The main difference between metaethics and normative ethics is that metaethics is the study of the nature of ethics, whereas normative ethics is the study of ethical action.
Metaethics and normative ethics are two major branches of ethics. While metaethics focuses on determining the meaning and objectivity of moral concepts of good and bad, or right and wrong, normative ethics attempts to determine which character traits are good and bad, which actions are right and wrong. The third main branch of ethics is applied ethics, which is basically the application of normative ethics to particular issues.
Key Terms Covered
1. What is Metaethics
– Definition, Characteristics
2. What is Normative Ethics
– Definition, Characteristics, Theories
3. What is the Difference Between Metaethics and Normative Ethics
– Comparison of Key Differences
Ethics, Metaethics, Normative Ethics
What is Metaethics
Metaethics, which is one of the three main branches of ethics, seeks to understand the nature of ethical properties, principles, judgments, attitudes, etc. It also attempts to answer questions like “what is morality?”, “what is goodness?”, “how to identify if something is good or bad?”
Furthermore, Metaethics attempts to examine what people mean by words like good, bad, right and wrong (moral semantics). It also questions the nature of the moral judgment, i.e., questions whether moral judgments are universal or relative, of one kind or many kinds, etc. Lastly, it also examines how we can know if something is right or wrong. However, unlike normative ethics, metaethics does not try to evaluate specific choices as better, worse, good, bad, or evil.
What is Normative Ethics
Normative ethics is the branch of ethics that studies ethical action. Basically, normative ethics attempts to determine which actions are right and wrong, or which character traits are good and bad.
There are four major normative theories:
According to this theory, the right action is the action that produces the greatest balance of overall happiness.
Derived from the work of the German philosopher Immanuel Kant, this theory focuses on categorical imperative, which is a moral principle that acts as the fundamental principle of morality, and from which all our duties may originate from.
According to this theory, our intuitive awareness of value, or intuitive knowledge of evaluative facts, forms the foundation of our ethical knowledge.
This theory focuses on the inherent character of a person rather than on specific actions. In other words, it focuses on the role of character and virtue rather than doing one’s duty or acting in order to bring about good consequences.
Teleological ethics and deontological ethics are also two concepts we encounter in normative ethics. In teleological ethics, the goodness or badness of action is determined by examining the consequences of that action, whereas, in deontological theories, the goodness or badness of action is determined by examining the action itself. Therefore, we can consider Kantianism and intuitionism as non-teleological theories, and utilitarianism and virtue ethics as teleological theories.
Difference Between Metaethics and Normative Ethics
Metaethics is the study of the nature of ethics, whereas normative ethics is the study of ethical action.
While metaethics analyzes the meaning of moral language and metaphysics of moral facts, normative ethics evaluates standards for the rightness and wrongness of actions.
Metaethics is more philosophical in nature as it analyzes the nature of ethics and morality, while normative ethics is more practical in nature.
Basically, metaethics and normative ethics are two major branches of ethics. The main difference between metaethics and normative ethics is that metaethics is the study of the nature of ethics, whereas normative ethics is the study of ethical action.