What is Ethics?
Accepted standards of behavior; practice of those in a profession; laws and expectations of society
Definition of Ethics
The discipline dealing with what is good and bad, with moral duty and obligation
A set of moral principles; a theory or system of moral values; the principles of conduct governing an individual or a group; a guiding philosophy; a consciousness of moral importance
A set of moral issues or aspects
Reasons to study ethics
Simple beliefs may be inadequate for complex issue
The study can help a person sort out these complex issue, by seeing what principles operate in those cases
Conflicting ethical principles
Ethics can provide insights into how to adjudicate between conflicting principles and show why certain courses of action are more desirable than others
Inadequate beliefs to inadequate values
Caveat emptor: let the buyer beware
Caveat vendor: let the seller beware
Understand whether and why our opinions are worth holding on to
Identify and apply basic ethical principle
Helps to develop the skill of determining what should be done and an understanding of why it should be done
It is often helpful to have a checklist of basic questions or considerations that need to be raised and applied to the situation
The study of ethics can make us aware of the number and types of principles that can be used in determining what should be done
Ethics and Morality
Essentially are the same
Every person has an ethical set of beliefs or ethical principles
Ethical beliefs contain two elements
Example: cooking the books is wrong – subject: cooking the books; predicate: wrong
Ethics involves the analysis and evaluation of moral beliefs or judgments
Analysis: what is the belief asserting?
Evaluation: are there any good reasons for why the action is ethical?
Reason: precepts from common morality that we learned growing up
Human actions are the primary subject matter of our ethical judgments
Deliberate action about which a person deliberates and freely chooses to perform
Note: not all deliberate actions have ethical impact
Discussion will focus on deliberate actions which benefit or harm other people or ourselves positively or negatively in some way
Social practices, institutions, and systems
Human actions are not the only subject matter for ethics
Ethics examines and evaluates social practices
Actions are individual activities
A social practice is a class of individual actions
Ethics also evaluates organizations, institutions or systems
Examples of institutions: AICPA, one of the Big Four accounting firms, free enterprise economic system
“Capitalism is a corrupt system” is an ethical evaluation of a system
In short, ethics examines and evaluates actions and practices or systems, at both the institutional and individual levels
Questions to ask to justify any action: the basis of ethical theory
Is the action good for me?
If an action is beneficial to oneself, then it is a good reason to do it
Good is that fulfills basic human needs: material needs, social needs, and needs for meaningful activities
Is the action good or harmful for society?
If we are thinking ethically, we also think about everyone that might be affected, and not just ourselves
Is the action fair or just?
Principle of justice – the same (equals) should be treated the same (equally)
Does the action violate anyone’s rights?
If an action treats people fairly and does not violate any of their rights, there is no reason not to perform this action
Have I made a commitment, implied or explicit?
If promises were made, they ought to be kept
Any lasting relationships rests on implied promises and expectations of guaranteed behavior
Ethical theories – general principles which are claimed to be the basic foundation for all ethical rules or judgments
Ethical theory would not be…