Ethical terms are very complicated and simple at the same time. More often than not, the
philosophical side of statements raises more questions than the one it answers. The alignment of
humans with a perceived outcome or simplicity of a statement often leads to mixed results when
asked as a question. Ethics are all about good and bad as well as whether impacts are only on
persons or more. One is considered good when they are aligned with what society considers
morally and socially acceptable or meant for the greater good should the strategy and tactics used
The temptation to draw lines as a way of defining ethical terms is real. Do people even
understand the definitions? It is easy to wander around with curiosity to understand the unspoken
definitions of good among people, but that will still not be all-inclusive. The general assumption
that most people understand the definitions of ethical terms should be re-evaluated because that
is far from true. The relevance of definitions of ethical terms and how people understand them is
addressed in this essay.
An effective answer to a question is only found when the question is clear. The definition
of ‘good’ as shown in Stevenson’s article (1937) on “The Emotive Meaning of Ethical Terms” is
not as simple for every person as it seems. Some people find it hard to define it because there is a
chance that one can be wrong. In such a case, a step back should be taken to ensure that those
attempting to answer the question understand the question’s parts and words. It is more likely
that there will be differences. This is because the understanding of good is relative just as is that
of right and wrong.
Ethics can be a very divisive subject to discuss in many different quarters. The main
reason behind this is the fact that there are many ways of defining ethics. In most cases, ethics
are defined by their underlying context or applicability. They are based on morality and social
norms that are also relative. Every person will define morals in a relatively similar way because
they are similar in many ways. Social norms are challenging because most of them are based on
people’s perceptions. The perception of a normal thing varies from one person to another and
thus necessary to standardize things.
Stevenson explains this difficulty using the definition of a good example. The methods he
uses to raise the issue of differences are simple; that “good” is defined differently by people, and
that differences are experienced virtually everywhere. The answers to questions are, in some
cases, not straightforward. That can be due to the subject not understanding the question(s) they
are asked. Stevenson pointed out that substituting words with simpler synonyms will
significantly impact the question’s overall comprehension. That is because the question is now
It is worth noting that substitution does not always lead to successful feedback. In most
cases, it deviates from the target and creates an alternate path. That alternate path complicates the
question’s understanding as it makes people answer the substitute question instead of the original
one. Careful consideration should be taken when treading the domain of ethics because of its size
and the need to represent it using facts.
One must ensure that the substitute statement does not introduce a new question or
change the meaning of the initial question. More issues towards the meaning of ethical terms
come to mind when all these elements and variables are considered. The main one is whether or
not the substituted question must relate with the original one. The main question and its
substitute statement should be related because one is a definition of the other, i.e., the substitute
defines the main question.
The perception of ‘good’ can be personal or representative of a group of people’s views.
A person’s views are always unbiased, authentic and true, and therefore one can only refer to
something as being good if it benefits them. Good refers to that which is desired by a person in
the personal case as per Thomas Hobbes philosophy. The various elements of good at a group
level indicate differences in the way people think and perceive things. For the context of a group,
‘good’ refers to that which is acceptable by many. This is consistent with David Hume’s moral
Stevenson goes further to note that the definition of ‘good’ can be classified into three
main classes. First, people must sensibly disagree on that which is good without ambiguity.
Secondly, goodness must have a ‘magnetism.’ The ‘magnetism’ in this context refers to the pull
an element X has on a person. One must be drawn to X for it to have the ‘magnetism.’ That
attraction and tendency to favor X should be from within. Lastly, the goodness of something
must not be solely verifiable by scientific means. It is worth noting that ethics must not be
defined by psychology; goodness should be unbound.
Drawing the philosophy of ‘good’ and goodness, as shown in Stevenson’s philosophy,
the three classes are valid and sensible. Definition of ethical terms should also be made along
these lines and philosophy. Ethics should be based on good and acceptable both morally and
according to the norms of society. The meaning of ethics and ethical terms has often been
misunderstood as part of an elaborate and complicated system. Ethical terms are a collection of
all the ‘good’ elements and goodness defined by societal norms. In some specific cases, it
defines the acceptable limits of compromise that can be taken by individuals and groups in daily
Ethics are moral principles and societal norms that dictate how people behave. People are
primarily wired to behave in ways that are acceptable in the eyes of others. They find a way to
co-exist with others by ensuring a compromise can be stricken on the elements they have little to
no similarities. People are different but still manage to live together, a classic example of the
shred that holds together the two sides. It is more about finding a balance from within and
manifesting it in a way that others operate at your wavelength.
Stevenson’s definition of good indicates that things are not always the way they seem to
be. Humans must strive to ensure they are as close as possible to what they need to carry on with
their daily operations. “Thus, ethical terms are instruments used in the complicated interplay and
readjustment of human interests.” (Stevenson, 1937). In this except, Stevenson’s noted that
‘good’ is defined differently and that everyone defined it as they perceive it. Ethical terms are
comparatively similar to ‘good’ when it comes to definitions.
Ethical terms and statements have a pull or force that draws one to try and understand
them. Trying to understand ethical terms needs close and careful evaluation. The use of
association and relative understanding of a person’s environment and surroundings is also key to
a better understanding of ethical terms. Terms can be defined in many ways that are different
and, in some cases, distinct.
It is common for differences to exist in the ways people define ethics. Even so, there is a
balance that can be stricken between inclusivity and applicability. Inclusivity is all about having
people contribute to the definitions of ethics and terms used in ethics. This aspect provides the
element of definition that involves as many people contributing. Doing this ensures that what is
written and decided as the main ethics are based on what most people agree on. Applicability is
all about what is logical, and that element is on the application end of ethical terms. Ethics
should be applied as the applicant understands them.
The definition of ethical terms is considered dynamic. They are also expected to change
in the ways they are applied. Substitute statements can be used in the original terms when
responding to ethical terms or definitions. Additionally, the substitutes are also used implicitly in
place of primary definitions of ethical terms.
In application, substitutes and original statements are used interchangeably if they are
clearly outlined in the ethics’ definitions. Defining ethical terms using interest theory is nearly
impossible if the definitions are to maintain the emotive meaning. At some point, the substitutes
may distort the emotive meaning and render the definitions inapplicable.
Stevenson, C. L. (1937). The emotive meaning of ethical terms. Mind, 46(181), 14-31.