Ethics are a system of moral principles or rules of conduct prescribed to particular segments of society or human behavior, as defined by Dictionary.com. It expands the definition further by adding that ethics can also be associated with a philosophy of what is morally good and bad.
According to the Markkula Center for Applied Ethics at Santa Clara University, ethics are dual-faceted. First, they involve a set of standards for what is right and wrong; these standards in turn determine how individuals within a society should behave; they establish virtues, values, rights and obligations. The second component involves the continuous study and development of ethics; being a continuous process, this continuous study allows for dynamic introspection of what is right and wrong at the individual, family, communal and societal levels. A continuous study in turn allows for a real-time analysis of the ethical standards established by a group or by society at large; it allows for modifications to be made for the purposes of correcting previous ethical wrongdoings.
A sample microcosm of applied ethics can be found in the form of the Committee on Ethics of the U.S. House of Representatives. On its website, this permanent House body describes its function as being to provide a consistent and uniform apparatus for self-discipline. It is also responsible for creating and revising the official House Ethics Rules and the House Ethics Manual. As such, it sets its own ethical standards while simultaneously enforcing them and modifying them when deemed necessary.