Ethics can be used to showcase to several meanings. At times it is regarded as a set of standards that determine what is right or wrong as determined by a group of people with the intention of imposing it on the people of certain groups as a way of regulating and establishing limits upon their behavior. As a philosophical discipline, it usually includes the study of guidelines and values and the justification of these guidelines and values (Dickens, 2013). The paper contains a brief history of ethics and an explanation of four categories of ethical theories; normative, relativist, theoretical and Universalist.

The reflection on ethics code commenced with the Greek Sophists during the 15th century BCE. Protagoras was among the earliest individuals that defended moral relativism at the expense of denying the existence of objective moral truth. He established that “whatever the city establishes as just, is just for that city as long as it judges so”, in Plato’s Theaetetus (Dickens, 2013). Later, individuals such as Callicles established a contrast between laws of nature and moral laws as human conventions. Such notions seemed to provide fuel for Plato’s, Aristotle’s and Socrates’ philosophical thought. Much of Socrates’ work revolved around examining people’s virtues. He believed that presence of virtues was vital for an individual to lead a happy and good life. Plato, on the other hand, held the belief that being moral was more of an individual’s own self-interest. Aristotle’s basic thought, on the other hand, argues that happiness or living well is dependent on people perfecting their natural endowments (Dickens, 2013).

Theoretical Ethics

This category of ethics has a preference for appraising internal consistencies of ethical systems.  It seeks to attain a deeper understanding of the nature of ethical statements, properties, judgments and attitudes. In theoretical ethics, the nature of questions addressed are like “what is goodness?” The theory tries to explain to people on how they can differentiate something which is bad, and that which is deemed as being good. As a starting point, theoretical ethics addresses the most basic insights about morality. This makes it to operate at a more fundamental level compared to normative ethics. Instead of purely telling people what to do or not, it gives reasons as to why that should be so.

Normative Ethics

This category of ethics is more concerned with defining what is regarded as being morally wrong or right. There is a formulation of rules, which have implications for what human institutions, actions and ways of life ought to be like. Ascertaining how moral basic standards are justified and arrived at is the central question in this category of ethics. Normative ethics have an effect on our lives at all levels including interpersonal, personal, environmental and social. It gives people practical norms or guidelines, which are applicable in real life situations (Dickens, 2013). A good example of a set of moral guidelines is the professional code of ethics that is found in various disciplines.


Relativist theories assert that there are no given independent moral values. Morality is more of a phenomenon that is developed by humans. Due to this reason, it can vary at any particular time and from one individual to another. On most occasions, morality is dependent on the people’s culture. Simply put, whether something is wrong or right is dependent on the moral norms of that particular society. A given action might be wrong in one society, yet it is right in another society.


This category of ethical theories maintains that there are moral values which are universal and apply to all humans. This theory contradicts the relativist theory since it believes that morality is discovered, and not created by humans (Dickens, 2013). The diagnosis of what is right or wrong emanates from principles that exist independently from society’s or individual’s opinion.

The most relevant theory in my life from the list provided above is relativist ethics. I like traveling, and in is so doing, I will normally find myself in different parts of the world. It is quite important to know that what is considered right in one area might be considered as being wrong in another area. This creates the need for learning what is expected of me while in different places. This is more like the law on how it is different in various jurisdictions.

In conclusion, ethics is a concept that has existed for many years. All along, different people have said different things regarding ethics. This has resulted to the development of varying theoretical principles. All seem to make sense based on the way they have been expressed. It is upon the people to choose the theory that they think suits them best.



Dickens, J. (2013). Social work, law and ethics. London: Routledge.

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