Where Did Ethics Come From?

Ethics is a branch of philosophy concerned with how humans should live, and what should be considered right and wrong. The word originates from the ancient Greek word “ethos,” but the concept is much older, with every society possessing its own code of ethics, according to the Encyclopaedia Britannica.

The Encyclopaedia Britannica explains that every society has an origin story with an accompanying code of ethics. One well-known example is that of Moses being presented with the Ten Commandments. For many in Western culture, these commandments have shaped their government and system of law. What separates the civilized from the uncivilized in history is system and code to live by. Few would consider cavemen lifestyle as an outline for how to construct a system of government, but looking to Plato’s Republic, written in 380 B.C., is reasonable.

The modern world has a much more complicated look at ethics than older societies. This complexity can be understood by our expanded understanding of the natural world. Pëtr Kroptkin, a Russian philosopher, tried to look at and assess human behavior apart from ethics. If humans were to act without concern for ethics, we would act solely to serve ourselves. With ethics, modern society can operate in cooperative manner, allowing those with more resources to assist those without. While the origin of ethics remains unclear, it is well agree that without it, humanity would work in a vastly different manner.