‘Ethically speaking’

Etymologically, the  word ‘ethics’ (epsilon theta iota kappa sigma) originates in the Indo-European root and travelled westward to Latin (ethica) to French (ethique) and Middle England (ethik). In its core however is nested the gist ‘ethos’ which deals with the nature, disposition or primary value(s) that is specific to a person, society, people, culture or movement. It reflects the spirit of the individual as well as the collective attitude of the people.

Philosophically, ‘ethics’ determines the value system of the individual or the society as well as demarcates the boundaries of acceptable conduct. It is a code to be followed by the people. A ‘code’, that stems from social, cultural, religious or civil needs. A ‘code’ based on honesty, justice, righteousness and integrity. A ‘code’ that is felt to be essential for the smooth functioning of the society.  A ‘code’ that encompasses fitness of thoughts, decisions and actions.

Absence of ethics in actions or deeds is not essentially illegal or even sinful and at times not even amoral. It the chain of thoughts pursued by the upright, series of actions performed by the brave. Something that is right and righteous and hence beautiful.

Ethics and aesthetics are essentially flowers of the same bed.

Ethical dilemmas confront man or society regularly. Casuistic quests may frequently tempt anyone and mislead judgements. It challenges with choices between ease and thorny, between right and wrong.  It is a question of playing with a straight bat, (as the English would like to put) or ‘doing the right thing’ (as their cousins from across the Atlantic would say). Choosing reason over pleasure and sacrifice the hedonistic privileges on the altar of ethos. The pursuit of true joy is not possession of physical belonging but the satisfaction of having walked the right path in spite of the lack of paving and at times making your own way. Ethics have the power to make man approach divinity. Its absence makes him mere creature.

Ethics as a part of college curriculum was routine in the early part of last century but post Second World War it slowly retreated perhaps as a result of the tremendous advancement in science. It was merged within language or literature, often too much buried in the mass of words. Ironically, it the world of science and the scientists of today, who are confronted with these ethical dilemmas and needs the training in ethics, the most. Many a decisions specially those affecting the society at large has to be evaluated and weighed in terms of ethics. At an individual level too these dilemmas plague the students constantly. Hence training in ethics if felt ethical.

In my native land there are beautiful parables in its ancient literature. One particular series which is very popular involves a wise King tasked with getting a human cadaver from a tree located a remote place to the cremation ground before the night ends, without uttering any word. The corpse was the dwelling of a ghost which travels along the king and tells him stories each ending with difficult moral quandary. The just king is forced to answer the query thereby releasing the body back to the tree. Forty attempts were needed to complete the task generating forty different stories each exposing the readers to ethical see-saw.

These stories are told by grandparents to the young people of the house hold there by developing the sense of right and wrong and thus prepare for a life where such ethical challenges are likely to be abound…

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