Licchavi Lyceum


Licchavi Lyceum

thics and Human Interface: Essence, determinants and consequences of Ethics in human actions

Term of the SyllabusDefinition with Example
  EthicsEthics is the set of principle led down by the society for human conduct.  Considering Ethics as the reference, society determines what is right or wrong in human conduct.   Example: Respect your elders.

Significance of Ethics

  1. If the human action is in conformity with the ethical norms, it is called ethical else unethical.
  2. At its simplest, ethics is a system of moral principles. They affect how people make decisions and lead their lives.
  3. Ethics is organic in nature, it keeps changing with place and time, it continues to guide human about the action they should take and the action they should avoid.

So, is it written somewhere?

No, its’ not written, we acknowledge and understands it gradually as we nurture in the society, like respect the elders, respect women, help the poor etc.  

Ethical Vs. Legal Debate

An Ethical action may or may not be legal. Just see below table.

Human ActionEthical/UnethicalLegal/ Illegal
Eating beef (in Nagaland)EthicalLegal
Same Gotra marriage in HaryanaUnethicalLegal
Accepting dowry in BiharEthicalIllegal
Consuming Alcohol in GujaratUnethicalIllegal

Q. Differentiate between Law and ethics. UPSC 2015


Set by StateSet by Society
WrittenNot written
Penalty for violationNo Penalty as such
More stringentLess stringent.
Example: Pay your income tax before due date.Example: Help the poor, Obey cultural practices.

Ethics as the torch bearer of decision: Ethics guide us in difficult situation. For example, I need some money for the medical treatment in my family but I do not have it. Someone came to bribe me with the required sum of money. I will not take the bribe as ethical values dictate me not to accept the bribe.

Ethics lead to the decision. The decision may be right or wrong depending upon the purity of ethical values.

Q. What is meant by ‘environmental ethics’? Why is it important to study? Discuss any one environmental issue from the viewpoint of environmental ethics. 2015.

Ans: The globally and locally accepted norms for ‘sustainable use’ of environment is environmental ethics.  Example: Plant more trees than you cut, abide waste disposal rules etc.

Importance Environmental Ethics ensures:

  1. Conservation of environment apart from meeting the human needs. Example: Plant more trees than you cut for infra projects.
  2. Environment friendly policy formulations and penal provisions for violation of environmental norms. NGT imposing fine on Delhi government for lapses in waste water treatment.
  3. Cultural integration of human with the nature. Example: Worship the Peepal Tree.
  4. Environment Friendly political executives. Example:   Long Protest by the locals in Mumbai against cutting the trees for Metro project, Political Party in power had finally accepted the pro-environment demands.

Environment Issue: Should Tribal People be allowed to live in eco- sensitive zones of forest?

Yes, they should be allowed, because:

  1. They have been living in the forest for centuries and are quite dependent on the forest resources for their sustenance.
  2. They are friends of animals and plants and avoid irresponsible use of forest resources.

No, they should not be allowed, because:

  1. The kill the animal for economic gains and their habitat in the middle of jungle is a threat to animals living in forest.
  2. Tribal people are not aware of the government efforts to conserve the forest hence do not adopt measures to meet the intended environmental conservation efforts.

Q. Differentiate between Personal ethics and Professional ethics. UPSC 2015.


Personal EthicsProfessional Ethics
Derived from the norms of the society.   Each member of the society has to follow it.Inculcated within us from the professional environment, derived from the norms of the organization.   Each employee in the organization has to follow these rules and they do not have any choice.
Violation leads social criticism.Violation leads to loss to the organisation.
Wide impactImpact limited to the company. 
Example: Adhere to the practice of non-violence.   Follow the practice of honesty.Example: transparency, confidentiality, Recognition of good works and appreciation of good works of juinior employee.

Syllabus: Determinants of ethics

Determinants in Ethics are the set of factors in human behaviour that determine whether an action is good or bad.

EthicsDeterminant of Ethics
Do not waste the Paper.Wasting the Paper leads to more tree cut and ultimately loss to the environment. Here Determinant is to safeguard the Environment.
Do not throw Medical waste in Open.Throwing the Medical Waste in Open will undermine the safety of common men. Here determinant is to advocate the safety of common men.

Syllabus: Consequences of Ethics in human actions

The consequences are the outcomes caused by an action. The quality of these consequences depend on how much good they contain. 

The consequences are defined by various theories; one such is utilitarianism. Utilitarianism evaluates consequences by how much happiness and suffering they contain.

The amount of pleasure and pain created by an action is really good way of showing that some consequences are better or worse than others.

Ethical ActionConsequence
Printing too much currency to counter economic slowdown.The consequence is high inflation and more hardship to common men.
Promote Solar Power in Place of Fossil FuelReduction in Green House Gas emission in long run.

Syllabus: Essence of Ethics

The Ethics should have following essence:

  1. It should be clear and easy to understand so that even a common man can easily understand it.
  2. The Ethics should be framed under the light of Law in place. If one follows ethics, he must not violate the law.
  3. Ethics should be modified with time and place to meet the changing needs.
  4. Ethics should promote the brotherhood in the society and should be a cause of unity in society.

Syllabus: Dimensions of ethics

Meta Ethics: Meta Ethics is the “Ethics of Ethics”. Meta Ethics asks the cause behind the Ethics.

Example of Corporate EthicsMeta Ethics
Coming late to the meeting is not good.Why coming late to meeting is not good?
 It is the test of basic thought process that sets the Ethics.   It asks about our understanding- how we interpret if a decision, action or a motive is good and bad.

Another Example: This dress for the girl is not right: Khap Panchayat (Ethics of the region)

Meta Ethics: Why this dress is not right? On what parameters you are saying so?

Prescriptive Ethics: Study of ethical action, it extensively investigates questions which ask whether the action one implements is actually right or not.

Perspective Ethics do not raise question on the healthiness of Ethical principles. Here, Ethics is considered as sacrosanct/ standard and human action is evaluated based on these standards/ norms.

Prescriptive ethics are also known as normative ethics.

Example: Principle set by the orthodox society where a man is not free to question the correctness of Ethical norms, he is supposed to just follow it.

Q. Differentiate between Ethical management and management of ethics. UPSC 2015.


Ethical managementManagement of Ethics
Human action in accordance with the ethical norms.   Example: Adopt the practice of transparency in administration (an example of ethical governance).Changing or managing ethical standards in accordance with the changing socio, economic, cultural situation.   Example: Allow the practice of inter-caste marriage.
Example of prescriptive ethics.Example of Meta Ethics.
Society will praise the efforts.You will face the resistance of society or company at times.

Descriptive Ethics: Descriptive Ethics is the empirical (observational) study of the moral beliefs and practices of different peoples and cultures in various places and times.

It seeks information on how people live and draw general conclusions based on these observations.

So is it correct to say that Descriptive Ethics is the study of Ethical norms from the lens of Research Scholar?

Yes, it’s correct, in descriptive ethics we take a bird eye view in the ethical norms without discussing about the healthiness of these norms.

Example: In the Magadh empire led by Ashok,

Applied Ethics: Applied ethics refers to the practical application of moral considerations. It deals with the rightness or wrongness of social, economical, cultural, religious issues.


  1. Is the practice of child labour correct?
  2. Should abortion be allowed?

This branch of ethics is most important for professionals in different walks of life including doctors, teachers, administrators, rulers and so on.

Example of Business Ethics: It is the duty of employee to stay loyal to their employers.

Example of Medical ethics: It is the responsibility of doctors to inform the Organ donor about the possible future consequences on health.

Approaches of Ethics

Utilitarian Approach: This approach of Ethics differentiates right from wrong by focusing on outcomes.

Utilitarianism holds that the most ethical choice is the one that will produce the greatest good for the greatest number.

For instance, ethical warfare is trying to curb terrorism for the greater good by killing and destroying the terrorist organisations.

Example of Utilitarian Approach: Kill the Terrorist to save the society (Focus on the end result of Saving the society at large at the expense of Life of few terrorists)

Kill the birds infected with Bird flu to save healthier one (Outcome based Ethics/ Utilitarian Approach)

Limitation of this approach: We cannot predict the future, it’s difficult to know with certainty whether the consequences of our actions will be good or bad (although the intended outcome is good).

Case Study: Assume a hospital has four people whose lives depend upon receiving organ transplants: a heart, lungs, a kidney, and a liver.

If a healthy person wanders into the hospital, his organs could be harvested to save four lives at the expense of one life.

This would arguably produce the greatest good for the greatest number (Isn’t it?). But few would consider it an acceptable course of action.

So, although utilitarianism is arguably the most reason-based approach to determining right and wrong, it has obvious limitations.

  • Rights based Approach: The rights approach follows the belief that individuals have the ability to make their decisions freely.

It believes that if it does not respect everyone’s moral rights, it is wrong to act.

  • Fairness/Justice Approach: First described by Aristotle, this approach propagates the idea of equality. It promotes the course of action treats everyone the same, except where there is a morally justifiable reason not to, and does not show favoritism or discrimination?

Example: Is caste based reservation good?

This approach gives the individual the opportunity to reflect if the action is fair to the people.

  • Common Good Approach: Which course of action advances the common good? This question helps drive our choice to decide if the action taken will be good for ourselves and the community. It opens the door to other questions related to the type of society we want to become and how to achieve that.
  • Virtue Approach: Which course of action develops moral virtues? It adheres to the fact that ethical actions are supposed to be consistent and at par with certain ideal virtues that provide for the holistic development of our humanity.

Honesty, courage, compassion, generosity and tolerance are some of the examples of virtues.

  • The Egoistic Approach: This is the ethics of self- interest. In this approach, an individual often uses utilitarian calculation to produce the greatest amount of good for him or herself.

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