Definitions

Analytic Ethics (Metaethics) – Analytic ethics, also called metaethics, is disputed by some philosophers arguing that it should be included under Normative Ethics.  In principle, metaethics is the study of assumptions people make when engaging in normative ethics.  Such assumptions may include the existence of gods, the usefulness of ethical propositions, the nature of reality, whether moral statements convey information about the world, etc.  Debates between atheists and theists over whether morality requires the existence of a god can be classified as metaethical debates.  This blog is primarily interested in analytic and normative ethics with reference to descriptive ethics for grounding.

Axiology – the branch of philosophy dealing with values, as those of ethics, aesthetics, or religion.

Consequentialism – an approach to ethics that judges the morality of an action based on the action’s consequences.  Thus, from a consequentialist standpoint, a morally right action is one that produces a good outcome, or consequence.  For example, a consequentialist may argue that lying is wrong because of the negative consequences produced by lying — though a consequentialist may allow that certain foreseeable consequences might make lying acceptable.  This view is often expressed as the aphorism “The ends justify the means”.  Contrasting approaches include deontology and virtue ethics.

Descriptive Ethics – Descriptive ethics involves describing how people behave and/or the moral standards they claim to follow.  Descriptive ethics incorporates research from anthropology, psychology, sociology and history to understand beliefs about moral norms.

Deontology – (from Greek δέον, deon, “obligation, duty”; and -λογία, -logia) an approach to ethics that judges the morality of an action based on the character of the act itself and its adherence to a rule or rules.  Deontologists look at rules and duties.  A deontologist might argue that lying is always wrong, regardless of any potential “good” that might come from lying.  Contrasting approaches include consequentialism and virtue ethics.

Epistemics – The scientific (as opposed to philosophical) study of the roots and paths of knowledge.

Epistemology – theory of knowledge. Coined by Scottish philosopher James F. Ferrier (1808-64) in 1856 from Greek episteme  “knowledge,” from Ionic Gk. epistasthai  “know how to do, understand,” lit. “overstand,” from epi-  “over, near” + histasthai  “to stand.” Epistemology asks the question “How do we know what we know?”

Eudamonia – (εὐδαιμονία) a classical Greek word commonly translated as ‘happiness’.  Etymologically, it consists of the word “eu” (“good” or “well being”) and “daimōn” (“spirit” or “minor deity”, used by extension to mean one’s lot or fortune). Although happiness generally refers to a state of mind, related to joy or pleasure, eudaimonia rarely has such connotations, and the less subjective “human flourishing” is often preferred as a translation. It is significant that its synonyms are living well and doing well.

Instrumental Goals – goals that have value or are “good” because they support or further other goals.  Subgoals and, in particular, “universal subgoals” are instrumental goals.

Morality – that which maximizes the probability of cooperation. “Moral systems are interlocking sets of values, virtues, norms, practices, identities, institutions, technologies, and evolved psychological mechanisms that work together to suppress or regulate selfishness and make cooperative social life possible.” – Jonathan Haidt, Handbook of Social Psychology, 5th ed. (2010)

Normative Ethics – Normative ethics involves creating or evaluating moral standards, so is an attempt to figure out what people should do or whether current moral behavior is reasonable. Traditionally, most moral philosophy has involved normative ethics — few philosophers haven’t tried their hand at explaining what they think people should do and why. Religious, theistic normative ethics often rely on divine commands; for atheists, normative ethics can have a variety of sources.  Debates between the two thus frequently revolve around what the best basis for morality is as much as what the proper moral behavior should be (or indeed, whether atheists are or even can be moral).

Ontology – the branch of metaphysics that studies the nature of existence or being as such.

Telos – the final cause (purpose, end, aim, or goal) of something.  Aristotle, who defined the term, explicitly argued that a telos can be present without any form of deliberation, consciousness or intelligence in general.  For example (and according to Aristotle), a seed has the eventual adult plant as its final cause (i.e., as its telos) iff the seed would become the adult plant under normal circumstances.

Terminal Goals – goals that have value or are “good” based solely on their own existence.  Existence is arguably the only rational terminal goal since an entity cannot rationally object to it without removing itself and others from reality and, similarly, entities dealing with such an entity must agree to such a goal or obviously/rationally seek removal as well.

Virtue Ethics – an approach to ethics which focuses on the character of the agent rather than on the nature or consequences of the action itself.  A virtue ethicist would focus less on lying in any particular instance and instead consider what a decision to tell a lie or not tell a lie said about one’s character and moral behavior.  Contrasting approaches include consequentialism and deontology.

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