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Meta-ethics {{#invoke:main|main}} Meta-ethics asks how we understand, know about, and what we mean when we talk about what is right and what is wrong.<ref name=bbc>{{#invoke:citation/CS1|citation |CitationClass=web }}</ref> An ethical question fixed on some particular practical question—such as, "Should I eat this particular piece of chocolate cake?"—cannot be a meta-ethical question. A meta-ethical question is abstract and relates to a wide range of more specific practical questions. For example, "Is it ever possible to have secure knowledge of what is right and wrong?" would be a meta-ethical question.

Meta-ethics has always accompanied philosophical ethics. For example, Aristotle implies that less precise knowledge is possible in ethics than in other spheres of inquiry, and he regards ethical knowledge as depending upon habit and acculturation in a way that makes it distinctive from other kinds of knowledge. Meta-ethics is also important in G.E. Moore's Principia Ethica from 1903. In it he first wrote about what he called the naturalistic fallacy. Moore was seen to reject naturalism in ethics, in his Open Question Argument. This made thinkers look again at second order questions about ethics. Earlier, the Scottish philosopher David Hume had put forward a similar view on the difference between facts and values.

Studies of how we know in ethics divide into cognitivism and non-cognitivism; this is similar to the contrast between descriptivists and non-descriptivists. Non-cognitivism is the claim that when we judge something as right or wrong, this is neither true nor false. We may for example be only expressing our emotional feelings about these things.<ref></ref> Cognitivism can then be seen as the claim that when we talk about right and wrong, we are talking about matters of fact.

The ontology of ethics is about value-bearing things or properties, i.e. the kind of things or stuff referred to by ethical propositions. Non-descriptivists and non-cognitivists believe that ethics does not need a specific ontology, since ethical propositions do not refer. This is known as an anti-realist position. Realists on the other hand must explain what kind of entities, properties or states are relevant for ethics, how they have value, and why they guide and motivate our actions.<ref>Miller, C. (2009). The Conditions of Moral Realism. The Journal of Philosophical Research, 34, 123-155.</ref>

Ethics sections
Intro  Defining ethics  Meta-ethics  Normative ethics  Applied ethics  Moral psychology  Descriptive ethics  See also  Notes  References  Further reading  External links  

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