What is a Simple Definition of Ethics?

Put simply, ethics is a system of moral principles that help people make decisions.

Ethics is referenced a lot in moral philosophy, and the word comes from the Greek word “ethos”, which roughly translates as “moral character”, informing an individual or society’s beliefs, customs, or practices.

Commonly, the topic of ethics covers:

  1. Rights and responsibilities
  2. Choosing between right and wrong
  3. How to live a good life

The western world tends to have a Christian view of ethics, due to the historical dominance of this religion.

On a personal level, ethics tend to affect day to day behaviours, and how your interact with fellow humans.

In broader modern society, ethics is brought up a lot in political debate on ethical issues, such as abortion, euthanasia, professional conduct, and human rights.

Types of ethics include:

  • Supernaturalism.
  • Subjectivism – moral judgments
  • Consequentialism – utilitarianism (the greatest good for the greatest number of people)
  • Intuitionism.
  • Emotivism.
  • Duty-based ethics.
  • Virtue ethics.
  • Situation ethics.

These are often categorised into:

  • Meta-ethics
  • Normative Ethics
  • Applied Ethics

Famous moral philosophers include:

  • Plato
  • Aristotle
  • Immanuel Kant
  • David Hume
  • Socrates
  • Jeremy Bentham
  • John Stuart Mill
  • Rene Descartes

Business ethics are based on the western capitalist culture, dealing with what corporations should consider as right and wrong. This tends to be a controversial topic, as corporations are focused on maximising shareholder value, which isn’t always the same as what’s good for society as a whole.

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