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  Ethics (from Greek ethikos, ‘dealing with [human] nature’), in philosophy, can roughly be characterized as dividing into three parts: normative ethics; practical ethics; and meta-ethics.

Normative ethics is the study of general normative principles or virtues. There are various doctrines concerning general normative principles. Altruists hold that when deciding how to act one ought to take the interests of others into account, as well as one\'s own. Hedonists hold that one ought to pursue only pleasure or happiness for oneself and others. The Golden Rule states that one should act towards others as one wants them to act towards oneself.

Consequentialists believe that one ought to do whatever will have the best consequences. (Utilitarianism, the doctrine that one ought to do whatever will maximize well-being or happiness is one version of consequentialism.) Deontologists hold that the rightness or wrongness of actions is a matter of how they accord with moral rules, not of their consequences. One must obey the rule that one ought to tell the truth, even if the consequences of breaking the rule would be better. Others hold that rightness or wrongness cannot be captured by a set of moral rules at all, and that it is not simply the consequences of an action which determine its moral status. Rather, one ought to be a virtuous person, one who has certain emotional reactions to various situations, reactions which lead one to behave in ways which are virtuous, honest, generous or kind.

Practical ethics is the study of specific, practical ethical problems such as abortion, euthanasia, war and our treatment of animals. Clearly, the study of practical ethical issues is not independent of the study of general normative principles. General normative principles have implications for specific practical ethical problems, so acceptance of a general normative principle may lead one to change one\'s opinions about a specific practical issue, and one\'s firm conviction concerning a specific practical issue may lead one to see the failing of a general normative principle.

Meta-ethics is not concerned with which moral principles we should follow, or how they relate to specific practical problems, but investigates abstract conceptual and metaphysical issues which arise for any moral principle. One meta-ethical claim is this: any moral judgement concerning a particular is universalizable to all similar particulars. Emotivism claims that moral judgements are simply expressions of emotions. Descriptivism claims that moral terms are purely descriptive. Prescriptivism claims that moral terms have two independent components of meaning: descriptive and evaluative. (See descriptivism and prescriptivism). Ethical relativism is the doctrine that moral judgements are true or false only relative to a particular context. Some hold that murder is wrong because God has commanded us not to commit murder. Ethical intuitionism is the doctrine that there is a special faculty of moral intuition which gives us access to moral facts, to facts about how we ought to behave.

The naturalistic fallacy is the supposed fallacy of inferring an ‘ought’ from an ‘is’: the issue being whether ethics is objective or subjective. AJ

See also fact and value; God\'s commands; morality; objectivism and subjectivism; universalizability; virtues and vices.Further reading J.L. Mackie, Ethics: Inventing Right and Wrong; , P. Singer, Practical Ethics; , B. Williams, Morality: An Introduction to Ethics.



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Other Terms : Euphuism | Existentialism | Natural Selection
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