Ethics

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Ethics is the process of how people make decisions and lead their lives. Ethics is concerned with what is good for individuals and society (morals and law/rules) and is also described as moral philosophy. It is a moral map, a framework that we can use to find our way through making decisions on difficult issues.
Ethics considers

  • how to live a good life
  • our rights and responsibilities
  • the language of right and wrong
  • moral decisions – what is good and bad?

Integration of the following considerations:

Our concepts of ethics have been derived from religions, philosophies and cultures. They infuse debates on topics like war, human rights and professional conduct. The term is derived from the Greek word ethos which can mean custom, habit, character or disposition.

Approaches to ethics

Philosophers nowadays tend to divide ethical theories into three areas: metaethics, normative ethics and applied ethics.

  • Meta-ethics deals with the nature of moral judgement (the consideration of what is valued as virtue, or common good). It looks at the origins and meaning of ethical principles.
  • Normative ethics is concerned with the content of moral judgements and the criteria for what is right or wrong.
  • Applied ethics looks at controversial topics like war, animal rights and capital punishment

Ethics doesn’t give right answers

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.

Ethics can give several answers

Many people want there to be a single right answer to ethical questions. They find moral ambiguity hard to live with because they genuinely want to do the ‘right’ thing, and even if they can’t work out what that right thing is, they like the idea that ‘somewhere’ there is one right answer.

But often there isn’t one right answer – there may be several right answers, or just some least worst answers – and the individual must choose between them.

For others moral ambiguity is difficult because it forces them to take responsibility for their own choices and actions, rather than falling back on convenient rules and customs.

See also: The Concept of Good
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