Ethical behavior for an individual must be based on some criterion, and enhancing the health, and vigor of the society in which the individual is immersed is certainly a reasonable one. A man alone in an otherwise uninhabited universe has no need of ethics; it is only in relation to others that ethics becomes a functioning concept. Ethics then becomes a group of concepts — and behaviors based on those concepts — designed to enhance the health, and vigor of an entire social group. Ethics defined in this way becomes, for humans, a verbal intellectual construct reflecting the evolutionarily developed physical construct we call the human species. A species includes components of DNA, phenotype and social organization. Socially the species needs accepted group interactions to promote their common survival. Out of this need arises what could be called an ethical system of acceptable behavior for interactions with the group, and rejection from the group for unacceptable behavior. The group’s survival through time is enhanced when the cooperative ethical behavior is spread throughout the entire species genetic, and learned makeup.
Within a species the members are frequently involved in competition which is particularly intense at key turning points in their lives such as at mating time, allocating space for nesting, defining territories for food gathering etc. These key behaviors have generally evolved into patterns of behavior which if they were between humans would be called ethical behaviors.
There are many cases of symbiotic behavior between different animal species, and these too would have an element of ethics associated with their behavior. Humans have these symbiotic relationships with various animals such as dogs, and with these animals it is fair to say that there exists a potential what could be termed an ethical relationship. That occurs when they become dedicated friends, and companions. With human to human interactions there also exists a potential for ethical relationship, but it is contingent to some degree upon the individuals being in some self defined social grouping, and not in some other alien or hostile group.
In the long run it is beneficial for those individuals who are to live in a close proximity with other individuals to form consistent, and reliable relationships so each of the parties feels there is reasonable, and fair interaction. This can be across species, and seems to work easily if the species are already social animals such as dogs, and humans. That is on an individual basis, but what about on an entire species to species interaction? What is the ethical responsibility of humans to other species or what is the ethical responsibility of sharks to tuna? Or with symbiotic insects like some aphids, and ants, is there an ethical responsibility? By the definition at the top of this blog the answer is yes, and the reason is that it enhances the long term health and survivability of their own species which is the basis of ethics.