Dimensions of Ethics

Mains Marks Booster     2nd August 2023        
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There are 4 branches of ethics and they deal with following types of questions:

  1. Descriptive ethics - What do people think is right?
  2. Meta-ethics - What does "right" even mean?
  3. Normative (prescriptive) ethics - How should people act?
  4. Applied ethics - How do we take moral knowledge and put it into practice?

Dimensions of Ethics

Branches of Ethics




Normative (prescriptive) ethics

  • It concerns ‘what we ought to do’ and provides criteria and principles for deciding right and wrong,


  • Respondent says that they disapprove of the government.
  • Murder is Wrong
  • Honesty is the best policy.

Because it is based on the principles that determine whether an action is ethical or wrong, it is also known as prescriptive ethics.

Descriptive ethics

  • It is the empirical study of the moral beliefs (quantify) and practices of different people and cultures in various places and time. 
  • The study of the moral beliefs and practices of different peoples and cultures in various places and times.


  • 90% respondent says that they disapprove the government.
  • In 2023, some people think that homosexuality is right.

It is value-free approach to ethics. 

It does not make judgements about the morality of the practices and beliefs but simply describe the practices observed in the different groups or cultures.


  • Metaethics is an enquiry into the nature and meaning of our moral judgements and actions
  • It is ethics about ethics i.e. Evaluation of Ethics itself.
  • Meta Ethical Philosophies are - why is stealing immoral?
  • Why charity is mora


  • When we say, Honesty is good, then, what do we mean the termgood’ in a moral judgement
  • Why is stealing immoral?
  • Why charity is moral?

Metaethics investigates the origin and meaning of ethical concepts.

It doesn’t consider, whether an action is good or bad, rather it questions the goodness and badness of morality itself.

Applied ethics

It is about application of ethics in organisation and field.


Media Ethics, Bio Ethics, Sport Ethics etc.

Conflicts are resolved by using the conceptual tools of metaethics and normative ethics.

Comparison between Normative and Descriptive Ethics

      Normative [or prescriptive] ethics

                    Descriptive Ethics

  • It concerns how people ought to act
  • Ex. Honesty is the best Policy
  • Normative (or prescriptive) ethics investigates what evidence and analysis goes to support the objective truth about how new ought to believe, decide and act.
  • Depicts how people actually are acting.
  • Ex.70% of the people agree that honesty is the best policy
  • Descriptive Ethics is a factual report on how a people

Applied Ethics

  • Applied ethics refers to the practical application of moral considerations. It is ethics with respect to real-world actions and their moral considerations in the areas of private and public life, the professions, health, technology, law, and leadership. 
  • It is concerned with the philosophical investigation of specific moral dilemmas in private and public life including moral judgements.
Applied Ethics


  • Bioethics is the study of the ethical issues emerging from advances in biology and medicine. 
  • The field of bioethics has addressed a broad swathe of human inquiry; ranging from debates over the boundaries of life (e.g. abortion, euthanasia), surrogacy, the allocation of scarce health care resources (e.g. organ donation, health care rationing), to the right to refuse medical care for religious or cultural reasons. 
  • The scope of bioethics expanding with biotechnology, including cloning, gene therapy, life extension, human genetic engineering, Astro ethics and life in space. 

Business Ethics:

  • It refers to implementing appropriate business policies and practices with regard to arguably controversial subjects. 
  • Some issues that come up in a discussion of ethics include corporate governance, insider trading, bribery, discrimination, social responsibility, and fiduciary responsibilities. 


  • Recent, Hindenburg report on corporate governance of Adani Group
  • Corporate management issues in NSE Exchange, in which CMD shared confidential information with others. 
  • Panama and Pandora papers which revealed how politicians and public figures created offshore shell companies to hide money in tax havens. 

Business Ethics

Environmental Ethics:

  • Environmental Ethics deals with the ethical problems surrounding environmental protection
  • It aims to provide ethical justification and moral motivation for the cause of global environmental protection. 
  • Environmental ethics guides us for sustainable development, conservation of biodiversity, mutual existence avoiding human-animal conflict, non-harming to animals etc. 
    Environmental Ethics             Environmental Ethics 2


  • Ban on Single Use Plastic
  • Zero Emission target adopted by India, USA, China and other European Countries
  • Initiatives for Green Mobility, Green building, Green Energy
  • Uttarakhand High court judgement on river Ganga as an individual, National Green tribunal for environmental justice. 

International Ethics

International Ethics

  • It refers to upholding ethical values and applying ethical principles in international relations. It directs us for making decisions and choices ethically in the international and global sphere. 
  • International ethics helps to resolve some of the major international problems, and issues, provides insight into international conflicts. 
  • It directs us in the direction of building an international community in which every other community can actively and fruitfully participate and flourish. 


  • Russia – Ukraine war and loss of many lives
  • Refuge crisis across the world due to Conflict in Syria, Yemen, Congo, Myanmar etc
  • Human Rights violations of Rohingya in Myanmar, Uyghurs in China.
  • Minorities Rights issues in Pakistan, Afghanistan

Media Ethics

  • Media ethics is concerned about the question of what is right or wrong, good or bad, acceptable or unacceptable about the means and ways that the media collects and presents information and news.  
         Media Ethics
  • Media ethics tries to prevent any monopoly over information diffusion
  • Upholds pluralism instead of the uniform gloss over media content that is typically brought on by authoritarian regimes
  • Maintains objectivity by providing different sides of an issue, which empowers audiences to formulate their own judgments and increases levels of truthfulness in reporting. 

Issues of Media Ethics: media trials, paid news, fake news, string operation, sensationalisation, live telecast of combat operations etc.


  • Recent TRP scandal involving some media houses/TV channels ofrigging TRP via some of their relationship managers, underscores the need for media ethics.
  • Media Trial: Sushant Singh Rajput Suicide Case
  • Aryan Khan drug case: Media playing the role of courts by declaring someone a criminal even without trial in.
  • Media house and Politician nexus

Digital Media Ethics

  • Digital media ethics deals with the ethical problems and ethics issues of digital news media.  
  • Ethical issues are emerging out of digital media Plagiarism, digitally altering images or video, Using anonymous sources, Omnidirectional imaging, digital intrusion and violation of privacy, fake news & rumours, deep fake etc. 


  • Cybercrime through Digital Media
  • Spread of Hate message like recent Kolhapur controversy

Artificial Intelligence ethics

  • According to the European Commission, ethics of AI focuses on the ethical issues raised by the design, development, implementation, and use of AI. 
  • It involves issues like facial recognition bias, prejudices etc. 


    • Using of Counter Artificial Intelligence
  • Many studies revealed discrimination against people of colour, women, and other minorities. 

Ethics and Artificial Intelligence

Ethics and Artificial Intelligence

  • Human agency and oversight: AI systems should encourage user agency, uphold fundamental rights, and allow for human monitoring in order to maintain a democratic, prosperous, and egalitarian society.

Example: Ethical AI in Democratic institution and Process

  • Technical robustness and safety: AI systems need to be resilient and secure.

Example: AI in Auto driving vehicle

  • Privacy & Data governance- Besides ensuring full respect for privacy and data protection, adequate data governance mechanisms must also be ensured, considering the quality and integrity of the data, & ensuring legitimized access to data.

Example: Ethical AI should maintain privacy in Healthcare.

  • Transparency: AI systems should be based upon the principle of explainability, encompass transparency and communication of the elements involved: the data, the system and business models.

Example: AI system used to deliver welfare services to the Public

  • Diversity and non-discrimination: Involves avoidance of unfair bias, encompassing accessibility, universal design and stakeholder participation throughout the lifecycle of AI systems apart from enabling diversity and inclusion.

Example: Facial recognition used for crime detection

  • Societal and environmental well-being: AI systems should benefit all human beings, including future generations. It must hence be ensured that they are sustainable and environmentally friendly.

Example: Curbing of Auto piloted weapons of mass destruction

  • Accountability: The requirement of accountability complements other requirements and is closely linked to the principle of fairness.

Philosopher Thinkers




Virtue Ethics

  • Aristotle
  • Plato
  • Socrates
  • Quality of Human characters
  • Values deal with – Courage, Justice, Temperance and Wisdom


  • Kant
  • Means based
  • Moral duty/Conscience is based on human character



  • Benthem
  • J.S. Mill
  • Avoiding Pain, Seeking Pleasure (Maximum utility for Human Action)
  • Greatest Good to the Greatest Number of People


  • Hobbes
  • Locke
  • Rousseau
  • Social Contract
  • Human is selfish and therefore the state should control human behaviour, and maintain order in society.


John Rawles
  • Theory of Justice
  • Every person should enjoy rights – Liberty, Equity, Freedom

Feminist Ethics

(Ethics of Care)

  • Alison Jaggar
  • Cluadia Carde
Ethics of Care
  • Aims to understand, criticize, and correct, how gender operates within our moral beliefs and practices and our methodological approaches to ethical theory.

Utilitarian Ethics


  • According to the ethical theory of utilitarianism, the best course of anaction is one which maximizes utility. 
  • Utility can be defined in a variety of ways, such as pleasure, financial well-being, and the absence of suffering. 
  • It is a form of consequentialism where the results of one's actions have moral importance.
  • Two of the most important exponents of classical utilitarianism were English philosophers and economists Jeremy Bentham and John Stuart Mill.
Utilitarian Ethics

Limitations of Utilitarian Ethics

  • Ignore Minority view: It ignores the welfare of minorities such as LGBQs communalities. such as LGBQs communalities, Linguistic and religious minorities. 
    • Example: Turkey’s decision to convert the Hagia Sophia back to a mosque, will be defended by the Utilitarian principle as majority of people were happy.
  • Only Black & White: A limitation of utilitarianism is that it tends to create a black-and-white construct of morality. In utilitarian ethics, there are no shades of grey, either something is wrong or it is right. 

Example: Investment in Share markets may be a mix of right and wrong instead of absolute Right and Wrong

  • Unable regarding outcome: Utilitarianism also cannot predict with certainty whether the consequences of our actions will be good or bad—the results of our actions happen in the future. 

Example: Unable to decide the future benefit/harm of the Policy of government

  • Trouble accounting: It also has trouble accounting for values like justice and individual rights. 

Example: A healthy person donating his organs to multiple persons to save their lives. This will be supported by the Utilitarian as more people will be benefited but not giving justice to the donor, he may be taken such steps because of economic needs.

  • Difficult to measure Pleasure: It’s impossible to quantify, compare, or measure happiness or well-being. It does not account for things like feelings and emotions, culture, or justice.


  • When confronting difficult moral and policy issues, utilitarianism provides a convincing ethical framework that prospective civil servants should take into account. 
  • Its emphasis on maximizing general well-being and enjoyment is consistent with the objectives of ethical leadership, social justice, and inclusive development. 

Utilitarian Ethics in Governance

  • Welfare Policy making: Utilitarianism can help policymakers prioritize resource allocation and develop policies that aim to maximize overall well-being in areas ranging from healthcare and education to environmental preservation and social welfare.
  • Example: Decision of the government to start a scheme like Ayushman Yojana is based on Utilitarianism principle.
  • Promote inclusiveness: Utilitarianism is a secular ideology that is primarily concerned with humans and hence promotes inclusiveness.
  • Example: Electoral process conducted by ECI
  • Transparency: It encourages evidence-based decision-making, transparency, and accountability in governance processes.
  • Impartial and Practical: Utilitarianism principle is based on impartiality and also practical in approach.

Act Utilitarianism and Rule Utilitarianism

Act Utilitarianism

Rule Utilitarianism

  • Act utilitarianism means an act may be considered morally right even if it violates traditional notions of justice or individual rights.
  • It focuses on the consequence of individual actions and assesses them based on their expected utility.
  • It evaluates actions separately, considering each one in terms of its effect on happiness.
    • Rule Utilitarianism considers larger sets of actions rather than just individual acts.
    • It looks at how certain rules or norms can maximise utility for society when followed by everyone.
Thisapproach considers justice and individual rights, as it promotes rules that benefit everyone in the long run without disadvantaging certain groups more than others.


  • Deontology is a branch of moral philosophy that focuses on the actions themselves rather than the outcomes. It teaches that some actions are good or bad in and of themselves, regardless of the results, and that individuals should behave accordingly.
  • It emphasizes duty and moral obligation, regardless of the consequences. It asserts that certain actions are always right or wrong, regardless of their outcomes. 


  • Gandhi jii adopted path of Non-violence
  • lying is considered morally wrong even if it helps to avoid negative consequences.
  • A hacker is always wrong even if he hacks code of Nuclear Arsenal to avoid mass destruction of human being.
  • This theory is associated with philosopher Immanuel Kant. Kant believed that ethical actions follow universal moral laws, such as “Don’t lie.  Don’t steal.  Don’t cheat.”


  • Lack of Flexibility: Rigidly following deontology can produce results that many people find unacceptable


  • Many countries are buying crude oil at lower price from Russia during war time. As this is against the moral principles of Deontology but required from the economy of a country.
  • As per the Deontological approach a civil servant needs to follow the given rule and regulations without thinking about the consequences.
  • you should not lie, even if it (the lie) saves the lives of millions of people. 
  • Lack of importance of emotions: As per this theory, there is no place for human inclinations, emotions and consequences. In some situations, emotional intelligence (empathy) is required to bring harmony or achieve a greater good.


  • Lord Krishna motivated Arjuna (When he kept aside his ‘Gandiva’) to fight in the war against the Kaurav because of your duty.
  • Doctors does operation despite pain of patient.
  • Sometimes Lack majority view: It may produce consequences that can be unacceptable to most. 
    • For example, you should not lie, even if it (the lie) saves the lives of millions of people. 
  • Lack Critical thinking: Some argue Deontology missed the critical thing of ethical decision making by ignoring the consequences of actions.
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