There is no clear definition of ethics. Some people think that ethics is a feeling that tells them what is good and what is bad. Some relate this term to religious beliefs. Many people also state that for them to be ethical means to follow the laws of the country. Another popular definition is the standards of behavior accepted in the society. The problem is that all of these definitions do not fully reflect what ethics really is. Many state that ethics is the combination of religious beliefs, together with laws of the country and accepted social behavior. Ethics, for example, presupposes some obligations that prevent people from rape, stealing, murder, fraud etc. It also ensures the right to live, the right to privacy and safety (Velasquez, Andre, Shanks, Meyer, 2010, para. 2).
Nowadays, it is very hard to define some ethical standards because people do not know what should serve as the basis for ethical standards. And the second dilemma is how these standards are going to work in different specific situations. That is why some philosophers proposed several ways to deal with this problem. The first way is called utilitarian. This approach presupposes to do much good and avoid doing harm. Good actions should prevail over bad ones. However, this approach is too strict. For example, it forbids people go to a restaurant; instead they must give all their money to starving people. The second is called the rights approach. It means that a person can do with his life whatever he/she wants. It is also for him/her to decide what kind of life to lead. It presupposes the right of free choice, not to be injured or insulted, the right to tell the truth and respect other’s rights. Another approach is called the fairness or justice approach. It was firstly proposed byAristotle. Aristotle considered that all people on the Earth must be equal. They should also be treated equally. Today humanity is actively trying to apply this approach into life. For example, many people get salary according to their work difficulty. Many philosophers also proposed the common good approach. This means that men have always grouped together to achieve a definite purpose. That is why people should live in communities. These communities should serve as a basis for human rights and morals. Such departments, including: the police, health care services, fire brigades and system of educational institutions should help people make ethical decisions. Finally, the last one is the virtue approach. Followers of this trend consider that in order to make ethical decisions a person must posses some ethical qualities that are called virtues. They include: wisdom, honesty, courage, love, friendliness, self-control etc. Despite all positive aspects of this approach, there are many people that tend to criticize it. According to Kaufmann (1961), “For example, regarding what are the most important virtues, Aristotle proposed the nine listed earlier (just above Historical origins): wisdom; prudence; justice; fortitude; courage; liberality; magnificence; magnanimity; temperance. In contrast, one modern-era philosopher proposed as the four cardinal virtues: ambition/humility; love; courage; and honesty” (pp.317-338).
These approaches help people to determine what ethics is and possible solutions of difficult ethical problems. On the other hand, even they do not give a full answer on what is ethics and how an individual should conduct him/herself in particular situations. Moreover, these approaches often give different answers even to the same problem.
To make ethical decisions one has, first of all, to be sensitive to all ethical problems that may occur. Moreover, one should have experience in dealing with any kind of ethical issues. That is why it is very important to have a specific method of dealing with such problems. The problem is that the more difficult the problem is the more discussion and dialogue with other one needs in order to solve it properly.
Based on this, some scholars propose a certain framework of how to make an ethical decision. It consists of seven steps that one has to follow in order to make an ethical decision. First of all, one has to identify the problem; he/she is facing with. It might be an argument, conflict or even some decisions that make one feel uncomfortable. Then, one should check the facts. It means that there are many problems that will vanish after more detailed examination, besides some may change greatly. Thirdly, one has to find some involved factors, for example, people involved, some constraints, laws etc. Fourthly, there must be a number of possible options. One should decide which option will make the most good and the least harm. It must also treat all individuals equally, without any racial, religious, ethical or national differences. Fifthly, one should answer the number of tests including:
- Harm test. Which decision makes less harm?
- Newspaper test. Would you like your decision to be published in a newspaper?
- Defense test. How can one substantiate his/her decision?
- Professional test. What will the employer probably say about this decision?
- Organization test. How will it effect the current position at work?
After this, one has to think over all these approaches and consider which decision best fits the situation. In the end scholars advise to make a right conclusion of the occurred situation. One should decide what he/she learned from this situation (Davis, 1961, pp. 166-167.).
Thus, there are many different approaches, theories and discussions about ethics. Differences in opinions are explained by various understandings of the term ethics. Every individual lives in his own world that depends on personal education, age, experience etc. That is why every man has different views on ethics. Furthermore, people’s views may change through the course of time. There are also many specialists that may advise how to make an ethical decision. However, as well as the definition of ethics, these pieces of advice will often differ from one another. It is always up to person, how to make a good ethical decision.