Quotes on ethics
These quotes on ethics will help you to explore its nature, form links with other WOKs and AOKs, and provide discussion points for TOK lessons. They will also support you as you address knowledge questions within your TOK essay and TOK presentation.
- What do the quotes suggest about the nature of ethics as an area of knowledge?
- What do they suggest about the purpose of ethics?
- Are the quotes consistent, or do they clash about the role it plays as an area of knowledge, and its relationship with others WOKs and AOKs?
- Can you think of other ways of knowing and areas of knowledge that these quotes relate to?
- How many of these thinkers are you familiar with? Research the ones you haven’t come across before – and, indeed, the ones you think you already know. Click on the names to take you to the corresponding Wikipedia article, although this should only be used as a starting point for your research.
Finally, how would you use the quotes to construct a typical IB Diploma TOK essay title? Look at , and see if you can compose something similar (and think about how you’d go about structuring it)
1. The nature and purpose of ethics
Morality is a private and costly luxury.
Action indeed is the sole medium of expression for ethics.
Morality may consist solely in the courage of making a choice.
Grub first, then ethics.
Morality is the custom of one’s country and the current feeling of one’s peers.
Every man, in his own opinion, forms an exception to the ordinary rules of morality.
Ordinary morality is innate in my view.
Morality is not the doctrine of how we may make ourselves happy, but how we may make ourselves worthy of happiness.
Morality is the herd-instinct in the individual.
Morality is not just any old topic in psychology but close to our conception of the meaning of life. Moral goodness is what gives each of us the sense that we are worthy human beings.
Taste is the only morality. Tell me what you like and I’ll tell you what you are.
Ethics is in origin the art of recommending to others the sacrifices required for cooperation with oneself.
The first step in the evolution of ethics is a sense of solidarity with other human beings.
Ethics is nothing else than reverence for life.
At the descriptive level, certainly, you would expect different cultures to develop different sorts of ethics and obviously they have; that doesn’t mean that you can’t think of overarching ethical principles you would want people to follow in all kinds of places.
We see things like reciprocity which are fairly central to our view of ethics. But if you’re talking about a set of worked-out rules on what we are supposed to do then, yes, it is a human product.
2. Ethics and emotion
Compassion is the basis of morality.
A system of morality that is based on relative emotional values is a mere illusion, a thoroughly vulgar conception that has nothing sound in it and nothing true.
3. Ethics and faith
Liberty cannot be established without morality, nor morality without faith.
Alexis de Tocqueville
4. Ethics and intuition
I would like us to think about it more explicitly, and not take our intuitions as the given of ethics, but rather to reflect on it, and be more open about the fact that something is an ethical issues and think what we ought to do about it.
Morality is only moral when it is voluntary.
5. Ethics and language
Morality, like language, is an invented structure for conserving and communicating order. And morality is learned, like language, by mimicking and remembering.
6. Ethics and reason
The rules of morality are not the conclusion of our reason.
7. Ethics and the arts
A novel that does not uncover a hitherto unknown segment of existence is immoral. Knowledge is the novel’s only morality.
The essential function of art is moral. But a passionate, implicit morality, not didactic. A morality which changes the blood, rather than the mind.
D. H. Lawrence
8. Ethics and the human sciences
History shows that where ethics and economics come in conflict, victory is always with economics. Vested interests have never been known to have willingly divested themselves unless there was sufficient force to compel them.
B. R. Ambedkar
We learned in World War II that no single nation holds a monopoly on wisdom, morality or right to power, but that we must fight for the weak and promote democracy.
Consciousness permits us to develop the instruments of culture – morality and justice, religion, art, economics and politics, science and technology. Those instruments allow us some measure of freedom in the confrontation with nature.
The science of morality is about maximizing psychological and social health. It’s really no more inflammatory than that.
Money, not morality, is the principle commerce of civilized nations.
The stirrings of morality emerge early in childhood. Toddlers spontaneously offer toys and help to others and try to comfort people they see in distress.
Where there is politics or economics, there is no morality.
Karl Wilhelm Friedrich Schlegel
8. Ethics and the natural sciences
My personal conviction is that science is concerned wholly with truth, not with ethics.
Science by itself has no moral dimension. But it does seek to establish truth. And upon this truth morality can be built.
9. Ethics and religious knowledge systems
A people and their religion must be judged by social standards based on social ethics. No other standard would have any meaning if religion is held to be a necessary good for the well-being of the people.
B. R. Ambedkar
The greatest tragedy in mankind’s entire history may be the hijacking of morality by religion.
Arthur C. Clarke
I do not believe in immortality of the individual, and I consider ethics to be an exclusively human concern with no superhuman authority behind it.
Religion without morality is a superstition and a curse, and morality without religion is impossible.
Teach a child what is wise, that is morality. Teach him what is wise and beautiful, that is religion!
I’m very much a Christian in ideals and ethics, especially in terms of belief in fairness, a deep-set obligation to others, and the virtues of charity, tolerance and generosity that we associate with traditional Christian teaching.
E. O. Wilson