Ethics pertains to principles of behavior that determines how individual act in particular situations in which they are a part of or interacting. Most situations of our daily lives involve a form of contact with another person, hence it is important that certain principles of behavior be identified as acceptable or not. Unfortunately, society is plagued with the notion that ethics is a very simple concept that most people understand. Hence there are two types of individuals who have different perceptions of the meaning of ethics. The first type of individual upholds the fact that ethics is based on good values, of which are entirely favorable to every human life. Value-based ethics thus detests issues that generate negative effects on humankind. One of the simplest examples of value-based ethics is good health among individuals. The attainment and maintenance of good health are beneficial to all individuals hence the performance of acts and other behaviors that will promote good health is ethical. On the other hand, any actions that do not promote good health are unethical, such as abortion and murder.
The other type of individual upholds the notion that ethics are based on feelings and affections. This type of perception regarding ethics is misguided because there are certain actions that generate a positive feeling in an individual yet this action is against the right value (Gummerum et al., 2008). For example, excessive drinking of alcohol generates a feeling of calmness in an individual hence the drinker will treat the act of drinking as an ethical action. Another simple example is stealing another person’s money, wherein a person takes the money of another individual and the idea of having money in his hand makes him feel happy because he can buy anything he wants with that money. An individual following the value-based ethical principles will consider stealing money as unethical, while the feelings-based individual considers taking another person’s money as ethical and acceptable because he feels happy about having money.
It is therefore important to understand that ethics should be based on determining whether an action is correct or incorrect, even if it provides an uncomfortable feeling in an individual. For example, when one discovers a briefcase filled with cash in an empty room, the right action is to take the briefcase to the proper authorities to report this discovery. Value-based ethics would uphold that such good action is proper. On the other hand, a feelings-based person would take the briefcase home and celebrate his discovery of a large amount of money. In addition, a feelings-based person thinks more of himself than the rest of society. His feelings and happiness should always come first and he does not care what other people may think of him, as long as he is happy and can do whatever he wants. In other situations, a feelings-based person will act based on the idea that he needs something and completes the action in order to complete that need. The conflict here is that every individual will have different reactions to everyday activities and situations and these reactions are mainly based on their notions of ethics.
It is therefore important that people understand the correct concept of ethics, wherein it is based on differentiating good from evil, or knowing what is right from wrong. Ethics is a form of reasoning that is expressed in terms of action and is not an action based on a good of achieving a certain feeling of happiness, calmness or contentedness (Woodward and Allman, 2007). It may be difficult for all individuals to understand ethics but it is also very helpful for people to play role models to the rest of society in order to spread the good values that are associated with value-based ethics.
Gummerum M, Keller M, Takezawa M, Mata J (2008): To give or not to give: children’s and adolescents’ sharing and moral negotiations in economic decision situations. Child Dev. 79(3):562-76.
Woodward J, Allman J (2007): Moral intuition: Its neural substrates and normative significance. J Physiol Paris. 101(4-6):179-202.