Ethics is a branch of philosophy that attempts to help us understand which ways of life are worth following and which actions are right or wrong. Ethics addresses questions of right and wrong using reason rather than faith or tradition.
The discipline of ethics has three branches: normative ethics, meta-ethics and applied ethics.
Normative Ethics: -
Normative ethics is the branch of ethics that asks general questions about the morality of behavior; it attempts to provide general moral norms of behavior.
Normative: - A normative statement, or question, or theory, concerns how things should be, how they ought to be, rather than how they actually are. [The opposite of “normative” is descriptive: A descriptive statement, or question, or theory, concerns how things actually are, not how they ought to be.]
So normative ethics is the branch of ethics that tries to answer general questions about how we should behave, how we ought to act. In other words, it attempts to discover general rules or principles of moral behavior. In this area of ethics, you’ll find claims like the following:
- If doing x will benefit someone without harming anyone else, then it is morally right for you to do x.
This is a claim about what sort of behavior is morally right in general. It’s also a rule you can use to help you decide what is the right thing to do in any given situation.
Meta-ethics is the branch of ethics that tries to answer questions about the nature of morality itself. It doesn’t ask or make judgment about what types of action are moral and immoral; rather, it asks questions like:
- Does morality depend on what we believe about it, or is it independent of our beliefs?
- Does morality depend on what God commands?
- Are moral judgments (statements attributing morality or immorality to a given act, .g. “Murder is immoral”; “Charity is morally good”) capable of being true or false? Or are they simply expressions of emotion? Or something else?
- How can we justify moral claims? How should we justify them?
You can think of meta-ethics as trying to take a position above normative ethics, looking down on it and trying to explain where it comes from.(“meta” means above or about)
Applied Ethics: -
Applied ethics is the branch of ethics that asks relatively concrete questions about the morality of specific actions and policies. The following branches focus on various issues of applied ethics:
- Medical ethics (euthanasia, abortion, human cloning, genetic engineering, fair distribution of prescription drugs and medical treatment etc. For example, it’s wrong for doctors to deceive their patients; passive euthanasia is sometimes permissible)
- Business ethics (corporate responsibility; rights and obligations of employees; diversity and discrimination etc. For example, lying and deception is permissible in business contexts)
- Legal ethics (responsibilities of individuals working in the criminal justice system)
- Environmental ethics (it’s morally wrong to exterminate rare species of animals and plants; raising animals in factory farms is morally wrong)