|Ethics and Morality |
The Good Person
The Good Person -- Ethics and MoralityA Book by Stephen Gislason
Ethics are about rules of conduct or, more precisely, modern ethicists attempt to decide what good and reasonable behavior is. All humans make decisions and evaluate the behavior of others. A scale of evaluations from right to wrong is typical of ethical judgments. Each group develops norms to guide actions and judgments about behavior. The presence of ethical standards requires individuals who can anticipate the consequences of actions; evaluate consequences in terms of selfish and of group interests; and who have the ability to choose between alternative courses of action
In practice, professional ethicists are employed by governments, universities, hospitals and other organizations; they do best by examining specific situations and engaging the people involved in conversations about specific interactions. When behavior and/or decisions are questionable but laws have not been broken, Ethics committees substitute for judges or juries and deliver advice or judgments. The value of ethics decreases as issues involve business or are issues of law. Professional ethics can be appreciated as an abstract exercise in description and reasoning that may fail to appreciate the deep determinants of human feelings, beliefs and conduct. This inquiry is about human nature, complete with descriptions of imbedded social regulation and morality. An understanding of these discussions is required for meaningful ethical discourse.
I often read ethic statements that, in essence, suggest that humans should not act like humans. While I agree that it would be better if some aspects of human nature were permanently changed, that is improbable. A realistic human puts fantasy aside and deals with the really real. Humans are not always nice, reasonable or fair. Sometimes, humans are brutal savages.
There are two kinds of ethical statements: the first and most common is a more or less arbitrary rule that must be obeyed. Rules proliferate as the kinds of human interactions proliferate. Obedience to rules is learned, practiced, and varies greatly. Criminal laws define unacceptable behaviors and proscribe punishments for those found guilty of those behaviors.
The second kind of ethical statement is a deeply felt, personal expression of caring, concern, justice and freedom. There is a deep and archetypal sense of freedom, goodness and fair play. Any lasting ethics must be congruent with this deep but undifferentiated sense of goodness which can be called “morality.”
The natural, moral part of an ethical system involves bargaining with others in an effort to achieve the most benefit for the people you care about. Deep feelings for others are local and specific. Whenever competing demands are made from others, innate tendencies prefer the most local and most specific demands. Humans are inherently selfish, so that I am first to receive benefits from my actions. My family and close friends are next. Fellow members of local groups are next. More distant relationships and obligations receive the least benefit from my actions. The more abstract the relationship, the more learning and effort are required to support loyalty or obligation.