pain, imploring me as her doctor to put her out of her misery. I have to force myself against my feelings, reasoning that her life is sacred, and I have no right to play God. Another problem with the relativism inherent in Emotivism is the difficulty of deciding where to draw the line of tolerance. If a Satanist is preaching hatred or murder as a ‘good’ thing in his eyes should he be opposed vociferously, or in any other way, or not at all?

After all, if he feels the emotion of hatred is the best basis of his moral code; from an emotive-relativist point of view I should do nothing unless he actually harms someone. Moreover, Alasdair McIntyre believes that Emotivism is bankrupt as an ethical theory because it lacks any moral absolutes. According to McIntyre the implications of Emotivism on society would be that social relations become manipulative because each person relates to everyone else morally in terms of their own individual emotions, not in terms of absolute moral values. This leads to people being a means to our own ends, instead of being ends in themselves.

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Intuitionism Strengths And Weaknesses. (2019, Dec 06). Retrieved from

Intuitionism Strengths And Weaknesses
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