Branch of philosophy that involves systematizing, defending, and recommending concepts of right and wrong conduct
The great fault of all ethics hitherto has been that they believed themselves to have to deal only with the relations of man to man. In reality, however, the question is what is his attitude to the world and all life that comes within his reach. ~ Albert Schweitzer

Ethics (from Ancient Greek ethikos) is a branch of philosophy that involves systematizing, defending, and recommending concepts of right and wrong conduct.

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  • The price of freedom is to decide moral and political issues.


An ethic gone wrong is an essential preliminary to the sweat shop or the concentration camp and the death march. ~ Simon Blackburn
  • The most optimistic ethics have all begun by emphasizing the element of failure involved in the condition of man; without failure, no ethics; for a being who, from the very start, would be an exact co-incidence with himself, in a perfect plenitude, the notion of having-to-be would have no meaning. One does not offer an ethics to a God. It is impossible to propose any to man if one defines him as nature, as something given. The so-called psychological or empirical ethics manage to establish themselves only by introducing surreptitiously some flaw within the manthing which they have first defined.
  • We have all learned to become sensitive to the physical environment … Perhaps fewer of us are sensitive to what we might call the moral or ethical environment. This is the surrounding climate of ideas about how to live. It determines what we find acceptable or unacceptable, admirable or contemptible. It determines our conception of when things are going well and when they are going badly.
  • We hope for lives whose story leaves us looking admirable; we like our weaknesses to be hidden and deniable... We want to enjoy our lives, and we want to enjoy them with a good conscience … Ethics is disturbing. We are often vaguely uncomfortable when we think of such things as exploitation of the world's resources, or the way our comforts are provided by the miserable labour conditions of the third world … Racists and sexists, like antebellum slave owners in America, always have to tell themselves a story that justifies their system.
  • The ethical decision is always the fearsome decision. When something matters enough that we are afraid of the consequences — afraid that even the honorable choice could result in harm or loss or sorrow — that’s when ethics are involved.
    • Henry W. Bloch, in The Importance of Ethics


  • Poetry is an ethic. By ethic I mean a secret code of behavior, a discipline constructed and conducted according to the capabilities of a man who rejects the falsifications of the categorical imperative.


  • Strong ethics keep corporations healthy. Poor ethics make companies sick. Values are the immune system of every organisation.


  • I believe, indeed, that overemphasis on the purely intellectual attitude, often directed solely to the practical and factual, in our education, has led directly to the impairment of ethical values. I am not thinking so much of the dangers with which technical progress has directly confronted mankind, as of the stifling of mutual human considerations by a "matter-of-fact" habit of thought which has come to lie like a killing frost upon human relations. … The frightful dilemma of the political world situation has much to do with this sin of omission on the part of our civilization. Without "ethical culture," there is no salvation for humanity.
  • One has a feeling that one has a kind of home in this timeless community of human beings that strive for truth. … I have always believed that Jesus meant by the Kingdom of God the small group scattered all through time of intellectually and ethically valuable people.
    • Albert Einstein, quoted in Einstein's God — Albert Einstein's Quest as a Scientist and as a Jew to Replace a Forsaken God (1997) by Robert N. Goldman


  • Psychoanalysis ... should find a place among the methods whose aim is to bring about the highest ethical and intellectual development of the individual.
    • Sigmund Freud, Letter number 80 to James Jackson Putnam, March 30, 1914, in James Jackson Putnam and Psychoanalysis: Letters between Putnam and Sigmund Freud, Ernest Jones, William James, Sandor Ferenczi, and Morton Prince, 1877-1917 (Harvard University Press: 1971), p. 170






  • The ethical as such is the universal, and as the universal it applies to everyone, which from another angle means that it applies at all times. It rests immanent in itself, has nothing outside itself that is its τέλος but is itself the τέλος for everything outside itself, and when the ethical has absorbed this into itself, it goes not further. The single individual, sensately and psychically qualified in immediacy, is the individual who has his τέλος in the universal, and it is his ethical task continually to express himself in this, to annul his singularity in order to become the universal. As soon as the single individual asserts himself in his singularity before the universal, he sins, and only by acknowledging this can he be reconciled again with the universal. ... Faith [in contrast to the ethical] is namely this paradox that the single individual is higher than the universal ... so that after having been in the universal he as the single individual isolates himself as higher than the universal.








  • Ethics is in origin the art of recommending to others the sacrifices required for co-operation with oneself.
    • Bertrand Russell, in Mysticism and Logic and Other Essays (1918), Ch. 6: "On the Scientific Method in Philosophy", p. 108


  • Ethics, too, are nothing but reverence for life. That is what gives me the fundamental principle of morality, namely, that good consists in maintaining, promoting, and enhancing life, and that destroying, injuring, and limiting life are evil.
  • The great fault of all ethics hitherto has been that they believed themselves to have to deal only with the relations of man to man. In reality, however, the question is what is his attitude to the world and all life that comes within his reach. A man is ethical only when life, as such, is sacred to him, and that of plants and animals as that of his fellow men, and when he devotes himself helpfully to all life that is in need of help. Only the universal ethic of the feeling of responsibility in an ever-widening sphere for all that lives — only that ethic can be founded in thought. … The ethic of Reverence for Life, therefore, comprehends within itself everything that can be described as love, devotion, and sympathy whether in suffering, joy, or effort.
    • Albert Schweitzer, in Out of My Life and Thought, An Autobiography (1933), as translated by C. T. Campion, Ch. 13, p. 188
  • Let me give you a definition of ethics: It is good to maintain and further life — it is bad to damage and destroy life. And this ethic, profound and universal, has the significance of a religion. It is religion.
    • Albert Schweitzer, quoted in Albert Schweitzer : The Man and His Mind (1947) by George Seaver, p. 366





The World and Life are one. … Ethics and Aesthetics are one. ~ Ludwig Wittgenstein
  • “I want to be good. I can’t bear the idea of my soul being hideous.”
    “A very charming artistic basis for ethics, Dorian! I congratulate you on it.”
    • Oscar Wilde, Dorian and Lord Henry, The Picture of Dorian Gray, ch. 8, p. 82





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