Ethics is a branch of philosophy that inquires into the nature of ultimate value and the standards by which human actions can be judged right or wrong ("ethics," Collegiate). Ethics is not primarily concerned with the description of moral systems in societies. That task, which remains on the level of description, is one for anthropology or sociology. In contrast, ethics deals with the justification of moral principles.
A Brief History of the Study of Ethics
Ethics has been studied since ancient times. In the oldest of the Indian writings, ethics is an integral aspect of philosophical and religious speculation about the nature of reality. These writings date from about 1500 BC. They have been described as "the oldest philosophical literature in the world, and what they say about how people ought to live may therefore be the first philosophical ethics" (Everson 5). In ancient China, he humane teaching of Confucius and his followers, the peaceful wisdom of Lao-zi, and the universal love of Mo-zi offered alternatives to frequent wars. Early Greece was the birthplace of Western philosophical ethics. In the poetic literature of the 7th and 6th centuries BC, there were ethical precepts but no real attempts to formulate a coherent overall ethical position. The Greeks were later to refer to the most prominent of these poets and early philosophers as the seven sages, and they are frequently quoted with respect by Plato and Aristotle. During the Classical Period of Greek ethics, three great philosophers Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle flourished in the 5th and 4th centuries BC. Their ideas have served ever since as the cornerstone for the Western ethics. In the later Greek and Roman periods, the two dominant schools of thought, Stoicism and Epicureanism, represent important approaches to the question of how one ought to live. The Middle Ages did not give birth to any major new ethical theories. It is worth mentioning that Christian ethics is distinguished from the philosophical discipline of ethics, which relies upon the authority of reason. Christian ethics, also called moral theology, appeals to the authority of revelation, specifically as found in the preaching and activity of Jesus Christ. The significance of Renaissance for ethics lies in a change of focus. For the first time since the conversion of the Roman Empire to Christianity, man, not God, became the chief object of interest, and the theme was not religion but humanism (Becker 25). In the 16th century there occurred the breakup of Western Christianity known as the Reformation. From this time, distinctively national traditions of moral philosophy began to emerge in Europe; the British tradition, in particular, developed largely independently of ethics; the continental tradition had a different line of development in continental Europe.
Ten Major Ethicists, Their Theories, and Applications to Modern Business Confucius (551479 BC) is the most famous Chinese philosopher, whose ideas have influenced the civilization of East Asia. His teachings aim at guiding people in what is necessary to become a better person, a concept translated as "gentleman" or "the superior man." Elements like integrity, respect for others, trust, and justice in the sense of treating each and every man in an equal way are honored by Confucians, and are essential for a healthy business environment as always, but perhaps take on a different dimension and special significance in a global knowledge economy. For example, globalization has brought together people of different cultures into business relations, and it may be more difficult to build up trust between two very dissimilar people than between two similar ones, especially if both fail to see the commonness between them, or even worse if they see their own way of doing business as being more superior rather than just different. The global ethic inherent in Confucianism promises to support harmonious...