Ethics or moral philosophy is a branch of philosophy that involves
systematizing, defending, and recommending concepts of right and wrong
conduct. The term ethics derives from
Ancient Greek ἠθικός
(ethikos), from ἦθος (ethos), meaning 'habit, custom'. The branch
of philosophy axiology comprises the sub-branches of ethics and
aesthetics, each concerned with values.
Ethics seeks to resolve questions of human morality by defining
concepts such as good and evil, right and wrong, virtue and vice,
justice and crime. As a field of intellectual enquiry, moral
philosophy also is related to the fields of moral psychology,
descriptive ethics, and value theory.
Three major areas of study within ethics recognized today are:
Meta-ethics, concerning the theoretical meaning and reference of moral
propositions, and how their truth values (if any) can be determined
Normative ethics, concerning the practical means of determining a
moral course of action
Applied ethics, concerning what a person is obligated (or permitted)
to do in a specific situation or a particular domain of action
1 Defining ethics
3 Normative ethics
3.1.2 Contemporary virtue ethics
3.2.1 Cyrenaic hedonism
3.3 State consequentialism
3.6 Pragmatic ethics
Ethics of care
3.8 Role ethics
3.9 Anarchist ethics
3.10 Postmodern ethics
4 Applied ethics
4.1 Specific questions
4.2 Particular fields of application
4.2.2 Business ethics
4.2.3 Machine ethics
4.2.4 Military ethics
4.2.5 Political ethics
4.2.6 Public sector ethics
4.2.7 Publication ethics
4.2.8 Relational ethics
4.2.9 Animal ethics
5 Moral psychology
5.1 Evolutionary ethics
6 Descriptive ethics
7 See also
10 Further reading
11 External links
Rushworth Kidder states that "standard definitions of ethics have
typically included such phrases as 'the science of the ideal human
character' or 'the science of moral duty'". Richard William Paul
Linda Elder define ethics as "a set of concepts and principles
that guide us in determining what behavior helps or harms sentient
creatures". The Cambridge Dictionary of
Philosophy states that the
word "ethics" is "commonly used interchangeably with
'morality' ... and sometimes it is used more narrowly to mean the
moral principles of a particular tradition, group or individual."
Paul and Elder state that most people confuse ethics with behaving in
accordance with social conventions, religious beliefs and the law and
don't treat ethics as a stand-alone concept.
The word ethics in English refers to several things. It can refer
to philosophical ethics or moral philosophy—a project that attempts
to use reason to answer various kinds of ethical questions. As the
Bernard Williams writes, attempting to explain
moral philosophy: "What makes an inquiry a philosophical one is
reflective generality and a style of argument that claims to be
rationally persuasive." Williams describes the content of this area
of inquiry as addressing the very broad question, "how one should
Ethics can also refer to a common human ability to think
about ethical problems that is not particular to philosophy. As
bioethicist Larry Churchill has written: "Ethics, understood as the
capacity to think critically about moral values and direct our actions
in terms of such values, is a generic human capacity."
also be used to describe a particular person's own idiosyncratic
principles or habits. For example: "Joe has strange ethics."
The English word "ethics" is derived from an
Ancient Greek word,
êthikos, which means "relating to one's character". The Ancient Greek
adjective êthikos is itself derived from another Greek word, the noun
êthos meaning "character, disposition".
Main article: Meta-ethics
Meta-ethics asks how we understand, know about, and what we mean when
we talk about what is right and what is wrong. An ethical question
fixed on some particular practical question—such as, "Should I eat
this particular piece of chocolate cake?"—cannot be a meta-ethical
question. A meta-ethical question is abstract and relates to a wide
range of more specific practical questions. For example, "Is it ever
possible to have secure knowledge of what is right and wrong?" would
be a meta-ethical question.
Meta-ethics has always accompanied philosophical ethics. For example,
Aristotle implies that less precise knowledge is possible in ethics
than in other spheres of inquiry, and he regards ethical knowledge as
depending upon habit and acculturation in a way that makes it
distinctive from other kinds of knowledge.
Meta-ethics is also
important in G.E. Moore's
Principia Ethica from 1903. In it he first
wrote about what he called the naturalistic fallacy. Moore was seen to
reject naturalism in ethics, in his Open Question Argument. This made
thinkers look again at second order questions about ethics. Earlier,
the Scottish philosopher
David Hume had put forward a similar view on
the difference between facts and values.
Studies of how we know in ethics divide into cognitivism and
non-cognitivism; this is quite akin to the thing called descriptive
and non descriptive .
Non-cognitivism is the claim that when we judge
something as right or wrong, this is neither true nor false. We may,
for example, be only expressing our emotional feelings about these
things. Cognitivism can then be seen as the claim that when we
talk about right and wrong, we are talking about matters of fact.
The ontology of ethics is about value-bearing things or properties,
i.e. the kind of things or stuff referred to by ethical propositions.
Non-descriptivists and non-cognitivists believe that ethics does not
need a specific ontology since ethical propositions do not refer. This
is known as an anti-realist position. Realists, on the other hand,
must explain what kind of entities, properties or states are relevant
for ethics, how they have value, and why they guide and motivate our
Main article: Normative ethics
Normative ethics is the study of ethical action. It is the branch of
ethics that investigates the set of questions that arise when
considering how one ought to act, morally speaking. Normative ethics
is distinct from meta-ethics because normative ethics examines
standards for the rightness and wrongness of actions, while
meta-ethics studies the meaning of moral language and the metaphysics
of moral facts.
Normative ethics is also distinct from descriptive
ethics, as the latter is an empirical investigation of people's moral
beliefs. To put it another way, descriptive ethics would be concerned
with determining what proportion of people believe that killing is
always wrong, while normative ethics is concerned with whether it is
correct to hold such a belief. Hence, normative ethics is sometimes
called prescriptive, rather than descriptive. However, on certain
versions of the meta-ethical view called moral realism, moral facts
are both descriptive and prescriptive at the same time.
Traditionally, normative ethics (also known as moral theory) was the
study of what makes actions right and wrong. These theories offered an
overarching moral principle one could appeal to in resolving difficult
At the turn of the 20th century, moral theories became more complex
and were no longer concerned solely with rightness and wrongness, but
were interested in many different kinds of moral status. During the
middle of the century, the study of normative ethics declined as
meta-ethics grew in prominence. This focus on meta-ethics was in part
caused by an intense linguistic focus in analytic philosophy and by
the popularity of logical positivism.
John Rawls published A Theory of Justice, noteworthy in its
pursuit of moral arguments and eschewing of meta-ethics.
Virtue ethics describes the character of a moral agent as a driving
force for ethical behavior, and it is used to describe the ethics of
Socrates, Aristotle, and other early Greek philosophers. Socrates
(469–399 BC) was one of the first Greek philosophers to encourage
both scholars and the common citizen to turn their attention from the
outside world to the condition of humankind. In this view, knowledge
bearing on human life was placed highest, while all other knowledge
was secondary. Self-knowledge was considered necessary for success and
inherently an essential good. A self-aware person will act completely
within his capabilities to his pinnacle, while an ignorant person will
flounder and encounter difficulty. To Socrates, a person must become
aware of every fact (and its context) relevant to his existence, if he
wishes to attain self-knowledge. He posited that people will naturally
do what is good, if they know what is right. Evil or bad actions are
the results of ignorance. If a criminal was truly aware of the
intellectual and spiritual consequences of his or her actions, he or
she would neither commit nor even consider committing those actions.
Any person who knows what is truly right will automatically do it,
according to Socrates. While he correlated knowledge with virtue, he
similarly equated virtue with joy. The truly wise man will know what
is right, do what is good, and therefore be happy.:32–33
Aristotle (384–323 BC) posited an ethical system that may be
termed "virtuous". In Aristotle's view, when a person acts in
accordance with virtue this person will do good and be content.
Unhappiness and frustration are caused by doing wrong, leading to
failed goals and a poor life. Therefore, it is imperative for people
to act in accordance with virtue, which is only attainable by the
practice of the virtues in order to be content and complete. Happiness
was held to be the ultimate goal. All other things, such as civic life
or wealth, were only made worthwhile and of benefit when employed in
the practice of the virtues. The practice of the virtues is the surest
path to happiness.
Aristotle asserted that the soul of man had three natures: body
(physical/metabolism), animal (emotional/appetite), and rational
(mental/conceptual). Physical nature can be assuaged through exercise
and care; emotional nature through indulgence of instinct and urges;
and mental nature through human reason and developed potential.
Rational development was considered the most important, as essential
to philosophical self-awareness and as uniquely human.
encouraged, with the extremes seen as degraded and immoral. For
example, courage is the moderate virtue between the extremes of
cowardice and recklessness. Man should not simply live, but live well
with conduct governed by virtue. This is regarded as difficult, as
virtue denotes doing the right thing, in the right way, at the right
time, for the right reason.
Main article: Stoicism
The Stoic philosopher
Epictetus posited that the greatest good was
contentment and serenity. Peace of mind, or Apatheia, was of the
highest value; self-mastery over one's desires and emotions leads to
spiritual peace. The "unconquerable will" is central to this
philosophy. The individual's will should be independent and inviolate.
Allowing a person to disturb the mental equilibrium is, in essence,
offering yourself in slavery. If a person is free to anger you at
will, you have no control over your internal world, and therefore no
freedom. Freedom from material attachments is also necessary. If a
thing breaks, the person should not be upset, but realize it was a
thing that could break. Similarly, if someone should die, those close
to them should hold to their serenity because the loved one was made
of flesh and blood destined to death. Stoic philosophy says to accept
things that cannot be changed, resigning oneself to existence and
enduring in a rational fashion. Death is not feared. People do not
"lose" their life, but instead "return", for they are returning to God
(who initially gave what the person is as a person).
difficult problems in life should not be avoided, but rather embraced.
They are spiritual exercises needed for the health of the spirit, just
as physical exercise is required for the health of the body. He also
stated that sex and sexual desire are to be avoided as the greatest
threat to the integrity and equilibrium of a man's mind. Abstinence is
Epictetus said remaining abstinent in the face of
temptation was a victory for which a man could be proud.:38–41
Contemporary virtue ethics
Modern virtue ethics was popularized during the late 20th century in
large part as a response to G. E. M. Anscombe's "Modern Moral
Philosophy". Anscombe argues that consequentialist and deontological
ethics are only feasible as universal theories if the two schools
ground themselves in divine law. As a deeply devoted Christian
herself, Anscombe proposed that either those who do not give ethical
credence to notions of divine law take up virtue ethics, which does
not necessitate universal laws as agents themselves are investigated
for virtue or vice and held up to "universal standards", or that those
who wish to be utilitarian or consequentialist ground their theories
in religious conviction. Alasdair MacIntyre, who wrote the book
After Virtue, was a key contributor and proponent of modern virtue
ethics, although MacIntyre supports a relativistic account of virtue
based on cultural norms, not objective standards. Martha Nussbaum,
a contemporary virtue ethicist, objects to MacIntyre's relativism,
among that of others, and responds to relativist objections to form an
objective account in her work "Non-Relative Virtues: An Aristotelian
Approach". However, Nussbaum's accusation of relativism appears to
be a misreading. In Whose Justice, Whose Rationality?, MacIntyre's
ambition of taking a rational path beyond relativism was quite clear
when he stated "rival claims made by different traditions […] are to
be evaluated […] without relativism" (p. 354) because indeed
"rational debate between and rational choice among rival traditions is
possible” (p. 352). Complete Conduct Principles for the 21st
Century blended the Eastern virtue ethics and the Western virtue
ethics, with some modifications to suit the 21st Century, and formed a
part of contemporary virtue ethics.
Main article: Hedonism
Hedonism posits that the principal ethic is maximizing pleasure and
minimizing pain. There are several schools of Hedonist thought ranging
from those advocating the indulgence of even momentary desires to
those teaching a pursuit of spiritual bliss. In their consideration of
consequences, they range from those advocating self-gratification
regardless of the pain and expense to others, to those stating that
the most ethical pursuit maximizes pleasure and happiness for the most
Aristippus of Cyrene,
Cyrenaics supported immediate
gratification or pleasure. "Eat, drink and be merry, for tomorrow we
die." Even fleeting desires should be indulged, for fear the
opportunity should be forever lost. There was little to no concern
with the future, the present dominating in the pursuit for immediate
pleasure. Cyrenaic hedonism encouraged the pursuit of enjoyment and
indulgence without hesitation, believing pleasure to be the only
Main article: Epicureanism
Epicurean ethics is a hedonist form of virtue ethics. Epicurus
"...presented a sustained argument that pleasure, correctly
understood, will coincide with virtue." He rejected the extremism
of the Cyrenaics, believing some pleasures and indulgences to be
detrimental to human beings. Epicureans observed that indiscriminate
indulgence sometimes resulted in negative consequences. Some
experiences were therefore rejected out of hand, and some unpleasant
experiences endured in the present to ensure a better life in the
future. To Epicurus, the summum bonum, or greatest good, was prudence,
exercised through moderation and caution. Excessive indulgence can be
destructive to pleasure and can even lead to pain. For example, eating
one food too often makes a person lose a taste for it. Eating too much
food at once leads to discomfort and ill-health. Pain and fear were to
be avoided. Living was essentially good, barring pain and illness.
Death was not to be feared. Fear was considered the source of most
unhappiness. Conquering the fear of death would naturally lead to a
Epicurus reasoned if there were an afterlife and
immortality, the fear of death was irrational. If there was no life
after death, then the person would not be alive to suffer, fear or
worry; he would be non-existent in death. It is irrational to fret
over circumstances that do not exist, such as one's state in death in
the absence of an afterlife.:37–38
Main article: State consequentialism
State consequentialism, also known as Mohist consequentialism, is
an ethical theory that evaluates the moral worth of an action based on
how much it contributes to the basic goods of a state. The
Stanford Encyclopedia of
Philosophy describes Mohist consequentialism,
dating back to the 5th century BC, as "a remarkably sophisticated
version based on a plurality of intrinsic goods taken as constitutive
of human welfare". Unlike utilitarianism, which views pleasure as
a moral good, "the basic goods in Mohist consequentialist thinking
are ... order, material wealth, and increase in population".
During Mozi's era, war and famines were common, and population growth
was seen as a moral necessity for a harmonious society. The "material
wealth" of Mohist consequentialism refers to basic needs like shelter
and clothing, and the "order" of Mohist consequentialism refers to
Mozi's stance against warfare and violence, which he viewed as
pointless and a threat to social stability.
Stanford sinologist David Shepherd Nivison, in The Cambridge History
of Ancient China, writes that the moral goods of
interrelated: more basic wealth, then more reproduction; more people,
then more production and wealth ... if people have plenty, they
would be good, filial, kind, and so on unproblematically." The
Mohists believed that morality is based on "promoting the benefit of
all under heaven and eliminating harm to all under heaven". In
contrast to Bentham's views, state consequentialism is not utilitarian
because it is not hedonistic or individualistic. The importance of
outcomes that are good for the community outweigh the importance of
individual pleasure and pain.
Main article: Consequentialism
See also: Ethical egoism
Consequentialism refers to moral theories that hold that the
consequences of a particular action form the basis for any valid moral
judgment about that action (or create a structure for judgment, see
rule consequentialism). Thus, from a consequentialist standpoint, a
morally right action is one that produces a good outcome, or
consequence. This view is often expressed as the aphorism "The ends
justify the means".
The term "consequentialism" was coined by
G. E. M. Anscombe
G. E. M. Anscombe in her
essay "Modern Moral Philosophy" in 1958, to describe what she saw as
the central error of certain moral theories, such as those propounded
by Mill and Sidgwick. Since then, the term has become common in
English-language ethical theory.
The defining feature of consequentialist moral theories is the weight
given to the consequences in evaluating the rightness and wrongness of
actions. In consequentialist theories, the consequences of an
action or rule generally outweigh other considerations. Apart from
this basic outline, there is little else that can be unequivocally
said about consequentialism as such. However, there are some questions
that many consequentialist theories address:
What sort of consequences count as good consequences?
Who is the primary beneficiary of moral action?
How are the consequences judged and who judges them?
One way to divide various consequentialisms is by the types of
consequences that are taken to matter most, that is, which
consequences count as good states of affairs. According to
utilitarianism, a good action is one that results in an increase in a
positive effect, and the best action is one that results in that
effect for the greatest number. Closely related is eudaimonic
consequentialism, according to which a full, flourishing life, which
may or may not be the same as enjoying a great deal of pleasure, is
the ultimate aim. Similarly, one might adopt an aesthetic
consequentialism, in which the ultimate aim is to produce beauty.
However, one might fix on non-psychological goods as the relevant
effect. Thus, one might pursue an increase in material equality or
political liberty instead of something like the more ephemeral
"pleasure". Other theories adopt a package of several goods, all to be
promoted equally. Whether a particular consequentialist theory focuses
on a single good or many, conflicts and tensions between different
good states of affairs are to be expected and must be adjudicated.
Main article: Utilitarianism
John Stuart Mill
Utilitarianism is an ethical theory that argues the proper course of
action is one that maximizes a positive effect, such as "happiness",
"welfare", or the ability to live according to personal
Jeremy Bentham and
John Stuart Mill
John Stuart Mill are influential
proponents of this school of thought. In A Fragment on Government
Bentham says 'it is the greatest happiness of the greatest number that
is the measure of right and wrong' and describes this as a fundamental
axiom. In An Introduction to the Principles of Morals and Legislation
he talks of 'the principle of utility' but later prefers "the greatest
Utilitarianism is the paradigmatic example of a consequentialist moral
theory. This form of utilitarianism holds that the morally correct
action is the one that produces the best outcome for all people
affected by the action. John Stuart Mill, in his exposition of
utilitarianism, proposed a hierarchy of pleasures, meaning that the
pursuit of certain kinds of pleasure is more highly valued than the
pursuit of other pleasures. Other noteworthy proponents of
utilitarianism are neuroscientist Sam Harris, author of The Moral
Landscape, and moral philosopher Peter Singer, author of, amongst
other works, Practical Ethics.
There are two types of utilitarianism, act utilitarianism and rule
utilitarianism. In act utilitarianism, the principle of utility
applies directly to each alternative act in a situation of choice. The
right act is the one that brings about the best results (or the least
amount of bad results). In rule utilitarianism, the principle of
utility determines the validity of rules of conduct (moral
principles). A rule like promise-keeping is established by looking at
the consequences of a world in which people break promises at will and
a world in which promises are binding. Right and wrong are the
following or breaking of rules that are sanctioned by their
Main article: Deontological ethics
Deontological ethics or deontology (from Greek δέον, deon,
"obligation, duty"; and -λογία, -logia) is an approach to ethics
that determines goodness or rightness from examining acts, or the
rules and duties that the person doing the act strove to fulfill.
This is in contrast to consequentialism, in which rightness is based
on the consequences of an act, and not the act by itself. In
deontology, an act may be considered right even if the act produces a
bad consequence, if it follows the rule that "one should do unto
others as they would have done unto them", and even if the person
who does the act lacks virtue and had a bad intention in doing the
act. According to deontology, people have a duty to
act in a way that does those things that are inherently good as acts
("truth-telling" for example), or follow an objectively obligatory
rule (as in rule utilitarianism). For deontologists, the ends or
consequences of people's actions are not important in and of
themselves, and people's intentions are not important in and of
Immanuel Kant's theory of ethics is considered deontological for
several different reasons. First, Kant argues that to act in
the morally right way, people must act from duty (deon). Second,
Kant argued that it was not the consequences of actions that make them
right or wrong but the motives (maxime) of the person who carries out
the action. Kant's argument that to act in the morally right way, one
must act from duty, begins with an argument that the highest good must
be both good in itself, and good without qualification. Something
is 'good in itself' when it is intrinsically good, and 'good without
qualification' when the addition of that thing never makes a situation
ethically worse. Kant then argues that those things that are usually
thought to be good, such as intelligence, perseverance and pleasure,
fail to be either intrinsically good or good without qualification.
Pleasure, for example, appears to not be good without qualification,
because when people take pleasure in watching someone suffer, they
make the situation ethically worse. He concludes that there is only
one thing that is truly good:
Nothing in the world—indeed nothing even beyond the world—can
possibly be conceived which could be called good without qualification
except a good will.
Main article: Pragmatic ethics
Associated with the pragmatists, Charles Sanders Peirce, William
James, and especially John Dewey, pragmatic ethics holds that moral
correctness evolves similarly to scientific knowledge: socially over
the course of many lifetimes. Thus, we should prioritize social reform
over attempts to account for consequences, individual virtue or duty
(although these may be worthwhile attempts, if social reform is
Ethics of care
Ethics of care
Care ethics contrasts with more well-known ethical models, such as
consequentialist theories (e.g. utilitarianism) and deontological
theories (e.g., Kantian ethics) in that it seeks to incorporate
traditionally feminized virtues and values that—proponents of care
ethics contend—are absent in such traditional models of ethics.
These values include the importance of empathetic relationships and
Care-focused feminism is a branch of feminist thought, informed
primarily by ethics of care as developed by
Carol Gilligan and Nel
Noddings. This body of theory is critical of how caring is
socially assigned to women, and consequently devalued. They write,
“Care-focused feminists regard women’s capacity for care as a
human strength,” that should be taught to and expected of men as
well as women. Noddings proposes that ethical caring has the potential
to be a more concrete evaluative model of moral dilemma than an ethic
of justice. Noddings’ care-focused feminism requires practical
application of relational ethics, predicated on an ethic of care.
Main article: Role ethics
Role ethics is an ethical theory based on family roles. Unlike
virtue ethics, role ethics is not individualistic.
Morality is derived
from a person's relationship with their community. Confucian
ethics is an example of role ethics though this is not
straightforwardly uncontested. Confucian roles center around the
concept of filial piety or xiao, a respect for family members.
According to Roger Ames and Henry Rosemont, "Confucian normativity is
defined by living one's family roles to maximum effect."
determined through a person's fulfillment of a role, such as that of a
parent or a child. Confucian roles are not rational, and originate
through the xin, or human emotions.
Main article: Anarchism
Anarchist ethics is an ethical theory based on the studies of
anarchist thinkers. The biggest contributor to the anarchist ethics is
the Russian zoologist, geographer, economist, and political activist
Starting from the premise that the goal of ethical philosophy should
be to help humans adapt and thrive in evolutionary terms, Kropotkin's
ethical framework uses biology and anthropology as a basis – in
order to scientifically establish what will best enable a given social
order to thrive biologically and socially – and advocates certain
behavioural practices to enhance humanity's capacity for freedom and
well-being, namely practices which emphasise solidarity, equality, and
Kropotkin argues that ethics itself is evolutionary, and is inherited
as a sort of a social instinct through cultural history, and by so, he
rejects any religious and transcendental explanation of morality. The
origin of ethical feeling in both animals and humans can be found, he
claims, in the natural fact of "sociality" (mutualistic symbiosis),
which humans can then combine with the instinct for justice (i.e.
equality) and then with the practice of reason to construct a
non-supernatural and anarchistic system of ethics. Kropotkin
suggests that the principle of equality at the core of anarchism is
the same as the Golden rule:
This principle of treating others as one wishes to be treated oneself,
what is it but the very same principle as equality, the fundamental
principle of anarchism? And how can any one manage to believe himself
an anarchist unless he practices it? We do not wish to be ruled. And
by this very fact, do we not declare that we ourselves wish to rule
nobody? We do not wish to be deceived, we wish always to be told
nothing but the truth. And by this very fact, do we not declare that
we ourselves do not wish to deceive anybody, that we promise to always
tell the truth, nothing but the truth, the whole truth? We do not wish
to have the fruits of our labor stolen from us. And by that very fact,
do we not declare that we respect the fruits of others' labor? By what
right indeed can we demand that we should be treated in one fashion,
reserving it to ourselves to treat others in a fashion entirely
different? Our sense of equality revolts at such an idea.
Main article: Postmodernism
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The 20th century saw a remarkable expansion and evolution of critical
theory, following on earlier Marxist Theory efforts to locate
individuals within larger structural frameworks of ideology and
Antihumanists such as Louis Althusser,
Michel Foucault and
structuralists such as
Roland Barthes challenged the possibilities of
individual agency and the coherence of the notion of the 'individual'
itself. This was a on the basis that personal identity was, at least
in part, a social construction. As critical theory developed in the
later 20th century, post-structuralism sought to problematize human
relationships to knowledge and 'objective' reality. Jacques Derrida
argued that access to meaning and the 'real' was always deferred, and
sought to demonstrate via recourse to the linguistic realm that "there
is no outside-text/non-text" ("il n'y a pas de hors-texte" is often
mistranslated as "there is nothing outside the text"); at the same
Jean Baudrillard theorised that signs and symbols or simulacra
mask reality (and eventually the absence of reality itself),
particularly in the consumer world.
Post-structuralism and postmodernism argue that ethics must study the
complex and relational conditions of actions. A simple alignment of
ideas of right and particular acts is not possible. There will always
be an ethical remainder that cannot be taken into account or often
even recognized. Such theorists find narrative (or, following
Nietzsche and Foucault, genealogy) to be a helpful tool for
understanding ethics because narrative is always about particular
lived experiences in all their complexity rather than the assignment
of an idea or norm to separate and individual actions.
Zygmunt Bauman says postmodernity is best described as modernity
without illusion, the illusion being the belief that humanity can be
repaired by some ethic principle.
Postmodernity can be seen in this
light as accepting the messy nature of humanity as unchangeable.
David Couzens Hoy states that Emmanuel Levinas's writings on the face
of the Other and Derrida's meditations on the relevance of death to
ethics are signs of the "ethical turn" in
Continental philosophy that
occurred in the 1980s and 1990s. Hoy describes post-critique ethics as
the "obligations that present themselves as necessarily to be
fulfilled but are neither forced on one or are enforceable" (2004,
Hoy's post-critique model uses the term ethical resistance. Examples
of this would be an individual's resistance to consumerism in a
retreat to a simpler but perhaps harder lifestyle, or an individual's
resistance to a terminal illness. Hoy describes Levinas's account as
"not the attempt to use power against itself, or to mobilize sectors
of the population to exert their political power; the ethical
resistance is instead the resistance of the powerless"(2004,
Hoy concludes that
The ethical resistance of the powerless others to our capacity to
exert power over them is therefore what imposes unenforceable
obligations on us. The obligations are unenforceable precisely because
of the other's lack of power. That actions are at once obligatory and
at the same time unenforceable is what put them in the category of the
ethical. Obligations that were enforced would, by the virtue of the
force behind them, not be freely undertaken and would not be in the
realm of the ethical. (2004, p. 184)
Main article: Applied ethics
Applied ethics is a discipline of philosophy that attempts to apply
ethical theory to real-life situations. The discipline has many
specialized fields, such as engineering ethics, bioethics, geoethics,
public service ethics and business ethics.
Applied ethics is used in some aspects of determining public policy,
as well as by individuals facing difficult decisions. The sort of
questions addressed by applied ethics include: "Is getting an abortion
immoral?" "Is euthanasia immoral?" "Is affirmative action right or
wrong?" "What are human rights, and how do we determine them?" "Do
animals have rights as well?" and "Do individuals have the right of
A more specific question could be: "If someone else can make better
out of his/her life than I can, is it then moral to sacrifice myself
for them if needed?" Without these questions, there is no clear
fulcrum on which to balance law, politics, and the practice of
arbitration—in fact, no common assumptions of all participants—so
the ability to formulate the questions are prior to rights balancing.
But not all questions studied in applied ethics concern public policy.
For example, making ethical judgments regarding questions such as, "Is
lying always wrong?" and, "If not, when is it permissible?" is prior
to any etiquette.
People, in general, are more comfortable with dichotomies (two
opposites). However, in ethics, the issues are most often multifaceted
and the best-proposed actions address many different areas
concurrently. In ethical decisions, the answer is almost never a "yes
or no", "right or wrong" statement. Many buttons are pushed so that
the overall condition is improved and not to the benefit of any
Particular fields of application
Main article: Bioethics
Islamic bioethics and Jewish medical ethics
Bioethics is the study of controversial ethics brought about by
advances in biology and medicine. Bioethicists are concerned with the
ethical questions that arise in the relationships among life sciences,
biotechnology, medicine, politics, law, and philosophy. It also
includes the study of the more commonplace questions of values ("the
ethics of the ordinary") that arise in primary care and other branches
Bioethics also needs to address emerging biotechnologies that affect
basic biology and future humans. These developments include cloning,
gene therapy, human genetic engineering, astroethics and life in
space, and manipulation of basic biology through altered DNA, RNA
and proteins, e.g. "three parent baby, where baby is born from
genetically modified embryos, would have DNA from a mother, a father
and from a female donor. Correspondingly, new bioethics also need
to address life at its core. For example, biotic ethics value organic
gene/protein life itself and seek to propagate it. With such
life-centered principles, ethics may secure a cosmological future for
Main article: Business ethics
Business ethics (also corporate ethics) is a form of applied ethics or
professional ethics that examines ethical principles and moral or
ethical problems that arise in a business environment, including
fields like medical ethics.
Business ethics represents the practices
that any individual or group exhibits within an organization that can
negatively or positively affect the businesses core values. It applies
to all aspects of business conduct and is relevant to the conduct of
individuals and entire organizations.
Business ethics has both normative and descriptive dimensions. As a
corporate practice and a career specialization, the field is primarily
normative. Academics attempting to understand business behavior employ
descriptive methods. The range and quantity of business ethical issues
reflect the interaction of profit-maximizing behavior with
non-economic concerns. Interest in business ethics accelerated
dramatically during the 1980s and 1990s, both within major
corporations and within academia. For example, today most major
corporations promote their commitment to non-economic values under
headings such as ethics codes and social responsibility charters. Adam
Smith said, "People of the same trade seldom meet together, even for
merriment and diversion, but the conversation ends in a conspiracy
against the public, or in some contrivance to raise prices."
Governments use laws and regulations to point business behavior in
what they perceive to be beneficial directions.
regulates areas and details of behavior that lie beyond governmental
control. The emergence of large corporations with limited
relationships and sensitivity to the communities in which they operate
accelerated the development of formal ethics regimes.
Main article: Machine ethics
In Moral Machines: Teaching Robots Right from Wrong, Wendell Wallach
and Colin Allen conclude that issues in machine ethics will likely
drive advancement in understanding of human ethics by forcing us to
address gaps in modern normative theory and by providing a platform
for experimental investigation. The effort to actually program a
machine or artificial agent to behave as though instilled with a sense
of ethics requires new specificity in our normative theories,
especially regarding aspects customarily considered common-sense. For
example, machines, unlike humans, can support a wide selection of
learning algorithms, and controversy has arisen over the relative
ethical merits of these options. This may reopen classic debates of
normative ethics framed in new (highly technical) terms.
Geneva Conventions and Nuremberg Principles
Military ethics are concerned with questions regarding the application
of force and the ethos of the soldier and are often understood as
applied professional ethics.
Just war theory
Just war theory is generally seen to
set the background terms of military ethics. However individual
countries and traditions have different fields of attention.
Military ethics involves multiple subareas, including the following
what, if any, should be the laws of war.
justification for the initiation of military force.
decisions about who may be targeted in warfare.
decisions on choice of weaponry, and what collateral effects such
weaponry may have.
standards for handling military prisoners.
methods of dealing with violations of the laws of war.
Main article: Political ethics
Political ethics (also known as political morality or public ethics)
is the practice of making moral judgements about political action and
Public sector ethics
Main article: Public sector ethics
Public sector ethics is a set of principles that guide public
officials in their service to their constituents, including their
decision-making on behalf of their constituents. Fundamental to the
concept of public sector ethics is the notion that decisions and
actions are based on what best serves the public's interests, as
opposed to the official's personal interests (including financial
interests) or self-serving political interests.
Publication ethics is the set of principles that guide the writing and
publishing process for all professional publications. To follow these
principles, authors must verify that the publication does not contain
plagiarism or publication bias. As a way to avoid misconduct in
research these principles can also apply to experiments that are
referenced or analyzed in publications by ensuring the data is
recorded honestly and accurately.
Plagiarism is the failure to give credit to another author’s work or
ideas, when it is used in the publication. It is the obligation of
the editor of the journal to ensure the article does not contain any
plagiarism before it is published. If a publication that has
already been published is proven to contain plagiarism, the editor of
the journal can retract the article.
Publication bias occurs when the publication is one-sided or
"prejudiced against results". In best practice, an author should
try to include information from all parties involved, or affected by
the topic. If an author is prejudiced against certain results, than it
can "lead to erroneous conclusions being drawn".
Misconduct in research can occur when an experimenter falsifies
results. Falsely recorded information occurs when the researcher
"fakes" information or data, which was not used when conducting the
actual experiment. By faking the data, the researcher can alter
the results from the experiment to better fit the hypothesis they
originally predicted. When conducting medical research, it is
important to honor the healthcare rights of a patient by protecting
their anonymity in the publication. Respect for autonomy is the
principle that decision-making should allow individuals to be
autonomous; they should be able to make decisions that apply to their
own lives. This means that individuals should have control of their
Justice is the principle that decision-makers must focus on
actions that are fair to those affected. Ethical decisions need to be
consistent with the ethical theory. There are cases where the
management has made decisions that seem to be unfair to the employees,
shareholders, and other stakeholders (Solomon, 1992, pp49). Such
decisions are unethical.
Relational ethics are related to an ethics of care.:62–63 They
are used in qualitative research, especially ethnography and
autoethnography. Researchers who employ relational ethics value and
respect the connection between themselves and the people they study,
and "...between researchers and the communities in which they live and
work." (Ellis, 2007, p. 4). Relational ethics also help
researchers understand difficult issues such as conducting research on
intimate others that have died and developing friendships with their
participants. Relational ethics in close personal
relationships form a central concept of contextual therapy.
Main article: Animal ethics
Animal ethics is a term used in academia to describe human-animal
relationships and how animals ought to be treated. The subject matter
includes animal rights, animal welfare, animal law, speciesism, animal
cognition, wildlife conservation, the moral status of nonhuman
animals, the concept of nonhuman personhood, human exceptionalism, the
history of animal use, and theories of justice.
Main article: Moral psychology
Moral psychology is a field of study that began as an issue in
philosophy and that is now properly considered part of the discipline
of psychology. Some use the term "moral psychology" relatively
narrowly to refer to the study of moral development. However,
others tend to use the term more broadly to include any topics at the
intersection of ethics and psychology (and philosophy of mind).
Such topics are ones that involve the mind and are relevant to moral
issues. Some of the main topics of the field are moral responsibility,
moral development, moral character (especially as related to virtue
ethics), altruism, psychological egoism, moral luck, and moral
Main article: Evolutionary ethics
See also: Evolution of morality
Evolutionary ethics concerns approaches to ethics (morality) based on
the role of evolution in shaping human psychology and behavior. Such
approaches may be based in scientific fields such as evolutionary
psychology or sociobiology, with a focus on understanding and
explaining observed ethical preferences and choices.
Main article: Descriptive ethics
Descriptive ethics is on the less philosophical end of the spectrum
since it seeks to gather particular information about how people live
and draw general conclusions based on observed patterns. Abstract and
theoretical questions that are more clearly philosophical—such as,
"Is ethical knowledge possible?"—are not central to descriptive
Descriptive ethics offers a value-free approach to ethics,
which defines it as a social science rather than a humanity. Its
examination of ethics doesn't start with a preconceived theory but
rather investigates observations of actual choices made by moral
agents in practice. Some philosophers rely on descriptive ethics and
choices made and unchallenged by a society or culture to derive
categories, which typically vary by context. This can lead to
situational ethics and situated ethics. These philosophers often view
aesthetics, etiquette, and arbitration as more fundamental,
percolating "bottom up" to imply the existence of, rather than
explicitly prescribe, theories of value or of conduct. The study of
descriptive ethics may include examinations of the following:
Ethical codes applied by various groups. Some consider aesthetics
itself the basis of ethics—and a personal moral core developed
through art and storytelling as very influential in one's later
Informal theories of etiquette that tend to be less rigorous and more
situational. Some consider etiquette a simple negative ethics, i.e.,
where can one evade an uncomfortable truth without doing wrong? One
notable advocate of this view is
Judith Martin ("Miss Manners").
According to this view, ethics is more a summary of common sense
Practices in arbitration and law, e.g., the claim that ethics itself
is a matter of balancing "right versus right", i.e., putting
priorities on two things that are both right, but that must be traded
off carefully in each situation.
Observed choices made by ordinary people, without expert aid or
advice, who vote, buy, and decide what is worth valuing. This is a
major concern of sociology, political science, and economics.
Corporate social responsibility
Declaration of Geneva
Declaration of Helsinki
Ethics in religion
Index of ethics articles—alphabetical list of ethics-related
Outline of ethics—list of ethics-related articles, arranged by
Science of morality
Theory of justification
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^ Kidder, Rushworth (2003). How Good People Make Tough Choices:
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^ a b Paul, Richard; Elder, Linda (2006). The Miniature Guide to
Understanding the Foundations of Ethical Reasoning. United States:
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^ John Deigh in Robert Audi (ed), The Cambridge Dictionary of
^ "Definition of ethic by Merriam Webster". Merriam Webster. Retrieved
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^ Williams, Bernard.
Ethics and the Limits of Philosophy.
^ Williams, Bernard.
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Socrates share Common
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(October 28, 2011). Value and
Virtue in Public Administration: A
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^ a b Ivanhoe, P.J.; Van Norden, Bryan William (2005). Readings in
classical Chinese philosophy. Hackett Publishing. p. 60.
ISBN 978-0-87220-780-6. he advocated a form of state
consequentialism, which sought to maximize three basic goods: the
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^ Fraser, Chris, "Mohism", The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy,
Edward N. Zalta.
^ a b Loewe, Michael; Shaughnessy, Edward L. (1999). The Cambridge
History of Ancient China. Cambridge University Press. p. 761.
^ Van Norden, Bryan W. (2011). Introduction to Classical Chinese
Philosophy. Hackett Publishing. p. 52.
^ Jay L. Garfield; William Edelglass (June 9, 2011). The Oxford
Handbook of World Philosophy. Oxford University Press. p. 62.
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morality are collective or public, in contrast, for instance, to
individual happiness or well-being
^ Anscombe, G. E. M. (1958). "Modern Moral Philosophy". Philosophy.
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the Superintendence of His Executor, John Bowring. Volume 1. Adamant
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Utilitarianism (Project Gutenberg online edition)
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^ Department of Philosophy, CMU[permanent dead link]
^ Olson, Robert G. 1967. 'Deontological Ethics'. In Paul Edwards (ed.)
The Encyclopedia of Philosophy. London: Collier Macmillan: 343.
^ Orend, Brian. 2000. War and International Justice: A Kantian
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^ Kant, Immanuel. 1780. 'Preface'. In The Metaphysical Elements of
Ethics. Translated by Thomas Kingsmill Abbott
^ a b Kant, Immanuel. 1785. 'First Section: Transition from the Common
Knowledge of Morals to the Philosophical', Groundwork of the
Metaphysic of Morals.
^ Lafollette, Hugh, ed. (February 2000). The Blackwell Guide to
Ethical Theory. Blackwell
Philosophy Guides (1 ed.). Wiley-Blackwell.
^ Tong, Rosemarie; Williams, Nancy (May 4, 2009). "Feminist Ethics".
Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. The
Metaphysics Research Lab.
Retrieved January 6, 2017.
^ Noddings, Nel: Caring: A Feminine Approach to
Ethics and Moral
Education, page 3-4. University of California Press, Berkeley, 1984.
^ Noddings, Nel: Women and Evil, page 222. University of California
Press, Berkeley, 1989.
^ a b Roger T. Ames (April 30, 2011). Confucian Role Ethics: A
Vocabulary. University of Hawaiʻi Press.
^ a b Chris Fraser; Dan Robins; Timothy O'Leary (May 1, 2011). Ethics
in Early China: An Anthology. Hong Kong University Press.
pp. 17–35. ISBN 978-988-8028-93-1.
^ Sim, May, 2015, “Why Confucius’
Ethics is a
Virtue Ethics”, in
Besser-Jones and Slote (2015), pp. 63–76
^ Wonsuk Chang; Leah Kalmanson (November 8, 2010).
Philosophy and Contemporary Issues, East Asia and
Beyond. SUNY Press. p. 68. ISBN 978-1-4384-3191-8.
^ "Ethics: Origin and Development" by Pëtr Kropotkin
^ "Anarchist morality", chapter VI, Pëtr Kropotkin
^ "Astroethics". Archived from the original on October 23, 2013.
Retrieved December 21, 2005.
^ Freemont, P. F.; Kitney, R. I. (2012). Synthetic Biology. New
Jersey: World Scientific. ISBN 978-1-84816-862-6.
^ Mautner, Michael N. (2009). "Life-centered ethics, and the human
future in space" (PDF). Bioethics. 23 (8): 433–440.
doi:10.1111/j.1467-8519.2008.00688.x. PMID 19077128.
^ Mautner, Michael N. (2000). Seeding the Universe with Life: Securing
Our Cosmological Future (PDF). Washington D. C.: Legacy Books
(www.amazon.com). ISBN 0-476-00330-X.
^ Smith, A (1776/1952). An Inquiry Into the Nature and Causes of the
Wealth of Nations. Chicago, Illinois: University of Chicago Press, p.
^ Berle, A. A., & Means, G. C. (1932). The Modern Corporation and
Private Property. New Jersey: Transaction Publishers. In this book,
Berle and Means observe, "Corporations have ceased to be merely legal
devices through which the private business transactions of individuals
may be carried on. Though still much used for this purpose, the
corporate form has acquired a much larger significance. The
corporation has, in fact, become both a method of property tenure and
a means of organizing economic life. Grown to tremendous proportions,
there may be said to have evolved a 'corporate system'—as there once
was a feudal system—which has attracted to itself a combination of
attributes and powers, and has attained a degree of prominence
entitling it to be dealt with as a major social institution. ...
We are examining this institution probably before it has attained its
zenith. Spectacular as its rise has been, every indication seems to be
that the system will move forward to proportions which stagger
imagination today ... They [management] have placed the community
in a position to demand that the modern corporation serve not only the
owners ... but all society." p. 1.
^ Jones, C.; Parker, M.; et al. (2005). For Business Ethics: A
Critical Text. London: Routledge. p. 17.
^ ferrell, o.c (2015). Business Ethics: Ethical Decision Making and
Cases. ISBN 9781305500846.
^ Wallach, Wendell; Allen, Colin (November 2008). Moral Machines:
Teaching Robots Right from Wrong. USA: Oxford University Press.
^ Cook, Martin L.; Syse, Henrik (2010). "What Should We Mean by
'Military Ethics'?". Journal of Military Ethics. 9 (2).
^ Goffi, Emmanuel (2011). Les Armée Françaises Face à la Morale
[The French Army Facing Morale] (in French). France: L'Harmattan.
^ Thompson, Dennis F. "Political Ethics". International Encyclopedia
of Ethics, ed. Hugh LaFollette (Blackwell Publishing, 2012).
^ See, for example, work of Institute for Local Government, at
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Anesthesia. 19 (10): 1011–1013.
^ Wager, E; Fiack, S; Graf, C; Robinson, A; Rowlands, I (31 March
2009). "Science journal editors' views on publication ethics: results
of an international survey". Journal of Medical Ethics. 35 (6):
^ Scollon, Ron (June 1999). "Plagiarism". Journal of Linguistic
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^ Wager, Elizabeth; Williams, Peter (September 2011). "Why and how do
journals retract articles? An analysis of Medline retractions
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doi:10.1136/jme.2010.040964. JSTOR 23034717.
^ Sanjeev, Handa (2008). "
Plagiarism and publication ethics: Dos and
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^ Peters, Jamie L.; Sutton, Alex J.; Jones, David R.; Abrams, Keith
R.; Rushton, Lesley; Moreno, Santiago G. (July 2010). "Assessing
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^ Ellis, C (2007). "Telling secrets, revealing lives: Relational
ethics in research with intimate others". Qualitative Inquiry. 13:
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Lexington: University Press of Kentucky.
^ Ellis, C. (1995).Final negotiations: A story of love, loss, and
chronic illness. Philadelphia: Temple University Press.
^ See, for example, Lapsley (2006) and "moral psychology" (2007).
^ See, for example, Doris & Stich (2008) and Wallace (2007).
Wallace writes: "
Moral psychology is the study of morality in its
psychological dimensions" (p. 86).
^ See Doris & Stich (2008), §1.
^ Doris Schroeder. "Evolutionary Ethics". Archived from the original
on October 7, 2013. Retrieved January 5, 2010.
^ Hary Gunarto, Ethical Issues in Cyberspace and IT Society, Symposium
on Whither The Age of Uncertainty, APU Univ., paper, Jan. 2003
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Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics
Philosophy Study Guide offers many suggestions on what to
read, depending on the student's familiarity with the subject: Ethics
Encyclopedia of Ethics. Lawrence C. Becker and Charlotte B. Becker,
editors. Second edition in three volumes. New York: Routledge, 2002. A
scholarly encyclopedia with over 500 signed, peer-reviewed articles,
mostly on topics and figures of, or of special interest in, Western
Azurmendi, J. 1998: "The violence and the search for new values" in
Euskal Herria krisian, (Elkar, 1999), pp. 11–116.
Blackburn, S. (2001). Being good: A short introduction to ethics.
Oxford: Oxford University Press.
De Finance, Joseph, An Ethical Inquiry, Rome, Editrice Pontificia
Università Gregoriana, 1991.
De La Torre, Miguel A., "Doing Christian
Ethics from the Margins",
Orbis Books, 2004.
Derrida, J. 1995, The Gift of Death, translated by David Wills,
University of Chicago Press, Chicago.
Fagothey, Austin, Right and Reason, Tan Books & Publishers,
Rockford, Illinois, 2000.
Levinas, E. 1969, Totality and infinity, an essay on exteriority,
translated by Alphonso Lingis, Duquesne University Press, Pittsburgh.
Perle, Stephen (March 11, 2004). "
Morality and Ethics: An
Introduction". Retrieved February 13, 2007. , Butchvarov,
Panayot. Skepticism in
Jadranka Skorin-Kapov, The Intertwining of
Aesthetics and Ethics:
Exceeding of Expectations, Ecstasy, Sublimity. Lexington Books, 2016.
Morality and the Good Life: An Introduction to Ethics
Through Classical Sources, New York: McGraw-Hill
Book Company, 1984.
Vendemiati, Aldo, In the First Person, An Outline of General Ethics,
Rome, Urbaniana University Press, 2004.
John Paul II, Encyclical Letter Veritatis Splendor, August 6, 1993.
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John Newton, Ph.D. Complete Conduct Principles for the 21st Century,
2000. ISBN 0-9673705-7-4.
Guy Cools & Pascal Gielen, The
Ethics of Art. Valiz: Amsterdam,
Lafollette, Hugh [ed.]:
Ethics in Practice: An Anthology. Wiley
Blackwell, 4th edition, Oxford 2014. ISBN 978-0470671832
An entire issue of Pacific Island Studies devoted to studying
"Constructing Moral Communities" in Pacific islands, 2002, vol. 25:
Paul R. Ehrlich
Paul R. Ehrlich (May 2016), Conference on population, environment,
ethics: where we stand now (video, 93 min), University of Lausanne
Yunt, Jeremy D. 2017. Faithful to Nature:
Paul Tillich and the
Spiritual Roots of Environmental Ethics. Barred Owl Books.
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