The Essence of Ethics

The notion that we humans are self equipped with instinctive qualities for ethical thinking is evidenced by our natural aversion to suffering for self and others. It seems to me that we are born with the former and that we develop the latter quite early in life through the most basic of natural experiences. Mencius’ illustration of our aversion to the suffering of a dog is a prime example of our natural sensitivity for the suffering of others. Our moment by moment quest for comfort seems to be a kinetic illustration of our natural discomfort in general.

It seems to me that such basic human qualities are the basis for ethical thinking, which in turn should translate to subsequent ethical behavior.


The Individual, Civilization, and Moral Goodness

Per the reasoning of many Christians (not all, but many), it would seem that atheists should murder, plunder, and steal at will, yet such has never been the case as a general rule. Granted, there are Atheists who do harm to their fellow human being, yet I am unaware of any evidence that they do so more than any other demographic representatives of the human race.

Now, my observation regarding such is that people seem to be naturally equipped to know how to treat each other kindly, courteously, and decently; although some admittedly choose to do otherwise. Yet in a collective sense, as in any given society, most people have figured out a way to do so in a civilized manner. Furthermore, in these societies, those who choose to live otherwise almost always represent extreme exceptions to the general practices of the society so represented. (This is one of the reasons I attempt to avoid grouping and classifying various religions and or cultures based upon the doings of extremists within their respective ideology. For those who practice violence are almost always the extreme exception to the general lifestyle of the overall majority within any respective group/culture. This was true of even Nazi Germany, and I don’t doubt this rings true for most any society one could consider)

Now, in light of the various and differing religions, ideologies, cultural distinctions, economic theories, social theories, and political ideologies ever present in any and every culture which has or ever will exist, the fact that most people within any such respective culture figure out a way to live together in peace and harmony, leads me to conclude that separate from each respective cultural ideology of all societies of all time, there seem to be qualities of humanness which are universal to our species, which serve as a foundation for peaceful and harmonious relationships.

Such as they are, these are my thoughts on the matter of individuals, civilizations and morality.

A Brief Commentary on Ethics

In my opinion, the only concept of “right” or “wrong” which has any sense of consistency, relates to the seemingly universal natural aversion of humanity to suffering. If we would but heed our natural feelings of kindness and compassion, as experienced when encountering a sentient being in pain or suffering; and act, accordingly, we cannot go wrong. Just my opinion on the matter, you understand.

Now, most concepts of “right and wrong’ which are not based upon our natural aversion to suffering are usually culture based, and hence have no basis for application beyond the self. It is unfortunate that many assume antiquated, cultural biases and bigotries to be the benchmark for all peoples of all times just because they were written in some “holy book”. No one needs a holy book to know natural “right” from natural “wrong”. No one needs to believe in a deity to know natural “right” from natural “wrong”. All we need, in my opinion, is to recognize the natural aversion of all humanity as a natural basis by which to forge one’s personal code of ethics, and then to live accordingly.

I sincerely believe that that which is “good” is not driven in from with out, but is rather derived and developed from within. And in that regard I consider the effort to cultivate one’s own natural capacity to do the right thing in the context of living consistent to our natural aversion to suffering of self or others, to be the most noble endeavor of one’s day by day existence.

Such as they, these are my thoughts on the matter of the concepts of “right” and “wrong”, and one’s personal code of ethics.

Dave Henderson
Denison, Texas

Of Morality and Humanity

There is a myth relative to morality.

The myth relative to morality is that without God there is no morality.  The myth assumes the existence of God, then attaches the concept of morality to the concept of God. Thus, the case is asserted that morality not only proves the existence of God, but likewise that if there is no God, then there are no morals. Basically, the theory maintains that people would not know the difference between the concepts of right and wrong if God does not exist.

The first observation of note is that the concepts of right and wrong are relative to the individual. Many are the factors which play a part in the molding of each individual’s value system.  And I cannot overstress that each person’s value system is a making of their individuality and one’s own inner deliberation based upon one’s own experiences in life.  Depending upon the context of a person’s life, and depending upon one’s cultural conditioning, and quite frankly depending upon the values which the given individual adopts as their own, there are simply a variety of interpretations of and personal conclusions regarding that which constitutes right and wrong.

And oftentimes the one person’s right is the other person’s wrong; and vice versa.

Of such is morality and humanity.

One person thinks it’s wrong to shoot a sitting duck.  Another person says all game is fair to hunt.  Another person says it it wrong to kill the duck except for one’s own personal survival.  Yet another person says it is wrong to kill the duck except to put the duck out of an irreversible misery.

One person says it is wrong to refuse to take the pledge of allegiance to the flag of ones’ country.  Another says it is wrong to actually take the pledge of allegiance to the flag. Some say it is wrong to march off to war.  Some say it is wrong to march for peace.

Some say it is wrong for a couple to live together without being married.  Others say it is wrong for certain couples to get married.

On and on I could go.

Suffice it to say that personal perspective and the rules of social convention produce a variety of values and a corpus of conflicting notions as to that which constitutes right and that which constitutes wrong.  And each person tends to assume their values to be preferable to those of another.

Of such is morality and humanity.

For example, I myself believe that the values which are based upon the matter of the undue suffering of another are those which constitute the only natural concept of right and wrong.  I base my values upon what seems to me to be a natural aversion to one’s own personal discomfort of any degree, and an equally natural sensitivity to the suffering of others.  Hence, the moral compass by which I measure right and wrong relates to whether I cause or neglect the suffering of another being.

Now, inasmuch as I believe my values to be sound and certain, the fact is that not everyone interprets the concepts of right and wrong as I do.  Inasmuch as I am the only one who lives my personal experience, and who experiences my personal life, then who am I to judge those who opt for a standard differing from my own?  So all I know to do is to live my life the best I know how, and to leave everyone else to their own inner deliberations and subsequent deeds.

For therein seems to be the common denominator which ultimately unites us all as to the divisive topic of personal values. The fact is that most every person, regardless of background or upbringing, deliberates within themselves and subsequently decides for themselves as to their  values, and then acts accordingly.

Of such is morality and humanity.

Now, some might ask: “What about God?”.
To which I reply:  “What about God?”

God has nothing to do with morality, except in the mind of the one who chooses to incorporate a subjective concept of a deity into an ever transforming personal concept of morality. For everyone’s concept of morality is a work in progress and relative to each given circumstance, hence God is only relative to such when incorporated into the process of the inner deliberation of the individual believer.  To such a person of course their concept of their deity functions as a role in their own personal deliberation as to their specific values, which then in turn affects their given choices in life.

Ultimately then, the concept of right and wrong is relative in general, yet case specific to the given individual.  For when all factors are considered, and all conditions have been figured, each individual decides for themselves what constitutes right and wrong to their own way of thinking.  Then we all act accordingly.

Of such is morality and humanity.

Some might say: “Well then, that means everyone can do whatever they want to do.”
To which I respond:  “Well.  Yeah.”

The fact is that everyone can do whatever they want to do, and actually do so on a daily basis; the concept of God notwithstanding.  When it comes down to what the individual person decides to do, the concept of God will neither hinder nor engage in the exercise thereof.  Every person can do whatever they want; regardless of the web of subsequent consequences relative to any given deed. We as individuals are simply free to do whatever we want to do, and no concept of God affects such one way or the other at the moment of truth.

Of such is morality and humanity.

Some people who believe in the concept of God live peaceably with their fellow beings. Other people who believe in the concept of God kill without mercy.  Some people who believe in the concept of God would not so much as step on a bug on the sidewalk.  Other people who believe in the concept of God torture and authorize the torture of their fellow beings.

Some Atheists live peaceably with their fellow beings.  Some Atheists are disagreeable personalities.  Some Atheist kill.  Some Atheists do not kill.

Some people who believe in the concept of God are good people.  Some Atheists are good people.  Some people who believe in God are rude and greedy.  Some Atheists are rude and greedy.  Some people who believe in God exploit their fellow beings for personal gain. Some Atheists exploit their fellow beings for personal gain.

There are Christians who believe in shooting the other person before he has the chance to shoot you.  There are Atheists who turn the other cheek.

People choose the values by which they live each given moment of their lives.  Some people factor the concept of a deity into their given value system.  Other folk do not.

But every person is experiencing an ever transforming value system of their own individual choice.

Of such is morality and humanity.

Dave Henderson
Denison, Texas

A Theory of Secular Ethics

It is my theory that morals and ethics are based on natural principles.  It follows then, that I believe such standards are developed and maintained by natural processes:

Morals and ethics are of course guideline’s for personal social conduct.  For the individual, such distinguishes that which is seemingly right from that which is seemingly wrong.  An understanding of the natural standard for proper social conduct is the foundation for the process by which natural morals and ethics are developed and maintained.  In this regard,  I suggest that the universally natural aversion for suffering is the logical standard by which conduct is generally deemed right or wrong.   I furthermore suggest that the natural effects of social experience and a raised awareness of the effects of suffering are means by which one’s morals and ethics are developed and maintained.

Our natural aversion for suffering of any degree is evidenced by most every decision we make throughout any given day.  The clothes we wear, the setting of a thermostat, and other such simple decisions we make on a daily basis such as whether  to open or close windows, when to eat, and when to relieve ourselves are but a few examples which demonstrate that the founding principle for each such decision is a seemingly natural aversion to suffering shared by us  all.  The baby cries when hungry and the dog seeks shade on a hot summer day for the same reason we make most every single decision of any given day:  A natural aversion to suffering of any degree.

Our natural aversion to suffering in general is demonstrated by the compassion which develops naturally from within most every person as we develop socially.  Few and far between are the people who are not internally distressed at the sights or sounds of the suffering of any sentient being.  It seems to me that the experience of being exposed to the suffering of sentient beings fosters an empathy for our fellow beings which is a natural guide for our social conduct.

Thus, matters of “right and wrong” are not judged by whether actions adhere to or violate a written doctrine or even a societal law.  Natural “right and wrong” are matters of effect.  The effect which assesses the rightness or wrongness of an act then being whether such action causes unnecessary suffering. I honestly cannot think of a single incident of “right and wrong” which is not based to some degree on the concept of suffering or discomfort.

Naturally moral and ethical conduct then is not referenced so much by what one does, but rather by how one’s decisions affect others. Moralists such as Confucius and Jesus reportedly encouraged their followers to practice principles of reciprocity in their social dealings, and rightly so.  For in so doing we of humanity maintain ethical conduct suited to our natural empathy for the suffering of others.

Such is the way of moral and ethical conduct based upon our natural aversion to suffering of any degree AND by anyone.