The fact-value distinction distinguishes between what is the case (facts) and what we think ought to be the case (values) based on beliefs about what is good, beautiful, important, etc. Descriptive claims are statements about matters of fact, whereas evaluative claims express a judgment about something’s value. Descriptive claims make statements about how the world is. Evaluative claims make statements about how the world ought to be.
The naturalistic fallacy is an error in reasoning that assumes we can derive values (what we ought to do) from facts about the world (what is the case). The is-ought problem asserts the challenge of moving from statements of fact (something is) to statements of value (something ought to be).
Moral realists argue for a more objective concept of morality. They feel that there are certain moral facts about the world that are objectively true. Moral skeptics, on the other hand, argue against an objective basis for morality by emphasizing that moral values are not factual and involve a different mode of thinking that is distinct from logical or scientific reasoning.
Something has intrinsic value if it is valuable for its own sake. Something has extrinsic value if it is valuable for the sake of something else. The question of fundamentality is the question of whether there is only one intrinsic value or many. Monism argues that there is only one fundamental intrinsic value that forms the foundation for all other values. Pluralism argues that there are multiple fundamental intrinsic values, rather than one.
Pluralism frequently relies on the concept of incommensurability, which describes a situation in which two or more goods, values, or phenomena have no standard of evaluation that applies to them all. Moral relativism makes a larger claim than pluralism because it not only asserts that there are multiple moral frameworks, it also asserts that each framework is equally valid insofar as individuals, communities, and cultures determine what is moral.
Metaethics focuses on moral reasoning and foundational questions that explore the assumptions related to our moral beliefs and practice. Realism asserts that ethical values have some basis in reality and that reasoning about ethical matters requires an objective framework or foundation to discover what is truly good. Anti-realism asserts that ethical values are not based on objective facts about the world but instead rely on subjective foundations like individuals’ desires and beliefs.
Different ethical frameworks rest on different foundations or justifications: some appeal to a non-human principles like nature, while others appeal to shared human institutions. Ethical frameworks that are based on God can function in a variety of ways depending on the concept of the divine. Augustine of Hippo argued that there are many things in life we claim to know that are actually based on faith. The Euthyphro problem asks whether something is good because God commands it or if God commands it because it is good. According to Thomas Aquinas, there are four types of laws: eternal, natural, human, and divine. Ethical naturalism argues that doing good actions fulfills human nature, while doing evil actions distorts it.
Well-being focuses on what is good for a person, not simply what is good in an abstract sense.
There are three general ways philosophers approach the value of well-being: (1) pleasure, (2) desire, and (3) objective goods. Some philosophers describe well-being as obtaining pleasure and avoiding pain. The general term for this approach is hedonism. Epicurus founded a school of philosophy called Epicureanism, which taught that pleasure is the highest good. Utilitarianism is considered hedonistic because it bases moral theory on maximizing pleasure and minimizing pain. Critics of hedonistic philosophies complain that pleasure is too varied, indeterminate, subjective, and conditional to be a solid basis for ethics.
Another way to think of well-being is the satisfaction of desire. There are multiple ways to define desire and think about its satisfaction. Cognitivism argues that values are cognitive and express statements about properties of things or states of events. Non-cognitivism argues that values are not cognitive because they have more to do with a psychological state of mind. Another approach to well-being is to create lists of objective goods that contribute to a flourishing life. Philosophers who propose that there are objective goods frequently focus on knowledge, virtue, friendship, and perfection as ways to evaluate and understand well-being.
Aesthetics is an area of value theory that examines how we evaluate works of art and other aesthetic experiences in nature and our everyday lives. For ancient philosophers like Plato, Aristotle, and Plotinus, beauty is a quality of an object. In contrast, Enlightenment philosophers argue that beauty is a subjective judgment. Aesthetic theory also examines how we make judgments about art. Studying aesthetics can lay bare what societies value, how they express that value, and who gets to create values.