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Ethics and Human Interface GS Paper IV

Sources for Ethics

In the Indian context, such values are most significantly expressed in the Preamble, the Fundamental Rights, The Directive Principles of State Policy and The Fundamental Duties enshrined in the Constitution.

Our constitution is committed towards certain principles to its people as prescribed by the Preamble, they are: Sovereignty- It essentially means the people of the country are sovereign & elect their representatives to govern them in the best possible manner.
Socialism- It means ownership of the means of production belongs to the people as a whole which indicate distributive justice.
Secularism- State should not discriminate negatively or positively towards any religion. Democracy- Rule by people Republic- It means that supreme power lies in the body of citizens. Head of the state is elected & not a hereditary institution like the monarchy.
Justice-Social, economic & political. Which essentially means the society progress together without any sections left unattended to & rule of law prevail throughout the country. Equality- of status & opportunity seeks to empower the marginalized sections of
the society with certain affirmative action. Fraternity- means common brotherhood of all Indians, assuring the dignity of all
individuals. The foundational values for a public service are best exemplified by the Seven Principles of Public Life given by the Nolan Committee (Standards in Public Life-1994).

Sources of Business Ethics

Ethics in general refers to a system of good and bad, moral and immoral, fair and unfair. It is a code of conduct that is supposed to align behaviours within an organization and the social framework. But the question that remains is, where and when did business ethics come into being?

Primarily ethics in business is affected by three sources – culture, religion and laws of the state. It is for this reason we do not have uniform or completely similar standards across the globe. These three factors exert influences to varying degrees on humans which ultimately get reflected in the ethics of the organization. For example, ethics followed by Infosys are different than those followed by Reliance Industries or by Tata group for that matter. Again ethical procedures vary across geographic boundaries.


It is one of the oldest foundations of ethical standards. Religion wields varying influences across various sects of people. It is believed that ethics is a manifestation of the divine and so it draws a line between the good and the bad in the society. Depending upon the degree of religious influence we have different sects of people; we have sects, those who are referred to as orthodox or fundamentalists and those who are called as moderates. Needless to mention, religion exerts itself to a greater degree among the orthodox and to a lesser extent in the case of moderates. Fundamentally however all the religions operate on the principle of reciprocity towards one’s fellow beings!


Culture is a pattern of behaviours and values that are transferred from one generation to another, those that are considered as ideal or within the acceptable limits. No wonder therefore that it is the culture that predominantly determines what is wrong and what is right. It is the culture that defines certain behaviour as acceptable and others as unacceptable. Human civilization in fact has passed through various cultures, wherein the moral code was redrafted depending upon the epoch that was. What was immoral or unacceptable in certain culture became acceptable later on and vice versa.

During the early years of human development were ones who were the strongest were the ones who survived! Violence, hostility and ferocity were thus acceptable. Approximately 10,000 years ago when human civilization entered the settlement phase, hard work, patience and peace were seen as virtues and the earlier ones were considered otherwise. These values are still pt in practice by the managers of today! Still further, when human civilization witnessed the industrial revolution, the ethics of the agrarian economy was replaced by the law pertaining to technology, property rights etc. Ever since a tussle has ensued between the values of the agrarian and the industrial economy!


Laws are procedures and code of conduct that are laid down by the legal system of the state. They are meant to guide human behaviour within the social fabric. The major problem with the law is that all the ethical expectations cannot be covered by the law and especially with the ever-changing outer environment the law keeps on changing but often fails to keep pace. In business, complying with the rule of law is taken as ethical behaviour, but organizations often break laws by evading taxes, compromising on quality, service norms etc.

Five Sources of Ethical Standards

The Utilitarian Approach
Some ethicists emphasize that ethical action is the one that provides the most good or does the least harm, or, to put it another way, produces the greatest balance of good over harm. The ethical corporate action, then, is the one that produces the greatest good and does the least harm for all who are affected — customers, employees, shareholders, the community, and the environment. Ethical warfare balances the good achieved in ending terrorism with the harm done to all parties through death, injuries, and destruction. The utilitarian approach deals with consequences; it tries both to increase the good done and to reduce the harm done.

The Rights Approach
Other philosophers and ethicists suggest that the ethical action is the one that best protects and respects the moral rights of those affected. This approach starts from the belief that humans have a dignity based on their human nature per se or on their ability to choose freely what they do with their lives. On the basis of such dignity, they have a right to be treated as ends and not merely as means to other ends. The list of moral rights, including the rights to make one’s own choices about what kind of life to lead, to be told the truth, not to be injured, to a degree of privacy, and so on, is widely debated; some now argue that nonhumans have rights too.
Also, it is often said that rights imply duties — in particular, the duty to respect others’ rights.

The Fairness or Justice Approach
Aristotle and other Greek philosophers have contributed the idea that all equals should be treated equally. Today we use this idea to say that ethical actions treat all human beings equally — or if unequally, then fairly, based on some standard that is defensible. We pay people more based on their harder work or the greater amount that they contribute to an organization, and say that is fair. But there is a debate over CEO salaries that are hundreds of times larger than the pay of others; many ask whether the huge disparity is based on a
defensible standard or whether it is the result of an imbalance of power and hence is unfair.

The Common Good Approach
The Greek philosophers have also contributed the notion that life in community is a good in itself and our actions should contribute to that life. This approach suggests that the interlocking relationships of society are the basis of ethical reasoning and that respect and compassion for all others — especially the vulnerable — are requirements of such reasoning. This approach also calls attention to the common conditions that are important to the welfare of everyone. This may be a system of laws, effective police and fire departments,
health care, a public educational system, or even public recreation areas.

The Virtue Approach
A very ancient approach to ethics is that ethical actions ought to be consistent with certain ideal virtues that provide for the full development of our humanity. These virtues are dispositions and habits that enable us to act according to the highest potential of our character and on behalf of values like truth and beauty. Honesty, courage, compassion, generosity, tolerance, love, fidelity, integrity, fairness, self-control, and prudence are all examples of virtues. Virtue ethics asks of any action, “What kind of person will I become if I do this?” or “Is this action consistent with my acting at my best?”

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