Descriptive ethics is a factual study of moral attitudes, behaviors, rules and motives that are embodied in various individuals and cultures. As such, descriptive ethics is not really a branch of ethics, but a sociological, anthropological, historical or psychological view about ethics. Metaethics involves two main areas of investigation. First, metaethics focuses on the meaning and reference of crucial ethical terms, such as right and wrong, good and bad, ought and ought not, duty and so on. Normative ethics proper seeks to formulate and defend basic moral principles, rules, systems and virtues which serve as guides for what actions ought or out not to be taken, what motives ought or ought not to be embraced, and what kinds of personas we ought or ought not seek to be. Applied ethics is the area of study that centers its investigation on specific moral issues, such as abortion, euthanasia and capital punishment, and seeks to bring normative ethics to bear on them.1
1. William Lane Craig & J.P. Moreland, Philosophical Foundations for a Christian Worldview (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2003), pp. 396-397.