1.0 Introduction

1.1 Ethics

Some years ago, sociologist Raymond Baumhart asked business people, "What does ethic mean to you?" in which among the replies received were:

"Ethics has to do with what my feelings tell me is right or wrong."
"Ethics has to do with my religious beliefs."
"Being ethical is doing what the law requires."
"Ethics consists of the standards of behavior our society accepts."
"I don't know what the word means."

These replies might be typical of our own. The meaning of "ethics" is hard to pin down. The views many people have about ethics are shaky and like Baumhart's first respondent, many people tend to equate ethics with their feelings. However, being ethical is clearly not a matter of following one's feelings, as sometimes, a person who is following his or her feelings may shrink back from doing what is right. In fact, feelings frequently deviate from what is ethical.

Nor should one identify ethics with religion. While it is true that most religions advocate high ethical standards, yet if ethics were confined to religion, then ethics would apply only to religious people. But ethics applies as much to the behavior of the atheist as to that of the religious. Religion therefore can set high ethical standards and can provide intense motivations for ethical behaviour, but ethics, however, cannot be confined to religion nor is it the same as religion.

Being ethical is also not the same as following the law. The law often incorporates ethical standards to which most citizens subscribe. But like feelings, laws can also deviate from what is ethical. The American pre-Civil War slavery laws and the old apartheid laws of present-day South Africa for example, are laws that deviate from what is ethical.

Finally, being ethical is not the same as doing "whatever society accepts." Although most people accept standards that are, in fact, ethical in most society, the standards of behaviour in society can still deviate from what is...