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2 Tutorials that teach Branches of Ethics
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Branches of Ethics

Branches of Ethics

Author: Glenn Kuehn
Description:

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

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Tutorial

Source: Image of Socrates, Creative Commons, http://bit.ly/29ZntMM

Video Transcription

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Hello. I'm Glenn. And this is the ethics tutorial on branches of ethics. Let's look at some things to keep in mind and then cover the topics for this tutorial.

Things to keep in mind for this tutorial are the definition of ethics, understanding ethical theories as frameworks, and the goals of ethics. In this tutorial, we're going to look at an understanding and examples of different branches of ethics. And then we will look at a single situation and show how the different branches of ethics will identify different considerations for that situation.

Key terms for this tutorial are metaethics-- a branch of ethics that analyzes the nature of value-based discourse. Normative ethics-- branch of ethics that analyzes which actions are right and wrong. Descriptive ethics-- a branch of ethics that analyzes people's beliefs about value. And applied ethics-- a branch of ethics that uses normative ethical theories to evaluate and prescribe actions in specific situations and contexts.

So let's look at different branches of ethics, gain a basic understanding of them, and then consider several questions that each of them have as part of their specific area. First is metaethics. Metaethics is the branch of ethics that analyzes the nature of value-based discourse. Another way of understanding that is that metaethics is where we talk about the fundamental ideas of ethics itself.

Three examples of the ethical questions would be, do we have free will? Can we be moral without religious guidance? And what do the words right and wrong even mean?

For normative ethics, this is the area that analyzes which actions are right and wrong. Here we have questions in the context of specific ethical theories, theories such as egoism, consequentialism, contract theory, virtue theory, and others. Three sample questions that are normative ethical questions would be, is it ever right to lie? Is it OK to be selfish? And should I keep a promise? We can see in contrast to metaethics, normative ethical questions are more specific and contextualized within a specific theory.

Descriptive ethics is the branch of ethics that analyzes people's beliefs about value specifically. Here we have an investigation of beliefs related to values. Three sample questions that are in the area of descriptive ethics are, do people in the southern United States favor the death penalty more than people in the northern United States? Two, what is the general consensus on a woman's right to an abortion? And three, is there a relationship between secular and religious morality in Europe? You can see that in descriptive ethics what we're really exploring is people's beliefs about specific values.

And finally we have applied ethics. This is the branch of ethics that uses a normative ethical theory to evaluate and prescribe actions in specific contexts and situations. That is we have the application of theories to situations.

Three examples-- a question would be, does my cat have rights? This is the applied ethical context of animal rights. Two, should I use herbicide on my lawn? This is in the context of environmental ethics. And three, is being a whistle blower at work OK? Here we have the applied ethical area of business ethics.

So let's look at the example again of buying a car and see how the different types of ethical considerations could play out in this situation. We have metaethical, normative, descriptive, and applied as our areas. A metaethical consideration about buying a car could go to a very general basic question of, what does buying anything even mean? Metaethical questions again are questions about questions of ethics, so they're very basic.

A normative question could be concerning the type of car and my relationship to the type of person, the character of the person, who drives a particular car-- in this case, a Corvette. Do I want to be that kind of person?

Descriptive category here comes down in describing the type of people who drive Subaru's in Vermont and characteristics they may have. Do people in Vermont drive them because they're more environmentally sensitive? This describes the people who drive this particular car. And then an applied ethical question would be, should I buy a hybrid to reduce emissions on the environment? This is couched in the applied ethics area of environmental ethics.

In summary, we have considered different branches of ethics, the definition of each of them, and examples to show how the different branches have specific considerations that they bring to situations and to inquiry. And we looked at a specific situation and how each of the branches brings specific questions to that situation.

Notes on “Branches of Ethics”

(00:00 – 00:15) Introduction

(00:16 – 00:29) Things to Keep in Mind

(00:30 – 00:49) Content of Tutorial

(00:50 – 01:24) Key Terms

(01:25 – 04:28) Branches of Ethics with Examples

(04:29 – 05:42) Sample Situation and Considerations

(05:43 – 06:09) Summary

Terms to Know
Applied Ethics

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

Descriptive Ethics

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

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