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The great fault of all ethics hitherto has been that they believed themselves to have to deal only with the relations of man to man. In reality, however, the question is what is his attitude to the world and all life that comes within his reach. ~ Albert Schweitzer

Ethics (from Ancient Greek ethikos) is a branch of philosophy that involves systematizing, defending, and recommending concepts of right and wrong conduct.

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  • There is no ethical idea which it [dharma] has not stressed, put in its most ideal and imperative form, enforced by teaching, injunction, parable, artistic creation, formative examples. Truth, honour, loyalty, fidelity, courage, chastity, love, long-suffering, self-sacrifice, harmlessness, forgiveness, compassion, benevolence, beneficence are its common themes, are, in its view, the very stuff of a right human life, the essence of man's dharma. Buddhism, with its high and noble ethics, Jainism, with its austere ideal of self-conquest, Hinduism, with its magnificent examples of all sides of the Dharma, are not inferior in ethical teaching and practice to any religion or system, but rather take the highest rank and have had the strongest effective force.
    • Aurobindo, Collected Works of Sri Aurobindo: The Renaissance in India , 1997: 148). quoted from Malhotra, R., & Infinity Foundation (Princeton, N.J.). (2018). Being different: An Indian challenge to western universalism.
  • Aristotle filled out further details on the foundation laid by Plato, founded the disciplines of logic and metaphysics, elaborated individual and social ethics, and discussed fundamental issues of literary criticism. The later systems centered around the attempt to find satisfaction in human living by self-control, refined enjoyment, or suspension of judgment of ultimate problems.
    • Albert Edwin Avey, Handbook in the History of Philosophy. New York: Barnes & Noble. 1954. p. 20. 
  • The price of freedom is to decide moral and political issues.


An ethic gone wrong is an essential preliminary to the sweat shop or the concentration camp and the death march. ~ Simon Blackburn
  • “When someone asks for the ethics tape, we know they’ve already decided to invest. They just want some reassurance so they can feel good about it, too. That's the thing you learn about values, Jones: they're what people make up to justify what they did. Did you take business ethics in college?”
    “They teach you people’s behavior is guided by their values, right? That’s a load of crap. When you watch people like we do, you find out it’s the other way around. Look, I believe in what Alpha does, I really do. But do I worry about whether every little thing we do is ethical? No, because you can rationalize anything as ethical. You talk to a criminal—a tax dodger, a serial killer, a child abuser—and every one of them will justify their actions. They’ll explain to you, totally seriously, why they had to do what they did. Why they’re still good people. That’s the thing: when people talk about the importance of ethics, they never include themselves. The day anyone, anywhere, admits that they personally are unethical, I’ll start taking that whole issue seriously.”
  • She takes a deep breath. “Whoo. Okay. Tell me how you justify buying a new pair of shoes.”
    “When there are starving people in Africa, what kind of person spends two hundred bucks on shoes? See, once you buy into that paradigm, it’s a bottomless pit. You can never feel good about yourself while there’s anybody in the world poor or hungry, which there always is, Jones, and has been since the dawn of time, so you feel guilty and hypocritical all the time. I'm consistent. I admit I don’t care. You want me to reassure you that Alpha is ethical, but I'm not going to do it, because ethics is bullshit. It’s the spin we put on our lives to justify what we do. I say, be big enough to live without rationalizations.”
  • The most optimistic ethics have all begun by emphasizing the element of failure involved in the condition of man; without failure, no ethics; for a being who, from the very start, would be an exact co-incidence with himself, in a perfect plenitude, the notion of having-to-be would have no meaning. One does not offer an ethics to a God. It is impossible to propose any to man if one defines him as nature, as something given. The so-called psychological or empirical ethics manage to establish themselves only by introducing surreptitiously some flaw within the manthing which they have first defined.
  • We have all learned to become sensitive to the physical environment … Perhaps fewer of us are sensitive to what we might call the moral or ethical environment. This is the surrounding climate of ideas about how to live. It determines what we find acceptable or unacceptable, admirable or contemptible. It determines our conception of when things are going well and when they are going badly.
  • We hope for lives whose story leaves us looking admirable; we like our weaknesses to be hidden and deniable... We want to enjoy our lives, and we want to enjoy them with a good conscience … Ethics is disturbing. We are often vaguely uncomfortable when we think of such things as exploitation of the world's resources, or the way our comforts are provided by the miserable labour conditions of the third world … Racists and sexists, like antebellum slave owners in America, always have to tell themselves a story that justifies their system.
  • The ethical decision is always the fearsome decision. When something matters enough that we are afraid of the consequences — afraid that even the honorable choice could result in harm or loss or sorrow — that’s when ethics are involved.
    • Henry W. Bloch, in The Importance of Ethics
  • There is one view that we can allow these AI [tools] to deal with data and analytics and we let people deal with the caring, and the empathy, and the emotional aspects of care, which I think is absolutely critical... What if technology is capable of high touch engagement? What if AI was also social and emotionally intelligent? For me when I talk about emotional engagement, it’s not just about great user experience with technology... It is about deeper human engagement to enable transformative change in people’s lives... We have the world of design and we have the world of AI and right now those two aren’t built top of each other... But these have to come together. So we, through a lot of psychology, understand how people are thinking about experiencing new technology.


  • Poetry is an ethic. By ethic I mean a secret code of behavior, a discipline constructed and conducted according to the capabilities of a man who rejects the falsifications of the categorical imperative.


  • Strong ethics keep corporations healthy. Poor ethics make companies sick. Values are the immune system of every organisation.


  • I believe, indeed, that overemphasis on the purely intellectual attitude, often directed solely to the practical and factual, in our education, has led directly to the impairment of ethical values. I am not thinking so much of the dangers with which technical progress has directly confronted mankind, as of the stifling of mutual human considerations by a "matter-of-fact" habit of thought which has come to lie like a killing frost upon human relations. … The frightful dilemma of the political world situation has much to do with this sin of omission on the part of our civilization. Without "ethical culture," there is no salvation for humanity.


  • Psychoanalysis ... should find a place among the methods whose aim is to bring about the highest ethical and intellectual development of the individual.
    • Sigmund Freud, Letter number 80 to James Jackson Putnam, March 30, 1914, in James Jackson Putnam and Psychoanalysis: Letters between Putnam and Sigmund Freud, Ernest Jones, William James, Sandor Ferenczi, and Morton Prince, 1877-1917 (Harvard University Press: 1971), p. 170










  • The ethical as such is the universal, and as the universal it applies to everyone, which from another angle means that it applies at all times. It rests immanent in itself, has nothing outside itself that is its τέλος but is itself the τέλος for everything outside itself, and when the ethical has absorbed this into itself, it goes not further. The single individual, sensately and psychically qualified in immediacy, is the individual who has his τέλος in the universal, and it is his ethical task continually to express himself in this, to annul his singularity in order to become the universal. As soon as the single individual asserts himself in his singularity before the universal, he sins, and only by acknowledging this can he be reconciled again with the universal. ... Faith [in contrast to the ethical] is namely this paradox that the single individual is higher than the universal ... so that after having been in the universal he as the single individual isolates himself as higher than the universal.




  • It's never a matter of ethics versus pragmatism; it's a question of which informs the other. Humans have shown themselves capable of almost unlimited imagination and innovation—qualities that could be said to define human beings. People have used this capacity to do both great good and great harm. The point is that when humans set their minds to doing something, it's frequently possible. It makes sense to first ask what people want to do and why, from an ethical standpoint, and then get to the pragmatic how-to questions. The very process of asking what's right is how people fill out ethics in praxis, to meet new demands and dilemmas, new social conditions and contexts. Anarchism, then, brings an egalitarian ethics out into the world, making it transparent, public, and shared. It maintains an ethical orientation, while continually trying to put such notions into practice, as flawed as the effort might be. When other people come into contact with this ethical compass, they will hopefully "get it" and incorporate the same values into their lives, because it works. It offers directionality to political involvement and buttresses people's efforts to remake society. It turns surviving into thriving. That's the crucial difference between a pragmatic versus ethical impulse: people, in cooperative concert, qualitatively transform one another's lives.
  • "Ethics" isn't some fixed entity but rather the continual questioning of what it means to be a good person in a good society. It draws from the classical triad of philosophy's aspirations: the good, the true, and the beautiful.






  • After three and a half centuries I have found, for an empirical ethics, no better starting axiom than this: cruelty and evil are virtually synonyms. Human ethical teachers have insisted over the ages that a cruel act is an evil act, and men on the whole endorse the doctrine no matter how repeatedly they violate it. There is inevitable revulsion against any blatant attempt to make cruelty a law of behavior.




  • Ethics is in origin the art of recommending to others the sacrifices required for co-operation with oneself.
    • Bertrand Russell, in Mysticism and Logic and Other Essays (1918), Ch. 6: "On the Scientific Method in Philosophy", p. 108


  • Ethics, too, are nothing but reverence for life. That is what gives me the fundamental principle of morality, namely, that good consists in maintaining, promoting, and enhancing life, and that destroying, injuring, and limiting life are evil.
  • The great fault of all ethics hitherto has been that they believed themselves to have to deal only with the relations of man to man. In reality, however, the question is what is his attitude to the world and all life that comes within his reach. A man is ethical only when life, as such, is sacred to him, and that of plants and animals as that of his fellow men, and when he devotes himself helpfully to all life that is in need of help. Only the universal ethic of the feeling of responsibility in an ever-widening sphere for all that lives — only that ethic can be founded in thought. … The ethic of Reverence for Life, therefore, comprehends within itself everything that can be described as love, devotion, and sympathy whether in suffering, joy, or effort.
    • Albert Schweitzer, in Out of My Life and Thought, An Autobiography (1933), as translated by C. T. Campion, Ch. 13, p. 188
  • Let me give you a definition of ethics: It is good to maintain and further life — it is bad to damage and destroy life. And this ethic, profound and universal, has the significance of a religion. It is religion.
    • Albert Schweitzer, quoted in Albert Schweitzer : The Man and His Mind (1947) by George Seaver, p. 366


  • I suddenly felt insecure and feared becoming an employee of some firm that would turn me into a corporate slave with "work ethics" (whenever I hear the word work ethics I interpret inefficient mediocrity).
    • Nassim Nicholas Taleb, Fooled by Randomness: The Hidden Role of Chance in Life and in the Markets (2001) Seven: The Problem of Induction | Sir Karl's Promoting Agent
  • Ethical man accords his profession to his beliefs, instead of according his beliefs to his profession.
    • Nassim Nicholas Taleb, The Bed of Procrustes: Philosophical and Practical Aphorisms (2010) Ethics, p. 66.






The World and Life are one. … Ethics and Aesthetics are one. ~ Ludwig Wittgenstein
  • It is above all the impersonal and economically rationalized (but for this very reason ethically irrational) character of purely commercial relationships that evokes the suspicion, never clearly expressed but all the more strongly felt, of ethical religions. For every purely personal relationship of man to man, of whatever sort and even including complete enslavement, may be subjected to ethical requirements and ethically regulated. This is true because the structures of these relationships depend upon the individual wills of the participants, leaving room in such relations for manifestations of the virtue of charity. But this is not the situation in the realm of economically rationalised relationships, where personal control is exercised in inverse ratio to the degree of rational differentiation of the economic structure.
  • “I want to be good. I can’t bear the idea of my soul being hideous.”
    “A very charming artistic basis for ethics, Dorian! I congratulate you on it.”
    • Oscar Wilde, Dorian and Lord Henry, The Picture of Dorian Gray, ch. 8, p. 82









See also

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