Ethics Unwrapped Blog

Values

Values are individual beliefs that motivate people to act one way or another. They serve as a guide for human behavior.

Generally, people are predisposed to adopt the values that they are raised with. People also tend to believe that those values are “right” because they are the values of their particular culture.

Ethical decision-making often involves weighing values against each other and choosing which values to elevate. Conflicts can result when people have different values, leading to a clash of preferences and priorities.

Some values have intrinsic worth, such as love, truth, and freedom. Other values, such as ambition, responsibility, and courage, describe traits or behaviors that are instrumental as means to an end.

Still other values are considered sacred and are moral imperatives for those who believe in them. Sacred values will seldom be compromised because they are perceived as duties rather than as factors to be weighed in decision-making. For example, for some people, their nation’s flag may represent a sacred value. But for others, the flag may just be a piece of cloth.

So, whether values are sacred, have intrinsic worth, or are a means to an end, values vary among individuals and across cultures and time. However values are universally recognized as a driving force in ethical decision-making.

Continue Reading

Morals

Morals are the prevailing standards of behavior that enable people to live cooperatively in groups. Moral refers to what societies sanction as right and acceptable.

Most people tend to act morally and follow societal guidelines. Morality often requires that people sacrifice their own short-term interests for the benefit of society. People or entities that are indifferent to right and wrong are considered amoral, while those who do evil acts are considered immoral.

While some moral principles seem to transcend time and culture, such as fairness, generally speaking, morality is not fixed. Morality describes the particular values of a specific group at a specific point in time. Historically, morality has been closely connected to religious traditions, but today its significance is equally important to the secular world. For example, businesses and government agencies have codes of ethics that employees are expected to follow.

Some philosophers make a distinction between morals and ethics. But many people use the terms morals and ethics interchangeably when talking about personal beliefs, actions, or principles. For example, it’s common to say, “My morals prevent me from cheating.” It’s also common to use ethics in this sentence instead.

So, morals are the principles that guide individual conduct within society. And, while morals may change over time, they remain the standards of behavior that we use to judge right and wrong.

Continue Reading

Moral Relativism

Moral relativism is the idea that there is no universal or absolute set of moral principles. It’s a version of morality that advocates “to each her own,” and those who follow it say, “Who am I to judge?”

Moral relativism can be understood in several ways.

Descriptive moral relativism, also known as cultural relativism, says that moral standards are culturally defined, which is generally true. Indeed, there may be a few values that seem nearly universal, such as honesty and respect, but many differences appear across cultures when people evaluate moral standards around the world.

Meta-ethical moral relativism states that there are no objective grounds for preferring the moral values of one culture over another. Societies make their moral choices based on their unique beliefs, customs, and practices. And, in fact, people tend to believe that the “right” moral values are the values that exist in their own culture.

Normative moral relativism is the idea that all societies should accept each other’s differing moral values, given that there are no universal moral principles. Most philosophers disagree however. For example, just because bribery is okay in some cultures doesn’t mean that other cultures cannot rightfully condemn it.

Moral relativism is on the opposite end of the continuum from moral absolutism, which says that there is always one right answer to any ethical question. Indeed, those who adhere to moral relativism would say, “When in Rome, do as the Romans do.”

Continue Reading

Moral Pluralism

Moral pluralism is the idea that there can be conflicting moral views that are each worthy of respect.

Moral pluralists tend to be open-minded when faced with competing viewpoints. They analyze issues from several moral points of view before deciding and taking action.

Moral pluralists believe that many moral issues are extremely complicated. Thus, no single philosophical approach will always provide all the answers.

For example, assume a building is on fire. A woman has the opportunity to rush inside and save the children trapped in the burning building. But in doing this she may die, and leave her own child an orphan. A moral pluralist would conclude that there is no definitive way to decide which is the better course of moral action. Indeed, moral pluralism declares that it is sometimes difficult to choose between competing values.

So, moral pluralism occupies a sensible middle ground between “there is only one right answer”  as moral absolutism says, and “there is no wrong answer” as moral relativism claims.

Continue Reading

Moral Emotions

Emotions – that is to say feelings and intuitions – play a major role in most of the ethical decisions people make. Most people do not realize how much their emotions direct their moral choices. But experts think it is impossible to make any important moral judgments without emotions.

Inner-directed negative emotions like guilt, embarrassment, and shame often motivate people to act ethically.

Outer-directed negative emotions, on the other hand, aim to discipline or punish. For example, people often direct anger, disgust, or contempt at those who have acted unethically. This discourages others from behaving the same way.

Positive emotions like gratitude and admiration, which people may feel when they see another acting with compassion or kindness, can prompt people to help others.

Emotions evoked by suffering, such as sympathy and empathy, often lead people to act ethically toward others. Indeed, empathy is the central moral emotion that most commonly motivates prosocial activity such as altruism, cooperation, and generosity.

So, while we may believe that our moral decisions are influenced most by our philosophy or religious values, in truth our emotions play a significant role in our ethical decision-making.

Continue Reading

Moral Absolutism

Moral absolutism asserts that there are certain universal moral principles by which all peoples’ actions may be judged. It is a form of deontology.

The challenge with moral absolutism, however, is that there will always be strong disagreements about which moral principles are correct and which are incorrect.

For example, most people around the world probably accept the idea that we should treat others as we wish to be treated ourselves. But beyond that, people from different countries likely hold varying views about everything from the morality of abortion and capital punishment to nepotism and bribery.

Moral absolutism contrasts with moral relativism, which denies that there are absolute moral values. It also differs from moral pluralism, which urges tolerance of others’ moral principles without concluding that all views are equally valid.

So, while moral absolutism declares a universal set of moral values, in reality, moral principles vary greatly among nations, cultures, and religions.

Continue Reading

Justice

Justice, for many people, refers to fairness. But while justice is important to almost everyone, it means different things to different groups.

For instance, social justice is the notion that everyone deserves equal economic, political, and social opportunities irrespective of race, gender, or religion. Distributive justice refers to the equitable allocation of assets in society. Environmental justice is the fair treatment of all people with regard to environmental burdens and benefits.

Restorative or corrective justice seeks to make whole those who have suffered unfairly. Retributive justice seeks to punish wrongdoers objectively and proportionately. And procedural justice refers to implementing legal decisions in accordance with fair and unbiased processes.

Justice is one of the most important moral values in the spheres of law and politics. Legal and political systems that maintain law and order are desirable, but they cannot accomplish either unless they also achieve justice.

Continue Reading

Ethics

The term ethics often describes the investigation and analysis of moral principles and dilemmas. Traditionally, philosophers and religious scholars have studied ethics. More recently, scholars from various disciplines have entered the field, creating new approaches to the study of ethics such as behavioral ethics and applied ethics.

The term ethics can also refer to rules or guidelines that establish what conduct is right and wrong for individuals and for groups. For example, codes of conduct express relevant ethical standards for professionals in many fields, such as medicine, law, journalism, and accounting.

Some philosophers make a distinction between ethics and morals. But many people use the terms ethics and morals interchangeably when talking about personal beliefs, actions, or principles. For example, it’s common to say, “My ethics prevent me from cheating.” It’s also common to use morals in this sentence instead.

So, whether we use the term ethics to refer to personal beliefs, or rules of conduct, or the study of moral philosophy, ethics provides a framework for understanding and interpreting right and wrong in society.

Continue Reading