What is the Relationship between Ethics and Philosophy?

Philosophy is a second order discipline. It is mainly concerned with the clarification of different concepts. This definition of philosophy is of course, a modem view. But in the past, the definition of philosophy was something different.

According to the past view or the traditional view philosophy is the study of reality. So philosophy is identified with metaphysics. ‘Meta’ means beyond and the concern it’s beyond the physical World is Metaphysics. These concepts are God, soul, mind etc.

Before explaining the relation of Ethics with philosophy, our alternation must be focused on Metaphysics for the easy understanding of the relation with philosophy.

Metaphysics studies the nature of ultimate reality and deals with the nature of the self, mind, matter as they are related to the ultimate reality.


Ethics is concerned with the nature of the highest good of the individual and while determining the value of moral action ethics has to consider the concepts like good, bad and right, wrong etc. It is to be noted here that the Tightness which a moral philosopher seeks to determine is not something relative, but absolute.

When we consider what is most valuable for us or what the highest good of human life is, we are to consider it from the stand point of the whole universe. So ethics is intimately related to metaphysics which studies the whole universe.

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Again, apart from the study of ideal or norms, ethics is also concerned with the study of the moral agent or the man. The moral agent is a man who acts voluntarily or freely. The important question for a moral philosopher is does a man always act freely or voluntarily.


In otherwords, whether the agent is free to make the choices or his activities are determined by external forces and laws. Freedom of will, which is a metaphysical problem, is the ground of morality. The conflict between determining and free will constitute an important study of ethics.

Ethics, again studies the nature of the self as to whether it is purely sensuous or rational or both. The nature of the self determines the nature of ethics. Moral philosopher is also concerned with the immortality of the self and deals with the problem of the life after death. It takes into consideration the gradual realization of moral ideal in life.

Again, it is sometimes believed that Virtuous persons are rewarded and vicious one’s punished.

But the question is who shall reward or punish the moral agents?


The belief in God as the external embodiment of moral perfection automatically comes in as the ultimate dispenser of justice.

Ethics again has also to discuss the relation of the individual to the society in pointing out the integral status of the individual in society. Ethics also considers the nature of the World to which the individual is related.

Morality presupposes a World which gives sufficient scope to the moral agent for realization of the moral values.

In this way, ethics is basically related to metaphysics in so far as it is concerned with the questions like the nature of the self. God, World freewill etc which are purely metaphysical problems. Though there is an intimate relation of metaphysics with ethics still there some differences between the two. Metaphysics is the science of ultimate reality which deals with nature, self and God. But as we have seen the scope of ethics is limited as it deals only with the human conduct.

Ethics attempts to determine the good of the individual while metaphysics deals with the cosmic good. Study of metaphysics is a theoretical one. Ethics though a theoretical study determines the” supreme good of man which has a positive influence on our practical life.

Now let us turn our attention how ethics is related to philosophy. Philosophy is a critical and analytical investigation into the concepts employed in the different fields of human thinking.

In this sense there are philosophies of religion, philosophy of morality etc. In this sense philosophy is a second order activity. Ethics on the otherhand, concerned with concepts like vice, virtue, crime, punishment etc. Of course ethics does not train a man to be moral since it is only a conceptual study. When there is a conflict between systems to belief or between different values, ethics helps us to study them in their proper perspectives.

However ethics is not merely a theoretical discussion of these norms, concepts or systems of belief. As long as ethics analyses and investigates into the nature of these concepts, it is also called philosophy. But it has to consider certain practical problems also. For example, when we discuss the significance of the theories like Niskama Karma of the Bhagavad Gita or the theory of maximum people we have entered into some practical problems. That is the only reason why Raphel distinguished between the function of philosophy and moral philosophy.

According to his own language, philosophy in fact has number of branches, but in my view these can be grouped into two main divisions the philosophy of knowledge and the philosophy of practice.

The philosophy of knowledge is concerned with the critique of assumptions about matters of facts and also with the critique of argument. It includes epistemology (the theory of knowledge), metaphysics, the philosophy of science, philosophical psychology, philosophy of mind and philosophical logic.

The philosophy of practice is concerned with the critique of assumptions about norms or values which are mostly practiced. It includes ethics social and political philosophy and the philosophy of law.

It is now clear that the problems of ethics are quite different from mere theoretical or scientific discussions. No doubtful philosophical, analysis sometimes helps us in choosing a particular form of moral life rather than the other. That is how ethics is helped by philosophy.

So also philosophy helps in clarifying our ideas about different ethical concepts like ‘Justice’, ‘good’, ‘liberty’ etc. Without philosophical discussion on these concepts there is every possibility of accepting what is wrong and rejecting what is right. Philosophy sharpens our argument and in this sense it is helpful to ethics. But it should not be expected that philosophy or moral philosophy can help us to solve practical problems.

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