Think of morality as a set of rules. These rules may be set by the government and manifested in laws or they may be determined by societal agreement in traditions. They are rules to live by, rules you believe in, rules allowing and enabling great gatherings of human beings to live together in harmony.
Ethics are the originators of those rules and the study and practice of ethics is the arena in which moral rules are thrashed out, debated, discussed, revised, instated or discarded. Humans evolved into ethics, it’s what sets us apart from the rest of life on earth. We decide what is good or bad rather than allowing force and strength to dictate. When you question a moral rule the consciousness and intellect become larger, more extensive and open, because by questioning, you acknowledge substance and authenticity in ideas of others. This may seem elementary but it can have reverberations and repercussions leading to radical conclusions and effects. In accepting the validity of other views, interpretations or beliefs you have already conceded the fact that your own may be wrong. Where no debate exists or is allowed to exist, the world shrinks and stagnates, enclosed in a wall of certainties dictated through arrogance.
Philosophers have long debated ethics – Kant and universalism (basically if it’s good for one it should be good for all); Bentham and utilitarianism (the most good for the most people), Sartre and existentialism (personal responsibility), all have their adherents and there are many others and many versions. Plato’s dialectic methodology determines how the terms used in those discussions are defined – an important point of understanding the meanings of words/ideas/issues and what they mean to each participant. The thoughts of these great thinkers open up discussions, put forward theses and allow for testing and eventually judgment.
So how do ethics and morality apply to everyday life? With some examples it is relatively easy to grasp what is meant by ethics – the manner in which you treat your friends, wife/husband/father/mother/family, work colleagues or strangers. Do you treat each group differently, or the same? Does each group have different responsibilities and duties to each other? How do you decide and what guides you? Is this the best way you can decide and is this the best result that can be achieved? Other applications are not so simple. What form of government you chose; human rights issues; equality for women; the environment and climate change questions; animal welfare; education; welfare; charity; religion. There are recent additional complications to these in the form of science, medicine and technology which our ancestors did not have to struggle with; each one with its own problems and permutations. These subjects are more nebulous and can be difficult to discuss or debate, especially when other opinions contradict your own. However, because they affect the lives of everyone, everywhere and are in consequence, vital for the formalisation of moral rules that result in the wellbeing and happiness of each individual, it is of extreme significance and value that open, honest and sincere debate is not only engaged with, but welcomed throughout society.
Writer: Kay Saxon
The writer is a UK based columnist working with THE PASHTUN TIMES. She is graduated from the University of Central Lancashire, North of England. She can be reached at
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