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The absolutist criteria of Roderick Firth's ideal observer theory
Umeå University, Faculty of Arts, Department of historical, philosophical and religious studies.
2016 (English)Independent thesis Basic level (degree of Bachelor), 10 credits / 15 HE creditsStudent thesis
Abstract [en]

Meta-ethical theories take a number of different ontological, epistemic and semantic positions. In 1952 Roderick Firth published the article “Ethical absolutism and the ideal observer”, in which he defends and shares his own version of a theory on the meaning of ethical expressions, referred to as the ideal observer theory (IOT).

The IOT essentially suggests that the truth value of an ethical expression could in principle be determined by knowing the ethically significant reaction it would evoke on an ideal observer (IO), of certain ideal psychological characteristics, should such a being exist. These characteristics are being understood in terms of an ideal practice of justification for actions. For instance, we might hold that in order to be a competent moral judge, we must have sufficient knowledge of the circumstances which we are to assess, or that we are not somehow biased. Firth suggests that an ideal observer has the characteristics of omniscience to non-ethical facts, omnipercipience, disinterest, dispassion and consistency. The theory itself is described as being absolutist, dispositional, objectivist, relational and possibly empirical.

The specific research question of this paper regards the theory’s ability to give a plausible and meaningful explanation as to the meaning of ethical expressions, while maintaining its absolutist characteristic.

The presented conclusion holds that: (i) the ethically significant reaction of IOs cannot be conflicting, (ii) that knowing the characteristics of the IO is not in principle necessary for the form and validity of the theory, (iii) that such form presupposes actual IO characteristics based on an assumption about the human nature and (iv) that ‘IO’ designates a hypothetical reference through a circular definition. And that this, although perhaps not in principle refuting the theory, renders it without the ability to provide any real meaningful explanation regarding the meaning of ethical expressions. A dilemma suggested to be possibly addressed by the abandonment of the theory’s absolutist criteria.

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
2016. , 26 p.
National Category
Philosophy
Identifiers
URN: urn:nbn:se:umu:diva-132000OAI: oai:DiVA.org:umu-132000DiVA: diva2:1077794
Subject / course
Philosophy
Supervisors
Examiners
Available from: 2017-03-01 Created: 2017-03-01

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CiteExportLink to record
Permanent link

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Cite
Citation style
  • apa
  • harvard1
  • ieee
  • modern-language-association-8th-edition
  • vancouver
  • Other style
More styles
Language
  • de-DE
  • en-GB
  • en-US
  • fi-FI
  • nn-NO
  • nn-NB
  • sv-SE
  • Other locale
More languages
Output format
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