What is Ethics?
We often hear about it, but what ethics means?
At the theoretical and conceptual level, ethics tends to identify a correct behavioral model and includes all those norms and values which, in a given context, can serve as an evaluation parameter for the actions of individuals.
Today, ethics therefore has to do with what is lawful, what is good, and is distinguished from what is illegal and immoral.
For this reason, in the professions, ethics is associated with deontology, which is nothing more than a form of "institutionalized" ethics, in which the violation of ethical rules is not only wrong in principle, but also punishable.
Rediscover the importance and true meaning ofhuman ethics, in a time in which we become more flexible every day about what is and is not acceptable, it can represent a decisive milestone in the path of moral growth of our society.
The very word "ethics" is perhaps, and too much, associated with philosophical doctrines that have little to do with everyday life, and for this reason it is necessary to brush up on its practical meaning, as well as its usefulness.
Maintaining an ethical behavior is not so much respecting the rules of conduct, but a choice of respect for oneself and for others, a choice that facilitates living well.
Ethics and Values
The cardinal points of every ethical system are the reference values thanks to which it is possible to establish what to give importance to and what not (e.g. protection of the company vs consumer protection, family vs career, etc.).
On a universal level, one of the greatest values of ethics it is fairness, or rather respect for others, a cornerstone of community life whose essence is protected in various ways by law, common sense and religion.
Thanks to fundamental ethical values of respect and fairness, ethics acts as a moral dam, to stem the potentially catastrophic consequences of rampant selfishness.
Although specific values may vary from one context to another, in any ethical system there will always be a reference to the consideration of the interests of others, in the negative formulation of not causing harm, or in the positive formulation of helping others.
And if the presence of such a value is justified, on a philosophical level, by stating that it is simply the right thing to do, on a practical level, the ethical value of respect for others has a precise reason for being.
Difference between ethics and morals
To justify the need for a system of ethical principles that govern community life, Garret Hardin, an American ecologist, published an essay in 1968 entitled The Tragedy of the Common Goods.
In his parable, a group of shepherds share a plot of land dedicated to grazing their cattle. The lawn is very large, but not large enough to accommodate an infinite number of animals. This is why every shepherd must refrain from considerably enlarging his flock.
For the individual interest of the shepherd, one more sheep would mean more profit, but for the common good having more animals would mean running out first of the resources that keep them alive.
Therefore, if you want to keep the pasture luxuriant, every shepherd must necessarily give up a slice of personal income (in the short term) to protect the collective income (in the long term).
This problem brings us to the root of the ethical question, the so-called moral values cooperation, and the conflict between individual interests and community interests:
- Is it right, and therefore moral, to give priority to personal well-being while harming the entire community?
- Or is it right, and therefore moral, to put the interest of others before one's own?
Ethics and morals they intersect and become almost synonymous, to the extent that both aim to arrive at the common good and what is right. Whereas, where ethics becomes philosophical speculation - on the legitimacy of a set of rules of conduct - it departs from morality and becomes a true doctrine.
Keeping ourselves on the level of the common good, we realize that there is no difference between ethics and morals, since both ethics and morals tend to the same goal: to stem the selfish and self-defeating impulses of the individual, with the aim of making life on earth more sustainable, both socially and environmentally.
Ethics and Moral Integrity: Good vs Bad
Every time the news comes on we hear stories of people doing immoral and unjust acts.
People who steal, who kill, who cheat, who pollute. Unruly drivers who endanger the lives of others. Professionals who use their position of authority to take advantage of unsuspecting clients.
What, perhaps trivially called "wickedness", today makes the news, attracts attention because, for the purpose of preservation, learning to protect yourself from others is more important than learning to trust.
The problem is that all this focusing on "those who break the rules of living in community" leads us to believe that human beings are inherently evil and selfish, and that ethics and moral integrity of the individual are more an exception than a rule.
That is why we need laws and punishments. If we had full faith inmoral integrity of humans, it would not be necessary to regulate all aspects of social and economic life.
There would be no need to go to court to resolve disputes, or to ask for guarantees to protect our interests.
In other words, especially when dealing with strangers, we tend to assume that have no moral integrity and that without the necessary precautions they would not behave ethically towards us.
Therefore, rather than having the presumption of innocence, risking being wrong, we often operate according to the presumption of guilt giving others the burden of proving otherwise.
But how do we know if it is advisable not to trust people? Most people are good or bad?
It is true that there are many people who do not mind trampling or ignoring the interests of others in their way of acting, but it is also true that many others behave correctly without needing to be forced.
For them, the trend towards ethical behavior it is an automatic reflex, a spontaneous choice.
Even if they don't make the news, there are countless cases of people who live their lives with moral integrity, who spend themselves on others, who offer help to those in need, who do their work diligently and fairly.
So people prove that moral integrity is a genetic characteristic of the human being and which, as such, must have an evolutionary function.
Ask yourself what the world would be like if all human beings were selfish, would a civilization still exist if it had been like this since the past?
Think what the world would be like today, if the majority of people were bad and without moral integrity.
It would perhaps be impossible to live in a society where everyone thinks of themselves, where there is a battle of accountsnuo for one's own interests, where there is no consideration for others.
If today, all in all, we are able to coexist peacefully it is not only because "the law" exists, but because contemporary culture values moral and ethical behavior more than it encourages selfish and immoral behavior.
We live together peacefully because we spontaneously prefer good to evil. And in this regard, we cannot refrain from talking about environmental ethics, the one that touches us most closely.
To deepen this discussion, we recommend reading this interesting article: 11 characteristics of people with moral integrity
What is Environmental Ethics?
Garret Hardin's essay The Tragedy of the Common Goods demonstrates that the condemnation of selfish behavior - a key feature of ethical thinking - serves primarily to protect human life on earth, preserving the environmental resources that make it possible.
What does environmental ethics mean? Environmental ethics (or environmental ethics) is a form of philosophical reflection which, extending as much as possible its field of interest to the spatial and temporal dimensions of the entire environment in which and on which the human being acts, and decentralizing the discourse from human agents, questions the ethics of our relating directly or indirectly with non-human beings and / or natural dynamics and, therefore, on their moral status and on the possibility that these possess a value independent of our judgment or ( at least) from our usefulness.
Definition of environmental ethics taken from Wikipedia.
Let's talk about ethics applied to the ecosystem, a set of philosophical values that should make it easier to answer questions like:
- Can I take water from a lake to sell it and make a profit?
- Can I destroy a forest to make toilet paper and make a profit?
- Can I pour tons of industrial waste into a river to save disposal costs?
Certainly I cannot carry out these actions when there are national laws that do not allow it, but here we try to go further, relying on human conscience: the law cannot instillenvironmental ethics in the individual, it can only discourage him from violating it.
In addition, the law does not always manage to be present, and does not always give priority to the common interest - see the impossibility of reaching a universally shared agreement on international and binding environmental standards.
For example, theParis Agreement on Climate Change, shows that not all nations have applied the philosophy of environmental ethics.
We talked about environmental ethics and soon, in another article, we will also talk about vegan ethics and vegetarian ethics, two very strong ethical models that are strongly linked with environmental ethics.
Ethics and Environmental Impact
Having an internal system of conduct (conscience), which is ethical, moral and self-determined, can be useful when the state fails to demotivate immoral and unsustainable behavior with the "threat of punishment".
Is it possible that, without environmental ethics, our planet risks an immediate collapse and, to demonstrate this heavy statement, we just need to take a look at the environmental policies of Bolsonaro e Trump.
Environmental ethics and sustainability they are closely related to each other. Never more than today are we bombarded with bad news: environmental pollution is devastating our planet, and there is no point in hiding, since we consumers are directly responsible.
We can define environmental ethics as a ecological behavior for the common good.
If we were all "ethical people" the earth would be a better place, it doesn't rain on this, but we cannot continue to base our choices on those of others.
We tend to justify our incorrect behavior towards the environment because we look at what others do, whether they are large companies or our acquaintances.
Those who believe in environmental ethics tend to get angry about a card thrown on the ground, but often do not act, instead they should pick it up and point it out to the author of the gesture.
It sounds nonsense compared to the fires that are ravaging the planet these days, but it's actually one of them many small actions that can change the world.
Personal ethics derives from many environmental factors that surround us, if those who throw a cigarette on the ground are attacked by more people, they will tend to develop a different ethical model, maybe it will be just "to protect themselves", but in any case "verbal aggression "Will make his brain process differently the gesture of throwing a cigarette, a card, or any other object that should be thrown into the appropriate containers.
Even the choice to buy ecological products, even if they are often more expensive, can make a difference.
We certainly can't miss the opportunity to talk about ethical fashion, after all, this is the real sector of our competence.
We often talk about sustainable fashion, and by reading our Guide to Sustainable Fashion and Cruelty Free we understand how the words “ethics and sustainability” are directly linked to each other.
There is no sustainable fashion without ethics. This means that it is not enough to use ecological fabrics, or have a production with a low environmental impact, but it is necessary to demonstrate that its production takes place in full respect of human rights:
- No to child labor
- No to gender discrimination
- Fair wages
- Safe working conditions
- Freedom of association
- Fair Business Practices
These are just some key features to define the ethical fashion.
In this regard, to define a fashion product as "socially ethical" the presence of is required textile certifications like FairTrade, Equo Garantito, Fair Wear Foundation (FWF), Or SA8000, Global Organic Textile Standard (cotton).
The presence of these certifications is excluded a priori when we buy our garments in the large distribution chains of Fast Fashion, where we can very rarely find these products.
To learn more, we recommend reading our article ETHICAL FASHION, HOW AND WHERE TO BUY IT
Personal Ethics: How Much Does Education Matter?
To understand the meaning of personal ethics we just need to analyze the history of people who prefer evil to good, it is likely that, rather than finding evil genes, we come across environmental factors that have caused the drift of moral behavior.
For example, violent and antisocial behaviors are often associated with conditions of poverty, or problems of abuse in the family. The same applies to drug addictions or criminal tendencies.
This highlights how thebehavioral ethics it is a problem of education rather than genetic, at least statistically speaking.
It is difficult to choose to be selfless when selfishness seems to be the easiest way
To show some examples of personal ethical values let us think of children: they are not always taught to be correct, to consider the consequences of their actions.
As children, our behavior is almost completely instinctive, as we do not yet develop the ability to assess the long-term repercussions of our actions, and therefore we are completely at the mercy of the emotions of the moment.
Everything that is done in childhood, therefore, follows the path of least resistance, what is easy, regardless of the fact that it may be right or wrong on an ethical level.
When we grow up, if we have had a good education, we will be able to control our unethical impulses, to control our emotions, and to do the right thing even when it is the most difficult.
Conversely, if our education has been lacking, the consequences could affect our happiness or, in the worst cases, the happiness of the people around us.
The lack of education is easily found in the cases of adults who are unable to assume their responsibilities in the family or in the couple; of those who abandon animals; of those who pollute; of those who do not know how to respect the rules.
We could therefore assume a "poor education" whenever we see someone acting thinking only of their own interest, ignoring the common interest.
Several psychologists, in fact, affirm that dysfunctional and selfish behaviors are sometimes defense and compensation mechanisms for affective deficits in childhood.
Acting correctly requires more strength and energy
The weak child, that is, one who has not had the right level of love and attention, will have more difficulty finding the strength to behave well, and when they grow up they will be more likely to cause some form of suffering to others.
Often, in adulthood, the adjective "ethical" becomes synonymous with a mature person, and "unethical" is associated with a childish person.
To have a ethical conduct in life, a conduct that is not generated by external factors, but from within, one must become mature, acquire self-awareness, strengthen one's ability to control.
All to avoid giving in to temptation: do what is best for oneself, while knowing that it will harm others.
It follows that the role of parents is essential in fostering it development of ethics in nuove generations.
Without due educational ethics, it will be difficult for any child to become a mature adult who knows how to live in society while respecting others and the planet that hosts them.
Without an entire generation of mature adults, it will be just as difficult to build a society that operates fairly and sustainably.
So, if you are a parent, don't raise your child just to make him a good footballer, don't teach him to be smarter than others, but try to make him a mature and selfless man.
Here we talked about personal ethics, but soon we will write another article dedicated exclusively to business ethics. Now let's talk about the "good example", the one we should all give, both to our children and to "ignorant" acquaintances in matters of ethics 🙂
More Ethical Society: Importance of a Good Example
Trying to summarize what has been said so far, let's see what the concrete effects - on a large scale - of an internal and shared ethical system would be.
Individuals, companies, organizations of all kinds, would refer - in addition to national laws - to values of fairness and respect for the environment, as if they were values of vital importance.
Companies would come to recalibrate their earnings goals, shifting their priorities from sales to employee well-being and the environmental impact of manufacturing operations.
The entire economic system could be rethought, replacing "the directives of income and personal interest" with the directives of sustainability and collaboration, also making the distribution of money more equitable.
As in the case of the shepherds in the parable, it would become clear that acting selfishly would harm oneself and the community in the long term.
Ethical conduct would then become the most sensible and convenient life choice, and would help build a more equitable community which, in turn, would lead to greater levels of stability and, above all, happiness, which would lead to other chain reactions:
- Happiness would lead to an increase in right actions and a greater trust in others.
- Being respected would lead to respect.
- Seeing people who respect the environment would lead to respect the environment.
- Being surrounded by people who do well would discourage you from doing badly.
And that's exactly where the utopia of a more ethical society it could become potential, and then real: from the simple fact that man, in different measures, acts and grows by imitation.
By this we mean that immoral behavior, in addition to being caused by inappropriate education, can also be circumstantial.
Certain actions, in fact, are often the result of what we see first in the family, and then outside. For example, it is scientifically proven that, in less well-kept neighborhoods, people tend to pollute more, or that when someone breaks a rule in public, other people will be more likely to do the same.
And it is also proven that the first person to help someone in need will push others present to help, and that when you are in a clean place you are less likely to dirty.
In essence, goodness, as well as badness, is contagious, and if we are the first to behave ethically, someone else will follow our example.
Evolution of Ethics
Think about how normal it was in the past to smoke in clubs, use pesticides as if there was no tomorrow, drill mountains or destroy marine ecosystems without permits or qualms.
We also think of the discrimination of women, which has now passed for a few decades, at least in Italy.
Today our attitude has changed, we have become more aware of the consequences of smoking and pesticides, we have set up commissions to assess the environmental impact of certain infrastructures. Women's rights are constitutional and no one dares to question them.
In other words, our ethical consciousness has developed over time and with it our priorities and our laws have also developed. A development that will continue in the years to come.
Definitions of what is right or wrong are changing, as our own culture is changing, and evolving rearranges the importance of things.
We think of all those who change jobs passing from offices to agriculture, this happens because more and more people abandon the idea of earning in favor of "living well".
We are more attentive to what we eat, we give more importance to mental well-being, we recycle more, we meditate more, we buy more ecological products.
Although the ethical sense continues to be ignored by some individuals, awareness of the values of ethics and right living it spreads like wildfire day after day.
We are more aware of how much the very system we have created, the capitalist system, is in many ways unethical, unfair, and that there is a need to achieve a more solid balance between individual interest and collective and environmental interest.
It is a necessary revolution, and like all revolutions it cannot start from above, but from below, from every single individual, from the adoption of ethical values in personal life, which will then join with other ethical values to become law, and then culture, and then a nuov way to be in the world.