When considering whether morals and ethics are character led decisions or social behavior, it’s important to consider what morals and ethics are. It is also important to consider the concept of personal character , what social behavior is and whether they are separate or interconnected.
The concept of morality and moral is concerned both, with principles of standards of behavior and also the content of personal character. So it certainly appears that morality is something that is both, within and without us. As a concept, morality is not something that is merely governed by individual character or social behavior.
For example,when considering the recent furore surrounding the MP’s expenses scandal in Britain, it is easy to see how the moral decisions of the individual are influenced by and also influence surrounding society. Many MP’s who were considered to have taken morally questionable decisions as regards their expenses,argued that they were working within the rules.
Many believed it was their moral right to behave as they did. Yet the electorate believed that this was morally wrong and as such called the moral judgment of MP’s into question. There have been far reaching consequences. The whole fabric of parliament is in the process of radical change. The whole framework of of expenses is to be changed because the morality of the current system is found to be wanting. Thus, the moral choices of individuals have been policed by the majority. In essence , this is an example as morality (or lack of it)being decided through a combination of character decisions and social behaviour.
Compared to the interconnected idea of morality, ethics seems to be a concept more exclusively governed by social influences. It is removed from the individual because it refers to a body of knowledge. The Oxford Dictionary (2008) refers to , “a moral principle or framework.”
A significant difference between ethics morals is that, It is possible to study ethics but not morals. When an individual undertakes a form of religious training, for instance, a study of ethics will form a important part of such training.This ethical training may be based on moral principles but they are principles that are decided by society at large.
Indeed arguably important religious texts such as The Bible, Qu’ran, Torah and Bhagavad ‘gita form an important frame work of ethics within society. Many use “The Ten Commandments” as an ethical framework . Even within the legal systems of largely secular countries, ethical systems are largely endemic and form significant parts of law making.
Yet once again an ethical framework cannot be only seen in terms of societally imposed behaviour. Most courses of ethical study,demand personal growth at their core. A Christian mystic,Buddist or Muslim sufi, will all encounter an ethical framework as part of their daily religious practise. This practise will demand discipline,Prayers and service to others amongst other things designed to promote personal growth.
I would argue that morals and ethics are both decisions of character and social behavior, as I believe that it is impossible to separate the conscience of the individual from societal expectations as a whole.Although there are slight differences between morality and a framework of ethics , neither can be attributed to merely character or society. The question is which came first? Like the chicken and the egg, I don’t know the answer.