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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.

As a field of intellectual enquiry, moral philosophy also is related to the fields of moral psychology, descriptive ethics, and value theory.

Three major areas of study within ethics recognised today are: The Cambridge Dictionary of Philosophy states that the word ethics is "commonly used interchangeably with 'morality' ...

and sometimes it is used more narrowly to mean the moral principles of a particular tradition, group or individual." It can refer to philosophical ethics or moral philosophy—a project that attempts to use reason in order to answer various kinds of ethical questions.

The term ethics derives from the Ancient Greek word ἠθικός ethikos, which is derived from the word ἦθος ethos (habit, "custom").

The branch of philosophy axiology comprises the sub-branches of ethics and aesthetics, each concerned with values.

As a branch of philosophy, ethics investigates the questions "What is the best way for people to live?" and "What actions are right or wrong in particular circumstances?As the English philosopher Bernard Williams writes, attempting to explain moral philosophy: "What makes an inquiry a philosophical one is reflective generality and a style of argument that claims to be rationally persuasive." Ethics can also refer to a common human ability to think about ethical problems that is not particular to philosophy. In it he first wrote about what he called the naturalistic fallacy.As bioethicist Larry Churchill has written: "Ethics, understood as the capacity to think critically about moral values and direct our actions in terms of such values, is a generic human capacity." For example: "Joe has strange ethics." The English word ethics is derived from an Ancient Greek word êthikos, which means "relating to one's character." The Ancient Greek adjective êthikos is itself derived from another Greek word, the noun êthos meaning "character, disposition." An ethical question fixed on some particular practical question—such as, "Should I eat this particular piece of chocolate cake? A meta-ethical question is abstract and relates to a wide range of more specific practical questions. Moore was seen to reject naturalism in ethics, in his Open Question Argument.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.