In our general discussions and daily life routine, we listen and use many times remarks such as, this is good, this is wrong, this is bad, this is very good, Mr so and so has good behavior whereas others have not this.


Now the point is that on which basis we decide or determine that this is good and this is bad? This question can easily be replied by saying that this parameter or standard is provided by ethics. This is vast term and it is a major branch of Philosophy.

Definition of Ethics

Ethics is defined as the study of “what is right or good in conduct”. The word Ethics has been taken from Greek word “ethora” means character and this is connected with custom or habit.

Moral philosophy

The term “moral philosophy” is also used for this subject, which means same thing as ethics. The word “moral” has also been derived form Greek word “moras” meaning habits or customs, whereas the word “Philosophy” has been derived from two Greek words “Phillian” and “Sophia” meaning seek and wisdom respectively.

There is also another word that represents this kind of discussion known as axiology, means scientific study of values, or only study of values.

So we can say that the moral philosophy is the name of such habits and deeds by which wise ness, reasoning and good intellect is taken.

It also (Ethics) discusses men’s habits and customs or in other words their characters, the principles on which they habitually act, and considers what it is that constitutes the rightness or wrongness of those principles, the good or evil of those habits.

These terms “right” and “good” seem requires little explanation.


The word “Right” has been derived from Rectus, which is Greek word, meaning straight or according to rule. When we say that conduct is right, we mean primarily that it is according to rule. Rules however, have reference to some result to be achieved by them, and it is this fact that is indicated by the second term “Good”.


The term “good” is connected with the German gut means valuable for some end. Any thing is considered to be good when it is valuable for some end. Thus, particular kinds of medicines are said to be good when it is useful for this or that complaint. Similarly, when we speak of conduct as good, we may mean that it is serviceable for the end or ideal that we have in view.

It should be carefully observed that the term “good” is also used to signify not something which is means to an end, but some thing which is itself taken as an end. Thus the summum bonum, or supreme good, means the supreme end at which we aim.

Hence, when we say that the study of Ethics is concerned with the rightness or goodness of human conduct, we mean that it is concerned with the consideration of the serviceableness of our conduct for some ideal or end at which we aim, and with the rules or general principles by which our conduct is to be directed in order that this end may be attained. But of we are to consider the serviceableness of our actions to an end, and the rules or conditions by which by this end is to be attained, it is evident that we must have some understanding of the nature of the end itself.

Now there are many ends to which our actions may be directed, for example, the building of house, the writing of book, the passing of an examination, and so on. But since Ethics is the study of conduct as whole, not particular kinds of conduct, it is not any of these special ends it sets itself to consider, but the supreme or ultimate end to which our whole lives are directed. This end is commonly referred to as the Summum Bonum or supreme good.

Now it is no doubt open to question at the outset, whether there can be said to be any one supreme end in human life. Men aim at various objects. Some desire wealth, others independence, others power. Some are eager for fame, others for knowledge, and others for love and some again for highest good in serving others. Some are fond of excitement, some fill their lives with many sided-interests-art and science and the development of social and political institutions, others are tempted to regard all these as vanity and sometimes even turning from them in all disgust to believe that the best thing of all would be to die and be at rest, while others again fix their highest hopes on life beyond death to be perfected in better world than this.

But little consideration service that many of these ends can not be regarded as ultimate, if, for instance, we were to question to those who are seeking for wealth or independence are power, we should generally find that they would explain their desire for these objectives by enumerating the advantages which attainment of the desired objects would bring, the possibility of such an explanation proves that these objects are not regarded as ultimate ends by those who pursue them, but are desired for the sake of something else.

According to John S. Mackenzie, as he discussed in his book “A manual of Ethics” There are three ultimate ends for human beings, which are Truth, Goodness, and Beauty.

Still, we hardly seem to be justified in starting with the assumption that there is any one ultimate end in human life. The question whether any such end can be discovered is rather one that must be discussed in this study. What it is necessary for us to assume is simply that there is some ideal in life, i-e that there is some standard of judgment by reference to which we are able to say that one form of conduct is better than other. What the nature of this ideal or standard is –whether it has reference to single ultimate end, to set of rules imposed upon us by some authority, to an ideal type of human life which we are somehow enabled to form for ourselves, or in what other possible way it is determined-we must endeavor to discover as we go on.

The Normative Ethics

Traditionally, normative ethics (also known as moral theory) was the study of what makes actions right and wrong. Classical theories in this vein include utilitarianism, Kantianism, and some forms of co Tractarianism. These theories offered an overarching moral principle to which one could appeal in resolving difficult moral decisions.

Aristotle (384 BC – 322 BC) was a Greek philosopher, a student of Plato (who was also a Greek Philosopher and author of book “Republic”) and teacher of Alexander the Great. He wrote on many subjects, including physics, metaphysics, poetry, theater, music, logic, rhetoric, politics, government, ethics, biology and zoology. His famous book on this subject is “Ethics”.

Ethics as a major branch of philosophy

Ethics is a major branch of philosophy encompassing right conduct and good life. It is significantly broader than the common conception of analyzing right and wrong. A central aspect of ethics is “the good life”, the life worth living or life that is simply satisfying, which is held by many philosophers to be more important than moral conduct.

The nature of ethics

Ethics is not a practical Science, in view of the fact that Ethics is concerned with action, it has sometimes been characterized as a practical science, but this is on the whole, misleading. There are scientific studies that may rightly be characterized as practical, such as medicine, engineering or architecture. Such studies are directed towards the realization of a defined result. The study of moral culture might be classed with these, but it would seem to be a part of general study of education.

Ethics, as a theoretical study, differs from this, just as logic and aesthetics do. Logic deals with the general conditions involved in discovery and apprehension of truth, and aesthetics deals with the general conditions involved in the production and appreciation of beauty.

In like manners, Ethics deals with the general conditions involved in the rightness or goodness of conduct. In all these it is true that reflection on the principles involved may be expected to help us in the application of them. One who has studied Logic may be expected to think more accurately than he otherwise would, one who has studied aesthetics may be expected to have finer appreciation of beauty in nature and art than he would otherwise posses and to be more careful in artistic productions. So also one who studies Ethics ought to have a finer moral discernment and a more zealous and discriminating pursuit of what is right good than he would otherwise have had. But this is not necessarily the case, nor is it the primary object of such studies. The most distinguished logicians are not necessarily the best thinkers and discoverers. Interest in and familiarity with particular subjects is generally of more importance. Similarly, the greatest poets and painters or the most appreciative lovers of nature are not always students of aesthetic principles. And, just in the same way, it is not buy the study of ethics that men and women become heroes or saints.

The objects of those studies that are described as normative is to supply a knowledge of guiding principles rather than to explain how they are to be applied, and this is perhaps even truer of Ethics than it is of Logic or aesthetics, since action covers a larger part of human life than thought or the appreciation of beauty and is to a greater extent learned by practice rather than by systematic reflection.

The nature of Ethics

Ethics is not the Art of conduct. It is now generally recognized that truth, Beauty, and Goodness are ultimate ends for human being. It appears to be absurd to ask why we should want to know To apprehend what is beautiful or to do what is right; but it is not immediately apparent what the exact nature of these great ends is, or what are the conditions that have to be observed for the attainment of them.

The application of these conditions may be said to be an art; and in that sense we may say that there is an art of thinking and an art of conduct, just as there are art of painting, music and poetry by which beautiful objects are created, but Logic is not properly to be called the art of thinking, nor is aesthetics to be called or identified with any of the particular arts by which beautiful objects are called into being. In those studies that are called normative we are rather seeking for insight into the nature of those supreme values –truth, beauty and goodness-to which particulars modes of knowledge, appreciation and action are subsidiary.

It has become customary to regard such studies as belonging to the province of philosophy, rather than as being either science or arts. It has even been urged that the study of the supreme values is the one object of philosophical studies, which aim, as the name implies, at the acquisition of wisdom rather than particular modes of knowledge. It has to be recognized, however, that this distinction has not always been present to the minds of those who have written about Ethics and in dealing with the subjects in a general it appears that the history of Ethics is the history of views that are more or less erroneous but the errors cannot be treated as due merely to human perversity. They are due rather to certain difficulties that are inherent in the nature of the subject.

Is there any art of conduct?

It has been noticed that it appears to be erroneous to speak of Ethics as an art of conduct. It has also been noticed that Ethics is the akin of Logic and aesthetics. The major reason is that the essence of conduct lies in an attitude of Will not in the possession of a particular kind of skill. The good painter is one who can paint beautifully and a similar remark applies, on the whole, to a thinker, who thinks well and very well for the welfare of mankind. But a good man is not one who can, but one who does, act rightly. Of course, sometimes the right action may be refraining from any over activity. They also serve who only stand and wait, but to stand and wait is a form of conduct. Conduct is not a capacity but a habit, in Aristotle’s phrase; it is a “Habit of Choice”. Where we choose to act or refrain from acting, we are in either case making a choice. We have to decide to do or not to do. The study of Ethics has a direct reference to action, in a sense in which these other cognate studies have not. It may be well at this point to be some discussed in detail.

Virtue exists only in activity

A good painter is one who can paint beautifully; a good man is not one who can, but one who does, act rightly. The good painter is good when he is asleep or in a journey, or when, for any reason, he is not employed in his art. The good man is not good when asleep or on a journey, unless when it is good to sleep or to go on a journey. Goodness is not a capacity or potentiality, but an activity, as Aristotle has discussed this point in his book “Ethics”.

This is a simple point, and yet it is a point that presented great difficulty to ancient philosophers. By nothing perhaps were so much misled as by the analogy of virtues to the arts. Thus in Plato’s Republic, Socrates is represented as arguing that if justice consists in keeping property safe, the just man must be a kind of thief, for the same kind of skill which enables a man to defend property, will also enable him to steal it. The answer to this is that justice is not a kind of skill, but a kind of activity. The just man is not merely one who can, but one who does, keep property safe. Now though the capacity of appropriating it, the act of preserving is certainly very different from the act of appropriating.

The man who knows precisely what the truth about any matter is, would undoubtedly, as a general rule, be the most competent person to invent lies with respect to the same matter. Yet the truth-speaker and liar are very different persons, because they are not merely men who possess particular kinds of capacity, but men who act in particular ways. Often, indeed the most atrocious liars have no special faculty for the art. And so also it is with other vices. “The Devil” it is said, “is an Ass.”

The essence of virtue lies in the Will

The man who is a bungler in any of the particular arts may be a very worthy and well-meaning person, but the best intentions in the world will not make him a good artist. In the case of virtuous action, on the other hand, as Kant says, in his book “Metaphysics of Morals” a good will is good not because of what it performs or effects, not by its aptness for the attainment of some proposed end, but simply by virtue of the volition. “Even if it should happen that, owing to a special disfavor of fortune, or the niggardly provisions of a step-motherly nature, this will should wholly lack power to accomplish its purpose, if with greatest efforts it should yet achieve nothing, and there should remain only the good will, then, like jewel, it would still shine by its own light, as a thing which has its whole values in itself. In like manner, Aristotle says of a good man living in circumstances in which he cannot find scope for his highest virtue, his nobility shines through.

It is true that even in the fine arts purpose counts for something, and a stammering utterance may be not without a grace of its own. In conduct also, if a man blunders entirely, it is assumed generally that there was some flaws in his purpose that he did not reflect sufficiently, or did not will the good with sufficient intensity. Still, the distinction remains that in art the ultimate appeal is to the work achieved, whereas in morals the ultimate appeal is to the inner aim. Or rather, in morals the achievement cannot be distinguished from the inner activity by which it is brought about.

Is there any science of conduct the fact that it is somewhat questionable to speak of an art of conduct suggests a doubt whether it is even quite proper to speak of a science of conduct. We generally understand by a science the study of some limited portion of our experience. Now in dealing with morals we are concerned rather with the whole of our experience from one particular point of view, viz., from the point of view of activity from the point of view, of the pursuit of ends or ideals Matthew Arnold has said that conduct is three fourths of life., but of course, from, from the point of view of purposive activity, conduct is the whole of life. It is common to distinguish the pursuit of truth science and the pursuit of beauty fine art from the moral life in the narrower sense. But when truth and beauty are regarded as ends to be attained, the pursuit of them is a kind of conduct; and the consideration of these ends, as of all others, falls within the scope of the science of morals.

In a sense, there for, Ethics is not a science at all, if by a science we understand the study of some limited department of human experience. It is rather a part of philosophy that is a part of the study of experience as a whole. It is, indeed, only a part of philosophy; because it considers the experience of life only from point of view of will or activity. It does not, except indirectly, consider man as knowing or enjoying, but as doing, means pursuing an end. But it considers man’s whole activity, the entire nature of the good, which seeks, and the whole significance of his activity in seeking it. For this reason as we have already noted, some scholars prefer to describe the subject as moral philosophy or Ethics philosophy, rather than as the science of Ethics. For it is the business of philosophy, rather than science, to deal with experience as a whole. Similarly, Logic and Aesthetics, the two sciences that closely resemble Ethics, are rather philosophical than scientific. But the term science may be used in a wide sense to include the philosophical studies as well as those that are called scientific in the narrower sense.

We can summarize this discussion as follows,

All the statements presented and discourses written here are intended to give a general indication of the nature of Ethical study. The learner should know that the different scholars regard the subject in different ways. Some regard it as having a directly practical aim, while others endeavor to treat it as a

purely theoretical science, in the same sense in which chemistry or astronomy is theoretical. Mr John S. Mackenzie in his book “A manual of Ethics “adopted the middle way in this respect. But the full significance of this difference as well as the grounds for adopting one or other of these views can hardly become apparent to the learners until one has learned to appreciate the distinction between leading theories of the moral standards. In fact, in studying Ethics, as in studying most other subjects of any complexity, it should always be borne in minds that the definition of the Ethics and its understanding of it scope and method come rather at the end that at the beginning. With these cautions, however, one may perhaps find the remarks made in this discourse of some service as an introduction to the study of Ethics. It is hoped that their significance will become clearer as it has been preceded. The main points to which attention has been directed may be briefly summarized as under

1) The Ethics is the theoretical study, which deals with the ideal, or with the standard of rightness
and wrongness, good and evil, involved in conduct.
2) This study is normative, not one of the ordinary positive sciences.
3) It is, however, not properly to be described as a practical science, though it has a close bearing
upon practical life.
4) Still less is it to be described as an art.
5) It is hardly correct to speak of an art of conduct at all.
6) Some objections may also be taken even to the term science of conduct, since the study of the
ideal in conduct is rather philosophical than scientific.

(Source. This lesson has been summarized from a manual of Ethics by John S.Mackenzie and from An Introduction to Ethics by William Lillie, first chapter of both the books)

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