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How can we know, if at all, that our behaviour is ethical?

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How can we know, if at all, that our behaviour is ethical? Why do people act wrongly, when they know full well what right conduct demands? According to Newsweek magazine, million dollar Wall-Street scandals have affected our economy by individuals not being aware of correct ethical standards.1 At any rate, can the teaching of ethics really help cleanse the business world of its shady deals? In summarizing Newsweek's comments, the problem is not that people lack ethical standards or are incapable of distinguishing between right and wrong; rather educators are not challenging students to act on these standards. Even in today's complex world, knowing what is right is fairly straightforward, but doing what is right is difficult. Like Newsweek, the ancient Greek philosopher Aristotle has been known to investigate ethical standards in Book Seven, Nicomachean Ethics.2 In this book, Aristotle used the word akrasia, which presented a challenge for moral teaching. Aristotle's insights into akrasia and moral instruction were made up into a popular belief. This belief begins with a restrained person who follows their logical thoughts and an unrestrained person who abandons their logical thoughts and acts contrary to them. Although said in ancient times, this belief about akrasia is still held widely today. For example, a child who is restrained would probably be afraid of the darkness but logically would know there is nothing to be afraid of. ...read more.


A wide range of feelings and emotions shape our behaviour. These feelings can be broken down, ranging from pleasure to pain. Our feelings and emotions make us pursue pleasure, while our senses force us away from pain. When experiencing pain and pleasure we gain awareness of the feelings around us and how to deal with them in the future. For example, a relationship that has experienced pain might change an individual's feelings about choosing a relationship bond in the future. This range of feelings does not distinguish "good" feelings from "bad" feelings, but only pursues whatever happens to feel appropriate at a certain time. With conscious effort, however, this range of feelings can direct one's thoughts towards the correct ethical behaviour. After time, practicing ethical behaviour will grow with this person and the correct behaviour will become a natural thing to perform. Learning to act correctly is one thing, but accepting a behaviour to be ethical is another thing. By learning to act correctly, one simply behaves in a manner that is neutral to all things, but when accepting a behaviour to be ethical one must endorse this behaviour. Endorsing an ethical behaviour means that one accepts a behaviour and acknowledges it as a natural thing to do. Ethics is a guideline to assist people who already act correctly, but want to know when to make the correct judgments for their behaviour. ...read more.


When ethical behaviour is taught, it takes place within the context of certain issues of social values and norms, which are standards or models regarded as typical. Without these norms, mentors would have no guide for shaping behaviour to suit a correct standard. In regard to this, the kind of teaching one receives is based on the kind of society in which one lives. In many third world countries, bribery is considered to be the normal way of doing business because that is how many government officials earn sufficient money to sustain themselves. "Grub first, then ethics."4 However in North America bribery is definitely not ethical behaviour. The way to truly understand these teachings is to self-evaluate our actions and become more perceptive of the appropriate ethical behaviour. As children, if individuals are exposed to correct ethical behaviour, such incidents as the Wall Street scandals, would never had taken place. Individuals who exhibit this type of unethical behaviour lack the character to carry out such illegal and immoral actions as adults. Children that witness a great deal of unethical behaviour can still manage to overcome the past and grow into adults whose actions correctly use ethical behaviour. As a child, if you are taught right from wrong, you will be brought up with proper ethical behaviour. In a perfect world, a uniform, ethically behaved society would be able to distinguish between what is right and wrong and accordingly act upon it. Today's educators and parents must do more to emulate appropriate behaviour, so children will know that their behaviour is ethical. ...read more.

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