Values, Ethics, Morals and Attitude

Ethics, Values, Morals and Attitude

This article deals with the topic titled ‘ Ethics, Values, Morals and Attitude .’ This is part of our series on ‘Ethics’. For more articles, you can click here.

What are Ethics, Values, Morals and Attitude?

What are  Ethics, Values, Morals and Attitude

The whole of the syllabus and paper revolves around four-terms i.e.

  1. Ethics
  2. Values 
  3. Attitude 
  4. Morals 

First, we will define the terms Ethics, Values, Morals and Attitude.

Why is it important to learn about these four topics? The simple answer is that attitudes, values, ethics and Morals are mental constructs that guide our behaviour. They are responsible for influencing our choices, guiding our decision making and directing our behaviour. 

How are EVMA interrelated?

Relationship between Values, Morals, Ethics and Attitude

1. Value

  • Value is the worth & importance we (as individuals or society) allocate to something.
  • They are general determinants of behaviour (i.e. they are not specific determinants of behaviour). In simple words, the value of a person doesn’t guarantee their behaviour. 
  • However, values are not tied to any specific object (e.g. value of peace isn’t tied to any object and is intangible).
  • Values help in determining the preference in life.
  • They form the basis for ethics and morality.

2. Attitude

  • When Values are objectified (i.e. tied to an object), they become Attitudes. In other words, Attitudes are values applied to specific objects.
  • It refers to a positive or negative reaction to an object/event/people or ideas. 
  • Attitudes are specific predictors of behaviour. (ExplanationIf we have a choice between knowing an individual’s values and attitude, which will we prefer to know to predict an individual’s behaviour? The answer is attitude. E.g. Sham Values peace but has Anti -Pakistan Attitude. In this case, he will not mind war against Pakistan.)
  • It determines the readiness of the psyche to act or react in a certain way.

3. Morals

  • Morals are values held by an individual which help him in distinguishing between right and wrong.
  • They determine the character of individuals.
  • There are two things in it.
    • They are held by an individual.
    • They help a person distinguish between right and wrong.
  • Note – all values don’t help in determining right and wrong. For example,
    • Beauty as value: If some person is not beautiful, it willn’t be considered right or wrong. Hence, the concept of morality doesn’t apply here.
    • Honesty as value: If someone is not honest, it will be considered wrong. Hence, the concept of morality applies here.
  • The fundamental force driving morals is conscience & ego-ideal.

Note: Conscience is our inner voice about ‘don’ts’. Inner voices about ‘do’s’ are called Ego-ideal.

  • Conscience: Inner voice that guides our actions and prevents us from wrongdoings.
  • Ego-ideal: Goals that are cherished and, therefore, should be pursued.

4. Ethics

  • Ethics are values held by society as a whole and help distinguish between right and wrong.
  • They determine the norms of the society.
  • What is not ethics?
    • Ethics is not religion, as many people are atheists, but ethics applies to everybody.
    • Ethics is not following the law. Law may have difficulty in designing or ​enforcing standards in some important areas and may be slow to address new problems. For ​example, marital rape is not illegal. However, it is considered unethical.
  • Something that started as moral can become ethical.
    • Example of Raja Ram Mohan Roy – His personal belief was that Sati represented a crime against women. However, the practice of Sati at that time was Ethical and societal norm. Hence, Raja Ram Mohan Roy was guided by his morals at that time. He made efforts and convinced the whole society to accept that value. Society gradually changed and accepted that Sati was wrong, making it unethical. 
  • Something Ethical can become Moral too.
    • Suppose I am a government doctor and have a moral position that I will not treat those male patients who commit atrocities against women. But ethics say that doctors must treat all persons who come to them for treatment. Hence, if I refuse to treat them, there will be complaints against me and a threat of suspension if I continue with this behaviour. Under pressure, I would start treating male patients with moral guilt each time I treated them. But gradually, I will either alter my morality or quit the job because a person can’t continue living with such moral guilt. 

However, one should not equate being ethical to whatever society accepts. An exception can occur when society or its influential section becomes ethically corrupt. For example, Nazi Germany, where the genocide of Jews was not considered wrong. Similarly, the caste system in India has continued through millennia because of the approval of influential members of society.

Comparison: Ethics vs Morals

Parameters Ethics Morals
What is it? Ethics are values held by society as a whole and help distinguish between right and wrong. Morals are values held by an individual which help him in distinguishing between right and wrong.
Sources External (i.e. Societal Norms) Internal (i.e. Internal Values)
Why do we follow? Because society says that it is the right thing to do. Because we believe in something being right or wrong.
What if we deviate? This might lead to social ostracization. This might lead to a feeling of guilt or remorse.
Flexibility Since it is a collective proposition, it is generally objective. Morals are highly subjective as they vary from person to person.

Note: Value and Judgement


The value will always have an element of judgement in it, but that judgement may not always be in the form of right and wrong. For example,

  1. Truth: In this judgement regarding right and wrong can be made. 
  2. Art: A person can judge whether art is more soothing or less soothing to the senses. But we can’t make a judgement about whether art is right or wrong. (MF Hussain made the same point that morality and ethics don’t come in the judgement of art because, in art, we can’t say this is right or wrong. While we can say I don’t like that art, but can’t say it is wrong art). 

Other Concepts

1. Beliefs

  • Beliefs are the ideas & viewpoints held by a particular individual or group.
  • They consist of true and verifiable facts as well as fables, myths, folklore and superstition. 
  • They are important because they give us hope. 
  • Beliefs lay the foundation of a cultural group. They are often invisible to the group that holds them.  
  • However, beliefs can be challenged, and peripheral beliefs can also be changed.

2. Norms

  • Norms are social expectations that guide behaviour.
  • Non-conforming to norms attracts punishment. Punishment may be in the form of being looked down upon, derision, boycott, imposing penance, etc. Hence, norms are a form of social control or social pressure on an individual to conform, induce uniformity and check deviant behaviour. 
  • In the later stage, when society decides to codify these norms, they become law.

Determinants of Ethics

Ethics and Morals are not universal. They vary according to region, time etc. Major determinants of Ethics are

  • Religion: Religious textbooks deal with questions about how an individual should behave and society should be. E.g., In Jainism, Non-Veg is unethical, while in Islam, there is no such restriction.
  • Culture: Values vary with cultures. Eg: Western cultures = Individualistic | Indian = Universalism and Multiplicity 
  • Law & Constitution: The law and constitution often incorporate ethical standards to which most citizens subscribe. 
  • Leadership: The leadership of a society or an organization, or a nation also helps to determine the conduct of its followers or admirers. For example, democratic, liberal, secular, and tolerant tradition has been the gift makers of modern Indian society. 
  • Philosophies: Various philosophers and thinkers subscribe to different sets of ethics. 
  • Geography: Brahmins of West Bengal eat fish (a non-veg diet) as geography dictates them to eat fish to survive
  • Economic Factors: profiteering is considered unethical in communist societies, while profit is considered ethical in capitalist societies.

Dimensions of Ethics

It should be seen from two aspects

1. Indian

  • Ashrama Dharma: According to this philosophy, life is divided into 4 Ashramas, and the conduct and behaviour of a person should be according to those Ashramas. These 4 Ashramas are 
    • Brahmacharya Ashrama: A person should focus on learning in this phase
    • Grihastha Ashrama (Family Phase): A person should focus on fulfilling familial obligations. 
    • Vanaprastha Ashrama: A person renunciates his worldly occupations. 
    • Sanyasa Ashrama: A person gives up his worldly possessions and devotes himself to spiritual matters.

Behaviours in line with this ashrama corresponding to the age of the person are considered Ethical.

  • Varna Dharma
    • The Varna Dharma states that people belonging to different Varnas should follow their prescribed duties.
    • But it doesn’t conform to the modern principles of equality and freedom. 

2. Western

  • Normative Ethics / Prescriptive Ethics: It concerns ‘what we ought to do’ and provides criteria and principles for deciding right and wrong. It is of two types. 
    • Teleological / Consequentialist: It looks at the end (consequences) for deciding right or wrong. E.g.: Utilitarianism / Hedonism 
    • Deontological: It looks at means instead of end while deciding right or wrong Eg: Kant’s Categorical Imperative, Gita’s Nishkama Karma etc.
  • Descriptive / Comparative Ethics: The study of the moral beliefs and practices of different peoples and cultures in various places and times.
  • Meta-Ethics: It looks at the origins and meaning of ethical principles. Metaethics does not answer the questions of right or wrong. E.g., Integrity is Ethical Principle. Meta-Ethics will look into what it means to be a person with integrity. 
  • Virtue Ethics: It is person rather than action based. According to this approach, a virtuous person always does the right thing. It guides the sort of characteristics a reasonable person should seek to achieve. These characteristics include justice, fortitude etc.
  • Applied Ethics: It is part of ethics which attempts to analyze the ethicality of real-life controversial situations such as war, animal rights, capital punishment, euthanasia, whistle-blowing, media ethics, International Ethics etc

Aligning Ethics, Values, Morals and Attitude with each other and Behaviour

The main thing to note is 

  • Our Ethics, Values, Morals and Attitude should align with each other.
  • Our Behaviour should be in line with each one of them. 

Why should Ethics, Values, Morals and Attitudes be in line with each other?

  • It is required that Ethics, Morals, Values and Attitude are aligned with each other. If they are not aligned, it will leave a person with immense confusion and emotional turmoil, and he willn’t be able to make decisions easily. Hence, the more aligned they are, the more peace and tranquillity a person will have. 

Side Topic: Behaviour

  • Behaviour is anything which a person does and can be observed.
  • All the behaviours are the product of heredity and the environment (in which he lives)

 B= Heredity X Environment 

Some behaviours are more hereditary and less environmental, and vice-versa.

Why should the behaviour be in line with Ethics, Values, Morals and Attitude?

  If both are not aligned, it will result in 
If a person’s values are not in line with behavior  Conflict
If a person’s attitude is not in line with behavior Dissonance
If a person’s morals are not in line with behavior  Guilt
If a person’s ethics are not in line with behavior Social Isolation & Social Ostracization

All of them have one thing in common: they are Aversive States (a state which you dislike). Therefore, the effort is not to have inconsistency. 

But often, inconsistency happens if we have justification for our behaviour. If we have justification, the aversion caused by inconsistencies will minimize, and a person will continue with those behaviours. 

Explanation for Inconsistency

  • Cost-Benefit Analysis: Humans take their actions based on the Cost-Benefit Analysis. A person shows behaviour if its benefit exceeds the costs involved. In ordinary conditions, the costs involved in showing deviant behaviour are emotional and mental, which generally overpower physical costs. Hence, a person goes with behaviour aligned with their Ethics, Values, Morals and Attitude. But when the physical costs are more than the emotional and social costs, a person shows inconsistency in their behaviour. 
  • Justification for behaviour: If somebody has justification for his behaviour, the person will show that behaviour even if it doesn’t align with his ethics, values, morals and attitude. For example, kings used to marry many women, which was immoral & unethical, but they still did. The reason was that they had justification for their behaviour, i.e. king had to marry many women to protect their subjects’ interests.

When to look for ethicality or morality in Action

  • If we want to look into the ethicality and morality of any action, it must first be Human Action.  
  • For any action to be Human Action, three essential conditions must be met. 

1. There must be some human knowledge of the consequences of that action.

  • E.g., If a child dips a mobile in water, one can’t check the ethicality of action because the Child had no knowledge about the consequences of his action.

2. Action should be done voluntarily, i.e. without compulsion.

  • If work is done under some compulsion, then ethics and morality don’t come into the scene. 
  • E.g., If somebody places a gun on your forehead and asks you to do something. In such a scenario, we shouldn’t judge the ethicality of action. 

3. There should be a presence of different choices 

  • There should be several choices to choose from. 

Hence, Freedom of Will should be present in such acts.

Questions on Ethics, Values, Morals and Attitudes

1. Are they static or dynamic?

  • These are neither static nor dynamic but RELATIVELY PERMANENT
  • Explanation: Dynamic and Static represent extremes. Dynamic means fastly changing, and Static means they hardly change. These things can change, but change comes very slowly.

Why are they Relatively Permanent?

  • Ethics, Values, Morals and Attitudes are the source of one’s identity (i.e. who one is). Individuals want them to be a stable identity. Hence, the idea of rapid change in these four things is out of the question. 
  • A person develops Ethics, Values, Morals and Attitude (EVMA) with a massive investment of time, cost and energy & to change them, one needs time, cost and energy as well. When these investments are required, people don’t change these things easily. 
  • There is guilt whenever there is a departure from the built-in ethics, values, morals and attitudes. 

Question: The environment changes very rapidly at times, but still, we find that Ethics, Morals, Values and Attitudes don’t change so rapidly. If Ethics and Morals are instruments that ensure our equilibrium with the environment, then how can we hold the belief that EVMA are Relatively Permanent, but the environment is changing?

  • Ethics, Values, Morals and Attitude (EVMA) are the basis of our identity. But we must keep in mind that a spectrum of behaviours can be conferment to a single EVMA. This fact helps the person adjust to the rapidly changing environment as one can decide which behaviour to display in a particular environment. 
  • Depending upon the environment, we can decide which behaviour we will display. E.g., Patriotism. Patriotism as a value can be defined as a collection of behaviours directed towards nation-building. 

Each one has the value of patriotism, but they show them in different behaviours permissible under the value of patriotism. 

In the context of defence services, patriotism demands readiness to lay down one’s life to protect the nation. According to you, what does patriotism implies in everyday civil life? Explain with examples. (Upsc ) (10 marks)

2. Are they Absolute or Relative?

  • Absolute: Ethics, Values, Morals and Attitude (EVMA) are context and situation-independent. They are always valid and apply to anyone, anywhere and anytime. E.g., honesty, integrity, justice, accountability etc.
  • Relative: Ethics, Values, Morals and Attitude (EVMA) depend on context and situation. They change with time, place and circumstances. 
Time With time, patriarchal values are losing their sheen in Indian culture.
Place If a person migrates to the US from India, they must adopt certain American values to integrate into society.
Circumstances For example, even those who are against capital punishment can support hanging in certain heinous cases. E.g., Nirbhaya Case when people across the spectrum supported the hanging of those who committed the heinous crime.
  • There is no exact answer to the above question. Some scholars believe in absoluteness, and others believe in relativeness. But the way human beings generally are, they operate in relative terms.
  • Moreover, the absolute school overlooks the need to respect diversity and the view that the consequence of an act is also a factor in deciding the ethicality of that act. Telling a lie is unethical, but in cases where ordinary Germans lied to the Nazi officials to save the life of Jews can’t be considered unethical or immoral.  
  • But relativism school can also be challenged because, in this school, there is no common framework for resolving moral disputes or for reaching an agreement on ethical matters among members of different societies.

3. Whether they are culture-specific or universal?

  • They are both culture-specific as well as universal.
  • Some EVMA are universal, e.g. love, integrity, commitment etc. People of every culture would have these.
  • But some of them are culture-specific too. E.g., Some EVMA unique to Indian culture are 
    • Familial Obedience
    • Collectivism (western cultures value Individualism) 

4. Are they Subjective or Objective?

There are contrasting viewpoints wrt the values being objective or subjective. For example,

  1. According to Plato, values lie outside the individual and are not dependent on their perception or beliefs. Take the example of beauty. According to Plato, a beautiful person will look beautiful to everyone. 
  2. On the contrary, Protagoras believes in the subjectivity of values. According to Protagoras, all values depend upon the human observer. He refuted Plato’s claims by arguing that ‘beauty lies in the eyes of the beholder.’

Conclusion: Mostly, the values are subjective as individual differences occur wrt perception, understanding and judgement. Amidst the subjectivity of the values, there have to be some objective values which bind the individuals in society and avoid chaos in the society. These include values such as integrity, compassion etc.