ℹ I had originally written this piece for an essay writing competition in my school. As it grew quite long, I decided to post it here. I’m no expert in this field.
When it comes to the term ethics, a large group of people view it as a secret sauce that can make their lives easy by unburdening them of consciously avoiding misconduct with every decision they make. While to the religious people ethics bring a sense of being virtuous, to the other group it is just a matter of being accepted in the society by doing right things.
But what exactly is ethics? Is it just a way to avoid wrong and do more right? And are ethics of any significance?
What is ethics?
Whilst the exact time of development of ethics and morals is unknown, it is believed that ethics didn’t evolve as a philosophical discipline till around two thousand years ago in ancient Greece. And though it is difficult to pin down an absolute single definition of what “ethics” is, at its simplest, it is a tool that helps us evaluate our decisions in a rational way. The term is derived from the Greek word ethos, which generally means a custom, a habit, a character, or a disposition.
Importance and Role of Ethics
Ethics came into play right since the man started reflecting on better ways to live in initial stages of history. Ethics were meant to bring lives in order and avoid irrational behaviour.
With time, ethics were linked to multiple ideas such as several natural phenomena or a religion, but the core idea remained the same i.e. to keep one accountable in the name of God or some similar supernatural existence.
Ethics serve a crucial role in day to day life, especially in the times of ever advancing technologies like CRISPR. Imagine the mess it would cause if the world were to go “ethics-less” for a single day. Thousands of crimes, ranging from burglaries to murders and even human cloning, would take place every single minute with no laws to curb them as there would be no one to exercise laws.
Without a distinction between right and wrong, the world would have been a very unstable place; a place where it would have been difficult even to reason why wars should be avoided or why one should refrain from killing someone over a frivolous dispute he had at some point.
Simple moral values like being honest and humble, being dedicated to work, not falling prey to addictions, the sense of each other’s privacy, when put separately sound too abstract and trivial. However, together, are the significant driving principles of life.
We start learning ethical values from our parents, teachers, and everyone around us right from our childhood. Our thinking is shaped by these values which then serves as the polestar of life. Even if there is an ambiguity as to what it is like to be a really good person, ethics and morals at least put some boundaries around human behaviour.
Are ethical theories meant to be ultimate dicta?
Deontological theories (rigid set of ethics) seem promising at first. They give you a sense of structure. However, deontological theories sometimes lead to wrong or absolutely no answers to the several questions that arise in daily life. And on the quite contrary, teleological theories (ethical values reasoned with outcomes) lead to multiple answers to the same questions, thus bringing us back to our original question of their usefulness.
Hence, it is difficult to point out just one school of thought i.e. a dictum that provides the correct objective answer. Humans are irrational beings. But there’s no doubt that ethics can prove useful as a guiding framework in making decisions. Ethical theories are tools at one’s disposal. One can refer to the various prescribed principles as and when necessary and benefit from them.
Rather than sticking to some theory, one must constantly evolve his/her idea of right and wrong and re-evaluate them with regards to each circumstance.
In the end, one thing is for sure, the moment one drops the ‘evaluation’ part out of the decision-making process, one does become ‘a wild beast‘ as in the quote of Albert Camus (the second youngest recipient of the Nobel Prize of Literature in history).
“A man without ethics is a wild beast loosed upon this world”— Albert Camus
Ethics – as I see them
I am not a philosophical character. But, I understand the vital role of ethics in life. I do not see ethics as something that one needs to “figure out”, or learn and apply, but rather an integral part of oneself. Instead of needing ethical manuals or needing a preacher to preach how ‘it adds up in entirety and is virtuous’, I rather believe that morality and ethics must be eternal parts of one’s character. One should not need any external force to realize their importance.