Normative ethical theories are those whichattempt to determine what is right and wrong. For example, Situation ethics, atheory primarily attributed to Joseph Fletcher that there is a single, absoluteprinciple 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 theindividual. Normative ethics are moral theories that argue a particular type ofbehaviour 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 thelanguage of ethics, and whether moral utterances refer to fixed truths orfacts. Meta ethics is also concerned with how we come to know morals, whetherit is through knowing through senses and observations, a special kind ofintuitive 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 anethical theory that holds that morals are fixed absolutes in the universe andthey can consequently, be recognised or observed. Naturalists such as F.H.Bradley and Phillipa Fox, believe that morals can be percieved in the world inthe same way that other features in the world are identified. Naturalism canalso be linked to absolutism, the theory that there are fixed moral norms.Intuitionism provides deeper insights into whatpeople might mean when they use the term ‘good’, and how the word ‘good’ can bedistinguished from other ideas such as ‘right’. Moore believed that thenaturalists had made a mistake as he rejects the naturalists presumption thatyou are able to simply see right and wrong in the social order, and insteadsuggests 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 arguedthat there are three kinds of judgements: logical judgements, factualjudgements and moral judgements.
Emotivism is ethical non-naturalism because itrejects the view that morals tell you everything about the external world. Onlythings that can be verified through scientific and mathematical propositionscan do that. Morals are relevant only to our feelings or emotions, not theexternal world. Ayer’s thinking is therefore, part of relativism, which holdsthat there can be no known, fixed moral truths. C.L Stevenson developed Ayer’sthinking as Ayer had classified moral statements as emotional expressions, butStevenson linked them to attitudes. He believes that people express a moralopinion not as an emotional response but as an expression of an attitude or beliefthat they have.
Stevenson argued that moral judgements contain an element thatexpresses an attitude relative to a fundamental belief as well as approval ordisapproval. Prescriptivism is the attitude or belief that onevariety of a language is superior to others and should be promoted as such. R.MHare argued that moral words are not emotive in meaning, they are prescriptive.
He claimed that this difference allows a greater role for reason in moraldiscussion. Prescriptive meaning worls like commands, when I say ‘leave thekitchen’, I am telling you to do something. Hare argued that if I said ‘Eatingmeat is wrong’, I am telling the person ‘Don’t eat meat’. It is obvious thatHare’s achievement is to justify adhering to universal moral principles as hedeveloped a form of preference utilitarianism as if he uses language like ‘Youought to’, I must be implying that ‘I ought to’ as well.Overall, meta-ethics mainly talks about thenature of ethics and moral reasoning. Discussions about whether ethics is relativeand whether we always act from self-interest or not. However, normative ethicsis interested in determining the content of out moral behaviour.