Academic journal article Forum on Public Policy: A Journal of the Oxford Round Table

Creating Ethical Environment and Restoring Trust: Bridging the Skill Value Gap

Academic journal article Forum on Public Policy: A Journal of the Oxford Round Table

Creating Ethical Environment and Restoring Trust: Bridging the Skill Value Gap

Article excerpt

Part I

[This part of the paper attempts to describe the concepts related to understanding of ethics and the role of mind in propelling ethical or un-ethical behaviour. It also attempts to explain as to how mind is guided by the combination of virtue and vice driven values when it propels ethical or unethical behaviour with the kind of intelligence possessed by a person.]

What is Ethics?

Ethics (vai Latin ethica from the Ancient Greek "moral philosophy", from the adjective of "custom, habit'), a major branch of philosophy, encompasses right conduct and good life. It is significantly broader than the common conception of analyzing right and wrong. A central aspect of ethics is "the good life", the life worth living or life that is satisfying, which is held by many philosophers to be more important than moral conduct. The major problem is the discovery of the summum bonum, the greatest good. The right act can be identified as the one causing the greatest good and immoral act as the one impeding it.

Ethics and morals are respectively akin to theory and practice. Ethics denotes the theory of right action and the greater good while morals indicate their practice. "Moral" has dual meaning. The first indicates a person's comprehension of morality and his capacity to put it into practice. In this meaning, the antonym is "amoral", indicating an inability to distinguish between right and wrong. The second denotes the active value of those values. In this sense, the antonym is "immoral", referring to actions that violate ethical principles. Ethics is related to morals or moral principles and moral is concerned with the conduct and duties of man and the moral philosophy is the science of right living and the just conduct of living. Ethics is concerned with philosophy which treats of human character and conduct, of distinction between right and wrong, and of moral duties and obligations to the community.

Personal ethics signifies a moral code applicable to individuals, while social ethics means moral theory applied to groups. Social ethics can be synonymous with social and political philosophy, in as much as it is the foundation of a good society or state.

Ethics is not limited to specific act and defined moral codes, but encompasses the whole of moral ideals and behaviour, a person's philosophy of life.

A few years ago, sociologist Raymond Baumhart asked business people, what do 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 behaviour 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 Bahaman'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 person following his or her feelings may recoil from doing what is right. In fact, feelings frequently deviate from what is ethical.

Nor should one identify ethics with religion. Most religions, of course, advocate high ethical standards. Yet if ethics were confined to religion, then ethics would apply only to religious people. But ethics applies as much to the behaviour of the atheist as to that of the saint. Religion can set high ethical standards and can provide intense motivations for ethical behaviour. Ethics, however, cannot be confined to religion nor is it the same as religion.

Being ethical is also not the same as following the law. The law often incorporates ethical standards to which most citizens subscribe. But laws, like feelings, can deviate from what is ethical. Our own pre-civil war slavery laws and the apartheid laws of present day South Africa are grotesquely obvious examples of laws that deviate from what is ethical. …

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