Is Ethics a Science or an Art of Philosophy?

Ethics is the science of the ideals related to human life. Ethics discusses the good and bad qualities of human behaviour by comparing it to these ideals. It informs man of the differences between good and bad, right and wrong, evil and virtue. It is the science of human conduct.

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Mackenzie does not call ethics a science. Science studies a limited part of the facts of the World and out experience But Ethics from the view point of ideals and goals is related to all ­activities.

Thus, in Mackenzie’s words, ‘In a sense, Ethics is not a science at all if by a science we understand study of some limited department of human experience. I t is rather than a part of philosophy, i.e., a part of the study of experience as a whole. But Herbert Spencer and some other philosophers accept it as natural science. According to them; the only difference between it and other natural science is the more comprehensive nature of its conclusions.

Ethics and Philosophy:

There is no one opinion about the relation between ethics and philosophy. Hegel and Green etc. believe that ethics is based upon philosophy, Rashdall and others believed that philosophy is based upon ethics, this is a debatable opinion. Be it what it may, it is definite what that the two are closely related. The relation is based upon the following factors:


1. Ethical ideals are found in the moral order of the universe:

Being a normative science, ethics details ethical ideals. These ethical ideals are found in the moral order of the universe. Thus their study takes ethics into the field of philosophy.

2. Ethical ideals are based upon the nature of objects:


Ethical Judgements are categorical imperatives. They are themselves based upon the nature of objects for which ethics has to go to philosophy.

3. Philosophy details the relation of man to the World:

The three self evident postulates of ethics are God, freedom of will and the immortality of the soul. The description .of their nature an1‘ the analysis of their validity is the subject of philosophy.

4. Philosophy systematises both facts and values:


Ethics being a science of values is related to philosophy because the latter system arises from both facts and values.

5. Philosophy details the relation of man to the World:

Ethics treats man- as a self conscious being not a natural fact. Thus, for the discussion of relation between man and God, World and Society, ethics has to turn to philosophy.

6. Many Philosophical problems come under ethics:

Ethics has to explain many philosophical problems. The major ones are as follows:

(a) Nature of Self:

When, the opinions concerning the nature of the self change, the ethical principles also change. Hedonism believes that the self is sensuous. Rationalism believes it to be rational while perfectionism assimilates both passion and reason in the self.

(b) The Immortality of the Soul:

The immortality of the soul is a self-evident postulate in ethics. If soul is mortal, then there is doubt in the achievement of ethical ideals.

(c) Faith in Rebirth:

Ethical ideal is very high and human life is very limited. Hence, the complete attainment of the ethical ideal in one’s life is difficult. Thus ethicists imagine many lives so that the ethical ideal may be attained. This is another major postulate of ethics. This moral argument, for the necessity of rebirth has been advanced by the German philosopher Kant.

(d) Relation between Individual and Society:

What is the relation of man to society? Is man a part of society or does have an independent existence? The difference in opinion about this relation has led to differences in ethical principles. Philosophy discusses this relation between individual and society.

(e) Relation between soul and world:

Is the world governed ethically? Is there a change or ethical progress in it? Does it have some ethical aim? Ethics believes that the world is a field for ethical improvement. It depends upon philosophy for the validity of this faith.

(f) Existence and unity of God:

Ethics ponders over such Philosophical problems as whether God is a treasure house of ethical qualities or is it beyond good and bad, whether ethics can stand without him for a foundation, whether ethics is subjective or objective.

It is due to the foregoing reasons that some philosophers and scholars believe it to be a part of philosophy as Mackenzie puts it. It is indeed only a part of philosophy because it considers the experience of life only from the point of view of will or activity. It does not except indirectly, consider man as knowing or enjoying but as doing i.e., pursuing an end. But it considers man’s whole significance of his activity in seeking.

Ethics is a Normative Science:

But even then Ethics is a normative science, not a part of philosophy. There are the following differences between the two:

(i) Difference of Scope:

The scope of philosophy is moil comprehensive than that of ethics. It is concerned with God world and soul. But ethics is concerned solely with man’s character and conduct. Philosophy seeks for the cause of the world and the universal good which may be the aim of the whole creation. On the other hand, ethics limits its search to the human ideals or good.

(ii) Difference of Nature:

Philosophy is purely a moral study while ethics, although a mental study, affects practical life.

(iii) Difference of basis:

The basis of philosophy is reason and logic. Ethics is centered on man’s activities. It lays greater emphasis on the volition aspect than on the knowledge aspect.

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