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Ethical and Non-Ethical Topics

Ethical and Non-Ethical Topics

Author: Glenn Kuehn

In this lesson, students will distinguish topics of ethics from topics of religion, etiquette, and law.

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Hi, I'm Glenn, and this is the ethics tutorial on ethical and non-ethical topics. Let's look at a couple of things to keep in mind and then cover the content for this tutorial. In this tutorial, we will cover ways of teasing out ethics from other areas of inquiry. Specifically, we're going to look at ethics in relationship to law, etiquette and social convention, and religion.

It's common to confuse and conflate these topics, and often it leads to great misunderstandings. So it's important to be clear and to make distinctions. Concerning ethics and law, a primary distinction is in terms of the goals of each. For ethics, the goal is to abide by what is right and wrong. And for law, the goal is to abide by what is legal or illegal. Although these can overlap, they are distinct.

Let's look at a chart. We can see that on the top, we have law. On the side we have ethics with right and wrong. And so let's look at a couple examples of things where they coincide and where they don't coincide. Something that might be right and legal would be abiding by a contract, keeping a promise, but also doing so in a legal manner.

Something that would be right, but illegal, could be personally taking a child from an abusive home, which is kidnapping, but may be morally good. Something that is ethically wrong, but legal, would be slavery. And something that would be wrong and illegal, would be murder. We can see the distinctions between these two in this chart.

Concerning ethics and etiquette, or social convention, here a distinction is often seen in the terms of culture and time. Ethics is somewhat timeless. It is overarching, and the values tend to be a temporal.

Etiquette is the proper and improper social behavior based upon a cultural context and often the time in which something occurs. So again, let's look at a chart. In this table, we see etiquette and social convention on the top and ethics on the side.

So looking at something that's morally right and socially acceptable, would be opening a door for someone. Morally right and socially unacceptable would typically be wearing jeans and a tank top to a prom. Something that is morally wrong, but yet acceptable socially, would be ignoring the homeless. And wrong and socially unacceptable could be swearing at someone in public.

Third regarding ethics and religion, here we can see a difference in relationships. Ethics is often a relationship to right and wrong principles, while religion is a primary relationship to an ultimate or even according to religious doctrine. Let's look at another chart.

Here we have under religion that which is pious or impious, or another way of understanding that which is favored, or preferred by religion, and that which is unfavored or unprescribed. So something that would be right and pious could be fasting during Ramadan. Something that is right, but impious, would be using the Lord's name in vain.

Something that would be wrong and pious could be stoning someone to death for adultery. A religion may prescribe this, but it is morally wrong. And then something that is impious and wrong is, again, murder.

So let's keep in mind some considerations regarding ethics in these other areas. Ethical considerations center around a fundamental sense of right and wrong. Legal considerations center around what is lawfully permitted.

Social convention and etiquette considerations center around what is culturally acceptable. And religious considerations center around a relationship to an ultimate ideal. Let's look at one situation and see how each of them has a take on it.

Look at the situation of opening a door for someone. An ethical consideration is that it's a sign of being a good person to open a door. It shows good moral character.

A legal consideration would be understanding that I am not bound either way to open the door, or not open the door. It's perfectly legal to do either. A social convention understanding is that in the United States, it is generally good and polite to open doors for people.

And then a religious consideration could be that it is a sign of respect for others, and for kindness, and abiding by a relationship to love thy neighbor as thyself. In review, we can see how ethics is related to other areas such as law, etiquette, social convention, and religion, but we also can see how they are distinct. It is wise to understand the distinctions between these, and so that we don't confuse them in our discourse.