What does Ethics Mean to you?

A few years ago, sociologist Raymond Baumhart asked business people, “What does ethics mean to you?” Among the replies were the following:“Ethics has to do with what my feelings tell me is right or wrong.” “Ethics has to do with my religious beliefs.

” “Being ethical is doing what the law requires.” “Ethics consists of the standards of behavior our society accepts.”These replies might be typical of your own.

The meaning of “ethics” is hard to pin down and views of many rest on shaky ground.Many people tend to equate ethics with their feelings. But being ethical is clearly not a matter of followings one’s feelings. A person following his or her feelings may not do what is right. In fact, feelings frequently deviate from what is ethical.

Nor should one identify ethics with religion. Most religions, of, course, advocate high ethical standards. Yet if ethics were confined to religion, then ethics would apply only to religious people. But ethics applies as much to the behavior of the atheist as to that of the saint. Religion can set high ethical standards and can provide intense motivations for ethical behavior. Ethics, however, cannot be confined to religion nor is it the same as religion.Being ethical is not the same as following the law.

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The law often incorporates ethical standards to which most citizens subscribe. But laws, like feelings, can deviate from what is ethical. Our own pre-Civil War slavery laws and the apartheid laws of South Africa are examples that deviate from what is ethical.Finally, being ethical is not the same as doing “whatever society accepts.” In any society, most people accept standards that are ethical. But standards of behavior in society can deviate from what is ethical. An entire society can become ethically corrupt.

Nazi Germany is good example of a morally corrupt society.Moreover, if being ethical were to do “whatever society accepts” then to find out what is ethical, one would have to find out what society accepts. To decide what I should think about abortion, for example, I would have to take a survey of the American society and then conform my beliefs to whatever society accepts. But no one ever tries to decide an ethical issue by doing a survey.

Further, the lack of a consensus on many issues makes it impossible to equate ethics with whatever society accepts. Some people accept abortion but many others do not. If being ethical is to do whatever society accepts, one would have to find an agreement on issues, which does not, in fact, exist.What then, is ethics? Ethics is two things.

First, ethics refers to well based standards of right and wrong that prescribe what humans ought to do, usually in terms of rights, obligations, benefits to society, fairness, or specific virtues. Put another way anytime you ask yourself “what you should do,” the question involves an ethical decision. Ethics, for, example, refers to those standards that impose the reasonable obligations to refrain from rape, stealing, murder, assault, slander, and fraud. Ethical standards also include those that enjoin the virtues of honesty, compassion, and loyalty. And ethical standards include standards relating to rights, such as the right to life, the right to freedom from injury, and the right to privacy. Such standards are adequate standards of thinking because they are supported by consistent and well-founded reasons.

Secondly, ethics refers to the study and development of one’s ethical standards. In other words, ethics are standards or rules you set for yourself that you use to guide your efforts do what is right and wrong, or what you should do. For example, if a friend asks you to copy your homework, you must choose whether or not you will tell the teacher.

Whenever you have to make a decision where your actions will impact someone else, you face an ethical dilemma. The decision is ethical because you must decide what your obligation is (especially when another person is involved), and it’s a dilemma because there is more than one option to choose from. A decision you make is ethical when you choose to do the right thing.Everyone has ethics that they live by. You get your ethics from values and principles. Virtues are the things that you consider to be important, or have worth.

You probably value your family and friends because they’re important to you. You also may value your free time, or a possession that you have. In addition to things that you value, you also have some ideas about the way you’d like to live your life, and what you want to become. This is especially true when you think about how you want to treat the things you value and the way you want to be treated with them. For, example, if you value friends, you probably want to be a friend. That might mean that you want to be trustworthy and faithful to your friends. Trustworthiness and faithfulness are principles – they are ideas about the kind of person you want to be.As mentioned above, feelings, laws, and social norms can deviate from what is ethical.

So it is necessary to consistently examine one’s standards to ensure that they are reasonable and well founded. Ethics also means, then, the continuous effort of studying our own moral beliefs and our moral conduct, and striving to ensure that we, and the institutions we help shape, live up to standards that are reasonable and solidly based.Thinking Ethically: A framework for Moral Decision MakingWe make decisions on daily basis. Moral issues greet us each morning in the newspapers; confront us in our work or at school.

We are bombarded daily with questions about the justice of our foreign policy, the morality of medical technologies that prolong our lives, the rights of the homeless, and the fairness of teachers.Dealing with these moral issues is often perplexing. How exactly, should we think through an ethical issue/ what questions should we ask? What factors should we consider?The first step in analyzing moral issues is obvious but not always easy: Get the facts. Some moral issues create controversies simply because we do not bother to check the facts. This first step, although obvious is also among the most important and the most frequently overlooked.But having the facts is not enough.

Facts by themselves only tell us what is; they do not tell us what ought to be. In addition to getting the facts, resolving an ethical issue also requires an appeal to values.Although ethics deals with right and wrong, it is not a discipline that always leads everyone to the same conclusions. Deciding an ethical issue can be equally difficult for conservatives and liberals. Of course, there are situations that are wrong by any standard. But there are other issues where right and wrong is less clear. To guide our reflection on such difficult questions, philosophers, religious teachers and other thinkers have shaped various approaches to ethical decision-making.

The five different approaches to values to deal with moral issues are: The Utilitarian, the Rights, Fairness and Justice, the Goodness, and the Virtues.The Utilitarian ApproachUtilitarianism was conceived in the 19th century by Jeremy Bentham and John Stuart Mill to help legislators determine which laws were morally best. Both men suggested that ethical actions are those that provide the greatest balance of good over evil.To analyze an issue using the utilitarian approach, we first identify the various courses of actions available to us. Second we ask who will be affected by each action and what benefits of harms will be derived from each.

And third, we choose the action that will produce the greatest benefits and the least harm. The ethical action is the one that provides the greatest good for the greatest number.The Utilitarian Approach:Focuses on the consequences that actions or policies have on the well being (“utility”) of all persons directly or indirectly affected by the action or policy.The principle states: “Of any two actions, the most ethical one will produce the greatest balance of benefits over harm.”Or another way viewing this approach is asking: Which option will do the most good and the least harm for the most people? You can see this analysis at work in discussions of smallpox vaccinations for health care workers or for all Americans.

Is the risk of a terrorist attack with small pox serious enough to justify the risk of adverse reactions to the vaccination itself?The Rights ApproachThe second important approach to ethics has it roots in the philosophy of the 18th century thinker Immanuel Kant and others like him who focused on the individual’s right to choose for her or himself. According to these philosophers, what makes human beings different from mere things is that people have dignity based on their ability to choose freely what they will do with their lives, and they have a fundamental moral right to have these choices respected. People are not objects to be manipulated; it is a violation of human dignity to use people in ways they do not freely choose.

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