In the Name of Allah, Most Merciful, Most Gracious.
Ethics is the science of morals. It includes Normative Ethics, and Theory of Morals. The first studies the question of benefit, good, evil. It aims at elaborating a moral code of behaviour, showing what is worth striving for, what behaviour is good, and what gives meaning to life.
However, the theory of morals deals with the essence of morality, its origin and development, the laws which determine moral standards and their historical character. Normative Ethics and the Theory of Morals are inseparable. Recent times have seen the development of Metaethics, which deals with ethical statements, their relation to truth, the structure and origin of ethical theories.
As soon as Ethics appeared, the struggle ensued between materialistic and idealistic understanding of morality. The materialists fought against the theological views in ethics. They criticised the theological and idealistic interpretation of the meaning of life, upholding the idea of earthly origin and source of moral standards. Marx and Engels believed that morality is determined by the nation's economic and social system, that it is a historical product.
Autonomous Ethics proceeds from the proposition that moral law has its foundation in the morally acting subject. That is to say, man creates his own moral law and is completely free from all outside influence. Autonomous Ethics claims that moral duty is internally inherent in man.
On the other hand, Heteronomous Ethics derives ethics from causes independent of the will of the subject involved. These external causes are the laws of the state, religious precepts, and such motives as personal interests. Hedonism is one of the outcomes of Heteronomous Ethics. It founds its moral principles on the urge to enjoy life. Utilitarianism is based on the idea that worth is determined by utility.
This is not to neglect Theological Ethics, which is found in the doctrines of religions. In this ethics God is the embodiment of moral good and virtue. God is the only criterion of what is moral. The only authority in evaluating morality of an action is God. A great notion in theological ethics belongs to the doctrine of the reward of the righteous and the punishment of the sinners, which theologians associate with the end of the world.
Nevertheless, materialists do not approve of theological ethics. They believe that theological ethics with its Godly sanctions to morality, deprives society of its right to formulate moral laws.
However, with respect to ethics and morality, a few words from standpoint of Islam are worth mentioning. Islam, as a heavenly religion, advocates that Allah alone is entitled to sanction moral deeds. In fact, Islam works on two facets. Allah has prescribed the basic regulations that should be followed by a Muslim. This is one facet of legislation. The other one is left for man to work out whatever laws that help to run life, on condition that these human laws should not violate the basic principles of Islam. This facet lies within what is called authorized assiduity, which is encouraged and rewarded even when it begets erroneous conclusions.