What are the four branches of Ethics?

There are four branches of Ethics:

1. Descriptive Ethics

Descriptive Ethics is the study of people’s beliefs about morality. It involves empirical investigation. It gives us a general pattern or a way of life of people in different types of communities. Descriptive Ethics studies the history and evolution of Ethics. It gives a record of certain taboos, customs or conventions. For example, it states the history of various institutions like family or marriage. Lawrence Kohlberg’s theory of moral consciousness is an example of Descriptive Ethics.

Descriptive Ethics investigates people’s ethical ideals or what actions are condemned in a society. It aims to find out people’s beliefs about values, which actions are right and wrong and which characteristics of a moral agent are virtuous. Descriptive Ethics seeks the explanation of actual choices made by moral agents in practice. It tries to examine the ethical codes applied by various groups. Descriptive Ethics is a value-free approach to ethics. It is empirical investigation of people’s moral beliefs.

2. Normative Ethics

Normative Ethics is also called as prescriptive ethics. It is the study of ethical theories that prescribe how people ought to act. It examines standards for the rightness and wrongness of actions. Normative Ethics suggests punishment when a person deviates from the path of ideals. It provides justification for punishing a person who disturbs social and moral order. It tries to establish certain theories on the guidelines of some norms. Normative Ethics offer the moral principles to use to resolve difficult moral decisions.

Aristotle’s virtue ethics, Kant’s deontological ethics, Mill’s Consequentialism (Utilitarianism) and the Bhagwad Gita’s Nishkam Karmayoga are the theories in Normative Ethics.

3. Meta Ethics

Meta Ethics is the study of what ethical terms and theories actually refer to. It determines the validity of theories advanced in Normative Ethics. We use certain moral concepts such as right, wrong, good or bad to evaluate human actions. These moral concepts are used as tools in passing moral judgments. Meta – Ethics analyses ethical concepts. It studies the meaning of moral language and the metaphysics of moral facts. Meta-Ethics seeks to understand the nature of ethical properties and evaluations.

Meta Ethics deals with the questions such as ‘What is the meaning o f moral terms or judgments?’, ‘What is the nature of moral judgments?’, ‘How may moral judgments be supported or defended?’

4. Applied Ethics

In recent years the branch of Applied Ethics is developed. It deals with the problems confronted in our life. It attempts to apply ethical theory to real life situations. It helps to use knowledge of moral principles to present dilemmas. There are certain issues which arise due to newly adopted life style. Applied Ethics deals with the questions such as, “Is getting an abortion immoral?” “Is euthanasia immoral?” “Is affirmative action right or wrong?” “What are human rights, and how do we determine them?” “Do animals have rights as well?” and “Do individuals have the right of self- determination?”

Applied Ethics guides the individuals facing conflicting situation. Some critical moral issues arise due to the insensible and irresponsible attitude of human beings without any concern to other children of Mother Nature. Applied Ethics provides guidance in determining public policy and laws. Applied Ethics develops into Environmental Ethics, Media Ethics, Business Ethics, Ethics of Legal Profession and Ethics of Care. The ethical questions never have answer in ‘yes’/ ‘no’ or ‘right’/’wrong’ format. Ethical issues are multifaceted. Their satisfactory solutions are possible through consideration of different areas of life.

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