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WHAT IS: Ethics is a set of standards that society places on itself and which helps guide behaviour, choices and actions. The crux of ethical behaviour does not lie in bold words and expressions enshrined as standards, but in their adoption in action, in sanctions against their violations, in putting in place competent disciplinary bodies to investigate allegations of violations and impose sanctions quickly and in promoting a culture of integrity.

Etymologically the term “ethics” correspond to the Greek word “ethos” which means character, habit, customs, ways of behaviour, etc. Ethics is also called “moral philosophy”. The word “moral” comes from Latin word “mores” which signifies customs, character, behaviour, etc. Thus ethics may be defined as the systematic study of human actions from the point of view of their rightfulness or wrongfulness, as means for the attainment of the ultimate happiness. It is the reflective study of what is good or bad in that part of human conduct for which human has some personal responsibility.

In simple words ethics refers to what is good and the way to get it, and what is bad and how to avoid it. It refers to what ought to be done to achieve what is good and what ought not to be done to avoid what is evil.

Ethics is a science in as much as it is a set or body of reasoned truths organised in a logical order and having its specific material and formal objects. It is the science of what human ought to be by reason of what one is. It is a rational science in so far as its principles are deduced by human’s reason from the objects that concern the free will. Besides it has for its ulterior end the art by which human may live uprightly or comfortably to right reason. It is a normative/regulative science in as much as it regulates and directs human’s life and gives the right orientation to one’s existence.

Ethics is also theoretical and practical. It is theoretical in as much as it provides the fundamental principles on the basis of which moral judgements are arrived at. It is practical in as much as it is concerned about an end to be gained, and the means of attaining it. 

WHAT IS moral: Morality can be an individual set of commitments even when they are rejected by others. But one cannot be ethical alone. Ethics brings other people for the realization of the self. Morality does not demand acquiescence from others the way ethics does. It is possible to be moral alone. A moralist can say I do not believe in war, so what if everyone else does.

Ethics is sometimes distinguished from morality. In such cases, ethics is the explicit philosophical reflection on moral beliefs and practices while morality refers to the first-order beliefs and practices about good and evil by means of which we guide our behaviour (e.g. music and musicology). However, in most cases they are referred to as having the same meaning.

Ethics is not merely a set of ‘codes’. Ethics certainly deals with moral codes yet one cannot identify ethics to moral codes. Ethics is not primarily to restrict one’s behaviour, rather to help one to find what is good and how to get it. The obligatory character of ethical norms derives from the very purpose of ethical enquiry, i.e. to discover the most ultimate principles of explanation or the most ultimate reasons why one ought to do anything.

SCOPE OF ETHICS Ethics deals with voluntary actions. We can distinguish between human actions and actions of human: human actions are those actions that are done by human consciously, deliberately and in view of an end. Actions of  human may not be wilfully, voluntarily, consciously and deliberately done but all the same they are done by human (e.g. sleeping, walking, etc.). It is the intention which makes the difference between human action and action of human. In ethics we deal only with human actions.

What Ethics is Not?


·         Ethics is not religion: Many people are not religious, but ethics applies to everyone. Most religions do advocate high ethical standards but sometimes do not address all the types of problems we face.


·         Ethics is not following the law: In lawa man is guilty when he violates the rights of   another. In ethics, he is guilty if he thinks of doing so. Immanuel Kant

      A good system of law does incorporate many ethical standards, but law can deviate from what is ethical. Law may have a difficult time designing or enforcing standards in some important areas, and may be slow to address new problems. (Youths not looking after old parents who are sick or have no means to support them).

·         Ethics is not following culturally accepted norms. Some cultures are quite ethical, but others become corrupt -or blind to certain ethical concerns (United States was to slavery before the Civil War; caste system in India). "When in Rome, do as the Romans do" is not a satisfactory ethical standard.


History of Ethics Ethics is as old as humanity. The first ethical precepts were certainly passed down by word of mouth by parents and elders, but as societies learned to use the written word, they began to set down their ethical beliefs. These records constitute the first historical evidence of the origins of ethics.

In as much as it is the study of human behaviour, we cannot really trace the history of ethics. However, as a systematic study of human behaviour, we can point out how ethics evolved as a discipline. It is not that we have first a straightforward history of moral concepts and then a separate and secondary history of philosophical comment. To set out to write the history of moral philosophy involves a careful selection from the past of what falls under the heading of moral philosophy as we now conceive it. We have to strike a balance between the danger of a dead antiquarianism, which enjoys the illusion that we can approach the past without preconceptions, and the other of believing that the whole point of the past was that it should culminate with us. However, we can observe a gradual development in the ethical thought from the beginning to our day.

SOME THINKERS ON ETHICS Socrates: In the Western Philosophy, the history of ethics can be traced back to the fifth century B.C with the appearance of Socrates. As a philosopher among the Greeks his mission was to awaken his fellow humans to the need for rational criticism of their beliefs and practices. It was the time when the philosophers began to search for reasons for established modes of conduct. Socrates, in demanding rational grounds for ethical judgements, brought attention to the problem of tracing the logical relationship between values and facts and thereby created ethical philosophy.

Plato: Plato’s theory of forms could be seen as the first attempt at defending moral realism and offering an objective ground for moral truths. From the Republic on through the later dialogues and epistles, Plato constructed a systematic view of nature, God, and human from which one derived one’s ethical principles. His main goal in his ethical philosophy was to lead the way toward a vision of the Good.

Aristotle: Aristotle differed from Plato in his method of inquiry and his conception of the role of ethical principles in human affairs. While Plato was the fountainhead of religious and idealistic ethics, Aristotle engendered the naturalistic tradition. Aristotle’s ethical writings (i.e. Eudemian Ethics, the Nicomachean Ethics, and the Politics) constitute the first systematic investigation into the foundations of ethics. Aristotle’s account of the virtues could be seen as one of the first sustained inquiries in normative ethics. It was a clear mixture of Greco-Roman thought with Judaism and elements of other Middle Eastern religions.

The medieval period was dominated by the thoughts of Christian philosophers and theologians like Augustine and Thomas Aquinas. The influence of Christianity dominated the ethical scenario. So much so that during this period philosophy and religion were nearly indistinguishable. The rise of Christian philosophy produced a new era of history of ethics. In St. Augustine, the most prominent philosopher of the early medieval period, ethics became a blend of the pursuit of earthly well-being with preparation of the soul for eternal salvation. The next towering figure of medieval philosophy is Thomas Aquinas. He brought about a true reconciliation between Aristotelian science and philosophy with Augustinian theology. Aquinas greatly succeeded in proving the compatibility of Aristotelian naturalism with Christian dogma and constructing a unified view of nature, human, and God.

The social and political changes that characterized the end of medieval period and the rise of modern age of industrial democracy gave rise to a new wave of thinking in the ethical field. The development of commerce and industry, the discovery of new regions of the world, the Reformation, the Copernican and Galilean revolutions in science, and the rise of strong secular governments demanded new principles of individual conduct and social organization. Some of the modern philosophers who contributed to the great changes in ethical thinking were Francis Bacon, René Descartes, Thomas Hobbes, Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz, Benedict de Spinoza, John Locke, David Hume, Immanuel Kant, John Stuart Mill and Friedrich Nietzsche. Further developments in ethical thinking in the west came with Karl Marx and Sigmund Freud. Here we are not intending to give a detailed analysis of their contribution to ethics. However, the most influential ethical thought during this period were the Utilitarianism, dominated by British and French Philosophy (e.g. Locke, Hume, Bentham, Stuart Mill) and Idealistic ethics in Germany and Italy (e.g. Kant, Hegel, Nietzsche).

The contemporary ethical scenario is a further complex area of study. The contemporary European ethics in the broadest sense attempts to cover a generous range of philosophies running from phenomenology to theories of communicative action. The conditions of contemporary civilization forced philosophers to seek for a genuine ground for ethics and moral life. In much of the English speaking world G.E. Moore’s Principia Ethica (1903) is taken to be the starting point of contemporary ethical theory. Others like Martin Buber, Gabriel Marcel, Emmanuel Levinas, Max Scheler, Franz Brentano and John Dewey too have made significant contributions to the ethical thinking in other parts of the world.


There are different approaches in Ethics:

One approach says, ethics is about individual conduct or character, and thus defined by questions such as “How shall I live?” or “What does it mean to be a good person?”

Second says ethics refers to universal values and thus poses questions such as “What is the Good?” or “What rules can rightly apply to all moral actors or agents?”

Another focuses on the process of moral decision-making, the characteristics of a good society, or the relationship between human goodness and the divine, among many other issues.


§  Personal Ethics

§  Organizational Ethics

§  Societal Ethics

§  Ethics for future world i.e., a parallel world ethics

 It is impossible, in the connected world of the early 21st. century, to contemplate one without recognizing the influence on and by the other two. Personal ethics cannot be separated from the organizational context in which most of us are destined to spend the majority of our lives, be it working for a multinational corporation, a government department or agency, a not-for-profit organization or simply volunteering at the local pre-school. Humans are gregarious by nature and seek out the company of other humans in communities that are increasingly focused around the workplace. Similarly, organizations have to be sympathetic to the values and expectations of the wider societal context in which they are embedded.

The fourth dimension belongs to tomorrow’s generations and consists of our ethical accountabilities to those who cannot speak for themselves. It includes what’s left of the natural world as well as the health of the economic, social and spiritual orders bequeathed to them. Surely we have a duty, an ethical responsibility, to patrol the boundaries of the society we are custodians of for our children and our children’s. There must be a philosophy of passing the baton from leader to leader. There must be ethics to protect precious flower for the next generation. World endured for over a century of change because of that philosophy and the culture remained intact for several decades. This responsibility to future generations is often referred to in the notion of inter-generational equity. In the context of sustainability it is used to describe the responsibility of present generations to safeguard the interests of future generations and the World Business Council for Sustainable Development defines sustainability as forms of progress that meet the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their needs.


Social ethics is a sub-field in both philosophical and religious ethics that is primarily concerned with the ethical foundations, dimensions, and consequences of collective decisions, attitudes, and actions. It is social both because it looks primarily at decisions and actions that are collective rather than individual and personal, and because it is concerned with goods that are collectively defined and achieved.

 In contrast, personal or individualistic ethical systems may be concerned with actions that do not directly affect larger groups of people, such as personal choices about sexual identity or behavior. Certainly even the most apparently personal of decisions have larger implications, if only for the people close to the individual concerned.

 Further, even intensely personal moral decisions are made in a larger social context and on the basis of values and attitudes that are the result of social learning, social experiences, and social relations. Thus the line between personal and social ethics is never hard and fast. Still, it is possible to distinguish between moral issues that are primarily personal and those that have immediate and unavoidable social implications.

Social ethics give attention to the values that are explicitly or implicitly upheld in a given position or practice and to the moral consequences of collective decisions and actions. It addresses not only individual values and issues, but also social costs and benefits.

Social ethics may also be concerned with what vision of a good society is implied in or supported by a particular instance, or which social groups might benefit or suffer the most, or which collectively-shared goods might be advanced or reduced.

Some analyses can be conducted on a wide range of contemporary issues:How should the traditional just war requirement to minimize civilian casualties be modified in light of new weapons technologies that make it impossible, often, to avoid civilian deaths? Who will benefit and who will be harmed by agricultural innovations such as genetically modified crops or new pesticides? What moral duties does a society have in relation to new immigrant groups, and vice-versa? The examples are endless, and the important point is that social ethics raises and answers distinctive questions about distinctive concerns, sources, and criteria.

Economic ethics is a sub field of social ethics. Economics by definition involves collective decisions and processes. Even individual financial decisions are made only in relation to and subject to the influence of larger economic forces. Economic ethics is concerned with the moral foundations, characteristics, and consequences of economic activities and institutions. Economic ethics may look at specific business practices or industries or at broader issues such as the moral values, implicit or explicit, that under-gird economic policies and practices.

 When considering the ethical dimensions of economic systems, institutions, and decisions, a number of significant questions related to sustainability must be taken into account. One question concerns the definition of economic goals such as productivity, efficiency, and security. Efficiency, for example, is usually defined as the maximization of output in relation to certain inputs, and is a primary goal of many economic practices, systems, and institutions. The inputs at stake can vary, and depending on which ones are selected – e.g., labor time, energy, or capital investment – judgments of economic efficiency will vary.

 Economic and social goals are intertwined. Decisions about economic processes and institutions inevitably favor one social good or another, which can ultimately favor one social class over another.


ETHICS AND HUMAN: In human behavior ethics role is to decide how human must behave . Inhuman activity ethics role is to decide how human ought to be act. Inpolitical and social life ethics decides how human’s life and institution must organized to be moral . In economic life of human  ethics deals with those activity which are the conditions of the attainment of the highest end of life. 



1.   Self – realization = It helps a person to critically evaluate his /her actions, choices and decisions. It assist a person in knowing what he/she really is and what is best for him/her. It helps a person to decide what he/she should do for the attainment of the best. This way it deepens the reflection of ultimate question of life.

2.   Improves thinking, perspective and judgments = It improves our thinking about specific moral issues. It helps us to decide what should be correct course of actions and what should be avoided. This way improves our perspective and makes it more reflective and better throughout. This way one can clarify moral position in making judgement.

3.   Sharpen our general thinking processes = It trains our mind to think more logically and reasonably. This way one can handle moral issues with greater clarity.


Ethics in governance, however, has a much wider import than what happens in the different arms of the government. An across-the-board effort is needed to fight deviations from ethical norms. Such an effort needs to include corporate ethics and ethics in business; in fact, there should be a paradigm shift from the pejorative ‘business ethics’ to ‘ethics in business’. There is need for ethics in every profession, voluntary organization and civil society structure as these entities are now vitally involved in the process of governance. Finally there should be ethics in citizen behaviour because such behaviour impinges directly on ethics in government and administration.


Ethics and PoliticsAny discussion on an ethical framework for governance in a democracy must necessarily begin with ethical values in politics. Politics and those engaged in it, play a vital role in the legislative and executive wings of the State whose acts of commission and omission in working the Constitution and the rule of law become the point of intervention for the judiciary. While it is unrealistic and simplistic to expect perfection in politics in an ethically imperfect environment, there is no denying the fact that the standards set in politics profoundly influence those in other aspects of governance. Those in politics have a clear and onerous responsibility. India was fortunate that high standards of ethical conduct

were an integral part of the freedom struggle. Unfortunately, ethical capital started getting eroded after the transfer of power. Excesses in elections (in campaign-funding, use of illegitimate money, quantum of expenditure, imperfect electoral rolls, impersonation,booth-capturing, violence, inducements and intimidation), floor-crossing after elections to get into power and abuse of power in public office became major afflictions of the political process over the years. Political parties, governments and more importantly the Election Commission and the Supreme Court have taken several steps since the late 1980s in an attempt to eliminate the gross abuses that had virtually become the norm.


There is a Committee on Ethics of the Lok Sabha to oversee the moral and ethical

conduct of Members of that House15. The Committee on Ethics (Thirteenth Lok Sabha) in its First Report16 observed that norms of ethical behaviour for members have been adequately provided for in the Rules of Procedure and Conduct of Business in the Lok Sabha, directions by the Speaker and in the conventions which have evolved over the years on the basis of recommendations made by various Parliamentary Committees. Apart from the existing norms, the Committee recommended that the members should abide by the general ethical principles:



1.   Absolute Ethics: It is an ideal code of conduct formulating the behavior of completely adapted human person in completely evolved society.

2.   Relative Ethics: It is the nearest approximation to the ideal code of conduct according to more or less perfectly evolved society in which a happen to find him /her.

3.   Human consciousness: consciousness of an individual or a social being.

4.   Moral consciousness: It is integral part of human consciousness.

5.   Moral relativity: It is simply the view that different people especially in different civilization and culture have different moral belief and what is believed to be morally right at a given time and place may be wrong at different time and place.

6.   Ethical relativism: It is the philosophical theory that there is no fundamental or universal moral norm or basic moral principle but what is morally right is relative to individual or group of men.

7.   Ethical skepticism: The situation in which one can’t decide and give reason what is ethically right or wrong.

8.   Moral objectivism: It  holds that at least some moral principles and rules are objectively knowable on the basis of observation and human reasoning.

9.   Universalism: It suggests that basic right and wrong is the same for everyone,while also allowing for some variation in individual circumstances and context.

10.        Ethical absolutism:  It is the view that there exists an eternal and unchanging moral law that transcends the physical world and is the same for all people at all times and places” (Holmes, 1993). In this view, moral rightness and wrongness exist independent of human beings and unrelated to human emotions and thought. There is an absolute source of truth that transcends human rationality and choice 

11.        Deontology (from the Greek “deon”, meaning “duty”) refers to an ethical theory or perspective based on duty or obligation. A deontological, or duty-based, theory is one in which specific moral duties or obligations are seen as self-evident, having intrinsic value in and of themselves and needing no further justification.

12.        Teleology (from the Greek telos, meaning goal or end) describes an ethical perspective that contends the rightness or wrongness of actions is based solely on the goodness or badness of their consequences. In a strict teleological interpretation, actions are morally neutral when considered apart from their consequences 

13.        Consequentialist  : Concern for outcomes

14.        Non-consequentialist :  Do not concern for outcomes 

15.        Principlism:  Each principle represents a serious, though not absolute, moral duty that must be  weighed against other duties in resolving an ethical conflict or dilemma.

  1. 16.Principle of Respect for Persons:  It maintains that human beings have intrinsic and unconditional moral worth and should always be treated as if there is nothing of greater value than they are.

17. Principle of legal moralism: This allows society to render an act illegal on the basis of social values and judgments.

 19. Welfare principle: This allows autonomy to be restricted for the benefit of others.

20. Principle of Nonmaleficence: It states that we should act in ways that do not inflict evil or cause harm to others. In particular, we should not cause avoidable or intentional harm.

21. Principle of beneficence: It is often simply stated as an obligation to act in ways that promote good.

 22. Veracity: It is the principle of truth telling, and it is grounded in respect for persons and the concept of autonomy.

23.  The principle of fidelity: It broadly requires that we act in ways that are loyal. This includes keeping our promises, doing what is expected of us, performing our duties and being trustworthy.

24. Principles of Justice: requires that we act in ways that treat people equitably and fairly. Actions that discriminate against individuals or a class of people arbitrarily or without a justifiable basis would violate this basic principle.

    25. Distributive justice: This conception of justice refers to an equitable balance of benefits and burdens with particular attention to situations involving the allocation of resources.

26. Principle of equality: It requires that all benefits and burdens be distributed equally.  The advantage to this conception of justice is that everyone is entitled to an equal share of resources; however the principle becomes problematic when not everyone is perceived as equally deserving of an equal share.   

27. Principle of need:  It suggests that resources should be distributed based on need so that those with greater need will receive a greater share. In theory, this supports the principle of equality in that everyone will end up with the same share of goods.

28. Principle of contribution: It maintains that persons should benefit in proportion to their individual contribution. Those who contribute proportionately more to the production of goods should receive proportionately more goods in return.    

29. Principle of effort:  It recognizes the degree of effort made by an individual as the determining factor in the proportion of goods to be received.

30. Procedural justice: It requires processes that are impartial and fair. This form of justice underlies the requirement of due process when conducting disciplinary action against an employee.

31. Compensatory justice: It involves compensation for wrongs or harms that have been done.



It has often been said, “What happens in privacy does not hurt anyone. Do private ethics have no bearing on public life or social ethics? Does what occurs in the privacy of a public official’s home or office have no influence on public or social policy decisions? Can private ethical behavior be separated from social ethics without consequences? Can there be public or social ethics without underlying personal ethics? Is there a legitimate bifurcation between private and public ethics? These questions go to the heart of law, the extent of morality, relationships development, the inner life and its outward expression, and public and social policy development.But it is wrong.


David Gill of the University of Southern California cuts to the heart of the matter concerning private and public ethics with a brilliant assessment of the relationship between social and personal ethics,

“It is impossible to maintain a clear and precise distinction between social ethics and personal (individual) ethics. No individual behavior is without social implications. No social situation or problem is without individual repercussions.” [1]

According to Gill, public policy and social ethics are intertwined. He again writes,

“Public policy, politics, economics, war, poverty, education, racism, ecology, and crime: these are examples of the subject of social ethics.” [2]

All of the social institutions he identifies encompass a vast range of issues in every segment of society and cannot exist apart from individuals. Business, education, the church, professional associations, and government all involve people as they interact, exchange ideas, trade goods and services, and make decisions. They influence one another during these interchanges and affect the structure and moral environment of society.


In writing for the Associated Press, Richard Ostling states that many allies of former President Bill Clinton did not consider Clinton ineffective in spite of his moral sexual failures while in the White House. However, Ostling cites ethicists who contend otherwise: “that there is a necessary linkage between private character and public performance.” [3] He quotes Richard Mouw of Fuller Seminary as saying, “A leader's personal "integrity and promise keeping" are especially important in the international arena.” [4] James B. Nelson of the United Theological Seminary also links private ethics with public influence and ethical leadership: “Clinton's deeds are clearly a public matter because they produce "disillusionment, further erosion of trust in officials, and dreadful distractions from pressing matters of public business.” [5] 

However, not all ethicists or theologians share their view. The Reverend Joan Campbell of the National Counsel of Churches comments, "The private lives of our public leaders are best left private or we will have none allowed to lead." [6] Still another ethicist, Don Welch of Vanderbilt University law school adds what appears to be a middle ground, “If an employer is involved sexually with a private citizen outside the workplace, he says, "arguably that's none of our business." On the other hand, he says, sex with a subordinate that occurs at the office becomes a public matter.” [7] 

However, is this truly a middle ground or simply a compromise based on situational ethics? If that private citizen is not his or her spouse and this employer is a high profile public figure that is head of a university, charitable organization, or influential corporation, does that change the argument? On what basis does the matter become the business of public ethics? What is the line between a private issue and a scandal? When does this sexual involvement cross the ethical line? 

Any number of variables could be added to the situation concerning an employer and his or her sexual encounters. For example, is the employer married or single? However, without a moral base from which to distill an ethical judgment, morality becomes moot if approached from a situational stance.