We have previously seen what value judgments are and introduced different levels fir their analysis. For an introduction see:
The first level we will refer to is meta-ethics and whether there are rational procedures to justify the validity of the value judgments, that is, if there is any way to demonstrate that a justice or moral goodness is true or valid so that demonstration is, in principle, accessible to any person who was in the right conditions.
In this theoretical level the kind of meaning that characterises ethical terms such as “right” “wrong”, and others and their opposites and the significance of value judgments depends on what kind of judgment they are and what expressions are typically used to formulate them.
There are several theories that have been proposed about the meaning of ethical terms (such as “good,” “fair”, etc.) and the meaning of statements in the form of value judgments
(e.g. “it is unfair to punish someone because…”).
For the sake of simplicity, these theories may be broadly classified as follows:
a) Descriptivist theories, subdivided into
1. Ethical naturalism, subdivided into
2. Ethical non-naturalism, subdivided into
b) Non-Descriptivist theories, examples of which are
1. Ethical emotivism.
2. Ethical prescriptivism.
c) Other theories.
These theories hold that value judgments are descriptive statements of some kind of facts. Consequently, they claim that such judgments, and ethical terms in them, have cognitive meaning. Therein, it may be possible to attribute truth or falsity to moral judgments and, in principle, such judgments can be justified rationally. However, there is no agreement between descriptivists about what facts relate to moral judgments and how it determines its truth or falsity. This disagreement leads to the concepts that we will examine in future posts.
These theories differ from those previously introduced in that they maintain that value judgments are characterized by not being centrally descriptive of certain facts. This is linked with the idea that ethical terms do not have, or have not exclusively, cognitive meaning: they do not typically refer to factual properties, whether objective or subjective, empirical or supra-empirical. The implication of this conception with regard to moral judgments is that they cannot be true or false. They are not formulated for the purpose of conveying information about how reality is but for other purposes, such as to influence the behavior of people. This generates doubts about the possibility of rationally justifying our value judgments, so the non-descriptivism is usually followed by skepticism, which may be more or less extreme, regarding the role of rationality in ethical matters.
In the posts to come we will be reviewing each of these theories. In the meantime, for more information:
Introduccion Al Analisis del Derecho, by Carlos Santiago Nino (1980) Ed. Astrea.