Ethics Essay

667 Words Oct 16th, 2012 3 Pages
Some years ago, sociologist Raymond Baumhart asked business people, "What does ethics mean to you?" Among their replies were the following:

"Ethics has to do with what my feelings tell me is right or wrong." "Ethics has to do with my religious beliefs." "Being ethical is doing what the law requires." "Ethics consists of the standards of behavior our society accepts." "I don't know what the word means."

These replies might be typical of our own. The meaning of "ethics" is hard to pin down, and the views many people have about ethics are shaky.

Like Baumhart's first respondent, many people tend to equate ethics with their feelings. But being ethical is clearly not a matter of following one's feelings. A
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Moreover, if being ethical were doing "whatever society accepts," then to find out what is ethical, one would have to find out what society accepts. To decide what I should think about abortion, for example, I would have to take a survey of American society and then conform my beliefs to whatever society accepts. But no one ever tries to decide an ethical issue by doing a survey. Further, the lack of social consensus on many issues makes it impossible to equate ethics with whatever society accepts. Some people accept abortion but many others do not. If being ethical were doing whatever society accepts, one would have to find an agreement on issues which does not, in fact, exist.

What, then, is ethics? Ethics is two things. First, ethics refers to well-founded standards of right and wrong that prescribe what humans ought to do, usually in terms of rights, obligations, benefits to society, fairness, or specific virtues. Ethics, for example, refers to those standards that impose the reasonable obligations to refrain from rape, stealing, murder, assault, slander, and fraud. Ethical standards also include those that enjoin virtues of honesty, compassion, and loyalty. And, ethical standards include standards relating to rights, such as the right to life, the right to freedom from injury, and the right to privacy. Such standards are adequate standards of ethics because they are supported by consistent and well-founded reasons.

Secondly,

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