- It is generally agreed that empirical facts are relevant to particular normative moral decisions because they determine between what we are deciding – i.e. what moral principles we should be observing or breaking if we decided one way or another. The main differences between moral philosophers concern the status of these principles; whether they themselves are matters of facts (descriptivism), or are, rather, prescriptions for action (prescriptivism).
- This leads to a difference as to how such principles are to be justified. The view that moral principles are to be established independently of and prior to their application is to be rejected; rather, we have to ask “What would the application of such and such a principle consist in, and can we accept this as a universal prescription for men’s actions, whether we or others are the persons affected by it?” Analogies are suggested between this view and those of Jesus, Kant, the utilitarians, J. P. Sartre, R. B. Brandt and J. Rawls.
3. The prescriptivist view advocated is distinguished from subjectivism, which is a type of descriptivist theory. Prescriptivism is a form of rationalism, in that it leaves a place for reasoning about moral questions. The word “moral” can be given different definitions, some in terms of the content of judgements entitled to be called moral, others in terms of their form. The latter kind is to be preferred, because it leaves open the possibility of moral dialogue between people whose morality has different contents.