First, ethics refers to well based standards of right and wrong that prescribe whathumans ought to do, usually in terms of rights, obligations,benefits to society, fairness, or specific virtues
Ethics, for example, refers tothose standards that imposethe 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 torights, such as the right to life, the right to freedom frominjury, and the right to privacy.
Such standards are adequate standards of ethics because they are supported byconsistent and well founded reasons.
Secondly, ethics refers to the study and development of ones ethical standards.
As mentioned above, feelings, laws, and social norms can deviate from what is ethical.So it is necessary to constantly examine ones standards to ensure that they are reasonable and well-founded
Ethics also means, then, thecontinuous effort of studying our own moral beliefs and our moral conduct, and striving to ensure that we, and the institutions wehelp to shape, live up to standards that are reasonable and solidly- based.
The Utilitarian Approach Some ethicists emphasize that the ethical action isthe one that provides the most good or does the leastharm, or, to put it another way, produces the greatest balance of good over harm. The ethical corporate action, then, is the one that produces the greatest good and does the least harm for all who are affected-customers, employees, shareholders, the community, and the environment. Ethical warfarebalances the good achieved in ending terrorism with the harm done to all parties through death, injuries, and destruction. The utilitarian approach deals withconsequences; it tries both to increase the good done and to reduce the harm done.
The Rights ApproachOther philosophers and ethicists suggest that the ethicalaction is the one that best protects and respects the moralrights of those affected. This approach starts from the beliefthat humans have a dignity based on their human nature perse or on their ability to choose freely what they do with theirlives. On the basis of such dignity, they have a right to betreated as ends and not merely as means to other ends. Thelist of moral rights -including the rights to make ones ownchoices about what kind of life to lead, to be told the truth,not to be injured, to a degree of privacy, and so on-is widelydebated; some now argue that non-humans have rights, too.Also, it is often said that rights imply duties-in particular, theduty to respect others rights.
The Fairness or Justice ApproachAristotle and other Greek philosophers have contributed theidea that all equals should be treated equally. Today we usethis idea to say that ethical actions treat all human beingsequally-or if unequally, then fairly based on some standardthat is defensible. We pay people more based on their harderwork or the greater amount that they contribute to anorganization, and say that is fair. But there is a debate overCEO salaries that are hundreds of times larger than the payof others; many ask whether the huge disparity is based on adefensible standard or whether it is the result of animbalance of power and hence is unfair.
The Common Good ApproachThe Greek philosophers have also contributed the notionthat life in community is a good in itself and our actionsshould contribute to that life. This approach suggests thatthe interlocking relationships of society are the basis ofethical reasoning and that respect and compassion for allothers-especially the vulnerable-are requirements of suchreasoning. This approach also calls attention to the commonconditions that are important to the welfare of everyone.This may be a system of laws, effective police and firedepartments, health care, a public educational system, oreven public recreational areas.
The Virtue ApproachA very ancient approach to ethics is that ethical actions ought to beconsistent with certain ideal virtues that provide for the fulldevelopment of our humanity. These virtues are dispositions andhabits that enable us to act according to the highest potential of ourcharacter and on behalf of values like truth and beauty. Honesty,courage, compassion, generosity, tolerance, love, fidelity, integrity,fairness, self-control, and prudence are all examples of virtues.Virtue ethics asks of any action, "What kind of person will I becomeif I do this?" or "Is this action consistent with my acting at mybest?"
Putting the Approaches Together0 Each of the approaches helps us determine what standards of behavior can be considered ethical. There are still problems to be solved, however.0 The first problem is that we may not agree on the content of some of these specific approaches. We may not all agree to the same set of human and civil rights.0 We may not agree on what constitutes the common good. We may not even agree on what is a good and what is a harm.0 The second problem is that the different approaches may not all answer the question "What is ethical?" in the same way. Nonetheless, each approach gives us important information with which to determine what is ethical in a particular circumstance. And much more often than not, the different approaches do lead to similar answers.
A Framework for Ethical Decision Making0 Recognize an Ethical Issue0 Get the Facts0 Evaluate Alternative Actions0 Make a Decision and Test It0 Act and Reflect on the Outcome
Deontology or Teleology:Ethics Based on Duty or on Consequences
Realistic Ethics/Pragmatic EthicsIn short, people are mainly Machiavellian, willing to use anymeans to be successful. They are willing to stretch thebounds of common morality if it is in their interest, and theydon’t find it difficult to ignore the advice of Kant and othersto treat our fellows as means rather than ends.- John C. Merrill