What are the Similarities between Ethics and Politics? – Explained!

(1) Both ethics and politics are related to human behavior:

Man is a social animal. Aristotle called him a political animal. Every man is a part of some society and political organization.

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Thus, ethical behavior is closely related to government lays down rights and duties of the citizens. Social ethics is to quite a large extent, affected by the government

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(2) Both politics and ethics deal with norms:


Both of them study human behavior and give laws for it. Politics lays down laws to organize individuals and groups in order to bring about mass improvements. On the other hand, ethics makes laws, aimed at the attainment of the ultimate good for the individual.

It can be said that political laws should be of such a nature that they may facilitate as much as possible the achievement of the ultimate good.

In this way ethics is not a branch of political science and neither is political science a division of ethics, but the two are related. Political science should follow ethical principles.

Ethics Should be basis on politics:

Plato, in his book ‘Republic’, believes that the state is only the individual writ large. State is made up of individuals without whom it has 110 separate existences.


The qualities and nature of the nation follow 60m the qualities and nature of the people.

The ethics of the nation are only an enlarged form of the ethics of the individual. The idealist thinkers Plato, Gandhi, etc., believe that the elements of ethics are absolute, being the same for every time and at every place. Morality which changes with the changing time and place is not real morality.

There is only one good which is comprehended by the whole world. It is both the individual good and the nation’s good. With Plato, there is justice when the same ethical laws are obeyed by the individual and the society. Government should be grounded in ethics.

Law and punishment cannot make people ethical. According to these idealists, it is completely fair to judge the behavior of the individual and the nation by the same criterion.

But group morality and individual morality are dissimilar:


But there is another aspect to the subject. The mutual behavior of nations is the behavior of the masses, not individuals, and is therefore different from the behavior of the individuals.

In Sri Aurobindo’s words,

“Between Action and nation there is justice, partiality, chivalry, duty but not love. All love is either individual or for the self in the race, or for the self in mankind. It may exist between individuals of different races, but the love of one race for another is a thing foreign to nature.”

The Gita too, many divergences have been accepted from social duty to individual duty.

Tilak and other practical politicians have supported this principle. It is definite that government is believed to be based upon ethical laws. But the aim of government is not the uplift of one person, but rather the improvement of the masses.

If one person attacks another, it may be ethical even to suffer it peacefully because it is possible that it may bring about a change of heart in the offender.

But if one nation attacks another, to bear it peaceably, would only increase lawlessness in the world, encourage the aggressor to adopt even more unethical means, increase exploitation because change of heart happens to the individual, not to a nation or a mob. The ethics of masses is not the same as that of the individual.

This is the reason why the use of truth and non-violence in politics by Gandhi has been questioned. Nations should confirm to the ethical laws. But from the practical viewpoint, the criteria of individual ethics and national or political ethics are not the same.

Kant said,

“Try always to perfect thyself, and try to conduce to the happiness of others, by bringing about favorable circumstances, as you cannot make others perfect.”

Being based upon free will morality is individual and due to the inherent tendency towards social improvement it is social.

Thus, when the political leaders start with questions pertaining to the nation they will have to keep in mind the political nature of the questions. Their social responsibility is linked on one side with their individual ethics and with the people at large the other.

It is the duty of the politician to create circumstances in which the citizens of his own and other spates may precede the path of truth and because the change in heart of the nations is almost impossible it becomes the duty of the politicians of every country to keep law and order and to resist injustice.

In the mob, the level of human intelligence becomes very low and animal tendencies become predominant. Thus the meanings of truth and non-violence cannot be identical when applied to social and national matters and when applied to individual ethics.

In personal matters, man should even lay down his life to preserve the ethical laws but no politician has the right to allow a whole nation to be sacrificed in the name of truth and non-violence because as far as he is concerned the sacrifice will be voluntary and consequently ethical but it will be unethical for the people, being involuntary and on the word of a leader.

Ethics cannot be forced. The politicians must pursue a policy which may be good for all members in the community. In this, the rational level being lower than in the individual case, often the use of diplomacy and violence becomes necessary.

It is due to this difference, in the levels of the mutual relation between the individuals and the nations, that it is advisable to have differing criteria for the individual and national ethics.

Thus, many exceptions in Gandhiji’s use of truth and non-violence in the political field become essential.

None can deny the basic truth that politics should be based on ethics but due to the difference in the nature of the inter-individual and international relations, the nature of their respective ethics will differ.


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