Character is an attribute of a person that determines in what ways they are good or bad. In ethics, character is typically viewed as a collection of traits that either contribute to or detract from the moral worth and even the “dignity” of an individual. When we describe someone as having “high character,” it usually means that they are responsible, trustworthy and conscientious. They do not indulge in behavior that could be harmful to themselves or others such as excessive drinking, rampant gambling or promiscuous sex. It also implies they can be counted on to stand up for their family members, friends and community with integrity and honesty; this may include being willing to take personal risks such as quitting their job where serious abuse is happening for example.
What are Ethics?
Ethics is a form of moral philosophy and concerns how people ought to live in a society. It is very specific as it regards the choices an individual makes and the consequences that arise from their decisions. In other words, ethics are concerned with everyday actions of the people which have a direct impact on themselves and those around them.
Ethical decisions are sometimes based on personal opinions or perspectives but can also be based on values, morals, religious beliefs and cultural backgrounds. Ethics should not be confused with morality even though morality is an important aspect of being ethical. Morals deal with right and wrong behavior while ethics deal with right or wrong conduct.
Character and Three Major Approaches to Ethics:
Character-based ethics is most often associated with the major approaches to ethical theory, which include: Virtue ethics, deontology and consequentialism.
Virtue ethics is an approach based on the idea that morality is about cultivating certain character traits such as courage, justice and wisdom. Aristotle is often thought of as one of the first philosophers to discuss virtue. He believed that happiness could be obtained by practicing good habits such as generosity, courage and truthfulness.
So, if a person has a high degree of these virtues then this will reflect well on their character. In contrast they will be regarded as moral when they show a lack of these virtues: for example greed, cowardice or deception.
Deontology is an approach that grounds ethical decisions in the character of the agent. It is based on a concept of moral perfection or a certain “final end” to which all actions should be directed. The specific idea is that if an agent has the character traits associated with a particular virtue then they will act in accordance with that principle or deontological rule, for example justice (i.e., doing what is just). Likewise, if they do not have those traits then their actions will be contrary to it.
Consequentialists view morality as essentially based on the promotion of well-being. In other words, right acts are those that will produce the best consequences, i.e., those that are most likely to bring about the greatest balance of good to bad states of affairs. In essence this means any action that is not explicitly anti-moral is permissible or even required if it is part of a process which results in the best.
Moral vs. Non-moral Character:
So, in the sense that character refers to the perceived moral worth of a person then it is a non-moral value. Generally, character is used to refer to moral qualities such as honesty and integrity which are usually thought of as being based on a code of behavior or moral precepts.
Consequently, then when we talk about someone’s character we really mean their morality or their ethical qualities. To discuss character as part of ethics is to talk about the way they live their life whether they are good or bad because they act in conformity with these qualities exemplified by virtues such as courage, justice and generosity.
Character-based ethics also sees a person’s character as being important because they may be responsible for their own character. Responsibility will only apply when an agent can control the action, have a reason for doing it, and have some control over their ability to do it.
The possession of strong character traits is considered to be a sign of individual responsibility. In this case, the quality of one’s character can be used to determine the level of one’s moral responsibility. If someone has high levels of honesty, courage and justice then they are more than likely to act morally than if they possessed no such qualities.
It is obvious that a person who significantly lacks ethics would not be viewed as having any degree of responsibility for or accountability for their actions.
This quick guide provides a very brief overview of ethics and what is meant by moral character. With this knowledge it should be possible to make a more informed judgement on any particular issue requiring ethical consideration or decision-making. It makes sense to look at character with regard to ethics because when we consider what makes an act right or wrong, we tend to focus on the motivation behind it and whether it is done out of self-interest or for the common good.