There is, of course, a relation between law and ethics. In certain circumstances, law and ethics will overlap: what is perceived to be unethical will also be illegal. However, in other situations, law and ethics do not overlap - and, in fact, they may even be far apart. In some cases what is deemed to be unethical will be legal and in others, what is illegal may be perceived as ethical. Behavior that may be perceived as ethical to one person or a group may be perceived as unethical by another. The rule of law is important so that individuals and entities can govern themselves legally - but, whether their conduct is ethical often is a different question. Let's examine some of the differences in law and ethics.
First, some basics: law is a consistent set of rules that are published, accepted and, generally, enforced. Laws can set forth ways in which persons and entities are required to act in their relations with others in society and they often set forth requirements to act in a certain way or not to act in a certain way. Governments establish laws and governments can use their police powers to enforce the laws. Finally, the laws generally are universal in nature, applicable to everyone with similar characteristics facing the same set of circumstances.
Ethics comes from the Greek word ethos (which means the characteristics of a culture, era or community as seen in its beliefs and aspirations). Ethos also involves habit or custom and, generally together, character and habit combine to define how individuals should choose to interact with each other and with society. Ethics attempts to define what is good for the individual and for society. Ethics also seeks to establish a set of duties that persons owe to themselves and to one another. Note: There is a difference between ethics and morality. Morality generally refers both to the standards of behaviors to which individuals are judged, as well as the standards of behavior to which individuals, in general, are judged in relationships with others. Ethics encompasses a system of beliefs that supports a particular view of morality. Let's examine the relationship between law and ethics and in particular that relationship in the business world.
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