Copyright

Approaches to the Study of Morality

Approaches to the Study of Morality
Coming up next: Theories of Ethics: Rights & Natural Laws

You're on a roll. Keep up the good work!

Take Quiz Watch Next Lesson
 Replay
Your next lesson will play in 10 seconds
  • 0:35 Study of Morality
  • 1:12 Descriptive vs.…
  • 3:43 Metaethics and Applied Ethics
  • 6:11 Lesson Summary
Save Save Save

Want to watch this again later?

Log in or sign up to add this lesson to a Custom Course.

Log in or Sign up

Timeline
Autoplay
Autoplay
Speed

Recommended Lessons and Courses for You

Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Christopher Muscato

Chris has a master's degree in history and teaches at the University of Northern Colorado.

Morality is an immense topic, so how do we begin to study it? In this lesson, explore four standard approaches to the study of morality, and test your understanding with a brief quiz.

The Study of Morality

Be healthy. That's a good rule to follow. But how do I know whether or not I'm being healthy? Well, I can talk to a physician, I can research healthy behaviors and lifestyle choices, or maybe I can observe the actions of healthy people. So, now I'm healthier, but not every important decision is as straightforward as being healthy. Try this one: be good. That's a bit harder. What is good? What is bad? This topic is much more controversial than health but just as important, so people put a lot of effort into defining good and bad, right and wrong. A system of inherent right and wrong is called morality. There are dozens of moral systems used around the world, so how do we sort them all out? Luckily, there are a few basic approaches to studying morality to get us going.

Descriptive vs Normative Ethics

So, you want to study morality. One of the best places to start getting a grasp on different theories of right and wrong is with the distinction between normative ethics and descriptive ethics. Normative ethics is the study of how people ought to act. Now, I know that sounds obvious; isn't that what all philosophers study? No. Normative ethics does not, for example, examine the ways that people actually act, or why people believe in certain moral principles. A study of normative ethics simply holds that some things are right and some things are wrong. So, when studying normative ethics, you'll be asking questions like 'What actions are morally good, and what actions are bad?', 'When, if ever, do people deserve rewards or punishments?' and most importantly, 'How should someone morally act in a certain scenario?' Obviously, there are many ways to answer each of these, so there are many types of normative ethics. But defining what exactly you're studying is helpful.

The opposite of normative ethics is descriptive ethics, or the study of why people behave in certain ways, what their moral beliefs are, and how they developed these beliefs. In short, in descriptive ethics you are not making moral judgments, and you're not claiming that people should act a certain way; you are simply observing how they act. Basically, descriptive ethics is all about describing. This is a much more scientific branch of ethics, using tools from psychology, communication, anthropology, sociology and even human anatomy and biology. So, descriptive ethics asks questions like 'What does this group believe about morality?', 'How does that influence their behavior?' or 'Why do different people have different moral beliefs?' While normative ethics often holds that some morals are universally objectively true, descriptive ethics observes that there are too many different moral systems for there to be a single universal morality.

To unlock this lesson you must be a Study.com Member.
Create your account

Register to view this lesson

Are you a student or a teacher?

Unlock Your Education

See for yourself why 30 million people use Study.com

Become a Study.com member and start learning now.
Become a Member  Back
What teachers are saying about Study.com
Try it risk-free for 30 days

Earning College Credit

Did you know… We have over 200 college courses that prepare you to earn credit by exam that is accepted by over 1,500 colleges and universities. You can test out of the first two years of college and save thousands off your degree. Anyone can earn credit-by-exam regardless of age or education level.

To learn more, visit our Earning Credit Page

Transferring credit to the school of your choice

Not sure what college you want to attend yet? Study.com has thousands of articles about every imaginable degree, area of study and career path that can help you find the school that's right for you.

Create an account to start this course today
Try it risk-free for 30 days!
Create an account
Support