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Ethics – a touch of history for every day thinking

The renowned Greek philosopher, Socrates (c. 470 – 399 BC), has been accredited as being the first moral philosopher of the Western ethical tradition of thought and many have dubbed him as the Father of Ethics

Some may argue that it was Plato, who started the Academy, or Aristotle but as Socrates taught Plato and in turn Plato taught Aristotle, let’s just say for arguments sake, we stick with Socrates (and by the way, Prodikos taught Socrates).

In the Eastern world and before Socrates’ time there was Kǒng Qiū (551 – 479 BC), a Chinese philosopher and politician of the Spring and Autumn period (first half of the Zhou Dynasty). Kǒng Qiū, better known as Confucius, had a philosophy (AKA Confucianism) which emphasised personal and governmental morality, correctness of social relationships, justice, kindness, and sincerity. He espoused the well-known principle, referred to as the Golden Rule, "Do not do unto others what you do not want done to yourself".

About half a millennium later, Jesus is quoted in the Bible espousing the same rule which has been translated in most religions in one way or another with the common English phrasing of ‘Do unto others as you would have them do unto you’. The Golden Rule maxim in some religions is considered as an ethic of reciprocity. It would certainly seem that this ideology has stood the test of time.

It is one example of what may constitute moral or ethical behaviour. There are numerous definitions of ethics. One definition purports that ethics[1] or moral philosophy is a branch philosophy that ‘involves systematizing, defending, and recommending concepts of right and wrong behaviour.’ The field of ethics, along with aesthetics, concerns matters of value, and thus comprises the branch of philosophy called axiology. Some branches of ethics seek to resolve questions of human morality by defining concepts such as good and evil, right and wrong, virtue and vice, justice and crime, whilst other branches of ethics contend that it is about making a judgment where there is no right or wrong.

The Ethics Centre of Australia refers to ethics as the best option that best achieves what is good, right and consistent with the nature of things in question. Ethics[2] is the process of questioning, discovering and defending our values, principles and purpose. The Ethics Centre expands on this in the following way:

· Values tell us what’s good – they’re the things we strive for, desire and seek to protect.

· Principles tell us what’s right – outlining how we may or may not achieve our values.

· Purpose is your reason for being – it gives life to your values and principles.

Ultimately, I think it is about doing the right thing by others and yourself.

I believe we all want to live up to our values and principles or at least I do, but I don’t think I can match that of the Father of Ethics, Socrates. In 399 BC, Socrates had a clear ethical dilemma. He had the choice of fleeing Greece or being executed. He stood by his principles and chose the latter and died of hemlock poisoning.

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