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Ethics (2)

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This ethic refers to John Rawls and is based on pluralism. Rawls affirms that it is no longer possible to base oneself on a single common notion, the good. This then implies the establishment of rather abstract rules in order to admit a generality of differences.

Jürgen Habermas considers that a solution to a conflict is legitimate if and only if those who are affected by this conflict agree on this solution in satisfactory conditions of words and communication. This is why it is a question of the ethics of discussion or communicational morality. Thus, it is the procedure that determines whether the solution is or is not legitimate.


In actions, humans often take into account the consequences of their actions. These consequences can therefore be considered as possible criteria of our behavior, which makes this type of morality a normative type. For such a morality, a conduct is moral if the consequences of an act are beneficial rather than unfavorable. The evaluation of the morality of a conduct is therefore made on the basis of what is observable, rather than on the intention which is private and difficult to apprehend.

Several types of consequentialism can be distinguished, depending on the criterion chosen to determine what is beneficial and what is harmful:

  • altruism, which seeks to maximize the benefit of others, regardless of the advantages or disadvantages for the author,
  • selfishness, which seeks to maximize the benefit of the author,
  • utilitarianism, which seeks the good of the majority of participants.


In ethics, it is commonly a question of values ​​which are of the order of Being and of the Good, which indicate ideals to be pursued (autonomy, life and health, justice) — principles — which give broad orientations to the action, which set attitudes (self-determination, respect for life, give everyone their due) — standards and rules — which determine the action, which frame the decision (free and informed consent, take “proportionate means”, compliance with contracts). The word “value” is the most general and dynamic; it first has a philosophical evocation before having an ethical fallout. The word “principle” denotes a basic, action-inspiring direction. The word “rule” connotes something more concrete, closer to action. The principle is often indeterminate, and admits various applications. The rule has a specific content.

The main principles are relatively few and stable; the rules can be numerous and variable. The difficulty of presenting ethics (or morality) according to three points:

  1. it comes from the fact that it is not a separate sector of life, but a permanent dimension of all behavior. Values, in fact, are implemented more or less explicitly in all behaviors and all decisions. So the practice of medicine, nursing, social work, law, for example, inevitably involves ethical choices, moral value choices;
  2. it is due to the vocabulary which varies according to the authors. Words carry, from medium to medium, varying connotations or meanings;
  3. it is due to the fact that this ultimately refers to a philosophical reflection, which has given rise to a multitude of more or less contradictory ethical theories.

Three words come up frequently in the discourse on human action: ethics, morals, deontology; and these are sometimes taken as synonyms. Moreover, historically for the first two, they have been used very often for each other. Etymologically, the words ethics (of Greek origin) and morals (of Latin origin) refer to mores, to the analysis of mores, to reflections on human conduct. The word deontology (from the Greek: deon-deonlos) also designates rules, duties and obligations. The three words refer to behavior, to human action, to decision-making. They concern what must be done (duty, values), as opposed to what is done (morals).

Ethics can be defined as a rationally structured set of explicit values ​​that define the good, the just and the beautiful, by which someone accounts for himself, for what makes him exist and act. It is the way of saying how the individual must live and from what he must judge and decide. It is therefore an explicit and argued system of values ​​that induce behaviors or social practices. There are therefore universal ethics (human rights) or ethics specific to a culture. We can establish two ways to conceive of ethics: ethics as a code, which tends to reproduce roles in social life. Prescriptions, and the values ​​that inform them, tend to be taken for granted, thus being authoritative, and applicable in a wide range of contexts; and if ethics is thought, associated with a process to study and evaluate a system of values. So in this sense, ethics involves seeking principles to guide moral behavior and evaluating them. The first step is to identify the values, which may be contested, that exist within a community.

The organization of values ​​together, in the form of a system, corresponds to an ethic; this gives meaning and coherence to the values ​​attached to it. A value (such as democracy or sustainable development) only takes on its meaning according to the ethical field in which it falls. Among the values ​​are found the values ​​of a fundamental order, corresponding to goals to be achieved (for example, ecological balance), and values ​​of an instrumental order intended to achieve these goals (such as responsibility). There are also abstract values ​​(solidarity) and values ​​corresponding to objects, and also values ​​that are intrinsic (nature or architectural heritage). A value is an enduring belief, a specific mode of conduct or end state of existence, which is personally or socially preferable to another opposing or converging mode of behavior or purpose of existence. A value system is an enduring organization of beliefs about desirable modes of conduct and outlooks on life.

Traditionally, the concept of value is used in two distinct ways, either it is a question of the value that objects possess, or it is the value that people possess. Values ​​differ from attitudes (as well as other concepts such as needs, norms, interests) and are moreover less numerous than the latter, they go beyond specific conceptions of attitudes of objects and situations and are dynamically closer to needs and more central to people identified as individuals. Referring to the words of Audigier, it is useless to endeavor to determine a well-established and coherent list of values, since in any situation, as soon as a decision has to be made, the individual is struggling with values ​​in contradiction with each other. But they define as a point of view from which the individual evaluates, in the strong sense of the term evaluate, social actions, behaviors, even opinions.


Virtue ethics is old. It arises from the encounter between ancient morality, in particular Aristotelian and Stoic, and biblical wisdom. It is during “patristics” (first Christian theology), then in medieval philosophy, especially scholasticism, that it reaches its completion. In the 18th century, the virtues took a considerable place in the revolutionary imagination (Robespierre). Today, a certain number of philosophers take it up on their own, as in France André Comte-Sponville. “Virtue” should not be understood in the sense of a lady dressed in black and railing against excesses and shortcomings, in the name of right-thinking morality. “Virtue”, from the Latin virtus, is more akin to the “virtuosity” of artists. It mobilizes training and a balance of opposites based on wisdom. But this does not mean mortification or asceticism.

The theory revolves around four virtues that were once called “cardinal”. “Prudence”, “Strength” (or “Courage”), “Justice” and “Temperance”. This definitive formulation occurs in the 13th century, under the influence of the Franciscan and Dominican Christian orders.

  • Prudence is the main virtue: it guides the decision and weighs it, depending on the responsibility, the contextual situation, the consequences. However, it is not averse to risk. Indeed, there are audacious decisions that are prudent decisions.
  • Strength or “courage” is the ability to stand firm in the face of adversity. It is also she who gives the energy to launch into businesses.
  • Temperance is the virtue that channels disturbances. It is not opposition to the passions, but moderation of the passions.
  • Justice is consideration of behavior with others. It includes an economic dimension (the sense of sharing), a social dimension (respect for the law) and a political dimension (equality for all). But it also has a critical function, when apparent justice is opposed to ethics.

Christian tradition has added three so-called “theological” virtues:

  • Faith, which is participation in the knowledge that God has of himself.
  • Hope, which is confidence in the completion of history in a transformation and recreation of the world and people, beyond death (see Jürgen Moltmann)
  • Charity, which is love of neighbour, starting with the smallest and those left behind.

Today, virtue is considered as a quality that pushes men and women to achieve excellence, the best of themselves.


Meta-ethics refers to the analysis of basic ethical concepts, their epistemological presuppositions and their meaning, from the angle of philosophy. It is “above” ethics (meta in Greek) because its purpose is not to set ethical standards but to analyze them. It is interested, for example, in the nature of ethical norms as norms, in the foundations of these norms, in the structure of ethical arguments, in the characteristics of ethical propositions, etc. Meta-ethics is actually as old as ethics, although it is true that it has only been since the 20th century that it has become an independent discipline with a particular focus on the linguistic aspect. of ethics. A good example of meta-ethics is the small article that Paul Ricœur had written as early as 1985 for the Encyclopædia Universalis: “Before the moral law: ethics”.

Applied ethics

Applied ethics is a generic term for all ethical issues relating to a field of human activity such as health, the world of work, economy, science, governance or culture. Ethics applied to a profession leads to defining a deontology. Deontological ethics leads to the definition of professional deontologies (medical code of deontology, code of deontology for lawyers, code of deontology for architects, to take just a few examples).

Includes texts from Wikipedia with license CC BY-SA 3.0, translated and adapted by Nicolae Sfetcu

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