What is Ethics

Ethics is a discipline of philosophy that studies human behavior and its relationship with the notions of good and evil, moral precepts, duty, happiness and common welfare.

The word ethics comes from the Latin ethicuswhich in turn comes from the ancient Greek ἠθικός (ethical), derived from êthosmeaning ‘character’ or ‘belonging to character’.

The role of ethics as a discipline it is to analyze the precepts of morality, duty and virtue that guide human behavior towards freedom and justice.

To fulfill its function, ethics is subdivided into a set of specialized branches. Between the branches of ethics the following are recognised:

  • Metaethics: studies ethical theories themselves and analyzes the meanings attributed to ethical words. For example, what do people mean when they talk about good, happiness or what is desirable?
  • Normative ethics or deontology: establishes principles to guide the systems of norms and duties in areas of common interest. For example, the call Golden Rule (treat others as we would like to be treated).
  • Applied Ethics: analyzes the application of ethical and moral standards to specific situations. For example, bioethics, environmental ethics, communication ethics, etc.

Ethics is very closely related to morality, but it is different from it. While morality refers to norms adopted by tradition, ethics is a discipline that reflects on what actions would be correct.

For this reason, in common language, ethics can also be understood as the value system that guides and orients human behavior towards the good.

Moral and ethic

Ethics is different from morality. While morality defends compliance with the rules arising from custom, ethics defends the principles that guide behavior, even if they challenge tradition.

In philosophy, ethics analyzes human actions and norms, not limited to morality, since it does not prescribe norms as such.

Ethics only defines explicit rules for professionals in the exercise of their functions, in order to guarantee that they act correctly when personal morality conflicts with professional duty.

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For example, suppose a doctor receives a murderer wounded by the police as an emergency patient. His moral values ​​make him fail the “patient” and think that it is unfair for him to live when he has killed so many innocent people.

However, the ethical code of his profession forces him to do everything possible to save his life. If you deliberately let him die, the doctor may lose his professional license. The fulfillment of professional duty is imposed on the moral of the individual.

see also

  • Moral.
  • Moral and ethic.

types of ethics

Although there is no systematized classification of the types of ethics, we can determine them according to their areas of application.

Professional ethics: It is the normative science that studies the values, principles, duties and rights that guide each profession based on responsibility. Professional ethics is specified in the code of professional ethics or deontological code.

Some examples of professional ethics are:

  • Medical Ethics: refers to the values ​​that guide the health professional towards the correct act, taking into account the risks and social concerns. An example is the Hippocratic Oath.
  • Legal ethics: studies the values ​​and principles that govern the practice of law in all its instances.
  • Teaching ethics: science that studies the values ​​and principles that govern the duties and rights of teachers in the exercise of their profession.
  • Scientific Ethics: system of values ​​that guides scientific practice in all its stages (research and application), appealing especially to the principles of honesty, integrity and social and environmental responsibility.
  • Military Ethics: regulates the limits and scope of military action. Among them, it regulates the use of military force in compliance with the citizen and government order.

Business ethics: are the principles and values ​​that regulate the actions and activities of a company. For example, avoiding unfair competition, protecting the environment, offering quality products, promoting a healthy work environment and not engaging in misleading advertising.

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Lay ethics or secular ethics: set of values ​​and principles that guide human behavior, based on intellectual virtues such as empathy, rational thought and logic.

religious ethics: principles that order human behavior based on spiritual virtues and transcendental concepts, such as the highest good, Truth, the soul, justice, primordial order, love, etc. It differs from one religion to another.

Environmental ethics or ethics of the environment: It is a part of applied ethics that considers the care of the environment with the scope of the common good. It is transversal to different disciplines such as ecology, economics, law, etc.

See also:

  • Types of ethics.
  • Professional ethics.
  • 7 examples of ethics in everyday life.

Origin of ethics

The antecedents of ethics go back to Ancient Greece. Socrates is considered the father of ethics, since all his thought revolved around the notion of the Good. Plato also devoted much of his work to the Good, the Truth, and his role in the Republic.

Nevertheless, Aristotle was the founder of ethics proper. Ethics as a discipline was born with his work Ethics for Nicomachus, where the author systematizes for the first time the relationship between social and individual ethics; norms and goods, and theory and practice. Likewise, he classifies the virtues into intellectual and moral.

Therefore, ethics is posterior to systems of norms such as the laws of Hammurabi or the Ten Commandments of Moses. The discipline of ethics emerged, precisely, to reflect on the relationship between the behavior of human beings, the system of moral laws and the idea of ​​the Good that guides them.

history of ethics

Plato and Aristotle established two ethical currents present until today. For Plato, the Good and the Truth are a supreme end, and the search for Virtue is inherent in the soul. For Aristotle, ethics is the motive and the means to achieve happiness and, to that extent, it is a rational operation, not of the soul.

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After Aristotle, currents based on the concept of ethics as a means dominated. But later, Neoplatonism recovered the idea of ​​the highest Good as purpose.

In the early Middle Ages, Christian philosophy justified the postponement of earthly happiness in terms of eternal Good, under the influence of Neoplatonism. Instead, around the thirteenth century, the scholastic philosophy (represented by Saint Thomas Aquinas) unified the search for virtue with the search for happiness. The Renaissance, on the other hand, returned to approach the Aristotelian currents.

Towards the 17th century, the strengthening of the State aroused the discussion about its links with ethics, as in the authors Hobbes and Hutcheson. In modernity, ethics was oriented to the origin of morality, the role of society, religious dogmatism and the opposition between freedom and determinism.

Hegel saw the state as an end of human conduct, and related ethics to the philosophy of law. Kant, father of German idealism, defended the autonomy of ethics.

Between the 19th and 20th centuries, the development of utilitarianism, psychology, ethical evolutionism, and other currents questioned traditional ethical values. In the 20th century, ethics has devoted itself to the study of its essence, its origin, its purpose and its language.

Nicomachean ethics

The Nicomachean ethic refers to the work Ethics for Nicomachus, written by the philosopher Aristotle. This is his main work on his ethics; it is of great importance, since it is the first systematic treatise on this subject.

In his Nicomachean ethics, Aristotle identifies individual and collective happiness as the supreme goal. To achieve it, he places reason, virtue and prudence above the passions, since, for him, human beings live in society and their attitudes must be directed towards a common good.

For Aristotle, all practical rationality seeks an end or a good. The purpose of ethics is to establish the supreme purpose, which is above, which justifies all others, and help to know the way to achieve it.

See also Responsibility.