determinants of ethics



Determinants of Ethics is a moral philosophy or philosophical treatise which studies human behavior and tries to determine whether an act performed is morally right or wrong. In nutshell, Ethics is a set of moral principles by which people conduct themselves-personally, socially and professionally.

Determinants of Ethics are the sources from which an ethical standard arises. In fact, these are factors in human behavior that determine whether an act is good or bad. There are multiple determinants of ethics viz. Religion, Laws, Societal rules, Individual values and preferences, Knowledge and Time etc.

However on broader note, there are three such determinants of ethics, namely the object, the end, and the circumstances

  1. Nature of Action/ the Object: Ethicality depends upon the fundamental nature of action itself. Object means what the free will chooses to do in thought, word, or deed or chooses not to do.
    For instance, a murder is an unethical act in itself and it cannot be justified by any intention or under any circumstances. On the other hand, acts like polluting the environment are unethical but it can be justified if it’s within ecological limits and used for good purpose like rural electrification.
  2. The End/ Intent/ Motive of Action: Intention behind an action must be ethical and only then; the action can be possible ethical. If intention is wrong, no action can be ethical even if the action is good in itself. The end is meant the purpose for which the act is willed, the end is the intent, the motive or the reason why an action is performed.
    For instance, charity done for vested interests by unscrupulous NGOs is unethical even if its charity. On the other hand, breaking a traffic rule can be ethical if a policeman does it to catch a criminal.
  3. The circumstances: Ethics is dynamic and hence, sometimes circumstances decide whether an action is ethical or not. For instance, democracy and citizen-concentric governance is ethical governance but during times of war, martial law can be ethically justified and hence, provided under the Indian Constitution. We consider breaking of traffic rules as highly unethical but if we are getting late for some place, we let ourselves break the rules.

To be ethically good, a human act must agree with the norm of morality on all three counts; in its nature, its motive, and its circumstances. Departure from any of these makes the action morally wrong.