Difference Between Metaethics And Normative Ethics

The word ‘ethics’ signifies a moral ground, an existence based on morals and principles and values. It lays down the foundation for the basic code of conduct. There are two main branches of ethics, metaethics and normative ethics. When we talk about ‘being ethical’ or ‘he is an ethical person’, we talk about the rules he has laid down for himself, and how sincerely he follows them. This is the layman’s perspective.

It is a general viewpoint to follow certain regulations, to state some actions as good and some as bad, to live in a civilized society. But, ethics comprise further discussion about different reactions and beliefs in different situations, since a person changes as per circumstances.

Metaethics Vs. Normative Ethics –

Metaethics –

Metaethics talks about the nature of ethics and moral reasoning. Discussions about whether ethics is relative and whether we always act from self-interest are examples of meta-ethical discussions. In fact, drawing the conceptual distinction between Metaethics, Normative Ethics, and Applied Ethics is itself a “metaethical analysis.”

A philosophical study of morality is very different from a sociological or anthropological study, or a study from the perspective of biology or psychology. One important difference is that in moral philosophy we do not distance ourselves from our own moral views in the way we would if we were engaged in a study of one of these other kinds. We do not take the fact that people, including ourselves, have moral views as merely a datum to be explained. Our goal is not merely to explain data of this kind, whether it be the distribution of moral beliefs and attitudes or the occurrence of selfish or altruistic actions. Rather, in moral philosophy, the correctness or cogency or defensibility of moral claims, convictions, and attitudes, and the probity of various behaviors, are among the things at issue. Normative ethics makes moral claims in its own right. Metaethics does not do this, yet, despite this, it is morally engaged. For among its central questions are the questions whether any moral claims are true, and whether it is rational to commit oneself to acting morally. One cannot answer such questions without taking a position on the correctness or cogency of people’s moral convictions.

  • Metaethics discusses ethical claims, it seeks the answers to the nature of ethics, judgments, and moral statements.
  • An ethical claim may have been made while keeping certain factors in mind. It may or may not be correct.
  • At the end of the day, it is to be remembered that every individual has a different perspective, therefore, an ethical claim may or may not justify an action. It may not be appropriate to form judgments based on such statements.
  • An example of metaethics would be a statement, like “Abortion is wrong.”
  • Metaethics digs deeper into why this claim has been made, why it is wrong, what were the circumstances that led to this statement, etc.
  • Furthermore, it delves into the meaning of the moral term and the evidence in its favor or against it.

Sub-categories of Metaethics:

  • Emotivism (Ethical non-cognitivism) – It depends on emotions and intuitions. When an ethical statement is made, devoid of facts, you can see what they really mean, what they are. In such a case, every individual may have been right in that situation.
  • Ethical Naturalism – The theory states that one can analyze the judgment by holding ethical and non-ethical statements on the same pedestal. That means the ethical statements here are factual and are established based on hard evidence.
  • Ethical Non-naturalism (Intuitionism) – It completely focuses on feelings and expressions. It is non-universal and based on strong personal instincts.

Consideration Factors of Metaethics: Metaethics helps analyze a judgment, thus, there are three types of questions you can pose. Firstly, question the meaning of ethical terms. Secondly, question the nature of morality, and thirdly, question the motive behind ethical behavior.

Normative Ethics –

Normative ethics is interested in determining the content of our moral behavior. Normative ethical theories seek to provide action-guides; procedures for answering the Practical Question (“What ought I to do?”). The moral theories of Kant and Bentham are examples of normative theories that seek to provide guidelines for determining a specific course of moral action. Think of the Categorical Imperative in the case of the former and the Principle of Utility in the case of the latter.

  • The word ‘normative’ signifies ‘norms’ or ‘rules’ to be followed. The definition of normative ethics can be stated as laying certain rules about good and bad and following them diligently.
  • That is to say, a person may analyze his actions and classify them as ‘good’ or ‘bad’ based on the norms.
  • It may not be necessary that the good actions indicate a good person or bad actions indicate that the person is bad. However, many of us who lay down the norms tend to follow the same.
  • It is to be remembered that norms may be regularized as per situations.
  • An example of normative ethics would be when a person questions, “Is it correct to abort my child?”
  • Someone who religiously makes anti-abortion claims may state that it is wrong. The woman herself may have been taught that it is a wrong action. Therefore, in her own opinion, if she goes ahead with the task, she would classify herself as a bad person.
  • The question is, however, what if she is a teenager? Or she is an unwed mother? Would it be fair to the child to be raised in unpleasant circumstances? This is a case where metaethical claims may help question the norms.

Sub-categories of Normative Ethics:

  • Teleological theory – The good or bad judgment depends on the effects manifested by the action.
  • Deontological theory – The good or bad judgment depends, to quite an extent, on other factors besides consequences, like intention, desire, etc.

Consideration Factors of Normative Ethics: Normative ethics helps decide the good and bad, thus, we have two types of normative, moral judgments. One of them can be made based on actions, behavior, and commitment, while the other can be made depending on your emotions, thoughts, hopes, and desires.

Moral philosophy can have an immediate significance for our lives that many other abstract areas of philosophy do not have. Normative theories have implications for how we are to live. And while metaethical theories may not have such implications, they can have implications for how we are to understand the implications of normative theory, so they can affect our understanding of claims about how we are to live. It is appropriate, therefore, to inquire into the relationship between the theories we have examined and moral practice.

Applied Ethics attempts to deal with specific realms of human action and to craft criteria for discussing issues that might arise within those realms. The contemporary field of Applied Ethics arouse in the late 1960s and early 1970s. Today, it is a thriving part of the field of ethics. Numerous books and websites are devoted to topics such as Business Ethics, Computer Ethics, and Engineering Ethics.


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