An Introduction to Ethics by Martin L. Konner

In most contexts, the word good means the course which should be preferred whenever confronted with a decision between equally available alternatives. Good is usually understood to be the polar opposite of bad, and is often of central interest in the field of ethics, religion, philosophy and morality. The philosophy of value, used as an analytical tool by social scientists, makes good and bad refer to the degree to which alternative course of action would tend to promote human flourishing. The notion of value is closely linked to utilitarianism, the view that acts must be selected that will promote the greatest good of humanity.


According to some classical philosophers, virtue consists in the ability to act in a morally appropriate way. Descartes claims that it is man’s sense of right and wrong that directs him to choose what is right and to avoid what is wrong. According to others, virtue is an abstract quality of the soul or a supernatural, non-personal entity that is independent of will and emotion. According to both philosophers, virtue is the fundamental principle on which universal morals is founded. The leading moral theories of the day, including utilitarianism, entail utilitarian ethics, which denies that one can base moral evaluations on anything other than an appraisal of the good.

Aristotle’s ideas concerning virtue shed light on morality. According to Aristotle, virtue is the standard of the common good and the aim of virtue is to lead a life that is compatible with others. Aristotle claims that a life well lived consists of three elements: a norm of right action, a sense of honor and a respect for the life of others. A person may flourish individually, but his life as a social animal will fail if he does not have a social heart and considerate manners. In order to flourish as a community and contribute to its common good, it is necessary to cultivate virtues such as justice, generosity, temperance, and fortitude.

There are various theories concerning the relation of ethics and morality. Some theists insist that ethics and morality are independent of religion and any belief in God. Others, such as some modern Continental theologists, see good and evil not as things created by God, but as personal attributes that we acquire through motivation and willpower. According to such thinkers, goodness and evil are subjective aspects of human psychology that can be changed through personal change and improvement. It is a belief, according to some, that man can be forced to act badly, but he cannot be forced to see good and evil in any context. This latter view, however, is not a minority view but rather a mainstream opinion.

According to a variation of the consequentialist view, a society is said to have a “correct” ethical code if and only if it conforms to the natural moral truths. According to this view, we have a “natural” or “right” ethical code, which is superior to all others because it is morally right, and that those who do not adhere to this code will suffer by means of punishment meted out by a society that is bound by its moral code. In this way, ethics are understood not as something imposed from above by a religious cult, but as something that one develops through individual effort. Those who hold to the traditional moral theories believe that a moral code is superior to anything else because it is what was discovered through history, and that the moral codes we observe today are based on these original ideas.

According to Rawls, a morality is not something that can be imposed from above, but is something that can be developed by a person himself through his own efforts, through knowledge and his personal values and tastes. He says that the most important moral truth is that “good” and ” Evil exist as choices dependent on the choices people make.” This view of ethics contrasts sharply with the traditional atheistic approach that treats ethics as something “deeply mysterious” beyond understanding. According to Rawls, a good morality is nothing more than a standard that a person adopt for himself. A person who believes that killing is morally wrong may adopt a standard of non-killing, though he may not refrain from harming others, just as he may refrain from stealing, lying, or abusing other people.