Thursday, February 13, 2014

What is Ethics?

While reading “The Unarmed Truth” by John Dodson; a very good book by the way; I ran across the old question which is thrown out in classes on philosophy, religion, and even law enforcement. That is the age old question of just what comprises ethics?

The classic question usually goes something like this; “You are all alone in the car at night when you come to an intersection governed by a traffic light. It’s red. You stop and look around. The cross street allows you to see for miles and there are no cars coming. As a matter of fact, there aren't any buildings, or even people for as far as you can see. What do you do? Do you run the light, or wait for the green?”

The accompanying statement is usually along the lines of, “What you do when no one is looking; the decisions you make then; that’s ethics.” I couldn't disagree more strongly with that conclusion. As a matter of fact, I find the question irrelevant.

The converse side of this argument is often touted as, “Ethics is what you do when everyone around you is doing wrong; and you know it to be wrong. Do you go along to get along? What do you do when all eyes are upon you?” This is a bit closer, but still falls a bit short of the mark I set for myself.

Ethics is better defined as having the consistency to stick to a set of personal values which you have laid out for yourself so that you can look in the mirror each morning without averting your eyes. It’s about having the courage to stick to your convictions; whether others are looking or not. If you ask yourself how something affects those around you; as well as how it affects your moral compass; only then you can weigh whether or not your decision meets the definition of ethical behavior.

Some would argue that this method allows you to deviate from a rigid ethical position; but think about that for a moment. If you take an Occam ’s Razor approach to everything in life then you never allow for the different nuances inherent to any situation. Nothing is so simple that it can be decided in that manner. Life is not black and white. It is made up, instead, of many shades of black and white. Those are the grey areas, where most of life takes place.

I suppose that ethics can be more succinctly defined by the words of the Golden Rule; “Do Unto Others as You Would Have Them Do Unto You.” If you stick with that, you can never really go wrong.

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