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At the turn of the 20th century, moral theories became more complex and were no longer concerned solely with rightness and wrongness, but were interested in many different kinds of moral status.During the middle of the century, the study of normative ethics declined as meta-ethics grew in prominence.The term ethics derives from Ancient Greek ἠθικός (ethikos), from ἦθος (ethos), meaning "habit, custom".

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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.

A self-aware person will act completely within his capabilities to his pinnacle, while an ignorant person will flounder and encounter difficulty.

To Socrates, a person must become aware of every fact (and its context) relevant to his existence, if he wishes to attain self-knowledge.

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.

He posited that people will naturally do what is good, if they know what is right. If a criminal was truly aware of the intellectual and spiritual consequences of his or her actions, he or she would neither commit nor even consider committing those actions.

Any person who knows what is truly right will automatically do it, according to Socrates.

Ethics seeks to resolve questions of human morality by defining concepts such as good and evil, right and wrong, virtue and vice, justice and crime.

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

Traditionally, normative ethics (also known as moral theory) was the study of what makes actions right and wrong.