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“Meta-ethics, Normative Ethics, and Applied Ethics”

Descriptive ethics[edit]

Main article: Descriptive ethics

Descriptive ethics is on the less philosophical end of the spectrum since it seeks to gather particular information about how people live and draw general conclusions based on observed patterns. Abstract and theoretical questions that are more clearly philosophical—such as, “Is ethical knowledge possible?”—are not central to descriptive ethics. Descriptive ethics offers a value-free approach to ethics, which defines it as a social science rather than a humanity. Its examination of ethics doesn’t start with a preconceived theory but rather investigates observations of actual choices made by moral agents in practice. Some philosophers rely on descriptive ethics and choices made and unchallenged by a society or culture to derive categories, which typically vary by context. This can lead to situational ethics and situated ethics. These philosophers often view aestheticsetiquette, and arbitrationas more fundamental, percolating “bottom up” to imply the existence of, rather than explicitly prescribe, theories of value or of conduct. The study of descriptive ethics may include examinations of the following:

  • Ethical codes applied by various groups. Some consider aesthetics itself the basis of ethics—and a personal moral core developed through art and storytelling as very influential in one’s later ethical choices.
  • Informal theories of etiquette that tend to be less rigorous and more situational. Some consider etiquette a simple negative ethics, i.e., where can one evade an uncomfortable truth without doing wrong? One notable advocate of this view is Judith Martin (“Miss Manners”). According to this view, ethics is more a summary of common sense social decisions.
  • Practices in arbitration and law, e.g., the claim that ethics itself is a matter of balancing “right versus right”, i.e., putting priorities on two things that are both right, but that must be traded off carefully in each situation.
  • Observed choices made by ordinary people, without expert aid or advice, who vote, buy, and decide what is worth valuing. This is a major concern of sociology, political science, and economics.[93]