Course taster

What is ethics?

The study of ethics is a branch of philosophy. It explores the standards of behaviour that should be applied to us, not only as professionals, but as friends, colleagues, family members and citizens of the wider community. Ethics, or moral philosophy, asks basic questions about what constitutes a 'good' life, about what is better or worse, about whether there is any objective right and wrong way of approaching an issue and how we may determine the difference (Hegel, 2015). Human service professionals are held to codes of ethics that protect the rights and dignity of clients and establish standards of practice.

An alternative approach to defining what ethics is is to determine what ethics is not. A number of the confusions in this area are clarified below. Read each statement before selecting the title to reveal a further explanation:

Social science provides data that informs ethical decision-making without prescribing the correct course of action. Scientific enquiry contributes information about whether or not a plan of action is scientifically or technologically possible, but does not determine the ethical implications.

While many systems do incorporate ethical standards, it is possible for laws to deviate from ethical standards. In some regimes, for example, law can be a function of power alone. Some laws follow a design that serves the interests of a narrow sector of the society.

Ostensibly, it is a matter of choice to follow a particular religious denomination, whilst ethical behaviour is an expectation of all people. Religion may have a strong influence on what a person believes to be ethical behaviour, yet world religions disagree about numerous key ethical issues; such as the status of women, the permissibility of abortion, and the question of whether war is justifiable.

Cultures may choose to accept or turn a blind eye to corrupt practices, such as the burning of witches and the acceptance of bribes. 'When in Rome, do as the Romans do' is not a satisfactory guideline for ethical behaviour. Following social norms is a natural tendency, but ethical behaviour requires constant challenging and monitoring to avoid complacency.

Certainly, in many cases, feelings provide guidance regarding ethical choices. However, there is variance among individuals about what is good, and what is bad, and it is possible to feel 'good' when performing an action that is ethically wrong.

(Based on 'A framework for thinking ethically' (Velasquez et al., 2009))


Watch the short video below: Ethics and Why does Ethics Matter?

Copy and paste the professional code of ethics that you currently use in your practice as a human service provider into the appropriate section of the Discussion Board (The link to the Discussion Board is not available in this course taster).

Be sure to visit this board throughout the week to review your colleagues' ethical codes, and identify their differences and similarities.

Why do ethics matter? | Shefali Roy | TEDxOxbridge

View Why do ethics matter? | Shefali Roy | TEDxOxbridge video transcript