Meaning and Scope of Ethics

Meaning of Ethics

  • Ethics is a set of standards that society places on itself, which helps guide people’s choices, actions, and behaviour. Or,
  • Ethics can also 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. Or,
  • Ethics can also be defined as the reflective study of what is good or bad in that part of human conduct for which human has some responsibility.

Scope of Ethics

  • Ethics deals with human actions, not the actions of humans. Human action is deliberate and involves knowledge/consciousness, free will/choice, and voluntariness/willingness, like reading, running, and smoking but all actions of humans may not be deliberate, like sneezing, yawing, belches etc.
  • The province or scope of ethics is the range of its subject matter. Ethics, as a normative science, seeks to define moral ideals. It is not concerned with the nature, origin or development of human conduct; it I but the ideal or standard to which our conduct should conform. But to into the ideal of conduct, it must know the nature of the conduct. Conduct is the expression of character. Character is the settled habit of will. It is the permanent disposition produced by habitual actions.
  • Ethics is sometimes said to be the science of character. But to into the nature of the character, Ethics must enquire into the nature of the springs of actions, motives, intentions, voluntary actions, non-voluntary actions and so on. Thus, Ethics must be founded on a psychological basis.
  • The fundamental problem of ethics is the nature of the moral ideal or standard concerning which we pass moral judgements.
  • Ethics try to answers the following questions?:
    • What is the good or the moral Ideal?
    • What is the summum Bonum or the chief Good?
  • But though Ethics investigates the nature of the moral ideal or the Good, it does not formulate rules for the realisation of ideals.
  • When an action conforms to the moral ideal, it is said to be right; when it does not conform to it, it is said to be wrong. ‘Right actions are said to be duties. The end, which is sub-served by the moral laws, is said to be good. There is a hierarchy of ends. So, there are relative goods and absolute goods. Ethics is concerned with the highest or absolute good.
  • Thus, the fundamental notions of ethics are right, duty and good, the nature of which it investigates. Ethics is concerned with the nature, object, faculty and standard of moral judgements.
  • Moral judgements are accompanied by moral sentiments, e.g., feelings of approval and disapproval, remorse, and the like. Ethics has to discuss the nature of moral sentiments and the relation of moral sentiments to moral judgements. Moral Judgements are also accompanied by the sense of duty, ‘oughtness’ or moral obligation. When we perceive an act to be right, we feel under a moral obligation to do it; when we perceive an act to be wrong, we feel under a moral obligation not to do it. Ethics has to account for this sense of duty or moral obligation.
    • What is the nature of moral obligation?
    • What is the origin of moral obligation?
    • What is the source of moral obligation?
    • To whom are we responsible for our conduct?
  • Our right actions have merit; our wrong actions have demerits. Ethics enquiries into the criterion of merit and demerit. It tries to find out what makes an action meritorious. Merit and demerit are called deserts. Ethics investigates them.
  • Ethics assumes the freedom of the will. It discusses the nature of human freedom. We are responsible for our actions.
  • Ethics enquiries into the nature of responsibility. Criminals are responsible for their crimes. So, they ought to be punished. Ethics gives moral justification for punishment.
  • Ethics determines the nature and kinds of rights, duties and virtues determined by the ultimate moral standard. Virtue and vice come within their scope.
  • Though Ethics has a province/scope of its own, it is not entirely divorced from all other departments of study. It was indirectly to treat several problems, which are psychological, philosophical, sociological and political in nature.
    • The psychological problems with which Ethics is concerned are those of the nature of voluntary actions, the classification of the springs of actions and the relation between desire and pleasure.
    • The philosophical problems are those of the essential nature of human personality, the freedom of the will, immortality of the soul, existence and perfection of God, and the moral government of the universe.
    • The sociological problem is that of the relation of the individual to the state, of the ethical basis and moral functions of the state and of international morality.
  • These notions of rightness and wrongness of conduct are derived from it. This is the theoretical aim of ethics. Though Ethics is not a practical science, it deduces concrete duties and virtues from the notion of the Supreme Good, which may guide us in the regulation of our conduct. Ethics is a Theoretical science. It is not a practical science.
  • Ethics is the theory of morality. It converts moral faith into a rational insight. It criticises the common notions of morality and discovers the rational and essential elements in them. Science is a criticism of common sense. So, Ethics, as the science of morality, criticizes vague and sometimes inaccurate, popular notions of right and wrong. It exposes the defects and inconsistencies of the social customs and usages, social, political and religious institutions and gives us a real insight into the nature of the moral ideal.
  • As a result of the exposure of error, some crude notions of right and wrong, moral authority, and moral sanctions are gradually given up. The removal of incorrect ideas decreases the possibility of wrong actions. Ethics attacks the basis of popular morality, purges it of errors and inconsistencies and places on a secure footing all that is valid and essential in morality.
  • Through reflective criticism, Ethics prepares the way for its constructive function. It separates the essential from the inessential, the permanent from the transitory, and the spirit from the form of social or moral institutions and rationalizes our notions of right and wrong. Moral insight into duties makes their performance possible. Theory inevitably acts on practice.
  • Theoretical Ethics is the secure foundation of all practical or applied ethics. The concrete duties of life should be determined concerning the moral ideal. Knowledge is a condition of virtue. Ethics indirectly exerts a paramount influence on all departments of practical life. The right solution to the vital problems of religion, politics, economics, legislature, education etc., depends upon the correct notions of right and wrong.
    • Religion must have a foundation in ethics; divorced from morality, it degenerates into superstitions, belief in blind superhuman power, black magic and the like.
    • Ethics should mould politics. Might be based upon the right, and immoral laws should be abolished- Laws should be enacted for the improvement of the moral well-being of the people.
    • Economics should be based on ethics. Production, distribution and consumption of Wealth should be based on justice and equity.
    • In education, Ethics is to decide what impulses and dispositions in children should be strength sued and what should be suppressed.
  • Ethics should embrace departments of human actions, exert an evaluating influence upon them, are raise humanity to a higher level.
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