Metaethics is the branch of ethics involved with understanding the nature of moral questions and discourse. It is probably the least well defined field in philosophy. It is best explained using some the questions it attempts to ask and by comparing it to other branches of ethics.
Questions asked by Metaethics
- Is morality objective or subjective?
- If subjective, whose feelings does it depend on? A culture's? An individual's? God's?
- If objective, what sort of a thing is it? And how do we come to know of these "moral facts"?
- Can moral statements be true or false? Maybe they are simply expressions of emotion.
Metaethics in Context
Metaethics is, arguably, the basic form of questions about ethics. The higher levels are normative ethics and applied ethics.
- So applied ethics asks: Is it wrong to have an abortion? Should I eat meat?
- Normative ethics asks: How ought I to act? What criteria are required for me to take good actions and not bad ones?
- And metaethics asks: What do I mean by good and bad? Are these statements true the same way the statement: The Moon orbits the Earth, is true? Do my normative ethics apply to everyone or just me?