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On Ethics and Rights

January 30, 2012

I answered the following question from my Formspring account: “Does morality/ethics confine itself to violating or not violating other people’s rights?

The answer to your question is NO. That’s essentially part of morality. Let me explain why.

Morality or ethics is about how man should and ought to live his life. If you’re a human being you must live your life as a human being. Man is capable of discerning right from wrong. You ought to know what’s good or bad for you. Thus morality, primarily, is about man’s survival on earth. But what is ethics and why does it pertain only to man? Ethics is a code of values to guide or direct man’s choices and actions. Those choices and actions essentially determine his purpose in life and the direction of his life. It only and exclusively pertains to man because man is a rational animal who knows- and ought to know and understand- the difference between right and wrong. Lower animals don’t and can’t.

Do you want to live your life as a moral being? Then work. Don’t steal. Lead a productive life. Don’t cheat on or take advantage of others. Always think that you live in a human society with law and order. If you commit fraud or crimes, there are laws in place to punish you. Also, let me stress that ethics or morality is not biblical in nature. It does not come from god or divine revelation. The concept of ethics is the ultimate result of man’s (or Aristotle’s) discovery of man’s nature. The fundamental question here is: Why does man need values? Why does he need ethics? Well, in order to to live as a rational being and to live most fully a life that is proper to man.

Now let’s deal with your main question. Ethics does not confine itself to “violating or not violating people’s rights” because the latter is merely part of the former. A “right” is a MORAL concept. The concept of “rights” is the bridge that connects ETHICS and POLITICS. But it is ethics that tells politics to protect man’s rights. That’s the fundamental connection between the two branches of philosophy (ethics and politics). Also, let me stress that “rights” do not come from law, legal institutions, governments, or divine law. The concept of rights comes from man’s nature in relation to reality.

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