Why Study Ethics?
Part of the Ethics For Dummies Cheat Sheet
Ethics is a central component of any happy, healthy, and mature life. But some critics still question the value of studying ethics and living an ethical life. After all, if you ignore ethics, you can just focus on yourself, right? Not so fast. Some great reasons to resist those critics include the following:
Ethics allows you to live an authentic life. An authentic and meaningful life requires you to live with a sense of integrity. Integrity is making commitments and sticking to them through thick and thin — no matter how much violating them may benefit you. Having a firm character or set of principles to guide your life and the choices you make is what ethics is all about.
Ethics makes you more successful. You may think that ethics can hold you back in all kinds of ways, but the truth is the opposite. Ethical people embody traits that unethical people have to work at to fake — they’re honest, trustworthy, loyal, and caring. As a result, ethical people are perfectly suited not only for interpersonal relationships generally, but also more specifically for the kinds of interactions that make for thriving business. Unethical people generally don’t do so well at these things.
Ethics allows you to cultivate inner peace. Lives that are lived ethically tend to be calmer, more focused, and more productive than those that are lived unethically. Most people can’t turn off their sympathy for other human beings. Hurting people leaves scars on both the giver and the receiver. As a result, unethical people have stormier internal lives because they have to work to suppress their consciences and sympathies to deal with the ways they treat others. When they fail to properly suppress their sympathies, the guilt and shame that comes with harming or disrespecting one’s fellow human beings takes deep root within them.
Ethics provides for a stable society. When people live ethical lives, they tell the truth, avoid harming others, and are generous. Working with such people is easy. On the other hand, callous and insensitive people are distrusted, so it’s difficult for them to be integrated well into social arrangements. A stable society requires a lot of ethical people working together in highly coordinated ways. If society were mostly composed of unethical people, it would quickly crumble.
Ethics may help out in the afterlife. Some religious traditions believe ethics is the key to something even greater than personal success and social stability: eternal life. No one can be sure about an eternal life, but people of faith from many different religions believe that good behavior in this life leads to rewards in the next life.