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What is Ethics?

Ethics is a part of philosophy that develops a critical reflection on the behaviour of individuals and societies.

Where does the term ethics come from? It was Aristotle who invented the term ethics. He turned to a word that had a double meaning in Greek, ethos, which refers both to a person's character, the way a person relates to others, and to the society in which the person lives.

Ethics is not only about critically analysing this relationship, but also about being proactive. It is not just about saying what works and what does not, but also about making that person and that society give the best version of themselves. It therefore elaborates ideals of a good life or, in Aristotle's terms, of a happy life. 

How can we develop ethical reflection?

There are a number of tools and theoretical approaches that allow us to develop ethical reflection. The instruments are well known: values, rules, principles and virtues.

In terms of theoretical approaches, we can look at the intention of a person who is doing something. We can look at the action itself or at the consequences of that action. Ethical schools offer different points of view from which to analyse situations. 

Caring for ourselves and for the common good is the fundamental task of ethics and its aim to help us. In fact, our behaviour is not automatic, we decide it. Hence, we have to learn how we make those decisions in order to make good decisions and build good individuals and good societies.

Ethics encourages reflection and tells us why we have to do what morality says is good to do or is our duty. Therefore, ethics and morality are not the same thing, although there is sometimes confusion about these two terms.