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Ethics & Integrity-1: Ethics and Human Interface

Essence, determinants and consequences of Ethics in human actions; dimensions of ethics; ethics in private and public relationships

Nature & Scope of Ethics

Ethics {origin from Greek word Ethikos} is a key branch of philosophy, concerned with systematic study of right or wrong human actions & conduct in the backdrop of standards or moral principles set by society.  Thus, it refers to one’s moral character and the way in which society expects people to behave in accordance with accepted principles.

Ethics may also refer to the rules of conduct recognized in respect of a particular class of human activities {e.g. medical ethics, business ethics, Hindu ethics etc.}.

The nature & scope of Ethics can be summed up in the below points:

Ethics is a science

Ethics is a science, concerned with a particular sphere of nature that deals with certain judgments that we make about human conduct. It also talks about systematic explanation of rightness or wrongness in a man’s life.

Ethics is a normative science

A natural science or descriptive science is concerned with “what is the case”. It deals with facts and explains them by their causes. However, Normative science is concerned with what ought to be done. Ethics is a normative science as it deals with norms by which we can judge human actions. Ethics does not deal with facts. Rather, it deals with values and principles. Therefore, it is clear that ethics is concerned with judgments of value, while natural science deals with judgments of facts. That is why ethics is not a natural science but a normative science.

However, with respect to ethics, there is no clear distinction between science and philosophy. Ethics is both scientific and philosophical, both normative and descriptive science.

Ethics is different from morality

Ethics and morality {term moral comes from the Latin moralis, meaning customs or manners} are often used interchangeably. In earlier times, the scholars used to call ethics a ‘science of morals’. However, this was fallen to disuse. Ethics does not teach how to lead a moral life. Ethics merely help us to justify the right and good which leads us to achieve our goals. Morality deals with purpose, motive, intention and choice which are considered right or wrong in the light of customs and manners.

Another difference between the two is that – the term ‘ethics’ is usually applied to persons while ‘morality’ to acts and behaviour.

Ethics is a science of values

Ethics is a science of values as it discovers the forms of conduct or behaviour, which have the character of moral obligation. Ethics deals with a phenomena and it observes, classifies and explains them by moral values. It distinguishes moral judgments from logical judgments and aesthetic judgments and reduces them to a system.

Branches of Ethics

The four main branches of ethics include descriptive ethics, normative ethics, meta-ethics and applied ethics. They have been discussed in brief here:

Descriptive Ethics

Descriptive ethics deals with what people actually believe (or made to believe) to be right or wrong, and accordingly holds up the human actions acceptable or not acceptable or punishable under a custom or law.

However, customs and laws keep changing from time to time and from society to society. The societies have structured their moral principles as per changing time and have expected people to behave accordingly. Due to this, descriptive ethics is also called comparative ethics because it compares the ethics or past and present; ethics of one society and other. It also takes inputs from other disciplines such as anthropology, psychology, sociology and history to explain the moral right or wrong.

Normative Ethics

Normative Ethics deals with “norms” or set of considerations how one should act. Thus, it’s a study of “ethical action” and sets out the rightness or wrongness of the actions. It is also called prescriptive ethics because it rests on the principles which determine whether an action is right or wrong. The Golden rule of normative ethics is “doing to other as we want them to do to us“. Since we don’t want our neighbours to throw stones through our glass window, then it will not be wise to first throw stone through a neighbour’s window.  Based on this reasoning, anything such as harassing, victimising, abusing or assaulting someone is wrong. Normative ethics also provides justification for punishing a person who disturbs social and moral order.

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