Generally, ethics refers to a system of good and bad, moral and immoral, fair and unfair. It is the study of what we ought to do. Ethics has to do with duty- duty to self and duty to others. “Ethics is a branch of philosophy concerned with the general nature of morals and specific moral choice that people make in relationships with others” (Dennis and Merril, 146). “Ethics deals with what we ought to do in situations involving other people – what we owe to others and how we meet our responsibilities to them” (Lorenz and Vivian 573-574).
Each individual’s set of ethics provides the fundamental principles or beliefs by which the person distinguishes, consciously after some thought or unconsciously and seemingly by instinct, between morally acceptable and morally unacceptable behavior in that person’s eyes. There are various sources of ethical standards. They are discussed as follows:
Religion is one of the oldest foundations of ethical standards. Depending upon the degree of religious influence, we have different sects of people. It is the religion that wields varying influences across various sects of people. It is believed that ethics is a manifestation of the divine and so it draws the line between the good and the bad in the society.
As there are many religions over the world, there are various perspectives on ethics. Religion provides people with highly explicit, generally internally consistent, guides to good personal conduct. Hence, in both business and personal situations, a highly religious person is likely to act in ways that most of us will regard as highly ethical. Virtually all the world’s religions teach an essentially similar code of ethics that emphasizes honesty, respect for others and their rights and selflessness.
One of the important sources of ethical standards is culture. Culture is the pattern of behaviors and values that are transferred from one generation to another, those that are considered as ideal or within acceptable limits. Culture predominantly determines what is wrong and what is right. It is the culture that defines certain behavior as acceptable and others as unacceptable.
Human civilization in fact has passed through various cultures, wherein the moral code was redrafted depending upon what the epoch was. What was immoral and unacceptable in certain culture became acceptable later on and vice versa.
Laws are procedures and code of conduct that are laid down by the legal system of the state. They are meant to guide human behavior within the social fabric. However, the major problem with law is that all the ethical expectations can’t be covered by the law and with the ever changing outer environment; the law keeps on changing but often fails to keep pace.
Ethics is a branch of philosophy. Hence, there is no doubt that philosophy is one of the major sources of ethical standards. Philosophers such as Plato, Aristotle, Kant, Bentham and more recent ethical thinkers throughout the world have developed basic principles from which they have derived systems of ethics. Such systems of ethics include Principle of Golden Mean, Kant’s Categorical Imperative, Principle of Utility, The Veil of Ignorance, Principle of Self-Determination, Mimamsa Philosophy etc.
Each person learns ethics from his or her parents, what they teach in words and perhaps more importantly through their actions. These teachings shape our most fundamental attitudes about what is right and what is wrong. Childhood upbringing highly shapes the behavior and ethics of a person. It is truly said that a child’s first school is his home. Hence, he or she gets to learn a lot from their home and family. Watching the elders do certain things, the child learns a lot. The way and environment in which a child is brought up highly influences his or her ethics.
Later life experiences
A life-shaping event later in a person’s life may more consciously and directly shape the person’s ethics. A person learns a lot later in his or her life. These learning highly affect and shape the way he or she thinks that something is good or bad and wrong or right. Later life experiences highly shape the way a person thinks about what is right and what is wrong. People experience lots of things in their life and these experiences are important sources of their ethics.
Adhikary, Nirmala Mani. “Mass Media Ethics.” Space Time Today 18 March 2003.
Adhikary, Nirmala Mani. Studying Mass Media Ethics. Kathmandu: Prashanti Pustak Bhandar, 2006.
“Where Our Ethics Come From,” Retrieved March 15, 2013 from http://www.irmi.com/expert/articles/2006/head03.aspx.