Ethics

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When asking people “what does ethics mean?” we get many different replies. Some relate ethics to feelings, others relate it to religion, others might relate it to the law, others relate it to society and some just do not know. They are all wrong. Ethics refers to well-founded standards of right and wrong. Feelings, religion and the law may misguide people from what is ethical. The majority of people misunderstand what being ethical means.

Some think that being ethical means 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 old apartheid laws of present-day South Africa are grotesquely obvious examples of laws that deviate from what is ethical. Adela Cortina (March, 2000) said, “A natural law standpoint which, whether in its traditional or ‘post traditional’ version, ultimately takes only what is just from a certain moral conception as ‘valid law’, is not an acceptable basis for legal legislation in a morally pluralist society.”

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 behavior of the atheist as to that of the devout religious person. Religion can set high ethical standards and can provide intense motivations for ethical behavior. Ethics, however, cannot be confined to religion nor is it the same as religion. Praveen Parboteeah, Martin Hoegl and John B. Cullen (June, 2008) mention “some studies have found no difference between religious and non religious individuals on unethical behaviors such as dishonesty and cheating.

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...
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