In philosophy, metaethics is the branch of ethics that seeks to understand the nature of ethical properties, and ethical statements, attitudes, and judgments. It is one of the three branches of ethics generally recognized by philosophers, the others being ethical theory and applied ethics. Metaethics has received considerable attention from academic philosophers in the last few decades.
While normative ethics addresses such questions as “What should one do?”, thus endorsing some ethical evaluations and rejecting others, metaethics addresses questions such as “What is goodness?” and “How can we tell what is good from what is bad?”, seeking to understand the nature of ethical properties and evaluations.
Some theorists argue that a metaphysical account of morality is necessary for the proper evaluation of actual moral theories and for making practical moral decisions, however others make the reverse claim that only by importing ideas of moral intuition on how to act can we arrive at an accurate account of the metaphysics of morals.
A second area of metaethics involves the psychological basis of our moral judgments and conduct, particularly understanding what motivates us to be moral. We might explore this subject by asking the simple question, “Why be moral?” Even if one is aware of basic moral standards, this does not necessarily mean that one will be psychologically compelled to act on them. Some answers to the question “Why be moral?” are to avoid punishment, to gain praise, to attain happiness, to be dignified, or to fit in with society.