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Normative ethics

What is ethics?

At its simplest, ethics is a system of moral principles. They affect how people make decisions and lead their lives.

Ethics is concerned with what is good for individuals and society and is also described as moral philosophy.

The term is derived from the Greek word ethos which can mean custom, habit, character or disposition.

Ethics covers the following dilemmas:

  • how to live a good life
  • our rights and responsibilities
  • the language of right and wrong
  • moral decisions – what is good and bad?

Our concepts of ethics have been derived from religions, philosophies and cultures. They infuse debates on topics like abortion, human rights and professional conduct.

Approaches to ethics

Philosophers nowadays tend to divide ethical theories into three areas: metaethics, normative ethics and applied ethics.

  • Meta-ethics deals with the nature of moral judgement. It looks at the origins and meaning of ethical principles.
  • Normative ethics is concerned with the content of moral judgements and the criteria for what is right or wrong.
  • Applied ethics looks at controversial topics like war, animal rights and capital punishment