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independent of human creation

Normative theories tell us not only what we ought to do, but also why we do things that in some instances may appear counterintuitive to what we think an ethical decision would be. Such theories are often called ethical systems because they provide a system that allows people to determine ethical actions that individuals should take (Pollock, 2007). Evans and Macmillan (2014, p.27) define normative ethics as “theories of ethics that are concerned with the norms, standards or criteria that define principles of ethical behaviour.” The most common examples of normative ethical theories are utilitarianism, Kantian duty-based ethics (deontology), and divine command theory, which are described later in this chapter. These systems are used by individuals to make decisions when confronted with ethical dilemmas.

Meta-ethics does not address how we ought to behave; rather, meta-ethics is related more to the study of ethical theory itself. Here the interest is in evaluating moral and ethical theories and systems. For example, moral relativism is a meta-ethical theory because it interprets discussions around ethics; a question asked within moral relativism is “is ethics culturally relative?” Evans and Macmillan (2014, p.27) define meta-ethics as “theories of ethics concerned with the moral concepts, theories, and the meaning of moral language. Pollock (2007, p.6) further defines meta-ethics as “a discipline that investigates the meaning of ethical systems and whether they are relative or are universal, and are self-constructed or are independent of human creation.”

For the purposes of this book, meta-ethics will relate to the way we look at and understand normative ethical theories. More concisely, meta-ethics concerns an interpretation and evaluation of the language used within normative ethical theories.