Print Friendly, PDF & Email

[ INSTA Ethics! ] : Dimensions of Ethics



Before the 19th century, the philosophy of ethics and natural science were studied as the same discipline. However, the later philosophers argued that the philosophy of ethics has a right to be an autonomous discipline but like science should be conducted, as a cooperative enterprise. The acceptance of this perception not only led to the growth of ethics as a separate discipline but also led to exploring the length and breadth of ethics to quantify the common human experience.

The four popular paradigms used to understand the depth of ethics is:

  1. Meta-ethics
  2. Descriptive ethics
  3. Normative ethics
  4. Applied ethics



1.      First-order questions concern metaphysics (the nature of being; whether God exists) and ethics (the nature of the good life for human beings).

2.      Second-order questions deal with “ideas” as objects of thought (that is, the meaning of “love,” “happiness,” “infinity”).

Dimensions of Ethics Features
1.      Meta-Ethics –          It focuses on understanding the foundation of ethics.

–          Ex: Where do ethics come from, why do we engage in moral discourse?

–          Major metaethical theories include naturalism, non-naturalism (or intuitionism), emotivism, and prescriptivism.

2.      Normative ethics –          It studies those aspects of ethics which enhance well-being and limit suffering in an individual. Ex: What one ought to do?

–          If someone deviates from established normative standards, there are provisions for punishment.

–          Important theories under this include: Virtue Ethics, Deontology theory, Teleological theory, and egalitarian approach (Note: Detailed notes and explanation shall be provided while we cover the topic of ‘Major philosophers and their philosophies

3.       Descriptive ethics –          It merely entails discussing how people act and/or what kinds of moral principles they assert to uphold.

–          Descriptive ethics use to study anthropology, psychology, sociology, and history to better understand what individuals believe or do in regards to moral principles.

4.      Applied ethics –          It is concerned with the philosophical analysis of specific moral concerns in personal and societal contexts that include moral assessments.

–          By utilizing the conceptual tools of meta-ethics and normative ethics, it examines certain contentious subjects, such as abortion, infanticide, animal rights, environmental concerns, homosexuality, the death penalty, nuclear weapons, etc.

–          Some principles used in applied ethics are- honesty, justice, benevolence etc.