What are ethics?

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What is Relativity?

Until the end of the 19th century it was believed that Newton’s three Laws of Motion and the associated ideas about the properties of space and time provided a basis on which the motion of matter could be completely understood.
However, the formulation by Maxwell of a unified theory of electromagnetism disrupted this comfortable state of affairs – the theory was extraordinarily successful, yet at a fundamental level it seemed to be inconsistent with certain aspects of the Newtonian ideas of space and time.
Ultimately, a radical modification of these latter concepts, and consequently of Newton’s equations themselves, was found to be necessary.
It was Albert Einstein who, by combining the experimental results and physical arguments of others with his own unique insights, first formulated the new principles in terms of which space, time, matter and energy were to be understood.
These principles, and their consequences constitute the Special Theory of Relativity.
Later, Einstein was able to further develop this theory, leading to what is known as the General Theory of Relativity.
Amongst other things, this latter theory is essentially a theory of gravitation.
The General Theory will not be dealt with in this course.
Relativity (both the Special and General) theories, quantum mechanics, and thermodynamics are the three major theories on which modern physics is based.
What is unique about these three theories, as distinct from say the theory of electromagnetism, is their generality.
Embodied in these theories are general principles which all more specialized or more specific theories are required to satisfy.
Consequently these theories lead to general conclusions which apply to all physical systems, and hence are of enormous power, as well as of fundamental significance.
The role of relativity appears to be that of specifying the properties of space and time, the arena in which all physical processes take place.
It is perhaps a little unfortunate that the word ‘relativity’ immediately conjures up thoughts about the work of Einstein.
The idea that a principle of relativity applies to the properties of the physical world is very old: it certainly predates Newton and Galileo, but probably not as far back as Aristotle.

“The unexamined life is not worth living.” This is a statement made by
Socrates before the Athenian court. The jury gave him a death sentence for
his menacing practice of going around Athens asking its citizens the ultimate
questions of human existence.1 Socrates agreed to drink hemlock and kill himself for his belief in a science that represents a rational inquiry into the meaning
of life. Socrates’s pursuit was a result of the Greeks’ curiosity and their desire
to learn about themselves, human life and society. This led to the examination
of all human life, to which Socrates devoted his life. Philosophers call this
ethics. Ethics is, therefore, the study of right and wrong in human conduct.
Ethics can also be defined as a theoretical examination of morality or “theory
of morals.” Other philosophers have defined ethics in a variety of ways.
Robert C. Solomon, in Morality and the Good Life,
2 defines ethics as a set
of “theories of value, virtue, or of right (valuable) action.” O.J. Johnson, on the
other hand, defines ethics as a set of theories “that provide general rules or
principles to be used in making moral decisions and, unlike ordinary intuitions,
provides a justification for those rules.”3The word ethicscomes from the ancient
Greek word eché,
4 which means character. Every human society practices ethics
in some way because every society attaches a value on a continuum of good to
bad, right to wrong, to an individual’s actions according to where that individual’s actions fall within the domain of that society’s rules and canons.The role of ethics is to help societies distinguish between right and wrong
and to give each society a basis for justifying the judgment of human actions.
Ethics is, therefore, a field of inquiry whose subject is human actions, collectively called human conduct, that are taken consciously, willfully, and for which
one can be held responsible. According to Fr. Austin Fagothey,5 such acts must
have knowledge, which signifies the presence of a motive, be voluntary, and
have freedom to signify the presence of free choice to act or not to act.
The purpose of ethics is to interpret human conduct, acknowledging and
distinguishing between right and wrong. The interpretation is based on a system which uses a mixture of induction and deduction. In most cases, these
arguments are based on historical schools of thought called ethical theories.
There are many different kinds of ethical theories, and within each theory
there may be different versions of that theory. Let us discuss these next.


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