Normative ethical theories are those which
attempt to determine what is right and wrong. For example, Situation ethics, a
theory primarily attributed to Joseph Fletcher that there is a single, absolute
principle of love to be applied to any situation to achieve the best outcome.
However, the way in which love is applied is differs depending on the
individual. Normative ethics are moral theories that argue a particular type of
behaviour should be a ‘norm’ for people to follow. A utilitarian for example,
would have a ‘normative goal’ to make as many people as happy as possible.
Meta-ethics however is concerned about the
language of ethics, and whether moral utterances refer to fixed truths or
facts. Meta ethics is also concerned with how we come to know morals, whether
it is through knowing through senses and observations, a special kind of
intuitive knowing, or whether there is no knowledge in morality at all.
There are four main parts to meta ethics;
naturalism, intuitionism, emotivism and prescriptivism. Naturalism is an
ethical theory that holds that morals are fixed absolutes in the universe and
they can consequently, be recognised or observed. Naturalists such as F.H.
Bradley and Phillipa Fox, believe that morals can be percieved in the world in
the same way that other features in the world are identified. Naturalism can
also be linked to absolutism, the theory that there are fixed moral norms.
Intuitionism provides deeper insights into what
people might mean when they use the term ‘good’, and how the word ‘good’ can be
distinguished from other ideas such as ‘right’. Moore believed that the
naturalists had made a mistake as he rejects the naturalists presumption that
you are able to simply see right and wrong in the social order, and instead
suggests that morality is percieved through a different mechanism: intuition.
Whilst people generally agree on certain things such as ‘a bus is red’, or
‘leaves are green’, they do not agree on what is right and wrong.
Emotivism was produced by A.J Ayer, he argued
that there are three kinds of judgements: logical judgements, factual
judgements and moral judgements. Emotivism is ethical non-naturalism because it
rejects the view that morals tell you everything about the external world. Only
things that can be verified through scientific and mathematical propositions
can do that. Morals are relevant only to our feelings or emotions, not the
external world. Ayer’s thinking is therefore, part of relativism, which holds
that there can be no known, fixed moral truths. C.L Stevenson developed Ayer’s
thinking as Ayer had classified moral statements as emotional expressions, but
Stevenson linked them to attitudes. He believes that people express a moral
opinion not as an emotional response but as an expression of an attitude or belief
that they have. Stevenson argued that moral judgements contain an element that
expresses an attitude relative to a fundamental belief as well as approval or
Prescriptivism is the attitude or belief that one
variety of a language is superior to others and should be promoted as such. R.M
Hare argued that moral words are not emotive in meaning, they are prescriptive.
He claimed that this difference allows a greater role for reason in moral
discussion. Prescriptive meaning worls like commands, when I say ‘leave the
kitchen’, I am telling you to do something. Hare argued that if I said ‘Eating
meat is wrong’, I am telling the person ‘Don’t eat meat’. It is obvious that
Hare’s achievement is to justify adhering to universal moral principles as he
developed a form of preference utilitarianism as if he uses language like ‘You
ought to’, I must be implying that ‘I ought to’ as well.
Overall, meta-ethics mainly talks about the
nature of ethics and moral reasoning. Discussions about whether ethics is relative
and whether we always act from self-interest or not. However, normative ethics
is interested in determining the content of out moral behaviour.