Ethics and Morality

The Good Person

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The Good Person -- Ethics and Morality

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.

In academic discourse, ethical problems are posed in an abstract manner, dealing with strangers in another place and in another time. Abstract "reasoning" has several limitations; the main limitation is that humans are built to evaluate close and immediate situations that have personal relevance Distant events can only be evaluated by learned protocols that vary with the education and socialization of the evaluator. Close and salient encounters invoke innate tendencies that are relatively independent of education and experience and will tend to supersede learned rationality.

Good People and the Future?

Clearly, some humans are more insightful than others and some humans act ethically beyond self-interest and others do not Ideal justice involves the fair and impartial measurement of human behavior and more or less equal treatment for all citizens. Can the ideal be realized? Probably not. Events in the first decade of the 21st century point away from all idealist visions toward the harsh realities of human conflicts and suffering that have prevailed as long as humans have walked the earth. While a pessimistic view is easy to support, humans have the option of learning to override harmful innate tendencies through education and gain tolerance and understanding of others through sports, social and cultural interactions .

“A human being is a part of a whole… He experiences himself, his thoughts and feelings as something separated from the rest... a kind of delusion of his consciousness. This delusion is a prison for us, restricting us to our personal desires and to affection for a few persons nearest to us. Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty.“ Albert Einstein

The approaches to further cultivating the smarter, kinder aspects of ourselves involve a deep understanding of human nature. At an individual level, sustained learning, disciplined action and a clear mind are three essential ingredients of good people doing good deeds on planet earth. Success in careers, professions and business are expressions of healthy and smart humans who receive valid information and work hard to achieve reasonable goals. The development of knowledge, free of delusions, anger and blame are required before solutions for perennial human problems can become stable and enduring.


  • The Good Person: Ethics and Morality by Stephen Gislason -the Psychology & Philosophy series by Persona Digital Books.

    Ethics is about the interface between selfish interests and actions and the common good. Both good and bad tendencies are innate properties that have useful functions, were not invented by modern society and are not going to change until the construction of brain changes. The dialogue between good and bad in human affairs is constant, predictable and universal. When a baby is born, the family and local community begin to teach the emerging being what is going on here and now. They provide the local language, costumes, customs beliefs and the local science and technology. All adult humans have an ethical standard and a technology to teach. While the local culture has an obvious impact on the appearance and behavior of emerging adults, the constant innate features of the human mind are pervasive and persistent.

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