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Hence, normative ethics is sometimes called prescriptive, rather than descriptive.
However, on certain versions of the meta-ethical view called moral realism, moral facts are both descriptive and prescriptive at the same time.
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.
For example, "Is it ever possible to have secure knowledge of what is right and wrong? 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. 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.
In this view, knowledge bearing on human life was placed highest, while all other knowledge was secondary.
Self-knowledge was considered necessary for success and inherently an essential good.
The branch of philosophy axiology comprises the sub-branches of ethics and aesthetics, each concerned with values.
Normative ethics is also distinct from descriptive ethics, as the latter is an empirical investigation of people's moral beliefs.
To put it another way, descriptive ethics would be concerned with determining what proportion of people believe that killing is always wrong, while normative ethics is concerned with whether it is correct to hold such a belief.
Non-descriptivists and non-cognitivists believe that ethics does not need a specific ontology since ethical propositions do not refer. 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. It is the branch of ethics that investigates the set of questions that arise when considering how one ought to act, morally speaking.
Normative ethics is distinct from meta-ethics because normative ethics examines standards for the rightness and wrongness of actions, while meta-ethics studies the meaning of moral language and the metaphysics of moral facts.