Philosophy of Ethics
In the history of ethics three principal standards of conduct have been examined, each of which has been proposed as the highest good: happiness or pleasure; virtue or obligation and perfection through self realisation; the fullest harmonious development of human potential.
Most people conform to the moral conduct of the period, society and culture in which they live. Yet a great deal of modern society as fallen into the trap of hedonism, seeking happiness and self validation outside of oneself. Seeking to only suit the self is at the foundation of selfishness; this often stems from a sub-conscious behaviour to satisfy the ‘inner childs’ emotional needs and desires that were unmet in childhood. This then creates a perception of life that is sometimes viewed through dark glasses and taints virtue, ethics and blocks the heart of conscience. How to achieve one’s aims for example; some use power, control and manipulation others use love, education and virtues learnt in childhood and on life’s journey.
The Greek Philosophers
The Sophist Protagoras taught that human judgment is subjective, and that one's perception is valid only for oneself.
Socrates and Plato were both supporters of self knowledge and self discipline leading to self mastery. Socrates believed that all vice is the result of ignorance, and that no person is willingly bad; which corresponds to virtue is knowledge, and those who know good things will also have a good conscience. This then emphasises the importance of teaching children justice, love and virtue. So according to Socrates it is only education and sharing through dialog that teaches people to be moral.
Plato maintained that evil does not exist in itself but is, rather, an imperfect reflection of the real, which is good. In his Dialogues he maintains that human virtue lies in the health and state of being of the person.
In the “Timaeus”, Plato describes the structure of the world-soul and its replication in the human soul in a way that combines mathematical and harmonic principles; this is very much in line with the principle that physical reality is the barometer of balance –v- imbalance. Imbalance creates unethical behaviour, attitudes and habits.
Plato stated that through self-discipline emotions would be subject to the wisdom and will of the soul and that the ultimate virtue and justice, is the harmonious relationship of each part of the soul and this creates a balanced and just view.
‘Do you not see that in that region alone where, he sees beauty with the faculty of seeing, will he be able to bring forth, not with mere reflected images of goodness, but true goodness, thus he will be in contact not with reflection but with the truth? And having brought forth and nurtured true goodness he will have the privilege of being beloved by GOD, and becoming, if ever man can, immortal himself'. The just person, whose life is ordered in this way, is therefore a good person from Plato’s perspective. He stresses the reward for allowing the will and wisdom of the soul to overcome emotion and emphasises that ‘beauty is in the eye of the beholder’.
The ancient Greek philosophers were the first to elaborate a natural law doctrine. Heraclitus spoke in the 6th century BC of a common wisdom that pervades the whole universe. Aristotle distinguished between two kinds of justice: ‘A rule of justice is natural that has the same validity everywhere, and does not depend on our accepting it or not.’ Aristotle said ‘that moral virtues are habits of action that conform to the golden mean, the principle of moderation’ the middle road. That they must be flexible because of the differences in cultural conditioning factors. In general, Aristotle defines the mean as being between the two extremes of excess and deficiency and the moral virtues are merely means toward the attainment of happiness, which results from the full realization of human potential.
The Stoic philosophers said nature is orderly and rational, and only a life led in harmony with the forces of nature can be ethical and good. They were also aware that people allow their lives to be influenced by material circumstances which cause separation from one’s true nature. They were passionate advocates of the devotion to contemplative and peaceful pursuits.
The Epicureans promoted maintaining a state of serenity and peace by eliminating all emotional disturbances. They considered religious beliefs and practices to be harmful due to their concentration on death and the after life. They also insisted that the good life is achieved through self-mastery over the emotions, these ancient wisdom teachings support the Christ teachings.
‘The soul requires an inner sanctum of peace to fulfill its fullest potential. This is why peace of mind is imperative to achieve peace on earth.’ From Sacred Words
It is written that the early Christians found the natural law doctrine of the Stoics quite compatible with their own beliefs and in line with the Golden rule which is also mentioned in all religions, although using slightly different words. The onset of Christianity marked a revolution in ethics; some say the Christ introduced a new concept of goodness into Western thought. The way he taught the principles at that time were unusual for the region in being both ethically, and spiritually, driven. He provided a wonderful foundation for liberation, equality, freedom and peace. Far from believing that truth was oppressive, he promised. ‘If you hold to my teaching, you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.’ The primary ethics being based upon the new convenant of love and the golden rule:
‘So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets.’ (Matt 7:12 NIV) ‘A man reaps what he sows’ (Gal:6:7 NIV).
These words are not just an ethical philosophy but they explain the universal law of cause and effect (Karma) in very simple terms.
The teaching of St. Thomas Aquinas on the natural law is the most widely known. Aquinas called the rational guidance of creation by God the ‘Eternal Law’ St Jerome (translator of the 3rd version of the bible) in his letters discussing content of texts also discusses the spiritual law and longed for the day when God would someone to explain them.
And the Christ was not the only one known for righteousness as Buddha claimed the supreme test of righteousness is compassion and the eightfold path became known as the middle path. Once again we find the Golden rule ‘Treat not others in ways that you yourself would find hurtful.’ The Buddha, Udana-Varga 5.1 A ‘man reaps what he sows’ from Christianity also aligns well with Karma and in modern day we find people using the term ‘what comes around goes around’.
Aristotle’s golden mean and the middle path promoted by Buddha fits well with the Christ Vision of Peace, the universal law of supreme justice and the Grace of GOD; balance, harmony, unity, liberty and equality. Combine this with the education of self mastery, good measure and ethical spiritual principles of Socrates, Plato and Christ and we have a winning formula for creating ethical societies based upon a clear conscience of integrity coming through the heart of love and compassion.
It is an ethical philosophy that is based upon sound principles that are at least 2,500 years old, yet the methodology of this ancient wisdom of Perfection is very simple when education includes universal truth and the universal spiritual laws.
As Gandhi said ‘You must be the change you wish to see in the world.’
Self development and spiritual unfolding provides us with an added bonus; through addressing our old beliefs and judgements, discrimination is eliminated. Self development provides increased freedom, knowledge, and power which increases responsibility to promote the common good and build democratic societies that are just, participatory, ethical, sustainable and peaceful.
A caring loving, accepting, and compassionate society.
The way of the heart!
- Related topics
- Last post