Ethical considerations arise every day of our lives. Whether we are using the Internet, working at a job or receiving a blood transfusion, we cannot avoid being involved in acts that carry ethical or unethical outcomes. By understanding the meaning of ethics, we can endeavor to live productive lives while also serving to enrich the lives of those with whom we interact.
Moral judgments differ depending on who is stating them. A person's religious heritage, national background or income level may deeply affect the content of his judgments. Metaethics is a branch of ethics that is concerned with analyzing such issues as whether true definitions of "right" or "wrong" exist, or whether acts of altruism and self-interest are necessarily mutually exclusive in nature. In essence, metaethics is the study of ethics itself (see Reference 1). It questions the feasibility and reliability of ethical statements and frameworks.
Ethical theory that is prescriptive in nature (i.e., seeking to provide remedies to alleviate the ills of society) belongs to a field of study called normative ethics. Moral theories that are normative in nature are generally concerned with how people of a society ought to behave. Religious texts usually abound with examples of ethical statements that are normative in nature, such as "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you" (see Reference 2). Similarly, practitioners of normative ethics in a secular context are interested in advancing fundamental moral principles for use in determining desirable conduct within a society.
Types of systems
Whether ethical systems are carefully codified or casually transmitted, they are vital to the livelihood and development of civilizations. Different types of systems include ethical relativism, deontology and virtue ethics (see Reference 3). Ethical relativism is a system of ethics that is often used by anthropologists, and it asserts that the norms of morality from one person's culture may differ drastically from the norms observed by a person from another culture. Deontological ethics considers the concept of duty to be essential to our everyday actions, despite whether these actions bear good or bad consequences. Virtue ethics champions ethical behavior that is based upon a person's good character.
Ethical considerations bear relevance in a variety of contexts. Applied ethics is a branch of study that examines moral issues that must be addressed in different fields of human affairs. Business ethics examines whether CEOs of unprofitable companies should receive lavish bonuses, while workplace ethics may be concerned with the issue of sexual harassment. Bioethics has been concerned with cloning in recent years, as military ethics may question the right of a nation to seize power within another weaker nation in order to bolster the expansion of its own business interests.
Three indispensable works of literature that provide readers with a general understanding of ethics are Aristotle's "Nichomachean Ethics," Kant's "Grounding for the Metaphysics of Morals" and John Stuart Mill's "Utilitarianism." Aristotle's work urges readers to rationally contemplate their lives in order to live in agreement with overriding virtues; Kant's work emphasizes living by the maxim that others should be treated with as much value as we ourselves wish to receive; and J.S. Mill's work examines the importance of balancing the interests of a society against those of an individual.
- Photo Credit "The Death Of Socrates," by Ben Sutherland
Definition of Ethics in Accounting
Accounting is a business field in which accuracy and interpretation are both very important. Small discrepancies can displace large sums of money,...
Definition of Ethics in Law Enforcement
Law enforcement personnel interact with the general public in personal settings and have access to private and confidential information. They deal with...
Meaning of Professionalism and Work Ethic
Besides education and experience, two traits that employers treasure are professionalism and work ethic. Employers assess work ethic by speaking to former...
Definition of Workplace Ethics
Companies use workplace ethics to govern employee behavior, regulate management’s moral decisions and keep companies out of legal trouble. Some businesses clarify...
What Is the Meaning of Ethical Responsibility?
Ethics is the branch of philosophy that studies the nature of action, striving to answer the question of which actions to undertake...
Positive Work Ethics
Ethics are a collection of moral beliefs and attitudes that determine how a person interacts in society and ultimately where she draws...
What Is Ethical Stewardship?
Ethical stewardship is a concept that encourages fair, just and equal treatment of employees and shareholders and a management style focused on...
Definition of Organizational Ethics Values
The ethics of an organization and the organization's values determine how the organization responds to events that take place within or outside...
What Does it Mean to Be Ethical?
Being ethical means conforming to accepted moral standards. Applied to the work environment, it means that an ethical person has a higher...