Last Updated on November 2, 2021

What is a Simple Definition of Ethics?

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

It is the study of understanding what is right and wrong.

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.

Examples of Ethics & Morality in Daily Life

Ethics and morality, and the difference between right and wrong are highly interconnected.

Here are a few examples of ethics in practice during daily life, to help you understand the concept.

  1. Business code of conduct – setting out the “ethical rules of the workplace”, which may include treating colleagues and customers with respect, being honest, being loyal to the company, taking responsibility for your actions, etc.
  2. Romantic relationships – this is highly personal, but broadly speaking it would be “ethical” not to cheat on a partner, not to emotionally or physically abuse them, etc.
  3. Helping others – you’re walking down the street and the person in front of you drops their wallet without noticing. It would be deemed “ethical” to pick it up and give it back to the person who dropped it.

Common Topics in Ethics

Commonly, the topic of ethics covers:

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

The official 3 types of ethics are:

  1. Virtue ethics
  2. Consequentialist ethics
  3. Duty-based ethics

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

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 Ethical Philosophers

Famous moral philosophers include:

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

Business Ethics

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.

About the Author

Matt Jackson is a leading publisher on ethics. He follows strict editorial practices for all content on the website

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