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More Morals And Ethics


Recently, because of a friend's post on LJ. a long dormant interest in morality and ethics has been aroused.  This interest was first generated by reading Erik H, Erikson's Gandhi's Truth about 40 years ago which implied that Gandhi's ethic of non-violence was nearly undone by his "inner violence of dogmatic moralism."  Since that time i have learned of many people whose ethical and moral codes were at odds.  Sometimes their morality is more conventional than their ethics, as was the case with Gandhi; but mostly, the celebrated and powerful are more like Gandhi's contemporary, Krishnamurti whose spiritual and philosophical  ethics were world renowned, but whose private life was a cesspool of desires and depravity.

As a student of pre-literate societies, one does not hear a lot about "ethics."  Anthropologists tend to divide the rules or peoples into folkways, mores, and laws.  Folkways are traditional ways of doing things, practices that seemed to have worked well in the past.  Attachment to mores is more emotional and sacred, touching on the basic fabric of society and ordered, perhaps, by the gods.  Laws are formal, enforced by specialists, and have specific penalties for violation.  Mores come close to what most of us mean by morals.  Normally, moral indiscretions are considered more serious than ignoring folkways, but less serious than breaking laws.  But this is not always true.  Prohibition came to an end in the U.S. because Americans like to drink.  Granted there were people whose business was making and distributing alcoholic beverages, but mostly our habits were folkways.  The morality of sobriety created laws to prevent drinking, but in the end the folkways won out.

Ethics seem to be neither folkways, mores, nor laws.  Yet surely there must have been codes of ethics in pre-literate societies?  There were codes of conduct and practice for healers, for shamans, for warriors, for headmen.  What about different codes of conduct for males and females?  Were these ethics or morals?  How would an outsider know?  In most Plains Indian communities warrior status was reserved for men, but their were female warriors in some communities and none in others.  Is it possible that in some societies the warrior status predominated and females were banned by the "unthinkability of women warriors, as in (it would make me sick to think about it.) --while in other societies a warrior ethic prevailed where anyone demonstrating the courage, skills and commitment to the role might qualify.

Georges Sorrel thought that violence could be used against owners of industry, that this violence would be conducted ethically as both sides acknowledged "rules of engagement."  This was war, and workers and owners are enemies, but wars have rules..  Violence could also be used against homosexuals with no restrictions because homosexuality was sick and immoral.

I believe in both morality and ethics.  And ethics may contain "inner violence" as well as morality.  How many "codes of ethics" are used to cover the asses of professionals rather than protect the welfare of clients?  But generally, i would trust an ethical person before a moral one and would take more pride in being known as an ethical person.

Comments

( 4 comments — Leave a comment )
elainegrey
Feb. 1st, 2014 02:34 pm (UTC)
As i began reading your post, i pondered, "Do i really know the distinction between ethics and morals?" Thanks for your reflection. I now have a slightly better understanding!
bobby1933
Feb. 1st, 2014 07:21 pm (UTC)
I'm glad it helped. This was a stream of consciousness exercise and not an attempt to analyze the different meanings of the two terms. I still think that "morals" and "ethics" have variable and overlapping meanings. The ancient root of "moral" seems to have been "mood" or "mind," while the proto-indo-european origin of "ethic" somes to have been a collective, self referential term (we ourselves) which is the root of many seemingly unrelated modern words. Rereading the post, i also get some clarification.
(Deleted comment)
bobby1933
Feb. 2nd, 2014 09:44 pm (UTC)
Oh, yeah. The diverse ways that human have invented to live their lives is truly incredible.

I recall that the "chief" of the modern Cherokee nation, a few years back, was a woman named Wilma Mankiller. :)
( 4 comments — Leave a comment )

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