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What Is an Ethical Issue?

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An ethical issue brings systems of morality and principles into conflict. Unlike most conflicts that can be disputed with facts and objective truths, ethical issues are more subjective and open to opinions and interpretation.

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What Is an Ethical Issue?
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Categories of Ethics

Philosophers divide ethics into three different categories. These include metaethics, normative ethics and applied ethics. Metaethics deals with the root source of our ethics, normative ethics involves defining right and wrong behavior and applied ethics is the discussion of ethics in light of issues that provoke controversy. It's necessary to consider all three types of ethics when diving into the topic of what constitutes an ethical issue, although applied ethics is the best example of ethical issues.

The Complexity of Ethical Issues

The problem with ethical issues, such as whether capital punishment should be allowed or the morality of euthanasia, is that there generally is no single accepted answer. These ethical issues are hotly debated because the answer often comes down to personal opinion or philosophy. Ethics can give more than one answer, and sometimes that answer is not universally correct. For example, capital punishment is an ethical issue that is difficult to discuss. Should people have the power to decide whether other people should live or die according to the severity of their crimes? And if so, what exactly is the tipping point at which people can, or should, be sentenced to death? These questions require one to consider what is right and what is wrong, as well as the responsibility of others to keep people accountable for their actions.

Diving into Ethical Issues

Ethical issues are often at the center of the debate when it comes to social issues. Ethical guidelines can come from personal philosophy, religion and government. These issues also carry serious weight and consequences, which in turn adds more fuel to the debate. Abortion, for example, is a hotly debated topic. On one side of the argument, people believe that a fetus is a person with rights, regardless of how many weeks it has been since it's been conceived. On the other hand, groups believe that a fetus is not a person until it has reached a certain number of weeks of development. Just as in the case when discussing capital punishment, when it comes to matters of life and death, the moral and ethical guidelines can become blurred depending on one's belief system, upbringing, education or personal philosophy.

Ethical Issues In Different Industries

Each industry has its own set of different ethical issues that it must grapple with. For example, in the world of business, there are ethical issues that arise when considering business decisions, discrimination in the workplace and contracts. In education, there are ethical issues such as grading and the achievement gap. The medical industry is rife with ethical issues, which range from stem-cell research to the right to choose certain types of treatment. Because ethical issues have so many differing points of view, it's important to consider all sides before making up one's mind. Additionally, different states enact laws that may or may not contradict federal laws that grant people specific rights that revolve around ethical issues. For example, there are several states, including Oregon and Washington, that have legalized physician assisted deaths. However, it is illegal in other parts of the country where the lawmakers and citizens deem it ethically wrong to allow this practice.

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