RE: Defining Right and Wrong

From: Peter Voss (
Date: Sun Nov 24 2002 - 08:42:39 MST

The term 'prescriptive ethics' & 'descriptive ethics' have the following
generally accepted meanings:

Prescriptive - a set of principles that will help you a achieve a given
purpose (please God, maximize happiness, etc.) - ie. what you *should* do to
achieve some specified meta-ethical goal (whatever this might be).

Descriptive - describing what people 'actually' do (sociology). Recently
this has often become intertwined with evolutionary psychology in trying to
explain this behavior

As far as the ultimate goal of any moral/ ethical system is concerned (ie.
the meta-ethics), I don't believe that any absolute standard can apply, but
that we can *inductively* come to the conclusion (with all the limitations
of deduction) that human flourishing is a reasonable goal to pick. Obviously
this statement is controversial for many people.

What I *do* believe can be shown is that once a meta-ethical goal has been
picked, one can go about 'scientifically' (ie. rationally) determining the
principles and character traits that will generally foster achievement of
this goal. I have written fairly extensively about achieving human
flourishing - what I call 'Optimal Living'


-----Original Message-----
From: []On Behalf Of Michael
Roy Ames

There are two separate 'questions' here that can become confused if
mixed. Firstly there is question if whether ethical/moral values can
be tested against reality. Secondly there is the question as to
whether they are prescriptive or descriptive.

For the first... I am positing that moral Rightness is an *absolute*
quality of the universe, therefore if you are correct in saying that
ethical/moral values cannot be tested against reality, then my whole
argument falls. Indeed, if you are correct, then *any* argument that
suggests there is absolute right and wrong will fall, and all
morality is arbitrary - merely a random side-effect of human social
consciousness. I suggest that any action taken by a sentience can be
judged against this absolute value.....

For the second... moral values can be both prescriptive (thou shalt
not murder) and descriptive (murder hurts the community). ....

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