Moral Facts

Philosophy 32 (121):148 - 157 (1957)
An important part of ethics consists in the attempt to find a theoretical framework for the sincere moral discourse of ordinary people; to present, if possible, a consistent account of the ways in which such terms as “good,” “right,” “duty,” “obligation” are used in moral contexts. It is surprising that it should ever have been thought possible to account for such utterances as expressions of emotion. For the most part nothing could be less like the sighs, groans, shouts, and chuckles with which we normally express emotion than are our assertions about right and wrong, good and bad; these are usually the outcome of careful consideration and they are almost invariably expressed in cognitive terms. That is, we describe ourselves as “thinking out what we ought to do,” “coming to a conclusion as to what is right,” “knowing the difference between right and wrong,” “recognizing our obligations,” “seeing our duty.” When we do employ “emotive” words in these contexts it is almost always for the purpose of expressing anger or remorse or disgust with regard to our own moral lapses or those of others. Moral utterances, in short, have all the appearance of being statements of fact, and statements, moreover, which cannot be made in other than moral terms
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