What are ethics?
At its simplest, ethics is a system of moral principles. They affect how people make decisions and lead their lives. Ethics is concerned with what is good for individuals and society and is also described as moral philosophy. The term is derived from the Greek word ethos which can mean custom, habit, character or disposition.
Ethics covers the following dilemmas:
· how to live a good life
· our rights and responsibilities
· the language of right and wrong
· moral decisions - what is good and bad?
Our concepts of ethics have been derived from religions, philosophies and cultures. They infuse debates on topics like abortion, human rights and professional conduct.
Examples of Bad Ethics are:
· Lying to parents
· Stealing money
· Talking about a friend behind his back.
· Taking credit for work one did not do.
· Cheating on a school paper by copying it off the Internet.
· Dumping pollutants into the water supply rather than cleaning up the pollution properly.
· Releasing toxins into the air in levels above what is permitted by the Environmental Protection Agency.
· Using bait and switch or false advertising tactics to lure customers in or convince them to buy a product.
· Doctors not telling a patient his true diagnosis because the physician didn't know the details of the diagnosis.
· A dentist preforming unnecessary procedures on a patient in order to receive the insurance payment.
These are just some of the many different examples of unethical behaviour that could occur.
A person who has good ethics is:
How to get good ethics:
So how we can develop, and maintain, the type of stable character traits which could guide and inform our moral deliberations. We can look for a role model – someone who masters the situation relevant virtues. But how to recognise the good character traits in others and just how ‘good’ an agent has to be in order to be considered suitable as a model.
Aristotle thought that actions possess moral qualities independently of what we happen to believe or feel about them. The good agent would know this as she would have what Aristotle called ‘practical wisdom’. This virtue involves both true judgment (a capacity to read situations correctly) and correct desire (i.e. only for the fine and noble).
Being good involves having characters and personal qualities that have moral worth. Gratitude, integrity and frugality are important virtues. Would a person who is grateful for the beauty of flowers in a park throw candy wrappers in the flowerbed? The answer would be ‘No’ if he has integrity.
Ethics and people:
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' he is giving at least some thought to something beyond himself.
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. Searching for the source of right and wrong.
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. Modern thinkers often teach that ethics leads people not to conclusions but to 'decisions'.
Philosophy can help identify the range of ethical methods, conversations and value systems that can be applied to a particular problem. But after these things have been made clear, each person must make their own individual decision as to what to do, and then react appropriately to the consequences.
Parents can play a huge role in instilling good ethics in a person.
There was a letter from a criminal who was facing the death penalty for his crimes.
He wrote a letter to his mother in which he thanked her for giving him life. In the next sentence, he also thanked her for taking away the same. He explained his second statement by giving some examples. When he stole money for the first time his mother helped him to spend the same. When he stole his first car, his mother again praised him and helped him to dispose of the car. The examples went on. With each bigger crime he committed, he got more praise and support from his mother. The end result of his mother’s lack of values and ethics was that her son had to pay with his life.
A survey was conducted in which participants were asked that in a hypothetical situation what they would do if a runaway car was in a collision course with five other cars. The only way to save these five car drivers would be to crash the runaway car which will cause the death of the driver of the runaway car.
People who said that they would save the five drivers by killing this one driver were considered to have ethics based on morality where the end justifies the means. Those in the opposite group were assumed to base their ethics on rues like ‘Deliberate killing is always wrong’
Of course, in real life, most people mix outcome based ethics (where end justifies the means ethics are applied) and rules based ethics. In real life there is no morally perfect man like Yudhistira or a most immoral man like Duryodhan. Most of us are a mix of good ethics and bad ethics. The amount of good and bad that each of us have depends on the environment we have been brought up in and the values instilled in us by our parents, and teachers. But to make this world a better place, we should always strive to have good ethics. The following cartoon brilliantly depicts our real life dilemma on ethics.