What is Ethics?

Ethics | 27th September 2021 | Virtual Wire


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We can think of ethics as the principles that guide our behaviour towards making the best choices that contribute to the common good of all. Ethics is what guides us, to tell the truth, keep our promises, or help someone in need.

There is a framework of ethics underlying our lives on a daily basis, helping us make decisions that create positive impacts and steering us away from unjust outcomes. Ethics guides us to make the world a better place through the choices we make.

Ethics is sometimes conflated or confused with other ways of making choices, including religion, law or morality. Many religions promote ethical decision-making but do not always address the full range of ethical choices that we face. Religions may also advocate or prohibit certain behaviours which may not be considered the proper domain of ethics, such as dietary restrictions or sexual behaviours. A good system of law should be ethical, but the law establishes a precedent in trying to dictate universal guidelines and is thus not able to respond to individual contexts. Law may have a difficult time designing or enforcing standards in some important areas and may be slow to address new problems.

Both law and ethics deal with questions of how we should live together with others, but ethics is sometimes also thought to apply to how individuals act even when others are not involved. Finally, many people use the terms morality and ethics interchangeably. Others reserve morality for the state of virtue while seeing ethics as a code that enables morality. Another way to think about the relationship between ethics and morality is to see ethics as providing a rational basis for morality, that is, ethics provides good reasons for why something is moral.

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Most people use four different approaches when making ethical decisions. Some people use one approach predominantly; others vary their approaches according to circumstances. In either case, the approaches are usually chosen unconsciously. The main source of conflict in decision making is the fact that two parties have chosen different approaches.

  • The principle approach, in which decisions are made according to a principle such as the Ten Commandments or the Golden Rule.

  • The consequence approach, in which decisions are made according to their likely outcomes.

  • The virtue/character approach, in which decisions are made according to the decision makers' view of his or her responsibilities.

  • The moral sentiment approach, in which decisions are remade according to the decision maker's feelings.

Conflicts in decision making become easier to resolve once the decision-makers, first, recognize that they are using different approaches, and, second, agree to "change gears" and use the same approach. lose like preferences and desires, but unlike factual beliefs, ethical reasons motivate us to behave in certain ways. Like factual beliefs, but unlike preferences and desires, ethical reasons require justification and argument.

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Ethical reasons are both action-guiding and agreement-seeking.

to never lose sight of positive purpose

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