What is the Relationship between Ethics and Politics?

The subject matter of politics is to describe the structure and function of the government. Politics prescribes laws for the citizens in order to regulate their conducts so that public good can be realized.

Man is not only a social being but also political beings. The individual and the state are inter dependent.

Political science determines the duty of the individual to the state and also duty for the state with regard to the individual. Rights and duties are maintained by the state and as such moral life is intimately connected with the political life.

Ethics and politics are intimately related. Both are normative sciences. Ethics aims at the supreme good of the individual whereas Politics aims at public good. Public good can be attained through individual good; therefore politics aims at the establishment of an ideal welfare state where more perfection of the citizens can be realized.

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Similarly individual good can be achieved through public good. Politics is a practical science but ethics is not. However, the influence of ethics on the practical life can not be ignored.

Again when we look back to the history of politics and ethics, we joined that in Plato’s time ethics and politics, were intimately related.

Aristotle, however, wrote two separate treaties on politics and ethics and thereby differentiated the scope of the subjects. There is of course a difference of opinion among the thinkers regarding the relation between ethics and politics.


Gandhi for example, advocates that a happy marriage should be instituted between politics and morality. High politics must have a moral base.

On the other hand, Machiavelli and Lather hold that politics has no connection with ethics. The will of the sovereign is law. The power must be exercised on the people at any cost of their own protection.

Hence, it need not have any connection with morality. Hobbes and his followers claim that good conduct is imposed by the state and therefore ethics is only a branch of politics.

Opinion differs regarding the relation between ethics and politics. In spite of these differences of opinion one thing is certain that there is a mutual dependence of ethics and politics Moral philosophers have tried to influence state politics.


Politicians in their turn have played an important role in changing the moral out look of the state. Grayeff points out that politicious have often influence moral views mainly through medium of opinion.

Infact, political leaders and thinkers like Karl Marx or Mao Tze Tung have been responsible for changing the moral religious and cultural out look of the state through their official philosophies.

The above point is strengthened by the fact that there are some concepts which are equally important both for the political thinker and the moralist. The concepts like justice, liberty, right duties etc. are located in the border areas of ethics and politics.

Of course the approaches to these concepts differ. While the politician says right implies duties, what he says is that it is purely out of the civic Sense that one must do something for others if he expects others to do something for him.

The moralist on the other hand, cannot impose any penalty nor does he recommend any penalty for the violation of norms. Hemerely defines what is right and does not approve of the act of taking away everything without doing anything for the society.

Though there lies some similarities between politics and ethics, still then there are some differences between the two.

Political philosophy is a study of the different forms of government and their operations. Politics compares the different forms of government and studies its constitutions in order to draw the picture of the best form of a government.

Ethics on the other hand is a study of a man, his character, intention, and desire etc. in order to assess his conduct. The scope of ethics in this sense is wider and altruistic.

Both ethics and politics are concerned with the ideas of duty, responsibility etc. The moral thinker makes a theoretical and analytical study in order to consider what responsibility is and what is not.

The politician also does the same job but the extra work that he does is to fix up responsibility and recommend the quantum of penalty on the wrong door. He does it for the smooth running of the government.

The moralist instills a sense of discrimination between right and wrong but can not recommend anything. The laws of the state are externally imposed upon the people but moral laws are self-imposed. Muirhead have correctly pointed out that you can not make men moral by acts of parliaments.

Politics is basically a descriptive and factual science as it studies functioning of government at the time of peace and war. Ethics studies the human conduct with reference to a particular norm. Thus it is a normative science. It studies what ought to be, not what actually occurs or what is the case.

The aim of politics is to attain public good or expediency at any cost. It gives more emphasis on the end not on the means always.

Barring a few exceptions like Gandhiji, who consider means to be important than the end, politicians in general aim at the end, that is the public good. The moralist on the other hand, aims at the moral excellence of the individual, with a view to set a standard before other people.

The aim of the moralist is that each man should be a better man. Thus the ‘good’ recommended by the moralists is the universal good, not mere public good. The authority of ethics is higher that of politics. In civilized modem states the political laws are grounded on ethical considerations which are nothing but the lateral will of the people.

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