Ethics Defined

Ethics Defined

Branch of philosophy that involves systematizing, defending, and recommending concepts of right and wrong conduct

Ethics or moral philosophy is a branch of philosophy that involves systematizing, defending, and recommending concepts of right and wrong conduct. The term ethics derives from the Ancient Greek word ?????? ethikos, which is derived from the word ???? ethos (habit, ?custom?). The branch of philosophy axiology comprises the sub-branches of ethics and aesthetics, each concerned with values.

As a branch of philosophy, ethics investigates the questions ?What is the best way for people to live?? and ?What actions are right or wrong in particular circumstances?? In practice, 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.

Three major areas of study within ethics recognised today are:

Meta-ethics, concerning the theoretical meaning and reference of moral propositions, and how their truth values (if any) can be determined

Normative ethics, concerning the practical means of determining a moral course of action

Applied ethics, concerning what a person is obligated (or permitted) to do in a specific situation or a particular domain of action.

?Do you want to be happy? Let go of what?s gone, be grateful for what remains, and look forward to what is coming.? ~ Unknown

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Defining Ethics

Rushworth Kidder states that ?standard definitions of ethics have typically included such phrases as ?the science of the ideal human character? or ?the science of moral duty??. Richard William Paul and Linda Elder define ethics as ?a set of concepts and principles that guide us in determining what behavior helps or harms sentient creatures?. The Cambridge Dictionary of Philosophy states that the word ethics is ?commonly used interchangeably with ?morality? ? and sometimes it is used more narrowly to mean the moral principles of a particular tradition, group or individual.? Paul and Elder state that most people confuse ethics with behaving in accordance with social conventions, religious beliefs and the law and don?t treat ethics as a stand-alone concept.

The word ?ethics? in English refers to several things. It can refer to philosophical ethics or moral philosophy ? a project that attempts to use reason in order to answer various kinds of ethical questions. As the English philosopher Bernard Williams writes, attempting to explain moral philosophy: ?What makes an inquiry a philosophical one is reflective generality and a style of argument that claims to be rationally persuasive.? And Williams describes the content of this area of inquiry as addressing the very broad question, ?how one should live? Ethics can also refer to a common human ability to think about ethical problems that is not particular to philosophy. As bioethicist Larry Churchill has written: ?Ethics, understood as the capacity to think critically about moral values and direct our actions in terms of such values, is a generic human capacity.? Ethics can also be used to describe a particular person?s own idiosyncratic principles or habits. For example: ?Joe has strange ethics.?

The English word ethics is derived from an Ancient Greek word thikos, which means ?relating to one?s character?. The Ancient Greek adjective thikos is itself derived from another Greek word, the noun thos meaning ?character, disposition?.

Applied Ethics

Applied ethics is a discipline of philosophy that attempts to apply ethical theory to real-life situations. The discipline has many specialized fields, such as engineering ethics, bioethics, geoethics, public service ethics and business ethics.

Specific Questions

Applied ethics is used in some aspects of determining public policy, as well as by individuals facing difficult decisions. The sort of questions addressed by applied ethics include: ?Is getting an abortion immoral?? ?Is euthanasia immoral?? ?Is affirmative action right or wrong?? ?What are human rights, and how do we determine them?? ?Do animals have rights as well?? and ?Do individuals have the right of self determination??

A more specific question could be: ?If someone else can make better out of his/her life than I can, is it then moral to sacrifice myself for them if needed?? Without these questions there is no clear fulcrum on which to balance law, politics, and the practice of arbitration ? in fact, no common assumptions of all participants ? so the ability to formulate the questions are prior to rights balancing. But not all questions studied in applied ethics concern public policy. For example, making ethical judgments regarding questions such as, ?Is lying always wrong?? and, ?If not, when is it permissible?? is prior to any etiquette.

People in-general are more comfortable with dichotomies (two opposites). However, in ethics the issues are most often multifaceted and the best proposed actions address many different areas concurrently. In ethical decisions the answer is almost never a ?yes or no?, ?right or wrong? statement. Many buttons are pushed so that the overall condition is improved and not to the benefit of any particular faction.

Particular fields of application


Main article: Bioethics

Bioethics is the study of controversial ethics brought about by advances in biology and medicine. Bioethicists are concerned with the ethical questions that arise in the relationships among life sciences, biotechnology, medicine, politics, law, and philosophy. It also includes the study of the more commonplace questions of values (?the ethics of the ordinary?) that arise in primary care and other branches of medicine.

Bioethics also needs to address emerging biotechnologies that affect basic biology and future humans. These developments include cloning, gene therapy, human genetic engineering, astroethics and life in space, and manipulation of basic biology through altered DNA, RNA and proteins,e.g.- ?three parent baby,where baby is born from genetically modified embryos, would have DNA from a mother, a father and from a female donor. Correspondingly, new bioethics also need to address life at its core. For example, biotic ethics value organic gene/protein life itself and seek to propagate it. With such life-centered principles, ethics may secure a cosmological future for life.

Business Ethics

Main article: Business ethics

Business ethics (also corporate ethics) is a form of applied ethics or professional ethics that examines ethical principles and moral or ethical problems that arise in a business environment, including fields like Medical ethics. It applies to all aspects of business conduct and is relevant to the conduct of individuals and entire organizations.

Business ethics has both normative and descriptive dimensions. As a corporate practice and a career specialization, the field is primarily normative. Academics attempting to understand business behavior employ descriptive methods. The range and quantity of business ethical issues reflects the interaction of profit-maximizing behavior with non-economic concerns. Interest in business ethics accelerated dramatically during the 1980s and 1990s, both within major corporations and within academia. For example, today most major corporations promote their commitment to non-economic values under headings such as ethics codes and social responsibility charters. Adam Smith said, ?People of the same trade seldom meet together, even for merriment and diversion, but the conversation ends in a conspiracy against the public, or in some contrivance to raise prices.? Governments use laws and regulations to point business behavior in what they perceive to be beneficial directions. Ethics implicitly regulates areas and details of behavior that lie beyond governmental control. The emergence of large corporations with limited relationships and sensitivity to the communities in which they operate accelerated the development of formal ethics regimes.

Machine Ethics

Main article: Machine ethics

In Moral Machines: Teaching Robots Right from Wrong, Wendell Wallach and Colin Allen conclude that issues in machine ethics will likely drive advancement in understanding of human ethics by forcing us to address gaps in modern normative theory and by providing a platform for experimental investigation. The effort to actually program a machine or artificial agent to behave as though instilled with a sense of ethics requires new specificity in our normative theories, especially regarding aspects customarily considered common-sense. For example, machines, unlike humans, can support a wide selection of learning algorithms, and controversy has arisen over the relative ethical merits of these options. This may reopen classic debates of normative ethics framed in new (highly technical) terms.

Military Ethics

See also: Geneva Conventions and Nuremberg Principles

Military ethics are concerned with questions regarding the application of force and the ethos of the soldier and are often understood as applied professional ethics.[54] Just war theory is generally seen to set the background terms of military ethics. However individual countries and traditions have different fields of attention.

Military ethics involves multiple subareas, including the following among others:

  • what, if any, should be the laws of war.
  • justification for the initiation of military force.
  • decisions about who may be targeted in warfare.
  • decisions on choice of weaponry, and what collateral effects such weaponry may have.
  • standards for handling military prisoners.
  • methods of dealing with violations of the laws of war.

Political Ethics

Main article: Political ethics

Political ethics (also known as political morality or public ethics) is the practice of making moral judgements about political action and political agents.

Public sector Ethics

Main article: Public sector ethics

Public sector ethics is a set of principles that guide public officials in their service to their constituents, including their decision-making on behalf of their constituents. Fundamental to the concept of public sector ethics is the notion that decisions and actions are based on what best serves the public?s interests, as opposed to the official?s personal interests (including financial interests) or self-serving political interests.

Publication Ethics

Publication ethics is the set of principles that guide the writing and publishing process for all professional publications. In order to follow the set of principles, authors should verify that the publication does not contain plagiarism or publication bias. As a way to avoid misconduct in research these principles can also be applied to experiments which are referenced or analyzed in publications by ensuring the data is recorded, honestly and accurately.

Plagiarism is the failure to give credit to another author?s work or ideas, when it is used in the publication. It is the obligation of the editor of the journal to ensure the article does not contain any plagiarism before it is published. If a publication which has already been published is proven to contain plagiarism, then the editor of the journal can proceed to have the article retracted.

Publication bias occurs when the publication is one-sided or ?prejudiced against results?. In best practice, an author should try to include information from all parties involved, or affected by the topic. If an author is prejudiced against certain results, than it can ?lead to erroneous conclusions being drawn.?

Misconduct in research can occur when information from an experiment is falsely recorded or altered. Falsely recorded information occurs when the researcher ?fakes? information or data, which was not used when conducting the actual experiment. By faking the data, the researcher can alter the results from the experiment to better fit the hypothesis they originally predicted. When conducting medical research, it is important to honor the healthcare rights of a patient by protecting their anonymity in the publication. Respect for autonomy ? Is a principle which states that decision-making should concentrate on allowing individuals to be autonomous; they should be able to make decisions that apply to their own lives. This means that individuals should have control of their lives. Justice- is the principle that states that the decision makers need to focus on actions that are fair to those affected. Ethical decisions need to be consistent with the ethical theory. There are cases where the management has made decisions that seem to be unfair to the employees, shareholders, and other stakeholders (Solomon, 1992, pp49). Such decisions are unethical.

Relational Ethics

Relational ethics are related to an ethics of care.:62 ? 63 They are used in qualitative research, especially ethnography and autoethnography. Researchers who employ relational ethics value and respect the connection between themselves and the people they study, and ?between researchers and the communities in which they live and work? (Ellis, 2007, p. 4). Relational ethics also help researchers understand difficult issues such as conducting research on intimate others that have died and developing friendships with their participants. Relational ethics in close personal relationships form a central concept of contextual therapy.

Animal Ethics

Main article: Animal ethics

Animal ethics is a term used in academia to describe human-animal relationships and how animals ought to be treated. The subject matter includes animal rights, animal welfare, animal law, speciesism, animal cognition, wildlife conservation, the moral status of nonhuman animals, the concept of nonhuman personhood, human exceptionalism, the history of animal use, and theories of justice.

?The one thing that keeps us out of love and connection is our belief that we?re not worthy of love and connection.? ~ Brene Brown


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