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The course will introduce students to the importance of social ethics. Students will learn that ethics is not a subject matter only for Christians, Muslims and the religious people. Rather, ethics is for every rational individual in the society, because it is about human behavior. The term social refers to people in interaction. People live in associations, groups and societies, and there must be peace, order and justice among them.

Ethics, on the other hand, has a number of meanings. But in its frequent usage, ethics refers to a code or a set of principles by which people are expected to behave morally and share justly in the common good. There are different branches of ethics: Christian ethics, Jewish ethics, Islamic ethics, medical ethics, bioethics, legal ethics, moral theology(ethics), and business ethics(etc).

Social ethics, however, embraces all aspects of ethics because it deals with moral issues that affect people in social institutions. Thus, social ethics refers to the area of moral questions, problems, and issues that arises from human relations to social structures(institutions). Examples of social institutions are: family, marriage, ethnic groups, business, trade, school, hospital and government,(etc).

Social ethics looks at some social issues: divorce, wife battering, child abuse, poverty, rape, disease, famine, abortion, trafficking-inpersons, oppression(social, political) business and medical malpractice, war, discrimination (racism, tribalism), male dominance, the right to health care, the right to education, the right to shelter, environmental hazard(toxic dump).

Ethics is about theory and practice. Therefore, the theoretical scheme will be applied to some of the social issues or problems. In doing so, we shall be saying something about our own positions on some of the ethical issues as moral person.

Regular class attendance and participation. Students will read materials on their own to supplement lectures. Students will do a mid-term examination. There will be a short group position papers on a given topic. There will be a final examination. The final grade will be bases on the requirements


Definition of Term Sociological Background The origin of ethics


Moral development Moral reasoning Moral judgment Moral responsibility


A human being and his/her purpose A search for the good life: common good What is happiness? How do we attain happiness?


The role of Justice Rights of Justice Human dignity


What is natural law? Ancient understanding Modern understanding


Normative motive: Prescriptive The human act Free will and determination Hedonism Utilitarianism Theory of self-realization Responsible ethics(Richard Niebuhr)

Divorce Wife battering Male dominance Child abuse Ethic wars-migration(refugees) Female mutilation Physical challenged(etc)

There are two components: social and ethics. Social derives from the Latin word socius i.e. an ally, companion, and an association Ethics derives from 2 Greek words: Ethos i.e. custom, behavior, conduct that can change e.g dressing and Ethika i.e customs, behavior or conduct that cannot change e.g respect for the elderly, celebration of marriage as a social cultural institution.

The basis for social ethics is society. Social Ethics is the same as moral philosophy because moral norms, regulations and values are derived from society, and there are certain social thinkers, who are brains behind these social values, norms, regulations(the thinktanks).

Philosophers are professional thinkers. Philolove;Sophia-wisdom. In the pre-Socratic era,Thales, Anaximenes and Anaximander who belonged to the Milesian school of thought began to think about the natural environment. They were known as exponents of naturalistic monism; they were concerned about one natural substance reality and the problem of change. For Thales- the primordial substance is water, Anaximander-boundless and Anaximenes- air.

Social Ethics- is about moral behavior, Traditional moral ethics, Christian ethics, Islamic ethics, Business ethics, Legal ethics, and medical ethics. We are ethical people because we live in society and want to live good moral lives not because we are Christians but our Christian principles can enhance or inform our ethical behaviors even further.

The concept nature is from the Latin word natura which denotes what is given by birth. It refers to the principle directing our inner development or growth. Nature can also mean the biological heritage which turns towards growth and maturity. The nature of a person is a being in becoming and it belongs to human essence to have a conscious life. Humans are body and soul and they have and live an ethical life in groups, association in society. Hence, Man lives in social aggregation with fellow men.

The nature of ethics refers to the elements and understanding of ethics as a moral discipline and humans are supposed to be ethical or moral in their behavior by choosing between options. A person is always making decision or choices between a right action and wrong action.

Thus, ethics deals with human conduct or behaviors that are right. Since people live in groups and are constantly interacting among themselves, they must have knowledge of certain actions that they ought to avoid or perform. Therefore, that which is good and true are essential elements of ethics and are constitutive of the nature of ethics.

Ethics is a branch of philosophy called moral philosophy. Philosophy is the love of wisdom ore the pursuit of wisdom, a critical thinking about and analysis of things. Ethics is a philosophical or critical thinking about morality, human conduct, and moral problems. As a humanist (a person who is a religious believer) he or she does so of his/her own reason. First and foremost, morality is a human consideration. And ethical problems have been with humans from the beginning of life independent of Christianity or Islam.

The word ethics comes from the Greek word which is custom, the sum total of human behavior, the early Greek philosophers observed that some customs, behaviors are more stable and unchangeable than others. For example, changing customs are the way of dressing (fashion), methods of preparing food and eating by various ethnic groups.

Some stable or unchanging customs are truthtelling, respect for life, respect for the elderly and the celebration of marriage. Generally, the Greek called all customs-ethos, but they called the stable customs-ethika- hence the English term ethics.

The Greeks also called ethics the proper way of behavior, moral philosophy(i.e philosophia moralis). And the English words moral and morality are from the Latin words: moralis moralitas. The Romans on the other hand, called customs mores which is the plural form of the word mos-moris. Mores means manners or morals i.e. moral behavior.

Ethics is about the rightness or wrongness of human conduct, which could also be called good or bad action. According to Norman J. Bull, morality is the generally accepted code of conduct in the society (Moral Education, 1969:1). This point leads us to the consideration of the sociological background of Ethics.

Sociological Background of Ethics

Sociologically speaking, a society is a network of interrelationship. And as humans live in groups, social aggregations, there are bound to be problems which are socially defined by social authorities. Social ethics deals with the questions and moral issues within a given society. In any given society, some actions are considered praiseworthy and others bad or wrong.

And the society defines what is good for its members, and what must be avoided by them. Since there are so many societies there are bound to be various value systems. Social values is what each society or members of the society consider as important and desirable. The problem we have is what one society considers a value or acceptable behavior may not be considered valuable by another society. This is the problem of ethical or cultural relativity.

E.g: puberty rites are culturally relative to Ghana, but ethics deals with universal standards. And there must be a universal understanding of what is good or bad. Thus, social ethics tries to establish universal principles or standards which are acceptable by every culture or everybody.

So societies establish norms to guard human behavior. In all cultures, truth-telling is accepted as an important social value. E.g. the Golden Rule is accepted as an important rule of conduct. In Ethics, you have ethical relativity and moral absolute. Ethics is about good behavior. Mr. Anthony Osei is a good soccer player. Mr. Yaw is a good man. The former is a relative usage/nonmoral usage. The latter is an absolute usage/moral usage.

Ethical decisions are individual decisions even if the society sets up the rules. It is the individual who has to make a decision and to take responsibility for his/her actions. Social ethics or moral philosophy or morality looks for solutions to social conflicts.


In asking such a question, we are asking why we should obey rules. Can we imagine how life will be without some or any rule. Ethics (Morality) is social in origin because it is not an invention of the individual for his/her own guidance.

Ethics existed before the individual was born into society. We may ask the question, was there once a conflict-free society before the rules were imposed? In other words, was there once a state or society where rules of conduct were not needed? How was life like? If there was such a society, how did we come to lose this pre-ethical condition?

THREE ANSWERS CAN BE GIVEN: Hobbes state of nature> the law of the jungle where might is right/survival of the fittest. One answer is provided by a British social thinker/Philosopher, Thomas Hobbes(15881679). Hobbes envisioned a pre-ethical state in which there were no rules, and called it a state of nature(civitas natura).

Hobbes says that, the state of nature life was short, nasty and brutish. So prudent people in the society realized that there was a need for ruler who saw to it that the rules were obeyed and he called such a state a commonwealth(Leviathan).

A second attempt at the understanding of the origins of ethics was provided by Jean Jacques Rousseau(1712-1778). In his social contract(1762), he explained how human society and the rules that regulate human behavior came into existence.

Contrary to what Hobbes said, Rousseau taught that people in the state of nature did what was naturally good, and they were not in the state of war against one another. However, he accepted the basic premise that men and women are selfish by nature.

And he then affirmed that selfish interest was transformed into moral obligation by the social contract. The social contract is based on the agreement which is made between the master-servant relationships. The contract stipulates that the Lord/Master or the King will defend the people in exchange for their obedience.

Within the Contract, the general will of the people is expressed by the ruler. This means that the ruler makes sure that the norms/rules of the society are observed to bring about order and peace to society.

There is also a third attempt at explaining or understanding the origins of ethics from Christian perspective or point of view. The Christian explains morality as a necessary attempt to bring out imperfect nature in line with the will of God.

The Christian says that since the fall of man, there has been an imperfection in human nature. And we need ethical code or principle to guide our behavior. Humans need rules to avoid falling into a state of helpless conflict and confusion. Thus, the origin of ethics is social because it was human effort at finding solutions to social problems and human conflict.

The search of moral standard

A search for a good moral standard is towards the realization of fully human life. A human being has a task of developing all his/her qualities and capacities. In other words humankind must become more human at every moment of his/,her existence. The more he/she develops in proper way, the human qualities, the more he/she would be the living image of the creator.

The proper understanding of human development does not only mean physical and psychological development. Rather, the full meaning of human development also includes constructive or proper interpersonal relationship.

The total human purpose is concretely realized when a person acts in a truly human way. A person acts in a truly human way; he/she interacts with others to determine himself/herself


Norms and values must be set or established for human activities and three factors must be taken into consideration, namely, 1. A contribution to the good of mankind. 2. Respect for the individual as a unique human being 3. Respect for the individual as a member of society

Conscience is the first principle of moral development. The word is from the Latin word conscientia - conscientiae which means knowledge within oneself. Conscience is the inner judge which reviews past actions and gives judgement of praise or blame.

The Greek equivalent of the term conscience is synderesis which means consciousness of past actions, of one having done wrong. Synderesis also means a guide to future actions. Therefore, conscience is a moral guide. Conscience is the basic and moral principle of right and wrong.