Module 1.docx - What is Ethics? The term ethics is derived...

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What is Ethics?The term ethics is derived from the Greek wordethos, which originally meanscustom or character. Broadly construed, ethics is a branch of philosophy thatstudies the rightness or wrongness of a human action. In particular, thisbranch of philosophy is concerned with questions of how human personsought to act, and the search for a definition of a right conduct and the goodlife. It is for this reason that the attempt to seek the “good” through the aidof reason is the traditional goal of ethicists (Albert, Denise & Peterfreund1984, p. 1-2).It must be noted, however, that there is no single, absolute definition ofethics. This is because ethics as a discipline is constantly evolving as a resultof a change in socio-cultural and political context. For example, in the Greektradition, ethics was conceived as relating to the concept of the “good life”.Thus, the ethical inquiry during this time was directed toward discovering thenature of happiness. In fact, Aristotle’sNicomachean Ethicsdoes not onlypresent a theory of happiness but also provides ways in which happiness isattained.Now, centuries later, a quite different orientation was introduced by theJudeo-Christian tradition. In this ethical tradition, the ideals of righteousnessbefore God and the love of God and neighbor, not the happy or pleasant life,constitute the substance of ethics. Indeed, if we make an effort to reconcilethese views, we are faced with the difficult task of defining the relationshipbetween “doing what is right” and “being happy”.Again, it is for this reason that we cannot have an absolute definition ofethics. The least that we can do, in my opinion, is to describe the nature anddynamics of ethics based on a specific time and context.It is also important to note that ethics is not the same withmorality,although many philosophers believe that the two terms can beused interchangeably. This is because the former denotes the theory of rightaction and the greater good, while the latter indicates practice, that is, therightness or wrongness of a human action. In other words, ethics undertakesthe systematic study (that is, questioning and critical examination) of theunderlying principles of morality. Hence, it is interested primarily in theillustration of a more general problem and the examination of underlyingassumptions and the critical evaluation of moral principles.Morality, on the other hand, is more prescriptive in nature. It tells us what weought to do and exhorts us to follow the right way. According to TerranceMcConnell (1994), “morality is characterized as an ‘end-governed rationalenterprise’ whose object is to equip people with a body of norms (rules andvalues) that make for peaceful and collectively satisfying coexistence byfacilitating their living together and interacting in a way that is productive for

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