SOPHIA will be down Wednesday, December 7, 2016 at 4:30 AM (CST) for a little housecleaning. We are sorry if this causes you any trouble. The outage should last less than 5 minutes.

+
2 Tutorials that teach Branches of Ethics
Take your pick:
Branches of Ethics

Branches of Ethics

Rating:
Rating
(0)
Author: John Lumsden
Description:

In this lesson, students will distinguish between the various branches of ethics.

(more)
See More
Try a College Course Free

Sophia’s self-paced online courses are a great way to save time and money as you earn credits eligible for transfer to over 2,000 colleges and universities.*

Begin Free Trial
No credit card required

25 Sophia partners guarantee credit transfer.

221 Institutions have accepted or given pre-approval for credit transfer.

* The American Council on Education's College Credit Recommendation Service (ACE Credit®) has evaluated and recommended college credit for 20 of Sophia’s online courses. More than 2,000 colleges and universities consider ACE CREDIT recommendations in determining the applicability to their course and degree programs.

Tutorial
In this tutorial we will be looking at how ethics divides into several disciplines to address different kinds of ethical considerations. Our discussion will break down like this:
  1. Branches of Ethics
  2. Different Kinds of Ethical Questions
  3. Branches of Ethics in Practice


1. Branches of Ethics

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.

Normative ethics
The branch of ethics that analyzes which actions are right and wrong


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.

Applied ethics
The branch of ethics that uses normative ethical theories to evaluate and prescribe actions in specific situations and contexts


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.

Metaethics
The branch of ethics that analyzes the nature of value -based discourse


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.

Descriptive ethics
The branch of ethics that analyzes people’s beliefs about value


2. Different Kinds of Ethical Questions

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
QUESTIONS 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.



METAETHICS DESCRIPTIVE ETHICS
QUESTIONS 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.


3. Branches of Ethics in Practice

These different branches of ethics can be brought to bear on the same situation.

Consider the situation of abortion. What kinds of questions do you think could be proposed by the different branches of ethics?

There are many questions that could be addressed in this situation, but here are some examples from each branch of ethics.

Normative ethics asks is it morally acceptable to take human life? Applied ethics asks when, if ever, it is morally acceptable to have an abortion? Descriptive ethics ask what proportion of the population believes that abortion is morally acceptable? And metaethics if there is a definitive answer to the question about morality to taking human life.


We started this tutorial by distinguishing the different branches of ethics in terms of the things they analyze: the morality of actions (normative ethics), making moral judgments of specific actions (applied ethics), the source and nature of value (metaethics), and people’s attitudes and beliefs about value (descriptive ethics).

Then the different kinds of ethical questions associated with each branch were examined. Finally, we looked at different branches of ethics in practice by seeing how they respond to a specific situation.
TERMS TO KNOW
  • Metaethics

    The branch of ethics that analyzes the nature of value-based discourse

  • Normative Ethics

    The branch of ethics that analyzes which actions are right and wrong

  • Descriptive Ethics

    The branch of ethics that analyzes people's beliefs about value

  • Applied Ethics

    The branch of ethics that uses normative ethical theories to evaluate and prescribe actions in specific situations and contexts