When I was in college, one of the topics we discussed was ethics. Ethics is the idea that rules can be established that allow people to coexist and work together peacefully. As an approach for improving the way people interact, Ethics is occasionally contrasted with morals. While morals is often described as what we feel to be correct and incorrect action, ethics is a system in which the rules of interaction are developed through critical thought and reasoning. One of the great debates during group discussion of ethics is which is superior, ethics or morals?
Religion is Informative
I was raised in the tradition of the Roman Catholic Church. I attended studies in Catholic private school, not my entire upbringing, but for a time and throughout my youth and adolescence, I attended Sunday Mass. It is fair to say that I was guided in a devout interpretation of Catholisicm under the watch of relatives not least of which my Grandmother from Chicago. As a youth, I remember my introduction to the Rosary and sharing dialog with my Grandmother about life in Ministry. Over the years since, I would vary greatly in my attendance to Mass the last time being around February or March of 2012. I was baptized Catholic, raised in the tradition, but only inquired more into the faith much later in life. Nonetheless, my firm exposure to Catholic literature, Rituals of Mass, and understanding of spiritual concepts presented in this community was very informative of my understanding of morals.
Our background in terms of beliefs can inform our concept of morals. Different cultures do vary in what they find acceptable behavior. Some persons from Africa that I met come from a culture with a very entrenched ethic of supporting the elderly and retired members from older generations. Among some people of Asia is a drive to do whatever is necessary to keep the family solvent through hard work and effort. When I was in other countries, I witnessed a level of politeness that was superb. Customs around the world can differ greatly but much, but not all, of moral behavior can be quite common. Some aspects of moral behavior may receive greater emphasis than others in terms of what a society or community believes to be important, but most people seem to agree to a general description of what is fair, what is hard, and what is unacceptable.
Ethics and Reason
Ethics highlight the idea that common standards of good behavior and judgements on behavior can be established in which the tenets of those rules and judgements are more widely acceptable. As an example, in some ancient cultures, inequality between people of different genders was automatically acceptable on moral grounds but precisely unacceptable today. In the language of morals, we state our disdain for inequality, but in the language of Ethics, we attempt to describe in a rational and comprehensive way why inequality is harmful to society. Ethics, in this way, may be likened to a science of morals that is less ambiguous than general philosophy and well supported by information in which that which is harmful and unhealthy to people is demonstrated and described.
I am an individual who, at least professionally for the past decade, has been involved with matters connected to or strongly affiliated with science, reason, logic, technology, and rationalism. To the scientifically inclined, the appeal of ethics is the prospect of improving the conditions of living in a way subject to optimization. The strength of morals on the other hand is that while much of it is learned, it is more closely connected to instinct, past evolution, and an inward sense of what is right for the situation. With many things of an emotional nature, surely a moralistic emphasis over an ethical one can be insufficient to good judgement regarding those actions that will ensure the most goodwill. The question that comes up is, “in the depth of your being, are you doing what is right by another person“? Ethics can be inadequate to such questions and in many cases, such a question is not about an individual but about society as a whole unadjusted to a specific situation.
Morals and the Spirit
Nothing you will ever read will convince rationally of the ultimate truth in terms of morals or ethics. In people that breathe and live, it does start with belief. Emotion is older than reason and both operate alongside each other for the benefit of the individual bearing such faculty. Belief emerges from emotion and is filtered through conscious reason. Your belief, for example, may be that empirical information and observation are more trustworthy than what you feel to be correct. When it comes to technology and science, I think this is fully accurate. As it concerns certain processes, data, algorithms, and well-developed reason is the best method for proceeding through matters of intellectual understanding. In terms of what decisions to make regarding others, you may believe that morals in that situation are more relevant than rational rules developed in contract or standard. I think in many situations, this can be important.
Is there a spirit? Does God exist? To me the answer is yes without question. My belief in God originated from my religious upbringing in Catholicism and evolved through dialog with other Christians of various backgrounds. I do know of and am read in other spiritual traditions, meditation, and points of view. I cast no negative judgement on any tradition of an inclusive and benevolent nature. However, my belief in God does is not a function of religious consideration as I am not active in religion. Rather, my thought about God’s existence derives from observation.
How do you prove that God exists? Under scientific convention, I do not think you can now prove that God exists like you cannot disprove that God does not exist. Rather, I look at the situation circumstantially. On Earth, people are the only beings I know of that now create things of complexity. Given that the Universe is complex and composed of innumerable distinct things of varying complexity and magnitude that interact through a common force known as Gravity, it seems reasonable to me that such complexity, as complexity is harnessed by people, was initiated by a being with a consciousness. Evident in this complexity is a superficial simplicity that all operate according to Consequences.
The Law of Consequences
Consequences is about order and the nature of things and works in a world with free will. It is obvious that there is free will. People just do things. Sometimes bad things. Animals have free will such as when some creatures decide to become your pet and stay when you call or just run away (especially cats). Some people’s faith is challenged when they think about the bad things that are not prevented in life. Free will is necessary to exist with a mind that is aware of itself and the world in an independent way. Without free will, there would be no real life as we know it and we would be programmed to just carry out functions. Free will is a gift but it means that bad things will likely happen because a choice other than a good choice is possible.
You do not have to be evil to make the wrong choice. Intentional Evil does exist and may undertake hundred good choices and authentically visible overtures of a good nature to establish one really bad situation of an unrecoverable kind. Free will at work in nearly all cases. I say that to say that God does not move us around like chess pieces. I believe that God respects life too much to treat creatures in such a way. Besides, the Consequences operate in favor of the good despite the bad that may occasionally be experienced in transition. Instead, you are responsible for your actions and while you may be influenced by others and other things of influence, you (the influenced and influencers alike) still have primary control over your actions, thoughts, and how you will be in a given moment, instinctive tendencies and lack of knowledge not withstanding. Better action is generally supported by good knowledge that, in turn, arises from an understanding of the proper order among things.
In the Universe and Nature, including the Nature of People and Living Things, this order is automatically expressed through Consequences. Strength to weakness, scarcity to abundance, and pleasure to pain are a few of several relationships within the order expressed through Consequences.
Ethics and the Future
Like the Law of Consequences, morals has a relationship to order. In terms of the order of life, religion has served as a valuable way to better develop our understanding of the natural order among equal people and people regarding nature. Over the millenia, religion has attempted to express this order in the language of people’s senses and intuition about life. I do not think this is the end though. My sense is that ethics by itself can be counterproductive and harmful to people in ways undetectable to the system of ethics. Yet, people stand at the precipice of the opportunity to live in a much more scientifically and technologically enlightened and prosperous world in the coming years.
I should restate that to say that advances in technology are coming that will be tremendously powerful, but the effect on most of us will depend on our judgement in applying these powerful technologies to benefit or hinder the lives of people. An evolved system of belief will emerge but will it make valuable use of thousands of years of investment by civilization in the form of religion focused on charity, the poor, the homeless, and fairness versus punitive justice? Or, will much of that be discarded for the pleasures of the moment provided by the conveniences and illusory unaccountable effects of powerful scientific revelations and technological advancements that regress evolution instead of fostering it?
Some of us are scientists. Others of us are scientifically affiliated. A very small number of us decide policy through law or executive decision. Almost all of us have to decide everyday who we will be, what kind of world we will live in, and what the future will be like based on who we choose to support and our own actions. The nature of some of our work may be logical and absent of subjective consideration. Yet, ethics and discussions surrounding such things can be an opportunity evolve the way different traditions and groups describe and consider matters of law, policy, and social direction. The quality of the future may depend on it.