Types of Normative Claims: (V) Moral Claims

Let’s consider the last example we gave of a normative claim:

“The State should not have the right to take the life of one of its citizens as punishment for a crime.”

The statement is asserting that capital punishment is not morally justifiable.

The “should” here is a MORAL “should”. The assertion is that the state does not have the RIGHT to take the life of a citizen, with the implication that to do so would be unjust or immoral in some way.

Let’s look at some other examples of moral claims:

  • “You shouldn’t lie to someone just to get out of an uncomfortable situation.”
  • “It’s wrong to afflict unnecessary pain and suffering on animals.”
  • “Julie is a kind and generous person.”
  • “Abortion is morally permissible if done within the first trimester.”
  • “Abortion is never morally permissible.”
  • “Police offers have a duty to uphold the law.”
  • “John has been dishonest about his work record.”
  • “The intentional use of violence against civilian populations is never morally justifiable.”
  • “Waterboarding is a barbaric way of extracting information from people.”
  • “Thou shalt not commit adultery.”
  • “My bike was stolen outside the grocery store.”

All of these assert that something is right or wrong, good or bad, in a distinctively moral sense. They all make moral value judgments of some kind.

Sometimes the claim is about the rightness or wrongness of an act (lying, adultery, waterboarding, etc.). Sometimes the claim is about a person’s character (“kind”, “generous”, “dishonest”). This is an important distinction that we'll follow up on later.

Sometimes we use language that implies a moral judgment, rather that stating explicitly that X or Y is morally right or wrong. To say that waterboarding is “barbaric” is to imply that it’s morally problematic. To say that my bike was “stolen” is to imply that it was taken wrongfully, unjustly.

These are the sorts of claims that we’re concerned with in this course.

Moral arguments are arguments that provide reasons to accept or believe claims like these.