It is a very important Question that; ” What is conduct in ethics; or What is human conduct in ethics.” Today we are going to discuss about conduct according to ethics.
General definition of conduct:
Conduct means behavior over which the performer exercises critical and selective control. Deliberation, choice and selection are the essential characteristics of conduct. Events that lie beyond human control are not termed as conduct. For example, the movements of the planets and stars in the sky are not described as conduct. The activities of lower animals also do not deserve the name of conduct; since they are not performed after deliberation, choice and also selection.
What is conduct according to Herbert Spencer in ethics:
Herbert Spencer used the word ‘conduct to include all sorts of vital activities; or at any rate, all vital activities which are directed to an end. He also spoke of the conduct of molluscs. But this seems to be an inconvenient extension of the meaning of the term. Although the activities of molluscs are no doubt adjusted to an end; yet we cannot regard them as purposeful activities.
A purposeful activity is not merely directed to an end. But as Kant says, directed by the idea of an end. Now even the higher animals, in so far as they are guided by mere instinct; cannot be supposed to have any such idea. They move also towards certain ends, but they do not will these ends. They have an end, but they have no purpose.
The term conduct is applicable only to human activities. But even in the sphere of human action, the term covers only a restricted section. Spontaneous or automatic actions of the body like the circulation of blood or the blinking of the eye-lids are not conducted. Since they are not performed consciously after deliberation and choice.
Reflex activities that are done by the body in response to external stimuli are also not conducted. Instinctive actions like hunger, fear and the like are also beyond human control. So hence they also do not fall within the category of conduct. The term conduct is confined only to those works that are not merely adjusted to ends; but also definitely willed. Since voluntary actions only are properly willed, the term conduct applies to them alone.
What is conduct according to William Lillie in ethics:
As W. Lillie says it, conduct is a collective name for voluntary actions.
With regard to voluntary action, William Lillie says a voluntary action is an action that a man could have done differently if he had so chosen.
Voluntary actions also include all willed or volitional actions in which there is a conscious process of willing, like the action of a student matriculating in a university.
Voluntary actions also include certain actions; where there may be no conscious process of willing at all; provided that the doer could have prevented or changed the action by choosing to do so.
A habitual action like a child’s sucking of his thumb or even a reflex action like blinking in a strong light, may be voluntary. Although the doer of these actions may not be thinking about them at all.
The doer, by attending to them and choosing; could have done these actions differently or refrained from doing them at all; and so they must be regarded as voluntary.
Last comment about human conduct:
It is clear from the above that purpose, selection of means and ends and choice constitute the essence of conduct. But choice is not an isolated act of will. As a matter of fact, several choices constitute a continuous and connected series and altogether form. And also in turn, result from, a certain settled habit or trend of will, i.e from a certain type of character. Character manifests itself through conduct. Hence conduct is the outward or external expression of our character.
It may be noted, however, that conduct does not always express character to the same degree. As Seth says this we must recognize a considerable range of variation in the adequacy of conduct as the exponent of character. In some actions we see the revelation of very the self; in others only the waves on the surface of the moral life.
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