At WiseGEEK, we're committed to delivering accurate, trustworthy information. Our expert-authored content is rigorously fact-checked and sourced from credible authorities. Discover how we uphold the highest standards in providing you with reliable knowledge.
Social ethics are the philosophical or moral principles that, in one way or another, represent the collective experience of people and cultures. This sort of ethics often acts as a sort of “code of conduct” that governs what is and is not acceptable, as well as providing a framework for ensuring that all members of the community are cared for. Standard ethics are typically driven by individual morals that determine right or wrong. Within a society, the focus is usually more on what may be considered appropriate behavior for people as a whole. People perceive things differently, however, and various cultures share often wildly opposing beliefs; as such, what is deemed “right” for one group may not necessarily be consistent universally — and defining social ethics as an absolute is often very difficult.
Action Dictates for People
There are some broad standards that members of most societies are expected to adhere to in the course of regularly interacting with each other. These are sometimes reflected in laws or legal codes — like prohibitions against killing and thievery, for instance. Religious texts like the Bible may sometimes be used as the basis for a society’s ethical climate. More often, though, they are things that should be done or not done for no other reason that they are the “right things to do.” The proverbial “golden rule” of “do unto others as you would have them do unto you” fits this model well.
How Corporations and Businesses Are Affected
In most places, companies also abide by guiding social ethics principles. This can come in the form of eco-conscious or “green” sourcing and packaging, for example. Local responsibility may also play a role — corporate leaders often feel compelled by ethical norms to donate a percentage of annual profits to local charities, for instance, or to encourage employees to get involved with community service or volunteer opportunities in the nearby area. Many see this as a way for a company to “give back” to the communities that allow them to be successful in the first place.
Cultural and Regional Differences
Part of the problem with universally defining social ethics is that there are many different elements that contribute to them. Language, race, gender and culture all come into the equation; religion and education also play a role. The standards used to enforce social ethics are also numerous, including family values, religious beliefs, morality, integrity, and so forth.
In order for societal standards to work in the face of such differences, most societies operate under a “majority rule” system where what is best for the most people becomes standard. The rights and interests of the majority can only be enforced to the extent that others are not harmed or disenfranchised, however. Majority-based social ethics usually includes sharing with others, doing good deeds, and acknowledging different viewpoints. Social ethics also typically involves acceptance and tolerance of differences.
Topics like economics, immigration, and poverty and hunger often create some of the biggest questions within the social ethics realm. Concerns about the environment, homosexuality, and religious tolerance also tend to rank high on the list, along with the death penalty, abortion, and human cloning. These and similar issues often raise major concerns when it comes to how communities judge “right” and “wrong.” The role of social ethics is to provide members of society a framework for approaching controversial or sensitive issues so that everyone can peacefully coexist.