To begin with, recall that ethics is the branch of philosophy that analyzes and defends concepts of value and thereby seeks to determine right and wrong. Different sets of ethical standards or frameworks determine in general which actions are right or wrong. This is actually just one branch of the study of ethics, called normative ethics.
What we learn about right and wrong in normative ethics can then be used to make decisions about the morality of specific actions in the world. This is called applied ethics.
These two branches are closely related since they both think about the morality of action, just on two different levels: at the general level and the specific level. Another branch of ethics asks how we can talk about right and wrong in the first place, even before we get started analyzing actions. Investigating the source and possibility of value judgments (such as right and wrong, good and bad, etc.) is the job of metaethics.
The final branch of ethics to be discussed departs from the previous ones, which all make it their job to determine the truth about values or how we are to properly use them. Instead, this branch just asks what attitudes and opinions people happen to have about value. This is called descriptive ethics.
Now that you have the different branches of ethics in view, consider the following questions and how they relate to the specific branch of ethics.
|NORMATIVE ETHICS||APPLIED ETHICS|
Is it right to take a human life?
Is it morally acceptable to lie?
Should torture be allowed?
Should doctors assist with suicide?
Should I give insincere compliments?
Should the military use any means to get information?
|RELATION TO BRANCH||These questions come under normative ethics because they ask which kinds of actions are right or wrong.||These questions come under applied ethics because they ask about the morality of specific actions in the world.|
Are there moral truths?
If there are, can we know what these truths are?
Are moral judgements just a matter of taste?
Do most people think war is morally justified?
What ethical views do Americans have of abortion?
When did equality become a popular ethical ideal?
|RELATION TO BRANCH||These questions come under metaethics because they ask about the sources and nature of values.||These questions come under descriptive ethics because they ask what people actually think or believe about value.|
As you can see, the branch an ethical question will come under depends on the kind of thing the question is investigating.
These different branches of ethics can be brought to bear on the same situation.
There are many questions that could be addressed in this situation, but here are some examples from each branch of ethics.
The branch of ethics that uses normative ethical theories to evaluate and prescribe actions in specific situations and contexts
The branch of ethics that analyzes people's beliefs about value
The branch of ethics that analyzes the nature of value-based discourse
The branch of ethics that analyzes which actions are right and wrong