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Ethics or moral philosophy is a diverse and hotly contested subject of inquiry. It is not the same as having “morals” per se, but rather the study of how people may evolve a certain code of what is right or wrong based on any underlying moral sense. One area of its focus is the application of morality, as constructed by one or more people, to ask many different questions. There are numerous common ethics questions, but they may differ depending on the type of ethics being considered.
When ethics is a applied moral code or ways to derive one, this does not mean all people agree. In most environments, ethics tends to begin by defining what is meant by right or wrong, and determining if application of any ethics derived excludes some people. The early US constitution did this by declaring slaves to be less than a person, and women to be ineligible for citizenship because the framers asked the question, “What is a citizen?”
In more general ways, any questions touching on whether something is right or wrong are ethics questions, which start early in life. Most children, for instance, might find themselves in a moral dilemma about whether it is right to take a cookie off a plate. To determine exclusions the child might also begin to define when it is right to take the cookie, such as when offered it or when mother isn’t looking. This reasoning may be perfected in light of response of others to the child’s choice.
When cultures have defined, more or less in agreement, basic ethical behavior, there is still significant gray area. An entire branch of ethics called applied ethics, deals with what are mostly known as hot button issues. Some of the most common ethics questions include queries into the definition of marriage, the age at which life begins, euthanasia, the importance of individual versus state rights, and the list continues.
These ethics questions are asked frequently asked, either informally by students writing papers or having debates, or formally by heads of state or others attempting to pass bills. Such questions may be mistakenly called moral questions, but the very reason they exist is because different moral codes have led to opposing sets of ethics. When underlying morals are opposed, trying to define a single ethical code legally or individually is extremely challenging. Decision on a particular issue may then be called creation of an ethic, but it is different than creating a moral belief. Such laws will only encompass the majority and a large minority can still feel the ethic conflicts with personal ethics and morals.
In professional organizations, similar ethical models must be constructed. Marriage and family therapists, and all other counselors for instance had to ask, at one point, “Does it benefit patients if therapists have sexual relations with them?” Initially people failed to ask this question some of the time, and even the most famous early psychiatrists did not always abide by their advice to avoid this practice. To this end, and because the issue is still surprisingly prevalent, professional organizations built ethical codes forbidding this conduct.
Similarly, in practicing medicine, many doctors abide by the precept to do no harm. This again is complex. Is it harmful to subject a patient to treatment that won’t save a life? What exactly is medical harm? Is it harming a patient to let him die a painful death when drugs could end his suffering? Even in strictly professional settings, there exists depth to common ethics questions, and answers to them may be debatable.
Essentially, it’s hard to exist without asking common ethics questions. They arise in daily life in a variety of choices people make. Most people find themselves concerned in what is the right thing to do, often.
In essence, many people live in a constant state of checking behavior and thinking against both personal and state-legislated ethical code. Some find these little checks easy to make, and others find themselves in constant conflict between right actions and moral sense. Moreover, in the face of things like professional or legal code, many people find that moral sense is absolutely opposed to codes. In such instances, after much self-searching, it may mean that acting ethically requires acting illegally.