We are obligated to do the right things, but what makes things right anyway?

We are obligated to do the right thing in every aspect of life. In everything we do we need to have a firm reason why are we doing this. And the reason has to be because it is the right thing to do.

To understand what makes things right or wrong we cannot just accept others’ opinion and their judgment about the value of actions from their perspective. we need to be able to see it from our own perspective. because one day you will face an ethical dilemma. when you have to choose one from two right things and choose one from two wrong things. And the way you choose the rightest right and choose the lesser evil It all depends on how you understand the concept of right and wrong.

In the entire mankind’s history, people have been trying to figure out what makes things considered morally right. This branch of study is called ethics, people from the ancient Greek philosopher, prophets, priests, and modern philosophers tried to explain this concept differently. Sometimes their theories support one to another and sometimes one’s theory is the complete opposite of the others.

Morality is about the good-bad duality. In a general sense, morality refers to a code or rules in which actions are judged against how they stack up to shared values. Some things are “right,” while others are “wrong.” Ethics, meanwhile, refers to the rules that form those moral codes and that also come from those moral codes. (Image Source: Michigan State University Online)

To understand more about what makes things right, we need to see a few main thoughts about ethics itself. In ethics, people seeing things as right and wrong in multiple ways, they are:

1. Consequentialism Ethic (Result oriented)

In consequentialism ethic, what is considered right is an action that resulting the greater happiness for all. The more it resulting happiness the better it is. No matter the action behind that.

This consequentialist ethic is supported by some theories from some philosophers such as measuring happiness theory, utilitarianism, ethical altruism, and rule consequentialism. All of these ideas in general describing that an action is morally right if it resulting maximum happiness.

An example of this consequentialism ethic is stealing from the rich to feed the poor. Stealing is wrong but feeding the poor is right. Stealing from the rich might hurt 1 rich person, but if it can feed 100 poor people then it’s morally right.

“The creed which accepts as the foundation of morals, Utility, or the Greatest-Happiness Principle, holds that actions are right in proportion as they tend to promote happiness, wrong as they tend to produce the reverse of happiness. By happiness is intended pleasure, and the absence of pain; by unhappiness, pain, and the privation of pleasure.”

― John Stuart Mill, Utilitarianism

2. Deontological Ethics (Action-oriented)

Deontological ethics is a duty-based ethic. What is considered right in Deontological ethics is when people doing the right things no matter the result or the consequences. Deontology ethic is popularized by Immanuel Kant. Kant believed that ethical actions follow universal moral laws. Some act such as honesty and courage is a categorized as universal moral law. Because no matter the culture across the earth, people will admire those actions.

Deontological ethics is so practical because all we have to do is do the right thing according to universal moral laws or just follow the rules in society. We don’t need to weigh the impact of our actions. Also by following the rules, we can avoid subjectivity and uncertainty.

An example of this deontological ethic is when we have the obligation to tell the truth even if doing so might produce some unfavorable results.

“It is impossible to think of anything at all in the world, or indeed even beyond it, that could be considered good without limitation except a goodwill.”

- Immanuel Kant

3. Virtue Ethics (Agent-oriented)

Virtue Ethics Virtue ethics is the idea that ethics is about the agents, not their actions or consequences. Those agents must have positive character traits called virtues to act morally and have good character.

One of the most common ideas in virtue ethics is divine command theory. It says that people are supposed to do what God says is right and shouldn’t do what God says is wrong. And an act is considered moral or immoral based solely on God’s judgment about it.

An example of virtue ethic is Muslims doing what’s written in Al-Quran and follow what prophet Muhammad does in every aspect of life without questioning the reason behind it.

4. Others Ethics Perspective

While most philosophers arguing about how humans ought to behave in a morally correct way. Some philosopher creating their own version of how mankind should behave.

Friedrich Nietzsche said that a person ought to live in their own way, they have to set their own moral code apart of everybody was doing.

Jean-paul Sartre said that morals and virtues are entirely up to the individual, and beyond that, however, one chooses to define it. Happiness doesn’t derive from preexisting virtues, or if it does, it’s because a person chose to live a traditionally virtuous life and he does so at his pleasure. It’s entirely up to the individual.

In order to do the right thing, we should have a firm reason why are we doing that. Is it because we are trying to achieve a greater good for people, is it just because that our duty is to do the right thing, or is it simply just to follow the religious virtues.

One ethic might be overlapping one another, and we need to choose one. we need to understand the situation and act wisely based on current circumstances.

This is a summary from Ethics 101 by Brian Boone

All writings are based on writer’s perspective.