What Is Ethics For?

Ethics serve for the peaceful coexistence between human beings; promotes moral behavior so that people can live together in society. This allows the survival of the human species, well-being and happiness.

Ethics refers mainly to two points. First, it refers to an established, well-founded standard that separates good from evil. In this sense, ethics determines the behavior of human beings in matters of duties, rights, obligations, justice and other virtues.

black and white pencils representation of the dilemma that solves ethics

Second, ethics refers to the study and development of an individual’s ethical values . In this sense, ethics involves the evaluation of one’s own moral principles, so as to determine whether they have solid foundations and promotes healthy coexistence among members of a society.

Many scholars in the area consider that ethical and moral values ​​are shared by most cultures, such as respect, trust, responsibility, compassion and justice.

Similarly, avoiding human suffering, promoting the pursuit of happiness and equality are ethical elements shared by most societies.

What is it for and why is ethics important?

Cultivation of moral values

Ethics allows you to choose the path to follow, it allows you to differentiate between good and evil and is closely related to moral values , such as respect, honesty andJustice. It is important not to confuse ethics with morals  since this is the foundation of the first.

Standards and Rules

Ethics, understood as the line that separates good from evil, imposes standards that go against fraud, theft, assault, rape, murder and other activities that involve the violation of the human rights of an individual. Among them are freedom, equality, the right to life and the right to private property.

Similarly, ethics as a standard includes the practice of values, such as honesty, compassion, and loyalty, the presence or absence of which will determine an individual’s behavior towards others around him.

Ethics as a method of evaluation

The elements that shape an individual’s behavior, such as feelings , social conventions, and laws, can be derailed.

This is why it is necessary to constantly examine our values, to ensure that our behavior is ethical.

Misconceptions of ethics

differences between ethics and morals

The sociologist Raymond Baumhart conducted a study in which he questioned people about the meaning of the term “ethics.” Responses included the following:

  • “Ethics has to do with what my feelings tell me is right or wrong.”
  • “Ethics has to do with my religious beliefs.”
  • “Ethics is a set of behaviors accepted by our society.”

However, Baumhart explains that ethics cannot depend on feelings, since feelings and emotions often deviate from what is ethical.

Similarly, ethics should not depend on religion despite the fact that most religions are based on ethical values, since this would mean that ethics do not concern atheists.

Finally, ethics is not a social convention, since what most people think can sometimes be wrong.

Nazi Germany is an example of a corrupt society based on the opinion of the majority, the ” supreme Aryan race ,” which viewed Jews, blacks, and other groups as inferior beings. This gives rise to one of the greatest genocides in the history of mankind.

Similarly, some people might consider ethics to be compliance with the law. This conception is wrong, like the previous ones.

For example, laws approved slavery during the 18th century. However, enslaving a human being, condemning him to forced labor and considering him an inferior being are not ethical behaviors.

Ethics in our day to day

For Randy Cohen, author of ” Good, evil and difference: How to differentiate good from evil in everyday situations “, ethics refers to how individuals decide to change unfair situations. Cohen proposes the following example:

If a homeless man asks you for money, you can give it to him or not. Ethics in this case intervenes when we act to change the conditions of poverty and helplessness of citizens in general.

In the same way, Cohen indicates that, on occasions, ethics can be contradictory, since there are situations in which ethical and moral values ​​reject each other.

For example, lying constitutes unethical behavior. However, if during the slavery period a bounty hunter asked you if you knew where a slave had fled, the most correct thing would have been to say “no” even if you knew where the slave in question was.

Faced with the situation that was presented above, there are two possible attitudes: honesty and lies, an ethical and an unethical behavior, respectively. So why not go down the ethical path and tell the bounty hunter where the slave is? This is where ethics get complicated.

In this example, telling the truth would have led to the mistreatment of the slave or even his death, which would go against the ethics. On the other hand, lying would have allowed the slave to escape, giving him the opportunity to lead a free life, which would be fair and therefore ethical.

From this example, it follows that the ethical procedure is not always clear and, therefore, it is necessary to analyze the situations that arise on a daily basis in order to determine which is the most appropriate option.

Knowledge of ethical principles allows us to weigh the different options that we have in a situation and choose the most appropriate one.


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