Sample Material of Our IAS Mains GS Online Coaching Programme
Subject: General Studies (Paper 4 - Ethics, Integrity, and
Topic: Determinants and consequences of Ethics
Determinants and consequences of Ethics
Although the words ethics and morality are often used
interchangeably, morality is more precisely used to refer to the customs,
principles of conduct and moral codes of an individual, group or society.
Ethics, also termed moral philosophy or the science of morals, is the branch of
philosophy that studies morality through the critical examination of right and
wrong in human action.
The study of ethics falls into three main areas of focus:
• Normative ethics
• Applied ethics.
Meta-ethics is concerned with the very nature of right
and wrong, where and how ethical judgments originate, and what they mean in
relation to human nature and conduct. For example, questions posed in
meta-ethics include how to define the nature of a good act and whether or not
morality exists independently of human beings.
Normative ethics seeks to define specific standards or
principles to guide ethical conduct in answer to questions such as what is
valuable and how are actions morally assessed and justified. Various normative
ethical theories attempt to systematically formulate guidelines to answer the
basic question of how one ideally ought to behave in a particular situation. A
central challenge of normative ethics is that various theories disagree on the
fundamental basis and criteria for ethical analysis and conduct. Just as the
conceptual assumptions of metaethics contribute to the formulation of normative
ethics, normative ethics provide a basis for applied ethics when employed in the
analysis of specific, practical issues. Finally, descriptive ethics simply
describes the ethical beliefs, norms and behaviors of an individual or group as
they actually exist, as opposed to how they ought to exist.
Deontological and Teleological Assumptions in Normative
When examining various normative theories, a distinction is
often made between deontological and teleological perspectives. Deontology
(from the Greek deon, meaning “duty”) refers to an ethical theory or perspective
based on duty or obligation. A deontological, or duty-based, theory is one in
which specific moral duties or obligations are seen as self-evident, having
intrinsic value in and of themselves and needing no further justification. Moral
actions are evaluated on the basis of inherent lightness or wrongness rather
than goodness or a primary consideration of consequences. Holmes (1993)
distinguishes between strong deontological theories, in which goodness is
irrelevant to the lightness of an act, and weak deontological theories, in which
goodness is relevant but not the primary determinant of moral rightness.
In contrast, teleology (from the Greek telos, meaning
goal or end) describes an ethical perspective that contends the rightness or
wrongness of actions is based solely on the goodness or badness of their
consequences. In a strict teleological interpretation, actions are morally
neutral when considered apart from their consequences. Ethical egoism and
utilitarianism are examples of teleological theories.
The term principle can be defined in several ways. A
principle may refer to a basic truth, law or assumption. For example, a
principle may take the form of a law or rule that describes a natural
phenomenon. With respect to ethics, the term principle can refer to a
generalization that can be used in moral reasoning or a specific rule of good
Principle of Respect for Persons
In its simplest form, respect for persons maintains that
human beings have intrinsic and unconditional moral worth and should always be
treated as if there is nothing of greater value than they are. This principle
rests on the unique capability of human beings to behave as rational agents,
that is, self-aware and capable of objective thought and the ability to reason.
The ability to reason is believed to give humanity an intrinsic dignity that
must be respected above all other considerations. This inherent value attributed
to human beings means that each person is an end in him or herself and should
not be treated solely as a means to some other end. It also implies that all
persons have equal worth and should be treated equitably and in ways that we
ourselves would want to be treated. Principles of truth telling, loyalty,
privacy, and confidentiality are all rooted in this basic requirement of
unconditional respect and value.
As rational agents, we are free and capable of making our own
decisions and choosing actions based on our own goals and reasoning. In other
words, we are self-determining or autonomous. The principle of respect for
persons affirms the primary importance of allowing individuals to exercise their
moral right of self-determination. To violate their ability to be
self-determining is to treat them as less than persons. In doing so we deprive
them of their essential dignity.
The concept of autonomy is an important extension of this
principle. You act autonomously when your actions are the result of your own
deliberation and choices. Yet there are many ways in which autonomy can be
compromised. Likewise, there are justifiable restrictions that can be placed on
individual autonomy. For example, paternalism is the principle that allows a
physician to act contrary to a patient’s wishes if there is evidence that the
patient is not acting in his or her own best interests and on the basis of a
higher level of expertise. Other allowable restrictions to autonomy include the
harm principle, which protects others from harm; the principle of legal moralism,
which allows society to render an act illegal on the basis of social values and
judgments; and the welfare principle, which allows autonomy to be restricted for
the benefit of others.