Many of us rely upon someone or a belief system when formulating our personal sets of ethics. This may range from the fear of punishment by authority figures or an omniscient being on the one hand to philosophical learning and tangible contemplation that are not messianic in nature. A fair share of us formulate and rethink our sets of ethics somewhere in between these two boundaries.
We consider the essence of personal, philosophical leanings when we synthesize our ethical life foundations. Strictly speaking, ethics is a voluntary, rational discipline that requires the establishment of an effective, empathetic set of value judgments. An individual ethical code is a subset of our personal philosophy that sets the tone for our personal, interpersonal, and societal dealings.
Ethical standards have been an important part of human society since prehistoric times. Some of the earliest recorded written ethical guidlines were found in the Hammurabi Code. These were basically an early iteration of the Golden Rule–do not ask someone to act or to behave in any way that you refuse to do or behave yourself. This stark guideline is so obvious and natural that it is something most of us learn through experience. When we treat others unfairly, we can expect to be treated in a similar manner in return. When we treat others fairly, we can expect most people to respond in kind.
The primary reason we have laws and legal structure is a negative one. A great many people do not have strong ethical standards. They do not possess constructive self-regulating considerations and habits. This lack causes disruption to the safety, security, and trust among those with whom they interact. Positively grounded, ethical people do not need governments to guide their daily lives. It is unethical, self-centered people who encroach upon the lives of others who are the impetus for laws and regulations. Simply stated, there are a great many people who are eager and willing to harm others, so for the greater good, laws and regulations are enacted.
That said, in every society on Earth, there is a subset of the people who fervently desire to become the best versions of themselves. They do not work towards improvement out of fear of punishment by authority figures or deities; they do so out of the joy of creation. In doing so, they usually exceed the bare expectations of governmental and religious constraints.
There are also group ethical standards that have been formulated to exceed the basic standards of legal authority. They are created by groups and institutions who have similar motives to those of self-regulated individuals. We find examples in ethically grounded corporations, charities, and advocacy groups. Such companies and social institutions go beyond seeking the public trust. These groups guarantee our trust in them through words and deeds. They understand that to do so enables their groups to become the best that they can be. This ensures that such groups become and remain positive social assets.
In summary, people and social groups set goals to examine their beliefs and behavior so as to continually evolve into the best versions of themselves. To do so not only helps society, but provides exceptional satisfaction for themselves. Possessing high ethical standards prevents us from slacking off and becoming mentally lazy. Aside from bureacratic and economic aspects, a positive code of ethics provides the framework for exceptional living.
The Blue Jay of Happiness quotes Oscar Wilde. “If a work of art is rich and vital and complete, those who have artistic instincts will see its beauty, and those to whom ethics appeal more strongly than aesthetics will see its moral lesson. It will fill the cowardly with terror, and the unclean will see in it their own shame.”