At its most uncomplicated, ethics is a system of moral principles. It is the investigative study of ‘What is the
right thing to do?’ They affect how humans make decisions and lead their lives. The term ‘ethics’
is derived from the Greek word ‘ethikos’ which can mean custom, habit, character, or
disposition. Ethics is a system of moral principles that helps us differentiate between right and
wrong, good and bad, fair, and unfair. These can be said to be the guiding light for human
The change in human behavior and action due to the application of ethical principles help
us to build a humane society where everyone can live in peace and harmony.
Whether or not there are any universal moral principles that can be applied irrespective of
person or circumstance is a debate that philosophers have had throughout history.
Every society has tried to codify the principles of good or acceptable conduct many times in the past. Bad
or unacceptable conduct has been discouraged or punished. Religious views on ethics, for
example, tend to be universal. The concept of Categorical Imperative as proposed by Immanuel
Kant (covered later) gives a test of determining the universality of an act.
Whenever we make a choice, it was plausible for us to have made a different one. The Danish philosopher Soren Kierkegaard captures this sense when he describes standing on the edge of a cliff. The only thing that prevents us from falling into the void is us – our choice to do otherwise.
Ethics is entirely possible because we can act against our nature, based on our conscience. It stops us from simply describing what is likely to happen, and allows us to make judgments about what should happen. Of all the actions you might act, which is the best? Of all the possibilities, which one should you bring into reality? That’s the question ethics attempts to respond.
Of course, you can only answer that question if you dare to ask it. It’s comfortable, safe, and pretty common to do what’s always been done – pass responsibility onto others or stick with the status quo. Ethics asks us to take responsibility for our beliefs and our actions, and live a life that’s our own.