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Re: ethical systems (reply to Chuck)

Nov 14, 1997 01:08 PM
by Eldon B Tucker


>Ethics is a system, any system, by which an individual or group makes a
>judgement as to the propriety of a given action or set of actions.

Agreed. It's an attempt to put the action in the context of a bigger
picture. The action is weighed and balanced for various standards like
fairness, justice, appropriateness, consistency, etc. There's an
attempt to relate the external event to various ideals and standards,
even though a perfect conclusion cannot always be arrived at.

>Now that means that a person may be acting perfectly ethically within his own
>framework while simultaneously violating every precept of somebody else's.

Ethics are similar to thought. Someone arrives an idea about something
using mind, while an ethical judgement uses values. Someone may say
ethically "this is right or better" and mentally "this is a true idea or
closer to the truth". Two people, from different cultural backgrounds,
may come to different ethical values; they may also arrive at different
ideas about what is going on. 

I'd say that in terms of opinion or thought, it's possible to arrive at
ideas that are closer to the truth -- not all opinions are equally in
accord with reality, even if everyone is free to believe whatever they
want. The same is true, I'd continue, with ethics -- not all judgements
or values are equally in accord with what is truly right, even though
everyone is free to value things in their own way.

> This will, of course, cause great trauma in the psyche of the other person
>if he finds out about it, but unless there is a significant personal
>connection to the first person, that individual will not be bothered at all.

The only trauma that I can see is where someone refuses to acknowledge
that people value things differently, just as they think differently.
The only source of conflict here is with regard to the troublesome
area of intervention. If someone else is involved in something clearly
wrong, when and how should we intervene in their free will and belief
that what they're doing is fine? Do we report shoplifters? Do we
get involved in stopping domestic abuse? Do we say anything when a
politician openly lies to us on television? The other person may be
doing what *they think is right*, whereas from our viewpoint we see
them as doing something dead wrong. When is their right to operate
by their own ethics become our problem?

>Case in point.  I am heavily into S/M, as everyone who knows me knows because
>I'm something of an activist in that area.  If my grandparents were alive, it
>would cause them great distress, so while they lived I hid my interests from
>them.  But it is of no importance to me that the person down the block does
>not approve because that person has no vital connection to me that I do not
>wish severed.  On the contrary, I may enjoy rubbing his face in the fact
>merely to annoy him, because, as Oswald Spengler once said, "When one has an
>opportunity to annoy people, one should do so."

That'll only be a problem -- your preferences -- if you involve young
children. Why a problem with children? Because they may not be able to 
tell the difference between right and wrong yet, they don't have 
sufficiently developed ability to judge and apply ethics to look out
for themselves.

>Now that statement will actually cause a great number of my S/M comrades
>great upsetness because they do not believe that one should be that open.

They're probably preferring caution since being open about this
could bring down the wrath of conservative Christians upon one.

>And at that point an impasse occurs because they cannot stop me and I don't
>care if they approve or not, so they have the choice of shutting up or
>venting their impotent fury.

Yes, you can do what you like, even if it pissed off or outrages or
flusters others. Again, people will be making two decisions: Is this
right or wrong? And if wrong, is this so terrible that intervention
is needed? If so, you have a fight on your hands.

>The situation is likewise true in the TS.
>The TS, for lots of weird, historic reasons, objects officially to people
>learning to do psychic stuff, but I write books specifically teaching that.
> The powers that be are not happy, but do I stop writing because of that?  Of
>course not.

I'm not sure that the reasons are "weird and historic", but the whole
issue of when is good or helpful to cultivate them and when it's best
to do away with them -- the issue is complex and has been discussed
on theos-l in detail before a number of times.

We could pick a type of knowledge that all of us might agree is harmful,
and consider what we'd do about it. If someone wants to publish a book
on ways to easily make bombs, or a book on ways to commit murder and
never get caught, should we allow it? The Internet does. Plato wouldn't,
I think. I'd be against it as a general principle. Take the example of
scientists creating devices of mass destruction. Should they decline to
invent them on ethical grounds?

>The fact is that the ethical system of one individual or group is never
>binding on any other unless the first has the power to enforce their will.

True. And that will is enforced by our legal system and by peer pressure
in society. Things that are generally considered to be the most fair,
just, equitable, etc. are promoted, although no social system is bug free
-- there are always exceptions and numerous examples of unfairness,
injustice, etc. in spite of the best intentions of the people working
in the system.

> Lacking that power, all that is left is the force of persuasion and that
>only works on those who are willing to be so persuaded.

Also true. Sometimes things are on an honor code, rather than controlled
by physical force. A simple example is a newspaper vending machine
that takes a single quarter and *assumes* you'll only take one newspaper
out of it. Another is the idea of a line at a movie theater, with the
assumption that it's most fair that the first people to arrive are the
first to enter and pick their seats, with the assumption that you'll
get in line rather than cut the line in front of everyone.

The most basic and simple rule of ethics is the golden rule, to treat
others as you'd have them treat you, and it provides a good starting
point for developing more sophisticated ethics and better skills in
handling the events of life. Most people, I think, avoid having to
consider ethics too closely for the same reason that they avoid 
thinking too thoroughly about things: they don't want to face internal
contradictions and bugs in their values, standards and in their
opinions and beliefs. We're not most people, though, and I'd expect
us seekers to question everything, continually working on and 
reworking our ever-growing ethical standards and ideas about life.

-- Eldon

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