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Meaning and Scope of Ethics

By User

Updated May 22, 2024


Meaning of Ethics

Ethics is a set of standards that society places on itself, which helps guide people’s choices, actions, and behaviour. Alternatively, ethics can be defined as:

  • The systematic study of human action from the point of view of their rightfulness or wrongfulness as a means for attaining the highest good.
  • The reflective study of what is good or bad in that part of human conduct for which humans have some responsibility.

Scope of Ethics

Ethics deals with human actions, not the mere actions of humans. Human actions are deliberate and involve knowledge, free will, and voluntariness, such as reading, running, and smoking. In contrast, involuntary actions like sneezing and yawning are not the primary concern of ethics.

The scope of ethics encompasses defining moral ideals and the standards to which our conduct should conform. It investigates the nature of human conduct and character, which is the settled habit of will and the permanent disposition produced by habitual actions. Ethics is often described as the science of character.

To understand character, ethics must explore the nature of actions, motives, intentions, and both voluntary and non-voluntary actions, thus forming a psychological foundation.

Ethical Questions

The fundamental problem of ethics is determining the nature of the moral ideal or standard for moral judgments. Ethics seeks to answer questions such as:

  • What is the good or the moral ideal?
  • What is the summum bonum or the chief good?
  • What makes an action right or wrong?
  • What is the nature, origin, and source of moral obligation?
  • To whom are we responsible for our conduct?

Ethics also examines the criteria of merit and demerit, investigating what makes an action meritorious or blameworthy.

Moral Judgments

Moral judgments are accompanied by moral sentiments like feelings of approval, disapproval, and remorse. Ethics discusses the nature of these sentiments and their relation to moral judgments, as well as the sense of duty or moral obligation that accompanies perceptions of right and wrong actions.

Ethics assumes human freedom and explores the nature of responsibility, providing moral justification for punishment and determining the nature and kinds of rights, duties, and virtues according to the ultimate moral standard.

Though ethics has its own scope, it intersects with psychology, philosophy, sociology, and politics. Ethical considerations influence various aspects of life, including the moral basis of laws, the ethical foundation of economics, and the moral aims of education.


Ethics, as the theory of morality, criticizes common notions of right and wrong, refines our understanding of moral ideals, and influences practical life decisions. It provides a foundation for evaluating human conduct and guiding actions towards the highest good.