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Definition of Ethics

A set of moral principles or code of conduct. Standards of right or wrong. formal or professional rule of right and wrong; the study of values and customs of a person or group. It covers the analysis and employment of concepts such as right and wrong, good and evil, and responsibility. It is divided into three primary areas: meta-ethics (the study of the concept of ethics), normative ethics (the study of how to determine ethical values), and applied ethics (the study of the use of ethical values)(Wikipedia)

the study of ethics is a subset of philosophy. The intellectual undertstanding of ethics does not guarantee that one is ethical. One can study ethics and still choose not to be ethical. On the other hand it is expected that studying ethics will assist someone who chooses to be ethical with tools that will be helpful.

However I would repeat an admonistion which I received from my mother but perhaps was better captured in words by Barbara Coloroso:

If we are to rasie kids who can think and act ethically, we don't begin with the thinking or the acting. We begin with caring-caring for our children and nurturing their innate ability to are; helping them to see themselves as lovable and loving. Such an ethic is primarily about relationships, not principles or virtues, and values. It is not that principles or virtues, and values have no purpose. They do. In an ethic rooted in deep caring, they are in service to and at the service of that caring (Coloroso 2005 xvii)

The Prehistory of Ethics

From whence did ethics originate. The Theory of Evolution has today become an all encompassing starting point to explain the the behaviour of man and animal. Man evolved with his environment. From time to time, mutations, or anatomical abnormalities would occur through processes best explained by the science of biology. Some mutations favoured man's survival in his existing environment and increased the likelihood that he would survive and produce progeny who likewise held a statistical edge over others. Those that were favoured would this increase in numbers relative to those who less favoured. Hence, Biologist along with philosophers and countless others have thus hypnotized that the strongest, wisest and most adaptable would ultimately win out. According to one theory proposed by Jane Jacob, the existence of ethics as well served some practical end that assisted the species to survive and prosper.

Jane Jacobs in Systems of Survival(1) proposed that human behaviour is governed by two distinct ethical systems or syndromes because there are essentially 2 ways of making a living.(1) The first comes from behaviour we share in common with animals -foraging for food and protecting our territories. The second syndrome, called the commercial syndrome, arose from trade and the production of goods - an activity she believes is unique to human beings. Each system provided man with an alternative way of surviving and thriving. Ways of making a living evolved along with collections of moral behaviours and practices and vice versa. Primitive men who shared certain behaviours and practices were more successful in surviving than those who didn't. Two distinct ethical systems evolved along these two principal means of surviving.

Jacobs identifies various behaviours that fit together in the commercial syndrome:
Shun force: (gives substance to voluntary agreements)
Come to voluntary agreements: trade by agreement rather than take by force
Be Honest (gives substance to voluntary agreement)
Collaborate easily with strangers and aliens(links with honesty "Trust is feasible only where honesty is usual)
Compete (only possible where one person does not have a monopoly)
Respect contracts(gives substance to voluntary agreement)
Use initiative and enterprise
Be open to inventiveness and novelty
Be efficient
Promote comfort and convience
Dissent for the sake of the task
Invest for productive purposes
Be Industrious
Be Thrifty
Be Optimistic (4)

Those who came by such behaviours and habits found one way of eaking out an existence - by bartering for food and shelter.

Since the collapse of the former Soviet Union there has not been any serious ideological arguement. It is generally accepted that democratic capitalism and free market provide an efficient regulator of economic activity. However, to suggest that the selfish nature of man alone promotes either the interest of the individual or the collective society is quite the opposite. Both are required for the community to grow rich and prosper.

Man is both inherently selfish and inherently social. Adam Smith in his two major works considers each characteristic of man. In the second books Adams states a basic principal about the nature of man: Mankind is driven by a selfish desire to " better his condition.

It is not from the benevolence of the butcher, the brewer, or the baker, that we expect our dinner, but their regard to their own interest(2)

In his first work The Theory of Moral Sentiments Adam Smith emphasized the other characteristic of man - that of social animal- the compassionate man - the one who's economic activities takes place in a broader social habits and mores:

How selfish so ever man may be supposed, there are evidently some principle in his nature, which interest him in the future of others, and render their happiness necessary to him though he derives nothing from it except the pleasure of seeing it. Of this kind is pity or all other passions of human nature, is by no means confined to the virtuous and humane, though they perhaps may feel it with the most exquisite sensibility. The greatest ruffian, the most hardened violator of the laws of society, is not altogether without it.(3)

Francis Fukuyama suggests that business man often do things that are not in their narrow material interest. He discusses the notion of an embedded conditions. A sufficient level of trust is one such embedded condition that is necessary for commerce and economic prosperity to exist. The lesser the level of trust existing in a culture, the greater the costs of commercial transactions. Take an example of a buyer and seller of goods who on a weekly basis buy and sell to each other, keeping a record in a note book and taking no security for payment of the purchases which will follow within a week or a month of the transaction. Contrast this with another pair of traders who pay expensive lawyers to protect payment with security documentation. Ultimately the system must pay the extra costs of lack of trust.

Classical Greek Ethics

Plato's Republic

Plato rejects notion put forward by Thrasymachus that morality is merely a set of rules invented by the strong to exploit the weak. He further rejects a notion put forward by Glaucon that morality is merely a matter of a social compromise between men pursuing their natural self interests. Plato understands morality not a matter of human construction but rather part of the structure of the real world (world of forms).

Aristotle's The Nicomachean Ethics

Aristotle is credited as being the originator of Eadaimonistic or virtue ethics.

The central question asked by a person is,"How should a human being live?" The answer to that question is the person's conception of eudaimonia, or human flourishing, a complete human life. A conception of eudamonia is taken to be inclusive of all to which the agent ascribes intrinsic value

While the word is often translated happiness human flourishing is more correct. The actions, relations and persons included in the conception are valued in and by themselves not simply in relation to what they might achieve for the person.

Hobbes, Leviathan

Hobbes view of morality was that rational but evil persons adopted positions that avoided conflict.

Hume, David (1969) A Treatise of Human Nature and Enquiries Concerning Human Understanding and Concerning the Principles of Morals

Hume, a sceptic, did not believe that you could use logic or reason to prove the truth of moral beliefs. There is a gap between factual statements ("IS" Statements) and moral statements ("OUGHT" statements).

Your attitudes and emotions, thoughts and desires, all reveal your ethics ...Character is central to morality, and your emotions are central to your character. Halberstam 1993

Classes of Normative Ethics

Normative Ethics is the philosophical study of right and wrong.- it is prescriptive.

Theories of Right Action - moral codes usually derived from or justified by some fundamental principles such as Kant's Categorical Imperatives:

Specific Issues

Is the Targeting of Civilians in War Ever Justified




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