Before discussing whether Ethics to be a positive or normative science we must have a clear cut idea about what is science? Science may be defined a systematic investigation into a particular event or related events of nature. One of the important characters of science is that it must be a Systematic study. A systematic study differs from an ordinary or half hazard study of objects or events.
Science may be classified into two types, Positive or Descriptive Science and Normative Science. Positive or Descriptive science is, studies with a view to acquire knowledge about natural phenomena either through observation or through experiment. That means, the results of the positive science can be verified empirically.
A descriptive science again describes the way in which certain objects exist and event occurs in nature. Merely states how a computer operates or how blood circulates in the human body.
In the other words, positive science deals with facts. In this sense, Physics, Chemistry, Biology are called descriptive science. Positive or descriptive sciences are also called natural science because each of them studies nature from their own stand point.
Then let us know what a normative science is? Norm means a goal or an ideal. In this sense any branch of human knowledge that deals with an ideal on a goal to be attained is called a normative science. As a positive science is based on the observation of a set of events or facts, a normative science also rests upon the observation of a set of facts. But a normative science sets an ideal had evaluates our actions from that stand point. In other words, a normative science is a judgement upon a fact or situation.
Physics is not regarded as a normative science as it does not Judge the laws of motion either to be good or bad or right or wrong. It simply states the act as it is without commenting upon it.
On the other hand, Ethics, Logic, Aesthetics etc. are regarded as normative sciences, each one sets a norm before it and judges a fact or a situation from the stand point of that ideal.
The aim of ethics is to determine what is good. This goodness of a situation is meaningful in the context of human conduct specifically. We called a human action good or bad, right or wrong. We do not evaluate the action of a cow or a crow in this sense. Sometimes we praise the behaviour of a pet dog and call it to be a good pet dog. But it can be seen that we only extend the meaning of good from the human action to the action of dog. We call a pet dog only analogically.
Thus, it is clear from this discussion that ethics is directly concerned with the rightness of the human conduct. The evaluation of a conduct always waits a standard. That means it is always related to a particular standard. One judgement regarding the human conduct may vary accordingly.
Logic and Aesthetics are also considered as normative sciences. The ideal of ethics is good. Logic takes another ideal that is validity of arguments. Of course, the direct aim of logic is to ascertain the validity or invalidity of arguments but indirectly it is concerned with the ideal of truth. In assessing the validity of arguments logic helps in discovering the truth and in avoiding the error. Thus the ideal or norm of logic is truth.
Aesthetics deals systematically with the standard by which we judge a particular object of perception to be beautiful or ugly. Aesthetics is treated as science of beauty. It passes judgements on a Particular set of events. Thus, a normative science aims at a particular goal or norm and evaluates particular judgements. Statements or arguments from the stand point of that model. In this sense ethics is a normative science.
A Science is called practical or applied when it applies some of its principles in order to attain a particular goal. Sometimes there is confusion in the minds of some people that Ethics is a practical science. It may be argued that the principles laid down in ethics can help a man to be moral. Again, it might be an argued that since ethics j evaluates human conduct from the stand point of certain standards, it is a practical science. In this sense, Logic and Aesthetics can be taken as practical sciences.
According to John Finnis argues that ethics is practical. According to him, ethics also is precisely and primarily practical because the object one has in mind in doing ethics is precisely by realizing in my actions the real and true goals attainable by a human being and thus my participating in those goods. But his view seems to be too wide.
Firstly, the study of ethical principles does not make a man necessarily moral. Ethics as a normative science is a systematic body j of knowledge relating to the ethical standards and principles. A study of the principles might help a person to regulate his conduct in some way. When we evaluate certain actions or praise the conduct of a particular person, we recommend it to ourselves as well as to other persons.
In this sense, ethics involves a sense of approval or disapproval. It recommends other persons to follow a course of action. In this sense, ethics is prescriptive in character and it sharply differs from descriptive sciences. But there is no guarantee that the study of ethics must regulate human conduct. On the other hand, a man may lead a genuine moral life without studying ethics, Similarly a man may argues properly without reading logic. Of course, this does not mean that study of ethics or logic is useless. Each study has a particular and in view. But this does not make if a practical science in every case.
Secondly, the evaluative function of ethics does not make it a practical science like Engineering, Medical Science or Home Science. These Sciences are applied sciences. A medical or engineering graduate applies his knowledge of the science in order to make, successful operation or to construct a dam. This is not expected of ethics. Human character being complex and peculiar, one’s knowledge: of ethical principles does not make him a moral man necessarily.
In conclusion it may be said that ethics cannot be a practical, science. Still then, it is very valuable in facing complex situations.