Related Ideas

Review these ideas and then go back to the discussion page.

Sidgwick uses the terms 'ethics' and 'meta-ethics.' These are commonly used in moral philosophy. The term 'ethics' can refer to either of the following:

To avoid confusion, we will use the term 'ethics' only in the first sense, i.e., to refer to a system of normative moral judgments, guidelines, and ideals. We will use the term 'meta-ethics' to refer to theories about ethics.

A system of ethics might tell us that murder is morally impermissible, that mercy is morally good, that marital fidelity is morally ideal, or that caring for one's children is morally obligatory. Alternatively, it might describe the moral virtues of the ideal man or woman. A theory of ethics or meta-ethics attempts to answer questions such as "What is the meaning of the term 'good'?", "What is the identifying characteristic of a true or binding moral principle?", "What grounds or evidence are relevant when assessing ethical judgements of the first type?", or "What is the relationship between ethical judgments and matter of fact?" This distinction is probably not entirely clear-cut, but it is still a useful way to divide up a large topic.