Ethics is the study of what to do, how to act, and how to live.
Ethics and morality are the conceptually same. The only difference is that the word 'ethics' comes from Ancient Greek and the word 'morality' comes from Latin.
Ethics can be broken down into four aspects:
- Metaethics is the high level study of the nature of ethics itself.
- Normative Ethics is the study of how we should act.
- Descriptive Ethics is the study of how we actually act.
- Applied Ethics or Practical Ethics is the study of how general concepts in ethics apply to how we should act in specific situations.
These aspects of ethics are interrelated and not distinct. What we believe to be the ethical action in a specific situation depends on what others have already done in these situations and what we believe it means to have a 'ethical' action.
Ethics is also interrelated with and not distinct from other aspects of philosophy, including metaphysics, epistemology, philosophy of language, and philosophy of mind.
- Metaphysics is the study of reality (as opposed to fiction or fantasy).
- Epistemology is the study of knowledge.
- Philosophy of Language is the study of the nature of language.
- Philosophy of Mind is the study of the nature of the mind.
What we believe to be the ethical action in a specific situation depends on what we believe to exist and what we believe is possible to be known.
Ethics can be very challenging because answers to questions about which actions are ethical are generally not found by looking out into the world. Instead, we often arrive to them by instinct or feeling.
The purpose of ethics is to:
- challenge our instincts and feelings in order to confirm that they lead us to do the correct action
- determine what to do when our instincts or feelings about what to do are in conflict
- determine what to do when we lack instincts and feelings about what to do