Glossary of Ethics Related Terms Part-I


Ethics can be defined as the systematic study of human action from the point of view of their rightfulness or wrongfulness as a means for attaining the highest good.


It is defined as one’s own (individual, family, organisation/institution, society) standard for judging objects as right and wrong.


As per Thomas Hobbes morality is the set of rules that make peaceful living possible


Values are standards of behaviour that may or may not be standard, which means they can vary from person to person


Virtues are positive/excellent character traits (kindness, compassion, honesty, and generosity)

Virtue Ethics

Virtue ethics does not provide any strict rules or laws on how a person should behave or act in a given situation; in fact, it focuses on a person’s virtues/character. Virtue ethics does not focus on What I should do? But instead, it focuses on What sort of person should I be? In other words, individuals are good if they have particular virtues (excellent traits) rather than following specific rules or laws. Virtue ethics is person-centred rather than action-centred. As a result, virtue ethics is concerned with a person’s entire life rather than specific episodes or actions.

Moral relativism/Ethical relativism

Moral relativism/Ethical relativism says that there are many truths and there is no common ground to judge the rightness or wrongness of human action.

Moral universalism

Moral universalism: virtue/moral/norm is something that can be known to all and the virtuous person is the one who knows what virtue is. It means there is a common ground which is virtues, to judge the rightness or wrongness of human action.

The dialectical method of inquiry

The dialectical method of inquiry/ Socratic method/ Socratic Debate /art of questioning: Socrates emphasized that an issue, opinion or belief should be accepted only after thorough cross-examination and introspection. Thus, he did not tell his audience how they should live rather he told them how they should inquire about the things to live.


Happiness as per Socrates depends on the education of desire, whereby the soul learns how to harmonise its desire, redirecting its gaze away from physical pleasure to the love of knowledge and virtues, which will lead to the wisdom that is true happiness.

As per hedonism happiness means minimising pain and maximising pleasure.

Moral intellectual

Moral intellectual Socrates also thought that anyone who knows what virtue is will necessarily act virtuously. He said that no one knowingly does What is bad. This view is known as moral intellectualism.


Temperance is a strength that protects against excess and consists of self-regulation and obedience to authority. It suggests harmony among conflicting elements.


Courage/Fortitude is the bravery to do justice. It removes obstacles that come in the path of justice.


Prudence(wisdom) is the right reason for action. It plays a vital role in terms of guiding & regulating all other virtues.


Justice: Justice is a human virtue that makes a person self-consistent and good. In a social context, Justice is a social consciousness that makes a society internally harmonious and good.


Justice means we are giving people what they deserve. It means people should not get less than what they deserve and not more than what they deserve, but they should get what they deserve. The key element of justice, according to Aristotle, is treating cases alike.


Power should be distributed among the virtuous and not among all. Justice only exists when mutual relations are controlled by law and law is found only among those liable for injustice (Importance of law).

Individual justice: The moral disposition renders men appropriate to do just things and wishes for just.

Distributive justice:  Fair distribution of benefits and burdens or just relations between members of society.

Corrective justice: To safeguard the rights and liberties of citizens.

The Doctrine of the Meann

The Doctrine of the Meann: Aristotle argues that each moral virtue is a sort of mean lying between two extremes, this idea became the basis of his Doctrine of the Mean. It means one should avoid extremes while taking decisions; for example, courage is a meaning between no action at all or aggression/extreme action/extreme action.

Four cardinal virtues

Four cardinal virtues: As per Aristotle, there are many Moral virtues but four of them are the most important for humanity (cardinal virtues of Plato) including- Prudence/Wisdom, Justice, Courage and Temperance.

Universal Egoism

Universal egoism: It means everyone should do, what is in his interests. This idea promoted the value of liberty/freedom. According to Bentham, liberty is the absence of restraint. It means, one has liberty and is “free” to the extent that one is not impeded by others.

Altruistic/Universalistic hedonism

Altruistic/universalistic hedonism: JS Mill said that individual action should not harm society. It means that good for society is good for individuals. It means he advocated altruistic/universalistic hedonism.

Legal Positivism

Legal positivism: Bentham may have produced an early form of what is now commonly referred to as “legal positivism” by criticising the natural laws which advocate restricted/regulated rights of the citizens because he believed that natural laws are limitless, undefined and ambiguous. Hence rights of the people should be defined and protected by the sovereign power (government).

The Rule-Utilitarianism

The Rule-Utilitarianism: Mill agreed with Bentham that the moral thing to do is to promote the greatest good for the greatest number but he reasoned that a common/ordinary man does not have the time to calculate pleasure or pain accurately in every instance. Hence, there should be some basic rules in place to help us maximise pleasure and minimise pain.

State of nature

State of nature: individuals in a state of nature have no a priori moral law that obligates them to constrain their behaviour.

Right of nature

Right of nature: since a state of nature has no a priori moral law that obligates individuals to constrain their behaviour. For Hobbes, self-preservation justified the use of force and fraud to defend ourselves in a state of nature. In this state, only the power of others limits, what we can do. Hobbes called this the right of nature.

State of Peace & Law of Nature:

State of Peace & Law of Nature: Thomas Hobbes argued that humans as rational beings will try to avoid war and ensure peace in all possible manners ( State of Peace). Hobbes calls these practical imperatives “Laws of Nature”, the sum of which is not to treat others in ways we would not have them treat us.

Social contract

Social contract: This agreement between individuals to establish the laws that make communal living possible and an agency to enforce those laws is called the social contract.

Leviathan state

Leviathan state: Because the state is a small institution, to govern society, it will require more power; hence he advocated for a leviathan state (strong state/big state), a state which has absolute powers, which means people can’t revolt against it and the state can use force on its subjects to maintain law and order. People will have rights in such a state, but these rights will be conditional but not absolute.

Veil of Ignorance

Veil of Ignorance: It is the method of determining the morality of political issues. As per Rawls, decision-makers should make decisions based on the assumption that they know nothing about the talents, abilities, tastes, social class and positions they will have in the social order, once they become part of it. Such people with a veil of ignorance make decisions based on morality, since they may not be able to make choices based on their self-interest or class interest.


Deontology: The term deontology finds its etymology in the Greek word “Deon”, meaning ‘duty,’ ‘obligation,’ or ‘that which is necessary, hence moral necessity’. It rejects that the moral worth of any action depends on its consequences moral agents have to rigorously fulfil their moral duties or obligationsunmindful of the consequences. The moral worth of an action does not depend on its consequences, but that a different criterion should be used. Moral agents have to honour human rights and meet moral obligations even at the cost of an optimal outcome.

Categorical Imperative of Kant

Categorical Imperative of Kant: Moral action should be done from a sense of duty“.Act only according to that maxim (rule) by which you can at the same time will that it should become a universal law”. It implies that what is right for one person becomes right for all and what is wrong for one is wrong for all. If you cannot universalise your action to make it right for all, then it is wrong for you too.

Ethical dilemma

Ethical dilemma: An ethical dilemma is a situation of the clash between two or more equally competent values (both should be either positive or negative it is not possible between positive and negative).

Conflict of interest

Conflict of interest: A conflict of interest is a particular type of value conflict where a set of circumstances creates a risk that professional judgement or actions regarding a primary interest (public interest) will be unduly influenced by a secondary interest (personal gains). Eg – if the personal well-being of civil servants comes in conflict with public welfare there is a conflict of interest.

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