Ethics is a set of standards that society places on itself. They guide individual's behaviour, choices and actions as a member of the society. Ethics are derived from various sources, including religion, traditions and customs.
Important sources of ethics include:
• Religion: Religion is the most important source of ethics, as religious teachings often prescribe what is right and wrong and society subscribes to such norms.
o Eg. Hindu philosophy of "Sarva Dharma Sambhava" and principle of non-violence in Jainism/Buddhism had a profound influence on Indian society.
• Traditions: Practices that are handed over from generation to generation become part of societal standards.
o Eg. Respecting the elders has been traditional in our society.
• Family: Family is the fundamental unit of the society and they establish certain standards for a functioning society. A child is first educated about ethical norms in family.
o Eg. Most humans assimilate certain ethical standards via the family itself, like non-stealing, humility etc.
• Human conscience: Conscience helps a man to differentiate between good and bad, and certain standards for society are acceptable for all conscientious men.
o Eg. Being truthful or protecting the environment..
• Government laws: Sometimes, certain standards are imposed on the society through laws, which over time are accepted by society and forms part of its ethical system.
o Eg. Government prohibition of practices like sati and permitting of widow remarriage encouraged the society to incorporate their prohibition in societal standards.
• Role Models and Philosophers: They inspire people and help in societies discovering or assimilating new virtues.
o Eg. Role Models like Mahatma Gandhi and Ambedkar have stood against social evils and set examples of bringing changes in ethical norms.
Societies are dynamic, as are its ethical standards and the sources of these ethical standards. But these various sources help in creating a system of ethics, some universal and static and some dynamic, to help humans live as members of the society.