Ethics : An Introduction<br />Noel C. Jopson<br />Man, as stated by Aristotle is a rational being. Our faculty of reason s...
Introduction to Ethics
Introduction to Ethics
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Introduction to Ethics

  1. 1. Ethics : An Introduction<br />Noel C. Jopson<br />Man, as stated by Aristotle is a rational being. Our faculty of reason separates us from any other being like animals. According to Timbreza, “only man is aware of his moral oughtness; hence, morality makes a human being act as a human being and its absence makes an animal as an animal.”1 Animals unlike human beings are ruled by their instinct. A horse would not mind drinking dirty water as long as it satisfies its thirst. Dogs which feel its sexual urge would care less of its whereabouts as long as they gratify the call of their nature. But man, the rational that he is, is aware of this moral oughtness. The ougthness dictated by his reason causes him to act morally. Thus, an act done in the absence of morality makes him less human or even worse than a beast. For to become truly human is to be moral.2<br />Ethics, also known as moral philosophy concerns itself with the evaluation of human actions. The term ethics is derived from the Greek term ethike which traces its root from ethos, which means customs, usage, or character. The word moral or morality on other hand is of Latin origin. Moralis refers to “proper behavior of a person in the society.” The terms ethics and moral or morality are often used interchangeably. The question, “What I ough to do?” is the central issue of ethics. It assesses whether human action is right or wrong, or good or bad.<br />The three areas of moral philosophy3<br />Ethics, or moral philosophy, is often divided into three broad areas. Metaethics investigates the source or basis of morality, including such questions as whether it is essentially objective or subjective in nature. Normative ethics focuses on the ethical standards on which moral conduct is based. Finally, applied ethics brings philosophical theory to bear on practical issues such as abortion, euthanasia and just war.<br />Metaethics<br />Meta-ethics is concerned primarily with the meaning of ethical judgments and prescriptions and with the notion of which properties, if any, are responsible for the truth or validity thereof. Meta-ethics addresses questions such as "What is goodness?" and "How can we tell what is good from what is bad?" seeking to understand the nature of ethical properties and evaluations.<br />Normative Ethics<br />Normative ethics is the study of what makes actions right and wrong. Classical theories in this vein include utilitarianism, Kantianism and some forms of contractarianism. These theories offered an overarching moral principle to which one could appeal in resolving difficult moral decisions.<br />Applied Ethics<br />Applied ethics is a discipline of philosophy that attempts to apply ethical theory to real-life situations. The lines of distinction between meta-ethics, normative ethics, and applied ethics are often blurry. For example, the issue of abortion can be seen as an applied ethical topic since it involves a specific type of controversial behaviour. But it can also depend on more general normative principles, such as possible rights of self-rule and right to life, principles which are often litmus tests for determining the morality of that procedure.<br />MORAL REFLECTION<br />Since the study of ethics concerns itself with human actions, man engages in a process called moral reflection. Let us then dissect the meaning of these two terms moral. Generally, the term moral pertains to whether an action is good or bad. The term moral traces its etymology from the Latin term moralis which was first coined by Cicero in his De Fato1. It “pertains to the study of character” or “the proper behavior of a person in society.” Being moral then means conforming to the rules of right conduct in the society. Reflection on the other hand is derived from the Latin reflectere which literally means “to bend back.” Hence, reflection pertains to the remark made after turning back one’s thought on some subject. Moral reflection then means to bend back or evaluate a person’s character or behavior in the society. Moral reflection plays a vital role in the field of Ethics. Philosophers like Socrates, Aristotle, and Kant are among those who present their views concerning the significance of moral reflection.<br />Socrates<br />Socrates’ moral point of view was presented by Plato in his dialogue Apology. His statement “the unexamined life is not worth living,”2 advocates the need of man for moral reflection<br />In order to make life worth living, Socrates’ statement strongly suggests that one examines himself and then others. Moral reflection helps man to find meaning in life. It is important for one to know who he is and what he is doing. When we reflect on our lives, we learn from our mistakes and thus, become more rational. Without reflection one would just lie to himself and blindly do things. We will not be able to grow toward greater understanding of our true nature unless we take time to examine and reflect upon our life. And those who reflect on their purpose in life would live a good life than those who exist without contemplating the alternative. To let no day pass without discussing goodness and all the other subjects about which we are talking and examining both the self and others is really the very best thing that a man (or women) can do, and that life without this sort of examination is not worth living.<br />Aristotle<br />Aristotle’s ethics is an ethics of good life. He believes that every action of man is geared towards happiness. A good life is a happy life. Happiness, for Aristotle, is not something that comes to us from the outside. Rather, happiness is an inside job. Happiness is an activity, not a passivity, that is, it is not something that happens to you or comes to you from without. It is an activity rooted in human choices. In other words, if someone is unhappy, it is because he has not chosen well. And if one is happy, it is only because he has chosen well. Remember, a good man is one who reasons well and chooses well. Hence, a good man is a happy man. Happiness, according to Aristotle, is going to result from making choices that promote the fullness of one’s nature.3<br />Fulfillment of one’s nature results to happiness. Man, endowed with reason therefore must perfect his intellect. In other words, man's chief end in life, according to Aristotle, is to possess or contemplate truth, that is, to contemplate the highest things. The activity of contemplation is the highest activity in which a human person can engage. Hence, happiness stems from contemplation and deliberation by and making use of his natural endowment, which is his reason.<br />Immanuel Kant <br />Another philosopher who articulated the importance of moral reflection is Immanuel Kant. One central idea in Kantian Ethics is his notion of conscience. For Kant, conscience is rather the process of moral reflection that makes use of such moral judgments in delivering on myself a verdict of guilt or acquittal for some action I have done, or am contemplating. The duty of conscience is therefore the duty to engage in a kind of second-order reflection, judging that one has applied moral judgments properly to oneself. Conscience seems also to involve a certain way of thinking reflectively about what to do – a way that gives first priority to moral considerations.4<br />References:<br />1Timbreza, Florentino T. 2008. Ethics. An Essay included in The Philosophical Landscape: A panoramic perspective of philosophy. C&E Publishing Inc. : Quezon City<br />2Ibid.<br />3Britton, Erin. 2008. The three areas of moral philosophy. Retrieved on October 23, 2010<br />4Rackham, H. (trans.) 2010. De Fato of Cicero. Retrieved October 10, 2010,<br />5Cavalier, Robert. 2010. Analysis of Plato’s Apology. Retrieved on October 10, 2010<br />6Mc Manaman, Doug. 2007. Aristotle and the Good life. Retrieved on October 7, 2010.<br />7Wood, Allen. (2010). Kant on Conscience. Retrieved on October 9, 2010<br />