The four main areas of moral philosophy are:
- Normative Ethics
- Political Philosophy
- Applied ethics
Meta ethics deal with broad questions about the nature of morality. The most basic question we might ask about morality is whether there even is such a thing as morality. Are there moral facts? Some would say “no.” The view that there are no moral facts is called anti realism. Although most philosophers are moral realists, they believe there are moral facts. The further question to be asked then in metaethics is “What are the nature of these moral facts?” The relationship between religion and morality is something that is addressed in metaethics.
The central question in normative ethics is “What makes an action right or wrong?” Philosophers doing normative ethics have sought some principle, or set of principles that explains exactly which actions are right and which are wrong. In general a “norm” is a some sort of standard by which we can measure our behavior against and in moral discourse something that we ought to conform to. Although there can be other sorts of norms, like social norms.
The central question of political philosophy is what is justice. This can be asked in terms of specific laws i.e. “Are laws that require background checks on guns just?” or it can be asked of entire forms of government i.e. “Is communism / capitalism / democratic socialism a just form of government?” Starting around the 16th century philosophers were very concerned with what forms of government were just. Specifically they wanted to replace monarchy with some for of liberal democracy i.e. some form of government in which all citizens had equal rights. In the last several hundred years or so the central issue has been the distribution of wealth and how best to promote material equality amongst the citizens of the state. The two main responses to economic equality of early forms of capitalist democracies have been communism and the modern welfare state.
Applied Ethics focuses on specific issues like abortion, animal rights, altruism, to name a few of the main topics that have occupied analytic philosophers recently.