Ethics I

Delhi Law Academy


What are ethics?

•            Ethics seeks to resolve questions of human morality by defining concepts such as good and evil, right and wrong, virtue and vice, justice and crime.

•            As a field of intellectual inquiry, moral philosophy also is related to the fields of moral psychology, descriptive ethics, and value theory.

•            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

Why do we need ethics?

•            Ethics help us navigate the area between what is absolutely right and what is morally wrong.

•            They provide the structure that helps us make a decision we can be proud of in the context of our societal, familial and personal value structures.

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.

Ethics vs Morals

•            While they are sometimes used interchangeably, they are different:

•            Ethics refer to rules provided by an external source, e.g., codes of conduct in workplaces or principles in religions.

•            Morals refer to an individual’s own principles regarding right and wrong.

•            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.

Dimensions of Ethics

Meta Ethics

•            Deals with the “after” or “beyond, and questions such as: “What is goodness?” and “How can we tell good from bad?” It also questions the origin of ethical principles, whether they are human or divine in origin.

•            It also deals with questions like: What are the meanings of ethical terms: right, wrong, love, compassion? It also questions whether moral judgments are universal or relative, and if they are of one kind or many.

Prescriptive Ethics (Normative Ethics)

•            Normative Ethics is concerned with the criteria of what is right or wrong. IT includes the formulation of moral rules that have direct implications for what human actions, institutions and ways of life should be like.

•            It deals with questions like: How should people act? What is the correct action?

The different branches are:

o            Virtue Ethics

o            Consequentialism

o            Deontological Ethics

Descriptive Ethics

•            Descriptive ethics studies people’s belief about morality. Describes and compares between objectives of different ethical theories.

•            It deals with questions like: What do people think is right? It is different from normative and applied ethics.

Applied Ethics

•            Applied ethics is a philosophical examination from a moral standpoint of particular issues in private and public life that are matters of moral judgment.

•            This uses application of moral knowledge to practical problems and uses philosophical methods to identify the morally correct course of action in various fields of human life.

•            The different branches are:

o            Bio Ethics

o            Business Ethics

o            Military Ethics

o            Political Ethics

o            Environmental Ethics

o            Publication Ethics


•            Values can be defined as those things that are valued by someone. In other words, values are what is considered “important” by an individual or an organization. Examples include courage, honesty, freedom, innovation etc.

•            Value is the degree of Importance of Something Particular

•            Value denotes the degree of importance of something (even an action). Values help in determining what actions are best to do.

•            Values are ‘beliefs’ about ‘what is important’

•            Values are the beliefs of an individual or a social group about what is held important that motivate people to act one way or another. “Equal rights for all”, “Merit above all else”, “Dignity of labour” etc. are representatives of values.

•            Values are created by formal and informal education. Formal education is what we receive in schools through our teachers, books and the education system.

•            Values inculcate discipline in us and add diversity to our thoughts. Values also helps us to solve problems in particular ways unique to ourselves.

•            Values are also the underlying basis of our attitudes that determine our behavior. Finally, values help develop a love for one’s own country.

•            Values are ideals of someone (or a group) about what is good or bad (or desirable or undesirable).

•            Ethics is all about reasoning how to do the right action.

The conflict between Values and Ethics

•            People tend to adopt values that they grow up with. They also tend to believe that those values are “right” because of their conditioning of their particular culture.

•            For example, if making money is a value by any particular culture’s standards without consideration about how that money is being made then the act of making money itself seems right to a person from that culture irrespective of the means of making that money.

•            Choosing which values to hold higher against another is a matter of ethical decision.

A conflict between Values: Value ‘A’ vs. Value ‘B’

•            Conflicts can be a result of conflicting value systems. Person A holding the value of honesty higher than efficiency might not see eye to eye with person B who values efficiency higher than honesty.

•            Values vary among Individuals, Cultures, and Time.

•            Just like morals, values also vary among individuals and across cultures and time.

•            For example, for some people, their nation’s flag may represent a sacred value. But for others, the flag may just be a piece of cloth.

Types of values

•            We know that honesty, goodness, humility etc values. They form a group of values called Moral Values. There are other types of values as well – like Genius, Beauty, Power etc. However, moral values are rated highest among all natural values.

•            Values can be classified as:

Spiritual Values

Moral Values

Social Values

Intellectual Values

Economic Values

Political Values etc

Personal Values vs. Social Values

•            Personal Values – Important for individual well-being.

Examples: self-respect, comfortable life, freedom etc.

•            Social Values – Important for other people’s well-being.

Examples: equality, social justice, national security, world peace etc.

•            Note: A positive and fulfilling life requires a coordinated and balanced pursuit of both self-serving and other serving values.

Lessons from the lives and teachings of great leaders, reformers and administrators

•            We are fortunate to have many great leaders, reformers, and administrators who cherished noble values and ethics.

•            They not only lived an ethical life but also taught many human values.

PersonalitiesWhat they Valued
Mahatma GandhiSimplicity, Minimalism, Satyagraha, Sarvodaya, Secularism, Ahimsa, Non-Violence, Truth, Forgiveness, Self-Sufficiency, Dignity of labour etc.
Jawaharlal NehruDemocracy, institution building, consensus building, socialism, secularism, self-determination, internationalism etc.
Nelson MandelaService, dignity, self-belief, equality of the human race, freedom, fairness, justice, etc.
Abraham LincolnHumanism, equality of the human race, integrity, idealism, honesty, freedom etc.
Martin Luther King JrSelf-belief, equality of the human race etc.
Raja Rammohan RoySocial equality, equality of the human race, women empowerment, scientific thinking etc.
Swami VivekanandaSelf-belief, equality of the human race, patriotism, compassion etc.
B R AmbedkarSelf-belief, equality of the human race, radical thinking, compassion etc.
Mother TeresaCompassion, altruism, helpfulness, kindness, cleanliness, determination.
Verghese KurienSelf-belief, co-operative societies, entrepreneurship, innovation, farmer welfare etc.
M.S. SwaminathanSustainable development, green revolution, poverty alleviation, farmer welfare etc.
Sam PitrodaSelf-belief, dreaming big, entrepreneurship, policy making, innovation etc.
E. SreedharanPunctuality, self-belief, integrity, high-quality standards etc.



•            Family is the most important platform for a child to learn, especially during the early stages on one’s life. Many of beliefs and opinion are directly imbibed by an individual, from his family.

•            We learn about the different social relations, responsibilities, religious ideas and codes of conduct from our family. It is often believed that a Mother is the first teacher. She plays a foundational, central and life-shaping part in the development of the child. A child gets the basic awareness, self confidence, self-satisfaction, principle of sacrifice and love from his mother. The deep emotional connection between a mother and a child ensures that the mother teaches her child all that is good.

•            A family is the home of values like- kindness, sharing, cooperation, love, friendship, generosity, compassion, responsibility and service. Thus, a family performs a very formative function in the society. It is only through the institution of the family that the cultural heritage of the society is maintained.

•            It is only in the family that the child learns to think about ‘Us’ instead of ‘Me’. Through the appreciation of good behaviour, and punishment for the bad behaviour, the child learns about the socially acceptable norms and values.

•            It is because of such significant role of the family that- when a family breaks, there can be blame, resentment, distress, and an emotional scar on the character of the child. A bad familial experience can serious hamper the development of the moral-mental capabilities of the individual.

•            In fact, a significant number of the outlaws and criminals have been found to be coming from such broken families.

Educational institutes

•            Education is an effective and pervasive phenomenon for all round individual development and social transformation. This alone can sustain culture and civilization.

•            A balanced development of mind and body in harmony with the spirit is the key to the enrichment of human personality and an outcome of value-based education, which must in the ultimate analysis help humanity to transcend to a higher level of consciousness. Our children must from their infancy be taught the dignity of labour.

•            Thus, the true meaning of education is harmonious development of head, heart and hand i.e., enlightenment of mind, compassion and dignity of labour. Moral and spiritual training is an essential part of education.

•            If education is to help us to meet the moral challenge of the age and play its part in the life of the community, it should be liberating and life giving. It must give a basic meaning to one’s existence and equip us with the ability to overcome spiritual inertia and foster spiritual sensitivity.

•            Temples of learning should produce men and women who will move together to develop common ideals and purposes, love each other and co-exist to create common wealth.

•            Education is not injection or injunction. It is not indoctrination of views and ideas or just an imposition of one’s views upon others. In short, education should not be an infliction, because the moment it becomes an infliction, the consequence is indiscipline amongst learners.

•            A vast responsibility rests on our educational institutions and those who guide their destinies. They need to be alert and should not wander from the right path even when passion convulses the multitude and blinds many amongst those whose duty is to set an example to others.

•            If these are the ideals and objectives of education, how can we achieve these in the existing scenario of education which is in a state of anarchy and chaotic condition at all levels – primary to higher education. Educational system in India today is in a critical state – resistant to change and in danger of becoming irrelevant.

•            Thus, it needs a drastic reconstruction – almost revamping. The greatest challenge the world is facing today is the crisis of confidence and character, mental and moral decay and break down of rich traditions. The root cause of all these is fear, hatred, greed, prejudice, intolerance and violence.

•            Therefore, efforts need to be made to eliminate these divisive forces, which is possible only by value-based education that involves harmonious development of the body, mind and spirit. True knowledge consists of self understanding and self-control.

•            Non-violence seems to be the highest form of knowledge and if education has to serve the humanity and defuse human suffering, it must teach and train us to respect each other (universal brotherhood), love each other (universal love), practice compassion and uphold the dignity of all lives.

•            Then only one will have peace. In a world which is primarily split between a few haves and majority of have-nots, tensions, diversities, self-centered vision, violence, terrorism and consumerism are creating a dreadful scenario of a bleeding world and a blood splattered humanity.

In this chaotic atmosphere, value-based education is the only hope for synthesizing the moral fabric of an individual and generating a culture of peace in the society.

•            Education must aim at the development of moral, spiritual and ethical values and we should seek them in our own heritage as well as in progressive cultures and civilizations. It should be such that Indians do not lose sight of their rich heritage – their thought must be rooted in the ideals set forth in the great writings and works of our sages, poets and philosophers.

•            The noble goals and high values set forth in our precious culture must be adhered to. It has been emphasized time and again that conscious efforts should be made for the development of social, moral and spiritual values with the help of ethical teachings of the great religious teachers.

Character and Personality Development

•            Teachers can play a vital role in this regard. A teacher must succeed in conveying the larger ideals of service to the community, virtues of tolerance and respect for all faiths, importance of character, integrity and discipline and the value of humanism to his pupil. The later should also be made aware of our heritage and culture.

•            They should develop a mature attitude towards religion. Acquaintance with prayers of different religions and hymns and songs of various faiths may also help young minds to recognize the intrinsic purity, beauty and practical usefulness of different religious thoughts.

•            A UNESCO report on education for the 21st century entitled ‘Learning, The Treasure Within’ also pleads for an education which is ‘rooted in culture and committed to progress’.

•            Developing a harmonious and integrated personality would just not be possible if the system does not inculcate values embedded in the culture, heritage and traditions. Indian heritage, culture and values need to be thoroughly studied, analyzed and incorporated comprehensively in the educational system right from the pre-primary stage to higher education.

•            Injection of information into young minds has been taking place on a massive scale, but character and personality development has not received the attention it deserves. Creation of the right environment which helps and encourages young minds to resolve personal and moral issues independently is of utmost importance.

•            Although it is not an easy task but it needs to be done at all costs. Since character of people may decide the destiny of a nation, the educational system should develop character, courage, comradeship, discipline, leadership, secular outlook, spirit of adventure and sportsmanship and ideals of selfless service.

•            Emphasis should be laid on the study of the life of great sons of the soil whose ideas and ideals have moved the world, because such a practice may provide an insight to the younger generation for character development and spiritual sensitivity.


•            Scientific knowledge and advancement of technology have influence our contemporary society. With this advancement, society gains material power which may be used for man’s welfare or for his annihilation.

•            This power is so vast by which man can fulfil their needs reversely man can destroy himself as well as his society. Cause of material development society hoped that knowledge will be doubled. This advancement creates difficult problems causes of rapid and radical change of knowledge makes a uncertainly in human thinking.

•            In this contact human thinking is being imbalance which leads crisis in thinking. In this respect it is said “A knowledge based world and certain measure of unpredictability general of not much avail in dealing with the problems and challenge in a rapidly changing uncertain world.

•           Every society its own rules customs, language and religions which is based on some social ideals and these ideal is nothing but a value as modern ideals more powerful than the old ideal and modern culture occupies new place of old culture.

•           As a result social agency social institution could not keep control and balance over society. That is why society loss her stability gradually new material change is running fast where old culture can not casually with new advancement so there is made a silent gap sociologists call it social cultural crisis different type of crisis are seen in modern society cause of environmental degradation, multicultural conflict misuse of science and technology, inequality ill effects of multi-media, globalization commercialization immigration, migration, industrialization etc. multi culture, multi religions, multi lingual factors creating conflict.

•           As a result men are rejecting their own culture values ideals which promotes crisis.