Definition of Ethics

Definitions of Ethics

(excerpt from Study Guide for ETHICS FOR THE NEW MILLENNIUM, By His Holiness the Dalai Lama, Developed and Offered by the Los Altos Study Group March 2004)
1. Webster’s New International Dictionary, 2nd Edition
i. A treatise on morals (Aristotle)
ii. The science of moral duty, more broadly the science of the ideal human character and the ideal ends of human action. The chief problems with which ethics deals concern the nature of the summum bonum or highest good, the origin and validity of the sense of duty, and the character and authority of moral obligation.

The principal ethical theories are:

1. Such as consider happiness to be the greatest good; these may be egoistic, as is usually the case with hedonistic and eudaemonistic theories, or altruistic, as utilitarianism.
2. Theories of perfectionism or self realization.
3. Theories resting upon the nature of man to the universe or to divine laws, as Stoicism, evolution, Christian ethics. Intuitionism and empiricism in ethics are doctrines opposed with respect to the character of the sense of duty. Absolute ethics affirms an unchanging moral code; relative ethics regards moral rules as varying with human development.

iii. Moral principles, quality or practice; a system or moral principles; as, social ethics, medical ethics, professional ethics forbids him; the morals of individual action or practice, as the ethics of conscientious man.

2. WordNet ® 1.6, © 1997 Princeton University
i. Motivation based on ideas of right and wrong [syn: ethical motive, morals, morality]
ii. The philosophical study of moral values and rules [syn: moral philosophy]

3. The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition
i. A set of principles of right conduct.
ii. A theory or a system of moral values: “An ethic of service is at war with a craving for gain” (Gregg Easterbrook).
iii. The study of the general nature of morals and of the specific moral choices to be made by a person; moral philosophy.
iv. The rules or standards governing the conduct of a person or the members of a profession:
medical ethics.

4. Dictionary of Religion and Philosophy by Geddes MacCregor
i. The term ethics is derived from the Greek ethos, which means custom or usage. It has basic affinities, therefore, with similar notions in non-Western cultures, such as China, where the Confucian term li, meaning propriety or courtesy or decorum has the same fundamental significance. The Greeks, e.g., Plato, used the term dike, meaning also custom or usage to designate the right way of behaving, very much as Confucius used the term li in Chinese.
ii. The adjectives ethical and moral are synonymous and philosophers who concern themselves with ethical problems have been sometimes known as moral philosophers as contrasted with logicians, metaphysicians, and other specialists. Moral philosophers may either build systems of guidance in reaching ethical decisions, i.e., decisions about what course of actions is good or bad. They also analyze what is to be meant by good and bad, right or wrong. Modern ethics tends more in the latter than in the former direction, but both functions are necessary in the pursuit of ethical questions. Ethics as a whole belongs to value theory, which includes aesthetics and other branches.


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