Ethics is an area of enquiry with roots in philosophy and religion but which is widely applied in other areas such as law, health care and human rights. Ethics encourages people to think more abstractly, to broaden their perspective.
An understanding of belief systems and morality underpins all areas of life - at home, in public and at work. Studying ethics can help people to develop the ability to question why particular codes of ethics are in place, along with their usefulness and limitations.
Ethics is all about understanding the difference between right or wrong, good or bad - but often things are not so clear cut. For example, sometimes one person may suffer from a decision whilst several others benefit. Students of this course will learn to challenge their own values and why they hold them. As well as the practice of psychology and counselling which adhere to strong ethical codes, this course can apply to all sorts of professions.
There are many concepts and ways of thinking about morality; and a study of ethics helps you gain a better perspective on this subject. This course will provide you with a useful insight into the theory of ethics and also the practical applications of the study of ethics. In the course, you will study -
Each lesson culminates in an assignment which is submitted to the school, marked by the school's tutors and returned to you with any relevant suggestions, comments, and if necessary, extra reading.
What is Your Ethical Position?
....Do You Even Have One?
In the modern world, we may face many different moral decisions. Philosophers have considered different ways to rationalise conflicting viewpoints through ethical decisions.
Ethical Relativism is the idea that any position on ethics will have a relationship to the context in which that position exists (e.g. many people may believe that it would be unethical to eat certain things, or expose parts of the human body in one context; however, it may be acceptable to do the same things in a different place or time).
Ethical relativism is the view that all points of view have equal value and the individual will determine what is true and relative for them. So relativism argues that what is the truth varies from person to person and that different people will believe different things to be true. Ethical relativism is the most common form of relativism, but relativism does exist in science and mathematics. So in relativist ethics, statements can include:
- “What is right for me may not be right for you”.
- “What is right for your culture may not be right for my culture”.
- “No moral principles are true for all people, in all places, all of the time”.
So the argument here is that there are no moral absolutes, no moral wrong and no moral right.
Differing Ethical Views
There are many different ethical viewpoints which can be applied to any ethical dilemma. The approach adopted by any individual, will be influenced by the nature of the dilemma, the individuals involved, and the severity of the dilemma. Here are some of the different approaches that might be taken:
Those who approach a dilemma from this perspective will base their view on what society as a whole considers to be the right way. In other words they would conform to the majority viewpoint. Approaching a dilemma from this stance means not having a clear idea of right and wrong. After consideration of what others think it would be quite possible to change one's mind.
This approach refers to basing decisions on gut feelings or a sense of what is right. Usually the person does not think the dilemma through but makes their choice on their emotional reaction to it. If their immediate sense is that a behaviour is ethically right then they will condone it.
The transcendentalist makes their ethical decisions in light of religious beliefs. Someone using this viewpoint would have a very clear idea of what they considered to be right or wrong informed by their religion. This usually means they will not consider alternative explanations if they deem an act to be wrong.
An individualist viewpoint is one where the person making the ethical choice weighs up how it might affect them personally. If there is a chance that their actions might lead to them committing a crime or wrongdoing, whether personally or by proxy, then they will not choose this option. The person taking this approach would also not be influenced by their relationship with any individuals involved in decision-making. For instance, someone with this approach would report their sister to the authorities if they thought she had shoplifted.
Someone using this approach to ethical decision making would consider what is best for those involved i.e. what would be the best choice for the system as a whole, the majority of people that the decision a affects.
Someone using this approach will base their ethical decisions on the law. A decision is wrong if it breaks the law. Laws, rules, policies, and so forth as seen as being for the common good of everyone in society and therefore any breaches to them are ethically wrong.
Whilst these different ethical viewpoints are different in some way or other, each person does not necessarily uphold all their ethical decisions from any specific viewpoint. Often we make decisions based on more than one viewpoint. For instance, a brother may begin with a individualist stance by condemning his sister for shoplifting but convert to an experientialist stance when he learns that she was doing so to fund a life-saving operation for one of her children.
Some people of course may adopt a particular stance and remain relatively fixed to it. Legitimists are likely to be less flexible than others. Other people may change the way they approach ethical decisions as they mature or as they become better informed about a subject or situation.
Studying Ethics Broadens Your Mind
It can give you insights and a better perspective for making decisions throughout life. Some people study ethics with a particular application in mind; perhaps applying it to health, environmental management, welfare, politics or legal services. It is most certainly relevant in all of these disciplines; but equally as relevant in a person's private life as it is in the way we conduct ourselves at work or in public.
Whatever your purpose; this course can enrich and enlighten you in many different ways.