Ethics is a branch of philosophy that inquires into the nature of ultimate value and the standards by which human actions can be judged right or wrong (“ethics,” Collegiate). Ethics is not primarily concerned with the description of moral systems in societies. That task, which remains on the level of description, is one for anthropology or sociology. In contrast, ethics deals with the justification of moral principles.
A Brief History of the Study of Ethics
Ethics has been studied since ancient times. In the oldest of the Indian writings, ethics is an integral aspect of philosophical and religious speculation about the nature of reality. These writings date from about 1500 BC. They have been described as “the oldest philosophical literature in the world, and what they say about how people ought to live may therefore be the first philosophical ethics” (Everson 5).
In ancient China, he humane teaching of Confucius and his followers, the peaceful wisdom of Lao-zi, and the universal love of Mo-zi offered alternatives to frequent wars.
Early Greece was the birthplace of Western philosophical ethics. In the poetic literature of the 7th and 6th centuries BC, there were ethical precepts but no real attempts to formulate a coherent overall ethical position. The Greeks were later to refer to the most prominent of these poets and early philosophers as the seven sages, and they are frequently quoted with respect by Plato and Aristotle.
During the Classical Period of Greek ethics, three great philosophers – Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle – flourished in the 5th and 4th centuries BC. Their ideas have served ever since as the cornerstone for the Western ethics.
In the later Greek and Roman periods, the two dominant schools of thought, Stoicism and Epicureanism, represent important approaches to the question of how one ought to live.
The Middle Ages did not give birth to any major new ethical theories. It is worth mentioning that Christian ethics is distinguished from the philosophical discipline of ethics, which relies upon the authority of reason. Christian ethics, also called moral theology, appeals to the authority of revelation, specifically as found in the preaching and activity of Jesus Christ.
The significance of Renaissance for ethics lies in a change of focus. For the first time since the conversion of the Roman Empire to Christianity, ...
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Conflicts of interest are fundamental to the nature of business. Although society wants companies to create many well-paying jobs, those same organizations want to limit compensation costs and raise productivity levels. Customers want to purchase goods and services at low prices, but businesses want to maximize profits. Society wants to reduce pollution levels, but businesses want to minimize the cost that environmental regulations add to their operations.
Managers must continuously and consciously balance the needs of the organization and its stockholders with the needs of other stakeholders, including workers, customers, and the larger community. Managers must also balance their personal needs and desires against those of their organizations.
Ashby, W. Allen, Warren Ashby. A Comprehensive History of Western Ethics: What Do We Believe? Amherst: Prometheus Books, 1997
Becker, Lawrence C., and Charlotte B. Becker, ed. A History of Western Ethics. New York : Routledge, 2003.
“ethics.” Collegiate Encyclopædia. 2005. Collegiate Encyclopædia. 4 June 2005
Everson, Stephen, ed. Ethics. Cambridge, U.K. ; New York : Cambridge University Press, 1998.
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