1 What does ethics mean?

Before considering ethics in practice, let’s first reflect on what is meant by ‘ethics’.

Activity 1 Your definition of ethics

Timing: Allow about 5 minutes

Make brief notes in the box below on what you understand ‘ethics’ to mean. Try to write your own definition.

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There is no single definition of ethics. Moreover, another word, morality, is often used by writers to mean something similar. In this course, however, we use ethics to mean judgements about what is right and wrong and it is almost certain that your definition would have been close to this definition. Ethics can therefore cover anything that involves judgements about right and wrong – in both private reflection and relational work between people. A sense of right and wrong can be shaped between people in their everyday work and also in a more distanced, reflective sense by people thinking very carefully about situations.

When we use the word ‘morality’ we will mean an underlying system of belief that informs ethical choices. For example, a person can be a committed Christian, socialist, capitalist, aesthete (or a mixture of many of these and others). These moral commitments inform how one approaches ethical judgements about what is right and wrong. The course now moves on to consider how voluntary organisations can be led by their ethical purposes.

2 Leadership as purpose