Essence of Ethics

Meaning of Essence

  • Essence is the intrinsic quality of something that determines its character. The essence of ethics stands refers to its features, significance and the intrinsic or indispensable properties that characterise ethics.
  • The following properties/features can define the essence of ethics:
    • Defining what is Good/bad: Ethics helps us in deciding the goodness or badness of thoughts, conduct and behaviour
    • Ethics cannot be shaped and sustained in isolation. A person is not born with an ethical system or moral setup. An external environment like society and culture, in interaction with the genetic structure, shapes it for the person. A person may be born in captivity, but to know what is ethical, he/she needs to live in a society.
    • Man is not only shaped by ethics but also shapes ethics. For example, slavery and discrimination were earlier accepted as social norms but not now. It is because of a few great personalities which have brought about the changes.
    • Ethics depend upon the context in which they are operating: ->They vary in their meaning and intensity according to time, place and person. For example,
      • Spitting, urinating and littering on roads are considered unethical in Europe but may not in India,
      • Issues like abortion and homosexuality are judged differently in different countries.
    • Ethics are subjective in nature, i.e. they are affected by an individual’s emotions and perceptions:
      • An angry person may behave in a highly unethical manner. It happens during riots.
      • Cases of cow vigilantism, honour killings, etc., occur because of conflicts regarding the ethics of various people.
    • Ethics originate from the sense of justice prevailing in a society. A child slaps another child. A third child watching finds it unethical because he believes in social justice and that every human is equal and has the right to live with dignity (article 21, protection of Life and personal liberty).
    • Ethical standards may transcend the narrow stipulations of law or rule book and code of regulation. Many acts of omission and commission may not violate the law as such. Still, they may run counter to ethics, for example, Police not helping victims as the incident has happened outside the area of their jurisdiction.
    • Ethics is maintained and sustained by a sense of responsibility and not mere accountability to some external agency but also to something within.
    • Ethics is prescriptive in nature: Ethics preach a certain kind of behaviour to us. It tells us how people should behave. However, ethics are often prescribed without any reason or explanation. This undermines people’s respect and value for ethical behaviour. For instance, traditional values like family values are declining among the youth because their significance and rationale are not explained to them.
    • Descriptive discipline: It examines are (existing) standards of behaviour of individuals and community.
    • Ethics Scrutinises voluntary human action:  Ethics only deals with voluntary human action. It only deals with actions when the person acts with free will without coercion. For instance, if a person is made to do something unethical at gunpoint, he/she cannot be called ethical/unethical as he/she did not act on his own.
    • Ethics operates at different levels like individual, organisational, socio-cultural, political and international levels, but Ethics of any level affect the ethics at other levels.
    • Ethics analyses and evaluates various ethical norms, principles, laws, values etc.
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