Difference Between Metaethics and Normative Ethics | Metaethics vs Normative Ethics

The key difference between metaethics and normative ethics is that metaethics focuses on what is morality whereas normative ethics focuses on what is moral.

Metaethics and normative ethics are two branches of ethics philosophers usually study. Metaethics is the branch of ethics that focuses on the basic nature of ethics, its status, foundations, properties, etc. Normative ethics, on the other hand, focuses on what is morally right and wrong and analyses the moral behavior of people.


1. Overview and Key Difference
2. What is Metaethics  
3. What is Normative Ethics
4. Side by Side Comparison – Metaethics vs Normative Ethics in Tabular Form
5. Summary

What is Metaethics

Metaethics is a branch of ethics that discusses the basic nature of ethics and moral reasoning. It includes status, foundations, and scope of moral values, properties, etc. In other words, it focuses on what morality itself is and questions the nature of morality; for example, some of these include questions like what is morality, what’s the nature of morality, is morality objective, etc.

Difference Between Metaethics and Normative Ethics | Metaethics vs Normative Ethics

Naturalism, nonnaturalism, emotivism, and prescriptivism are some major theories of metaethics. Moreover, according to Bernard Rosen and Richard Garner, there are three types of metaethical problems:

1. What is the meaning of moral terms or judgments
This is moral semantics. Consequently, this includes questions like what do words ‘right’, ‘wrong’, ‘good’ and ‘bad’.

2. What is the nature of moral judgments
This is about moral ontology. Thus, this questions whether moral judgments are relative or universal, of one kind or many kinds, etc.

3. How may moral judgments be supported or defended
This belongs to moral epistemology. As a result, this includes questions like how do we determine if something is right or wrong.

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