The Reality of Ethics
Posted Aug 04, 2010
It seems that which actions are considered morally and ethically acceptable changes with which source you ask.
For example, is it ethically ok to eat pork? Is the death penalty a morally acceptable punishment for a convicted murderer? Is it morally acceptable for a government to forbid a private company from selling a product because it doesn't decompose in a timely fashion? These and almost any other question you can ask can be debated based on different sources of ethics and morals. Worse. People can use the exact same sources to argue completely different sides.
So if we are to discuss the best morals and ethics we should follow, then it stands that we should first discuss which source those morals should come from.
The two most common sources of ethics and morals are religious and communal.
The religious sources are easy to notice. Bibles, Quran, religious texts, etc.
The problem is that the same religious texts are often interpreted to have completely opposite meanings.
For example, in the Old Testament, New Testament, and Quran, all offer advice of kindness and to love your fellow man.
Exodus 22:21 - "Do not mistreat an alien or oppress him, for you were aliens in Egypt."
Luke 6:27 - "But I tell you who hear me: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you"
Quran 4:90 - "...So if they remove themselves from you and do not fight you and offer you peace, then Allah has not made for you a cause [for fighting] against them."
However, in these same scriptures, often right by the commandments of kindness, are rules for war, often declaring death to worshipers of other religions.
- Exodus 22:20 - "Whoever sacrifices to any god other than the LORD must be destroyed."
- Deuteronomy 7:2 - "and when the LORD your God has delivered them over to you and you have defeated them, then you must destroy them totally. [a] Make no treaty with them, and show them no mercy."
- Quran 4:89 - "...But if they turn away, then seize them and kill them wherever you find them and take not from among them any ally or helper."
So, love your enemies, treat them well, but kill them for not believing in the right God. Okie-dokie. Makes perfect sense. Well, actually no, it doesn't. If all religious believers follow the laws about killing those with different beliefs, two things are certain:
- There will be much less of us left
- Those who survive will likely find some other excuse to kill each other
There are also communal ethics which have no obvious religious association. These are stories, or short sayings used to give basic advice.
Consider the standard advice "Look before you leap". Some folks mistakenly believe this is a religious idea. However it is most often attributed to Aesop, a Greek man who lived 600-700 years before the New Testament was written, and his stories, including concepts of sour grapes, crying wolf, etc. are found no where in the Old Testament (otherwise known as the Jewish Bible, or Torah). The Quran has no story teaching that he who hesitates is lost. The Buddhist teachings may discuss vanity, but have no stories like Aesop's tale of the Fox and the Crow (Crow has cheese, Fox flatters crow convincing it to sing, cheese falls to wolf who eats it.)
To be fair, the morality tales attributed to Aesop may have even existed long before him, based on some researchers believe. In either case, these stories are moral guides used by many, yet they are not religious.
However, even communal ethics are conflicting:
- "Opposites Attract" yet "Birds of a feather Flock Together"
- "Silence is golden" yet "The squeaky wheel gets the grease"
So, with so many possible sources to use as a basis of ethics, and the multiple ways they can be manipulated, misquoted, misinterpreted, etc. to promote conflicting ideas, what's the best foundation for proper morals?
We must begin from a basic foundation of simple fact: We are all individuals.
Not a single mass. Not a collection of groups. Not disconnected multiples. But individuals. A gathering of Ones who all have likes, dislikes, similarities and differences with each other on many levels.
So for proper ethics, we must decide how best to determine the most beneficial interaction between two individuals who may have some unknown differences.
On that level, the basic ethic seems clear: An individual must do what they personally think is right. Should those actions conflict with another individual, they should try to find a course of action for both to remain true to themselves, with as little injury to each other as possible. If true conflict is unavoidable, the individual who defends themselves is in the right.
In this basic idea, we have a strong foundation for personal property, relationships, defense, war, and many other issues.
If as many humans as possible can understand the basic moral concept that we are all free to do as we wish, and interact with others in whatever way pleases those involved, but we also have the ethical ability to protect ourselves if needed from harm, then I believe a lot of issues could be dealt with in a much simpler manner.
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