What is Ethics? Definition, Sources, Theories, and Applications – (GS-4)

What is Ethics?

  1. Ethics is a set of moral principles. It is derived from the Greek word “Ethos” meaning the character or habit.
  2. It deals with which human character conduct is Right or wrong.
  3. Ethics is about the quality of human character & conduct with an aim to achieve Summum Bonum (Latin word meaning “the highest good”) by application of reasoning, rationality, thinking analysis in day to day behavior.
  4. In other words, ethics is about the quality of human conduct & characters on basis of established standards with an aim to achieve social harmony, prosperity & success in society, .
  5. There are two components of Ethics:
    • As a study – Part of Moral Philosophy
    • In day to day life – set of Norms that should guide over conduct in the right direction

Sources for Ethics:

  1. Religion – most primitive source
    • E.g.- Societies derive cultural norms from religion so that it derives legitimacy and no one questions – easy to implement.
  2. Societies:
    • Family- Respecting elders
    • Mother – Love and compassion
    • Father – Hard work, Discipline, responsibility
    • Siblings – Brotherhood
  3. School and Colleges– First interface of the child to the outside world.
  4. Times in which we live
    • e.g. in the 16th-17th century, slavery was not immoral but today it is not only immoral but also illegal.
  5. Law – came into being in order to have a common ground for people with different religious beliefs.
  6. Reason – the sense of logic and rationality – critical thinking
  7. Person himself – what an individual adopts based on his knowledge or personal beliefs

ORIGIN OF ETHICS : How ethics was borned?

  • It’s born out of the inquisitiveness of Socrates. i.e. an unexamined life isn’t worth living. Human Should question each & everything in his surrounding on basis of reasoning & rationality. i.e. they should have the art of questioning.
  • This art will cultivate rational thinking & therefore, Ethics was born
  • The Ethics foundation is Rational thinking & questioning which was further propagated by Plato & Aristotle. It is also known as Greek philosophy / Greek Ethics. In fact term ethics derived from “Ethicos/Ethikos”– a Greek word meaning character/conduct.
  • Therefore, the field of ethics is based on human reasoning, rationality & analysis of situation & matters, objects, things with an aim of accepting/rejecting on basis of Right/ wrong standards.
  • On basis of the philosophy of ethics. It’s also said that ethics is not only about:
    • Finding solution to a problem
    • Establishing standards.
    • Determining human behavior right/wrong
  • But also it’s about:
    • The understanding situation on basis of Critical thinking
    • Ensuring freedom for Art of questioning
  • Therefore, ethics deals with multiple assets of human character & conduct. That’s why it’s also known as “moral philosophy“.

Ethics Established standards:

  • With the evolution of society, there’s an understanding of the right/wrong aspect of human character & conduct. There can be a set of right principles such as:
    • Honesty
    • Gratitude
    • Compassion
    • Integrity
    • Fairness
    • Selflessness
  • On the other hand, there’re negative standards such as:
    • Greediness
    • Intolerance
    • Stereotype
    • Hostility
    • Egotists
    • Selfishness
  • In fact, every individual has his / her own sense of Right/wrong standards of conduct. On basis of which in day-to-day life he determines Right/wrong aspects of other conduct. Such standards of an individual can be better termed as his/her moral standards but not necessarily ethical standards.
  • Established standards in the field of ethics are different from standards in other fields such as law, religion, society, etc. simply bcoz ethical standards are based on:
    • Human reasoning & rationality
    • values
    • Knowledge
    • Situation, experiences
    • Consequences
  • That’s why ethical standards may/may not confirm with moral & societal standards. But they’re considered as to some extent universal standards for the quality of human conduct. Such standards have been established by moral philosophers & thinkers with the evolution of ethics from ancient, medieval, modern to contemporary times.
  • It means there will not be one established rather set of standards based on different philosophies that don’t mean that there’s quite a subjectivity & ambiguity rather it shows the dynamic nature of the human character, conduct & established standards.
  • Broadly there’re 2 established standards:
    • Deontology which emphasizes human conduct itself as a moral duty.
    • Teleology judges human conduct as Right/wrong on basis of the outcome of the action.
  • In general, following can be universal established standards.
    • Human dignity & respect
    • Compassion
    • Freedom
    • Justice
    • Equality
    • Fraternity
    • Duty, Selfishness, honesty, integrity, wisdom & temperance
  • Established standards in ethics have evolved in Ancient times with a quest for improving quality for character & conduct.

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