Essence of Ethics
Ethics comes from Greek word “ethos” means character, habit, culture, ways of behaviour etc.
Ethics is also called “moral philosophy”. The word “moral” comes from Latin word “mores” which signifies customs, character, behaviour, etc. Thus ethics may be defined as the systematic study of human actions from the point of view of their rightfulness or wrongfulness, as means for the attainment of the ultimate happiness. It is the reflective study of what is good or bad in that part of human conduct for which human has some personal responsibility. In simple words ethics refers to what is good and the way to get it, and what is bad and how to avoid it. It refers to what ought to be done to achieve what is good and what ought not to be done to avoid what is evil.
As a philosophical discipline, ethics is the study of the values and guidelines by which we live. It also involves the justification of these values and guidelines. It is not merely following a tradition or custom. Instead it requires analysis and evaluation of these guidelines in light of universal principles. As moral philosophy, ethics is the philosophical thinking about morality, moral problems, and moral judgements.
Ethics is a science in as much as it is a set or body of reasoned truths organised in a logical order and having its specific material and formal objects. It is the science of what human ought to be by reason of what one is. It is a rational science in so far as its principles are deduced by human’s reason from the objects that concern the free will. Besides it has for its ulterior end the art by which human may live uprightly or comfortably to right reason. It is a normative/regulative science in as much as it regulates and directs human’s life and gives the right orientation to one’s existence.
Ethics is also theoretical and practical. It is theoretical in as much as it provides the fundamental principles on the basis of which moral judgements are arrived at. It is practical in as much as it is concerned about an end to be gained, and the means of attaining it. Ethics is sometimes distinguished from morality. In such cases, ethics is the explicit philosophical reflection on moral beliefs and practices while morality refers to the first-order beliefs and practices about good and evil by means of which we guide our behaviour (e.g. music and musicology). However, in most cases they are referred to as having the same meaning.
Ethics is not merely a set of ‘codes’. Ethics certainly deals with moral codes yet one cannot identify ethics to moral codes. Ethics is not primarily to restrict one’s behaviour, rather to help one to find what is good and how to get it. The obligatory character of ethical norms derives from the very purpose of ethical enquiry, i.e. to discover the most ultimate principles of explanation or the most ultimate reasons why one ought to do anything.
Ethics deals with voluntary actions. We can distinguish between human actions and actions of human: human actions are those actions that are done by human consciously, deliberately and in view of an end. Actions of human may not be wilfully, voluntarily, consciously and deliberately done but all the same they are done by human (e.g. sleeping, walking, etc.). It is the intention which makes the difference between human action and action of human. In ethics we deal only with human actions.
- At the heart of ethics is a concern about something or someone other than ourselves and our own desires and self-interest. Ethics is concerned with other people’s interests, with the interests of society, with God’s interests, with “ultimate goods”, and so on. So when a person ‘thinks ethically’ they are giving at least some thought to something beyond themselves.
- One problem with ethics is the way it’s often used as a weapon. If a group believes that a particular activity is “wrong” it can then use morality as the justification for attacking those who practice that activity. When people do this, they often see those who they regard as immoral as in some way less human or deserving of respect than themselves; sometimes with tragic consequences.
- Ethics is not only about the morality of particular courses of action, but it’s also about the goodness of individuals and what it means to live a good life. Virtue Ethics is particularly concerned with the moral character of human beings.
- At times in the past some people thought that ethical problems could be solved in one of two ways:
- by discovering what God wanted people to do
- by thinking rigorously about moral principles and problems If a person did this properly they would be led to the right conclusion.
But now even philosophers are less sure that it’s possible to devise a satisfactory and complete theory of ethics – at least not one that leads to conclusions.
Modern thinkers often teach that ethics leads people not to conclusions but to ‘decisions’. In this view, the role of ethics is limited to clarifying ‘what’s at stake’ in particular ethical problems.
- Ethics doesn’t always show the right answer to moral problems. Indeed more and more people think that for many ethical issues there isn’t a single right answer – just a set of principles that can be applied to particular cases to give those involved some clear choices. Some philosophers go further and say that all ethics can do is eliminate confusion and clarify the issues. After that it’s up to each individual to come to their own conclusions.
- If ethical theories are to be useful in practice, they need to affect the way human beings behave.
Some philosophers think that ethics does do this. They argue that if a person realises that it would be morally good to do something then it would be irrational for that person not to do it.
But human beings often behave irrationally – they follow their ‘gut instinct’ even when their head suggests a different course of action. However, ethics does provide good tools for thinking about moral issues.
- Most moral issues get us pretty worked up – think of abortion and euthanasia for starters. Because these are such emotional issues we often let our hearts do the arguing while our brains just go with the flow.
But there’s another way of tackling these issues, and that’s where philosophers can come in – they offer us ethical rules and principles that enable us to take a cooler view of moral problems.
So ethics provides us with a moral map, a framework that we can use to find our way through difficult issues.