Sample Political science Discussion Essay Assignment on Introduction and Ethics

Politics & Ethics: Introduction


Welcome to Week 1.

This week, we will begin our lesson with an overview of what ethics is, how we think about it in general, and some of the logic behind it.  The origins of ethics are also lightly discussed, though there is obviously a plethora of information on this subject and an entire course could be written about it alone. As we walk through ethics in order to set the platform for the remainder of the course, we will also consider what politics has to do with ethics.

Course Objective(s):

CO1: Explain from where ethics and politics originate

Topics of Discussion:

  • What ethics is, its origins, and how it relates to morals and the public

Key Learning Concepts:

  • Definition of ethics
  • Origins of ethics
  • Modern challenges

Introduction Discussion Requirement:

The Introduction Discussion topic serves as your official entry into the course. The Introduction Discussion must be submitted by 11:59 p.m. ET on Sunday the first week of the course to maintain your course enrollment. Students who do not post to this discussion before this deadline will be automatically dropped from the course. There are no exceptions to this requirement.

Learning Material

The Learning Material section contains the weekly lesson along with readings, videos, and other material that conveys this week’s topics.

WEEK 1 – Politics & Ethics: Introduction

  • The History Of Western Ethics
  • Political Science and Ethics
  • Ethics in Politics
  • A Short History of Ethics : A History of Moral Philosophy from the Homeric Age to the 20th Century

Introduction: Ethics & Politics

I.  What is Ethics?

The age-old question asking what ethics is exactly could be pondered forever.  According to Merriam-Webster, the simple definition is: “An area of study that deals with ideas about what is good and bad behavior:  a branch of philosophy dealing with what is morally right or wrong.” This definition certainly embodies the Judeo-Christian perspective and is our primary focus for the purpose of this course.

Ethics is the moral compass that guides people through life; we instinctively know in most cases when we are doing something “wrong” or illegal – at a minimum, something that is questionable at best. However, it’s not uncommon that the line can be convoluted leaving us in the proverbial “grey” area pondering our next action. Not all actions are illegal, but are they moral? Is it the right thing to do? Is that innate compass in our being divinely inspired as thought by Plato in his work, Euthyphro?

One cannot long ponder ethics without realizing there is a philosophy involved as well.  It is a way of thinking that brings a lack of clarity to the question of ethics. A philosophy of morals is the cousin of ethics.  For example, would it be ethical to allow a child to drown when swimming is prohibited?  Technically, perhaps so in the sense of what is right or wrong legally, but what is moral?  After all, it is illegal to swim, but what is the “right” thing to do? We instinctively understand that it would be the wrong behavior to allow a human being to drown, in spite of the law.  Let us further consider the ethics and morality of war. It is wrong to kill. We ethically understand that it is wrong to kill other humans, but morally, we also understand that it may be the only alternative to ensure that a higher purpose or “right” objective is achieved. This thinking must also acknowledge that might doesn’t make right. Most Nazis believed that they were answering the call of some greater “good” as well.  Napoleon and so many other notorious leaders throughout history genuinely thought that their struggles were consistent with some greater good. It didn’t make them ethical or moral.

So it is that we ask – who decides what is ethical or moral? Is something right because a deity proclaims something so?  The Bible tells us that God handed the Ten Commandments down to Moses.  Were these not a set of moral codes or dictates by which man was to live?  But, an atheist says, I’m ethical and moral, and I do not believe in a Creator. Is this possible? Can one be of “good” character without acknowledging a divine being’s declaration of what is just and good?

These questions will be analyzed throughout this course from a variety of angles and case studies. Students will not likely walk away with a clear sense of what is right or wrong specifically, but with a better understanding of a philosophy that is ethical and moral.

Where did the Study of Ethics Originate?

Since man gained a sense of perspective or reflection of one’s own mortality, a sense of right and wrong evolved as well.  We see animals fight over a killed animal for food, or one species eat the eggs or babies of another species. Animals have a “fight or flight” instinct that drives their quest for survival of the fittest. That is not to say that positive social behavior among the various groups of animals does not exist, but there is a difference between even prehistoric humans and animals. Humans are not built quite the same way. Humans do have a “fight or flight” instinct and we do certainly possess a primal instinct for survival, but it is also in our nature not to take what is not ours or to share our food and possessions. Animals do not necessarily follow that which isn’t instinctive.  Humans, however, have the ability to reason and reflect, even from the earliest stages of our existence.

In spite of this ability to reason and reflect, different human cultures certainly possess a difference in ethics and morals.  One group of humans in a prehistoric setting would have no problem with cannibalism while another group mourns death and ritualistically bury their dead, thus, each culture believes itself to behave ethically.

The first formal historical records began appearing over 3,000 years ago in ancient Egyptian society – long before Judeo-Christianity appeared.  However,  Ancient Greece is where Western philosophical ethics emerged with Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle, eventually finding its way into the Roman culture.This was followed by Christian ethics and the New Testament.  This is not to say that other forms of ethics didn’t evolve in India and Asia, for example. For the purposes of our studies, we are focusing on Western ethics.

It wouldn’t be until Peter Abelard (1079-1142), a French philosopher and theologian, that the first serious development in ethical theory would emerge.  Abelard’s contention was that ethics is a reflection of intentions. To think of doing wrong is not the same as acting on that impulse.2

Ironically, the Greek writings in Latin were not available in translation to the Western cultures until after the 12th century.  St. Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274) would be one of the benefactors of this and went on to become one of the most influential of the Scholastic philosophers of that age.  Aquinas’ teachings would be informally acknowledged as the philosophy of the Roman Catholic Church, embracing Aristotle’s contention that all is connected with happiness, but adding that this happiness would be found with God.  Moreover, Aquinas advocated a “natural Law” ethic; however, not as it appears upon initial glance.  What this means is that contrary to the thinking that a God determines what is right or wrong, that instead, morality is derived from human nature and actions consistent with that. By virtue of this thinking, it is the result of natural law ethics that we can understand right and wrong through reason and reflection.

Today Aquinas’ view on ethics holds steady, though much of modern society is ground in Judeo-Christian law with respect to what is right and wrong.  Times are changing and with it, is social acceptance of what is right and wrong.

[1] The History of Western Ethics.  “Ancient Greece.” 2016

[2] ibid.

What does Ethics have to do with Politics?

Groups of people around the world have, at some point, found themselves at the doorstep of politics.  As societies and cultures evolved, so did the social expectations of behavior.3 What is acceptable? What is not?  Who decides?  These are but some of the questions that are soon presented to the leaders of these social groups – and politics is born. This is an essential ingredient to activity among different tribes or clans, etc. Upon this foundation, societies are born based on social acceptance and soon, a set of laws are born as well in the midst of conflicting interests among its members.

Along with politics, soon come a number of problems to be resolved:  corruption within the political system, discrimination, wage inequality, taxes and tax disputes, etc.  This is not to say that all politics is “bad” or unethical or immoral. Many great things happen for societies as a result of politics, but at a certain point, like most things, there will be people who will act unethically or without morals. In order for politics to be successful or at least acceptable to the society that it purports to support or serve, there must be a mutual trust of politicians and the “system” of the body politic. Without this fundamental ingredient, the society cannot harmoniously survive; this is particularly true for democracies, as politics in the sense that we’re discussing, is not really present as we know it in a communist society or under a dictator.

Ethics in politics is usually present where there are four factors present:4

  • Limited power
  • Efficiency
  • Accountability
  • Justice

Without the aforementioned characteristics, we cannot truly have an ethical or moral presence within that political structure.

[3] Garner, James W. “Political Science and Ethics,” The University of Chicago Press, International Journal of Ethics, Vol 17, no. 2 (Jan 1907): 194-204.

[4] Girardin, Benoit, “Ethics in Politics.” Globalethics.netFocus no. 5 (2012). 1-21; 27; 33-59.

Does Ethic in Politics Matter?

Of course, ethics in politics does matter for a variety of reasons. Without politics nationally and even geopolitically, there would not be cohesion among societies; peace after war, environmental needs acknowledged, human rights established, agricultural needs addressed, or energy needs, for example, would not be efficiently met. The societal trust would break-down, and thus the cohesion of that system would break down and could possibly even affect peripheral societies where ethics in politics thrives.

With the exception of Machiavelli, every great or notable philosopher since Plato recognized the correlation between public activity (politics) and ethics.5 Without this marriage, organized society would degrade and advances in the human condition would stall. Without this marriage there would be no public trust and, again, the human condition would stall or degrade.  A review of scientific thought demonstrates “a practical unanimity” in the dependency between the two. Both are concerned with the condition of man; that is to say, the happiness or “good” of man is being served, thus, improving the human condition or the state of the body politic.

[5] Garner, James W. “Political Science and Ethics,” The University of Chicago Press, International Journal of Ethics, Vol 17, no. 2 (Jan 1907): 194-204.

Politics and Ethics Today

Daunting is probably the best way to describe today’s state of ethics in politics. We have seen over the past century a number of alarming trends and issues emerge that merit social consideration.  We have seen two wars in Europe and the Pacific, Korea, Vietnam, and two wars in the Middle East, the latter of which is still on-going in many respects, trying to put an end to terrorism. We have seen any number of issues emerge that have been important parts of public discourse.

As society has evolved, it brought with it what to do about a variety of social issues. Though some issues, like public sanitation, are not controversial, people recognize and appreciate that we cannot have open sewers and uncontrolled drainage or the result will be disease and foul water supplies.  No controversy exists here. However, other social issues are not so easily resolved because they present moral and ethical challenges – second and third-order effects that bring equal controversy. For example, preserving the environment is certainly important, we want a clean environment but overkill negatively impacts our economy. Should we cut down no trees? How would we build houses? Should we not mine? We would not have coal and oil needed to drive our economy, heat and cool our homes, get to and from work. Even the production of electricity is primarily derived from the burning of coal and oil.

So where is the ethical middle? In other words, what is acceptable while still permitting a sense of morality in the decision to allow some degree of environmental damage in order to advance and sustain society? Should we not clear fields for agriculture? What impact might that decision have on food supplies? There are any number of issues that we will explore through case studies to consider some of the ethical challenges in politics.


Additional Reading

Garner, James W. “Political Science and Ethics,” The University of Chicago Press, International Journal of Ethics, Vol 17, no. 2 (Jan 1907): 194-204. Accessed May 1, 2016.

Girardin, Benoit, “Ethics in Politics.” Globalethics.netFocus no. 5 (2012).  Accessed May 1, 2016.

International Encyclopedia of Ethics, “Political Ethics.” The University of Harvard. p 1-7.  Accessed May 1, 2016.

MacIntyre, Alasdair. Routledge Classics: A Short History of Ethics: A History of Moral Philosophy from the Homeric Age to the 20th Century (2). Florence, US: Routledge, 2003. Ch 1, 2, 14, 18.  Accessed May 1, 2016.


 Introductions and Ethics & Politics

There are two parts in Week 1.

1) Introduce yourself. Tell us your major at APU/AMU, how long you’ve been taking online courses, where you are located, what you hope to learn from this class, or whatever you’d like to share. It’s your introduction.

Specific Instructions: It is essential that your initial post be at least 250 words and that it is submitted by 11:59 p.m., ET, on Sunday of Week 1. We use this first post to verify your enrollment and engagement. If your first post is less than 250 words or if it is not submitted within the deadline, you will be dropped from the course.

2) After reading the assigned readings for this week please address the following questions:

  1.    a) What is the concept of ethics?
  2.    b) What does ethics have to do with politics?