July 28, 2009 Jason

Why do we need ethics?

There are times when the right and wrong decisions are obvious, but what about the times where the outcome is less clear? Situations where, if nobody knew you made the wrong decision, you would benefit financially, emotionally, or otherwise. Ethics help us navigate the gray area between absolute right and morally wrong. They provide the structure that helps us make a decision we can be proud of. For me personally, ethics are the rules that society must adhere to.

Descartes may have said “I think, therefore I am” but it is not only thinking that makes mankind sentient, it’s the ability to think and act ethically. Without ethics, society would be reduced to the type of animal behaviour that is seen in nature. Hunt, kill, feed, fornicate. When mankind started to think about the outcome of their action, or inaction, ethics were born. Mankind demonstrates its difference from the rest of the animal kingdom by being imaginative enough to follow a concept through the various possible outcomes, and then deciding on the action that best suits the personal beliefs of the person in question.

There are many schools of thought to help us make our ethical choices. Epicurus believed if everyone is honest, prudent, and employs justice when dealing with others, they would be free from retribution from society. Basically, if everyone is good, everything will be good. John Stuart Mills held a variation on this belief, but felt it was more pure to remove the pleasure for oneself. Mills Utilitarianism provides a world where our rewards are not considered in our actions. For Mills, a mantra of “I will cut, you can choose” ensures that everyone gets a fair slice of the pie.

Immanuel Kant had a different idea about ethics. Kant saw everything as black or white, and mankind has a “duty without exception.” This view affords no wiggle room on any decision. If the outcome is bad in any way, then it is ethically wrong. W.D. Ross provided a more lenient view of Kant’s philosophy. By providing “self-evident duties” Ross helps us navigate the gray areas of the map by providing guidelines for us to follow. Ross starts with “First – do no harm” but then juxtaposes this with the second rule of “Make amends if you do harm.” By allowing for violations of the first rule, Ross allows mankind to make the decisions that suit their personal beliefs.

The argument against the previous philosophies is they are based on people, society, having an inherent understanding of what is good or bad. John Rawls developed a theory of justice that creates a “veil of ignorance.” By framing the ethical question in a way that the asker doesn’t know if they will benefit or be the victim within the equation, a true answer will develop. The understanding is that if you don’t know if you will benefit or suffer from the decision, you will create a more “fair” outcome for either party.

Just like humanity, ethical situations are evolving. Decisions that were considered ethical ten years ago are reevaluated because society has decided the original decision was not the correct one. We need to continue to explore the decisions from our past and determine if the answer we came up with is still acceptable today. Ethics are not static, but if we are consistent in our application of the above philosophies, we can ensure that we are able to carefully evaluate our decisions and further progress in our march away from our past mentality of hunt, kill, feed, and fornicate.

– Jason

What are ethics – and why do you think they’re important within the world of business today?

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Comments (11)

  1. Neda

    hey Mr.Jason!
    can i know your full name….
    i have a assignment about ethics and i would like to use some of your opine on, but i need your full name to write as my reference in the footnote!

  2. Jin Hwan

    What is your full name….I really want to use your ideas but I need to reference it. Pretty sure Jason is not gonna be enough…

  3. lucas

    Good job though plz Jason help me with this points;
    Why do we need to be ethical at every area of life?

    • thanks for reading, Lucas. I feel we need to be ethical daily in order to continue to grow as a global community.

  4. Mohammad Roomi

    Hey Jason,Blessings. That was a great reading, thanks. Uhh, I was trying to answer the question “why would a businessman care for being ethical”, when he already abides by the laws that ensure fair treatment of all the stakeholders, in my research paper. Would you please like to enlighten me on this …. And I also would like to know your full name for references, if you can. … Thank you again…. 🙂

    • Thanks Mohammad – glad you enjoyed it.

      To answer your question: MLK says “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice.” (paraphrasing an idea introduced by Theodore Parker) – which means that as humankind evolves, we become more aware of our need for ethical solutions, and less accepting of unethical practices. Laws change to meet our evolving ethics, but they don’t move as quickly, which would enable a businessperson to operate legally, but still be ethically questionable.
      Drinking and driving, or recreational use of narcotics were both legal activities, but certainly unethical. There are many practices considered to be unethical today, that will likely be deemed illegal in the future, if the public demand is there.
      Hope that helped

  5. catherine

    hi Jason

    As with the other comments I came across your article whilst I am writing an essay on ethics, I would be very grateful if you could the reference details as i’d love to include the article within my references, I was rather stuck until i came across this article and now I have loads of inspiration! thank you

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