The Good Person -- Ethics and Morality
A New 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.
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The Good Person: Ethics and Morality is a book in the Psychology & Philosophy series, developed
by Persona Digital Books. We encourage readers to quote and paraphrase topics
from the selections published online and expect proper citations to accompany all
derivative writings. The author is Stephen Gislason and the publisher is Persona
Digital Books. The most recent date of publication is 2011. The URL
to the book description is