Ethics: Basic Concepts, Difference between Ethics and Morality

Ethics: Basic Concepts, Difference between Ethics and Morality

Ethics is an integral aspect of public administration. A public servant is required to question and reflect on his/her action to be able to act responsibly. Ethics provides the basis on how one  needs to make decisions and lead their lives. The term “ethics”  is derived from the Greek word ethos which can mean custom, habit, character or disposition.

Definition of Ethics

Ethics is defined as set of standards that society places on itself and which helps to guide behaviour, choices and actions. It is not a static concept rather it changes along with time and geographical extent. For example, traditions like dowry were part of Indian society and ethical as per traditions upto late 20th century but now taking dowry is considered unethical. Hence, Ethics is also a systematic study of human actions from point of view of their right-fullness or wrong-fullness, as means for attainment of ultimate human happiness.

Sources of Ethics:

Depending on the society ethics can be from variety of sources:

  1. Law & Constitution
  2. Religion
  3. Family & Friends
  4. Education System (School, College etc)
  5. Conscience
  6. Culture & Traditions

Determinants of Ethics in Governance

In Governance, ethics are defined by social, economic, political, cultural, legal, judicial along with historical context of the country. All these factors influence the public administrative system and in-turn define the ethical system followed by the country.

Difference between Ethics & Morals

Both ethics and moral are used interchangeably, there is a significant difference between them. While, morality pertains to individual’s choice of right or wrong, ethics considers society’s definition of right and wrong. Morality can be an individual’s set of commitments even when they are rejected by others but one cannot be ethical alone. Example, even today some people may consider dowry as part of moral system and morally correct but ethically it wrong.


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