Licchavi Lyceum


Licchavi Lyceum

What is ethics? [Definition & Examples]

Ethics refers to a set of moral principles that guide human behavior and decision-making. It deals with questions of right and wrong, good and bad, and seeks to establish standards for human conduct in various contexts. Ethical considerations are essential for maintaining a fair and just society and ensuring that individuals and organizations act responsibly and with integrity.


There are several branches of ethics, including normative ethics, Meta Ethics, and Applied ethics. Normative ethics seeks to define specific moral norms and principles, while metaethics explores the nature and origin of ethical concepts. Applied ethics, on the other hand, involves the application of ethical principles to real-life situations.


Let’s illustrate the concept of ethics with a few examples:

  1. Honesty and Truthfulness: Ethical behavior often involves being honest and truthful in our interactions with others. For instance, if a friend asks you for feedback on their work, being ethical would mean providing sincere feedback, even if it means pointing out areas that need improvement.
  2. Respect for Others’ Autonomy: Ethical decision-making also involves respecting the autonomy and rights of others. For instance, a medical professional must obtain informed consent from a patient before performing any medical procedure.
  3. Environmental Ethics: Environmental ethics deals with the moral responsibilities we have towards the environment and non-human entities. For example, a company may choose to implement eco-friendly practices and sustainable sourcing to minimize its impact on the environment.
  4. Business Ethics: In the corporate world, business ethics encompass principles that guide fair and responsible business practices. This might involve ensuring fair treatment of employees, avoiding deceptive advertising, and maintaining transparency in financial dealings.
  5. Ethics in AI and Technology: With the rise of artificial intelligence and advanced technologies, ethical considerations become vital in the development and deployment of these systems. Ensuring AI algorithms do not discriminate against certain groups and protecting user privacy are examples of ethical AI practices.
  6. Animal Rights: Ethics also extend to how we treat animals. Ethical considerations in this area might involve promoting animal welfare, not engaging in animal cruelty, and adopting responsible practices in animal research.
  7. Social Justice: Ethical principles underlie social justice movements, where individuals advocate for fairness, equality, and the rights of marginalized communities. These movements strive to address systemic injustices and promote a more equitable society.

Comparison between Normative Ethics and Meta Ethics

Aspect Normative Ethics Meta Ethics
Focus Concerned with determining moral norms, principles, and guidelines for ethical decision-making. Concerned with analyzing the nature, language, and origin of ethical concepts and judgments.
Main Question What is morally right or wrong? What do ethical terms and statements mean?
Scope Addresses how individuals and societies should behave. Analyzes the foundations and validity of ethical claims.
Key Concerns – Moral principles and theories – Nature of morality
– Moral dilemmas and decision-making – Ethical language and semantics
– Moral values and obligations – Objectivity vs. subjectivity of morality
– Moral virtues and character development – Ethical realism vs. anti-realism
Key Theories – Consequentialism (e.g., utilitarianism) – Emotivism
– Deontology (e.g., Kantian ethics) – Moral relativism
– Virtue ethics (e.g., Aristotle’s ethics) – Ethical naturalism
Example Question Should lying be considered morally wrong? What does it mean for something to be morally wrong?
Example Concern Determining whether an action is morally right based on its consequences. Analyzing whether ethical statements have objective meanings or are expressions of emotions.

Comparison between Normative Ethics and Applied Ethics

Aspect Normative Ethics Applied Ethics
Focus Concerned with establishing moral norms, principles, and theories for ethical decision-making. Concerned with the application of ethical principles to specific real-life situations.
Main Concern Determining what is morally right or wrong. Applying ethical principles to practical cases.
Scope Theoretical and conceptual exploration of moral principles and theories. Practical and concrete examination of ethical dilemmas and issues.
Key Questions – What actions are morally permissible, obligatory, or forbidden? – How should ethical principles be applied to specific situations?
– How can ethical principles be justified and evaluated? – What are the ethical implications of specific actions and policies?
Example Theories – Consequentialism (e.g., utilitarianism) – Business ethics
– Deontology (e.g., Kantian ethics) – Environmental ethics
– Virtue ethics (e.g., Aristotle’s ethics) – Medical ethics
– Feminist ethics – Technology ethics
Key Considerations – Moral principles and their theoretical foundations. – Addressing ethical issues in specific fields or contexts.
– Ethical decision-making frameworks. – Analyzing the impact of ethical choices on individuals and society.
– Ethical conflicts and dilemmas. – Developing guidelines and codes of conduct.
Example Question Is it morally justifiable to lie in certain situations to protect someone’s feelings? How should medical professionals handle end-of-life decisions?
Example Concern Evaluating the morality of an action based on ethical theories. Applying ethical principles to determine the right course of action in a specific medical case.

In summary, normative ethics deals with the study of moral principles and guidelines for ethical behavior, focusing on what is morally right or wrong and how individuals should act in different situations. On the other hand, meta-ethics explores the nature of ethical concepts, the language used in ethics, and the foundations of moral claims, addressing questions about the meaning and objectivity of moral judgments.