3. What Is Ethics?

Rules of thumb

In addition to scholarly branches of philosophy, some other ways of looking at right and wrong have developed.

The golden rule

The classic golden rule is to ‘do unto others as you would have them do unto you.’ In other words, ‘I will not cheat that person because I do not want them to cheat me.’

The golden rule is a simple and useful tool, but it does have some limitations. We don’t really know how babies or animals want to be treated, for example, so the golden rule can’t tell us much about how to treat them. Also, the whole rule is based on your own feelings of how you yourself would want to be treated. But your own needs and preferences might not be typical. For example, the fact that you personally do not value privacy does not mean that you don’t owe others an obligation to respect their privacy.

As an accounting example, this rule of thumb could be applied to mean that you disclose all information that may be relevant in financial reports because, if you were the reader of those financial statements, you would expect to receive all the information, and disregard any that is not relevant to you.