Saturday, November 26, 2005

Ethics vs Morals

A New Perspective on Ethics

Ethics is all about interaction or conduct between people in a society or a government setting. Interaction and conduct can have adverse affects on people. There are several ways someone can adversely affect another person. It can be as small as unfair treatment, or as big as infringing upon their freedoms or Civil Rights. Morals, on the other hand, might be about conduct as it relates to “mores” or “norms.”

Once again, while Ethics and Morals are closely related, I would like to propose a distinction based upon the affected party. Ethics being about conduct that may affect people, and Morals being about conduct that can affect the given society. For instance, if you are a cannibal and someone from another country crashes into your land, eating the newcomer for dinner would not be immoral, because eating people is part of the “mores” or “norms” for that society. But if you were to apply the Ethics side of the coin, it might be unethical because it would certainly not be fair to the one being eaten and by applying the golden rule it would certainly show improper behavior as if the roles were reversed the cannibal would certainly want to be treated by his societies rules.

Let’s therefore develop two new definitions for Ethics and Morals. A new one for Ethics might be, “people’s correct or proper interaction with each other in a societal or governmental setting as it relates to their freedom or civil rights and to their sense of fairness.” A new Morals definition might be, “peoples correct conduct as it relates to the impact on their societies “mores” or “norms.”

I will attempt to provide the elusive “standard” that can show that every ethical situation can be examined with a factual foundation built on conduct as it relates to freedom and fairness and a standard for Morals based upon the situation’s impact on society. Notice that by having facts as the basis of examining ethics, we can feel more confident about our conclusions. Or in other words, if you say that one plus one is two, does this mean you are biased? No, you are stating facts. This means that by not using subjective things such as faith or feelings as the foundation for ethics, but by using facts based upon freedom and fairness, it allows less chance of having bias in the conclusion.

Here is what I consider the “standard” to apply to any ethical situation:
1. Does the conduct affect someone else? And if it does:
____a. How does it affect the other person’s freedom/Civil Rights?
____b. Do the feelings remain the same if the shoe is on the other foot?

Here is what I consider the “standard” to apply to any moral situation:
1. Does the conduct affect the given society? And if it does:
____a. Does it further degrade the society?

By answering the above questions and their related contingent questions we can logically arrive at a good conclusion to all ethical and moral situations. But not without a complete understanding of freedom, which will be given below.


Humans are creatures that desire to be left alone to do things without interference from others, including government. This natural desire for freedom is at the base of their drive for individualism. This desire is worldwide and is not unique to the U.S.A.
Thomas Hobbes approached ethics from a scientific viewpoint and believed that morals are based upon self-interest. But, the freedom for one person to swing his/her fist ends where the next persons nose begins. While Hobbes believed in the Golden Rule, he realized that it had to be viewed in a world where government was involved.

Thus from above we can see that it is important to discuss freedom, the Golden Rule and the proper role of government in our view of Ethics because it has everything to do with our interaction with others.

People may have a built in desire to do good, but David Hume recognized what Frederick Bastiat observed in his book, The Law, that it is human nature for humans to sometimes do things that are unethical or even unlawful if it makes life easier. Bastiat believed people view work as pain, and while some will steal to get something, (stealing may initially be less painful), by making this conduct unlawful, societies can cause people to reflect upon the way they interact with others or they may suffer consequences.

One of the Dictionary definitions of Ethics is ““A set of principles of right conduct.” Let’s examine two important sources for the definition of the Law. First from Blacks Law Dictionary, 6th Edition we have;
“Law, in its generic sense, is a body of rules of action or conduct prescribed by controlling authority, and having binding legal force.” And next the most important one from “The Law” by Frederick Bastiat; “We must remember that law is force, and that, consequently, the proper functions of the law cannot lawfully extend beyond the proper functions of force. When law and force keep a person within the bounds of justice, they impose nothing but a mere negation. They oblige him only to abstain from harming others. They violate neither his personality, his liberty nor his property. They safeguard all of these. They are defensive; they defend equally the rights of all.

As can be seen from the definition of Ethics and a definition of Law that they both deal with “proper conduct.” The purpose of Law is to prevent injustice and not to promote justice, but never the less, law is force and it must be applied equally and not at the expense of one class over another, because if it isn’t applied equally, it stops being about liberty and becomes oppression.

Before getting too far into my premise, let me begin by giving some additional dictionary definitions of ethics:
1. “The study of the general nature of morals and of the specific moral choices to be made by a person.”
2. “The rules or standards governing the conduct of a person or the members of a profession.”

Suppose you were on a Yacht that was packed with all of the necessities of life and you stumbled on an uncharted island. You moved all of those necessities to the island, and began the life of a recluse. Now, ask yourself how any of your actions can be considered unethical? What “conduct” could you do that would be considered unethical? Perhaps the only thing you could do to affect other people while on that island would be to harm the environment, like polluting the ocean. Is it ethical or moral to smoke pot on this uninhabited island? If there were no laws, then why wouldn’t most anything you do be ethical? You can’t affect someone else on this island if you’re the only one on it.

So, again my premise is that you cannot really think of an unethical act, unless there is someone or some organization, (a group of people), that is affected by that act.

Since people can use the government to adversely affect others, then this brings us to the next part of the premise, the proper role of government. Let’s start with a look at the two extremes of governments, Totalitarianism and Anarchy. If you stop and think about it, so many things can be classified as “opposition sets.” By this I mean so many things have opposites. Like cold, and hot, right and left, east and west, logic and emotion, etc. In all of these cases you can draw a line and place one thing on one end of the line and the other on the other end of the line and there will usually be varying amounts in between the two ends. The spectrum of government is no different. On one end of the line would be “total government control” and on the other end of the line would be “no government control.” These opposites are called Totalitarianism and Anarchy. Totalitarianism is on the political left of the line, while Anarchy, is on the political right of the line. Every form of government falls in between these two extremes and almost every adult person in this country has their views on the amount of government control they prefer somewhere on this line.

A “Liberal” person might be for more government control and towards the left end of the line, and a “Conservative” person would be for less government control and towards the right end of the line. You would place Communism and Socialism on the left, Democracy near the middle, and a Republic on the right. And remember, our form of government is all about how much we want to interfere in our neighbors lives, since in affect, we are the government. Also, this means interfering even if it is to prevent them from having the choice to do something wrong. A good example being how we as a majority “force” the use of seat belts, for the good cause of protecting everyone from acting foolishly. (Rules of Conduct.)

If you are a Dictator, then you as both a person and as the government will deal with your fellow citizens a certain way, and this will be the way you write, execute, and judge your laws. Some laws will be ethically and or morally right and some will not be. But, once again, it is the way people are interacting, that can be the foundation of discussing ethics. By the way, a “Right Wing Dictatorship” is an oxymoron because it cannot exist. A Dictatorship is on the Left towards more government not less!

Next let’s take a Democracy, which is approximately in the middle of the political spectrum, and see how its form of government is affected by ethical conduct. In a Democracy, when 51 percent of the people vote for a law that is unethical and or immoral then it is those 51 percent who are affecting the other 49 percent. Let’s say that the 51 percent vote to have all people from a specific country of origin be deported. Would this law be ethical or morally right? Most would think not, but then that is why we don’t live in a Democracy, we live in a Republic instead, or at least we used to. The move of our legislators has been to move us closer and closer to the left with more and more doses of Socialism. With Socialized Medicine and National Health Care being good examples. Ever hear of “and to the Democracy for which it stands”? How about the “Battle Hymn of the Democracy”? In a Republic the rights of the minority are protected from the tyranny of the majority by the Constitution. The Constitution in general, and the Bill of Rights in particular, help insure that the “morals” of the majority are not “forced” on all of us. The following quote by George Washington should never be forgotten, because it forever reminds us that government is “force”. "Government is not reason, it is not eloquence, it is force; like fire, a troublesome servant and a fearful master. Never for a moment should it be left to irresponsible action."

The significance of all this is that when we vote for a law in this country we are forcing our will on others, unless the courts find that the law violates the freedom and rights of the individual as spelled out in the “Bill of Rights”. How many laws go unchallenged that could be considered a violation of our individual rights and since Ethics is about conduct between people, voting has a lot to do with Ethics.

Foundation for proper Choice:
Having the proper foundation is paramount to making good decisions. Let me give an example. Suppose you are asked to solve a Calculus problem. This would be a major problem if you had not had a proper foundation of first “arithmetic”, then “algebra”, and then perhaps “geometry and or trigometery”. But if you have had the foundation of arithmetic and have proof that one plus one is two, and you also have the proof that “the square of the hypotenuse is equal to the squares of the other two sides”, then the Calculus problem is built on proper foundation and the problem has a better chance of being solved correctly.

The proofs of the lower building blocks are set in a strong foundation that is hard to shake mainly because the foundation is made of facts, not interpretation or opinion. This is why it is so important to have the proper foundation in the “rules” of ethics, before we can make an informed choice because generally if you foundation for ethics is just religion, then you are on shaky ground from the start, since religion is not about fact, it’s about belief.

However, once we have the proper foundation, with facts as the basis, we are in a totally different arena. This way, when we make value judgments, we may be accused of having “bias” if someone asks us to state our opinion and we choose to hold on to our decision, but if we let ourselves question the decision that we made on our ethics choice, then we must first reconsider if our foundation has been shaken. If arithmetic has been proven false, then we must reconsider algebra and all other blocks that are built upon it. But if in your case, your foundations of the components of judging the ethical situation are correct, then the chances that the conclusions you draw will also be in your favor of being correct.

With the above understanding that ethics is really about the way we deal with others, an organization like the government, or a company, we now can add the last component to the equation…. fairness.

Fairness is all about putting yourself in the others shoes, or “walking a mile in someone else’s moccasins”, or “applying the golden rule”. Generally you are a fair person if you can keep the same position, after putting yourself in the other persons place.

We know that many people cannot arrive at consistent choices because they do not want to take a stand; because it is easier to feel good about one’s self if everything is in a gray area. It is easier to believe in “situation” ethics. Some people love the response… “It all depends.” Sometimes this is the correct response, but sometimes it is stated as the answer because people don’t have a good foundation on which to make more difficult choices. They feel uncomfortable and believe that if they don’t take a stand, then they can be perceived as being “open-minded”, which could be a nice cop-out for fence straddling. It may be they just don’t want to offend anyone by taking a stand.

A good example of people who do not have a good foundation on ethics are those that when asked three questions that are separate from each other and can stand on their own, will somehow magically change when they are combined. Here is an example of the three questions.
1. Who believes that it is wrong to prevent someone from earning their living if that living is completely wholesome, such as a Café owner who only sells wholesome food like organic foods?
2. Who believes it is O.K. to protest?
3. Who believes it is O.K. to protest while preventing the Café owner from earning a living by blocking the streets and not allowing his normal customers to buy his food?

A truly compassionate person would feel for the rights and feelings of the storeowners. A logically thinking person armed with facts about how freedom works will be able to see that the situation above is not ethical. By breaking the law to obtain what the protesters want, it is clear that they have no feeling for the Golden Rule as it applies to the storeowners. It is amazing how many people will say a combination of a wrong and a right will be right if it is for the right reason. It is O.K. for a man to rob someone if that is the only way he could get the money to prevent his mother from dying. Or as in the movie, “John Q”, the premise that it was O.K., to kidnap people if it is for a good enough cause. Or, Robin Hood was a “good” thief, because he “stole” from the rich to give to the poor. So, in this case stealing was O.K.

In the case above about the protestors who purposely block traffic, what if there was an Ambulance trying to get a dying person to the hospital but the streets are blocked and the person dies? Would the protestors then claim that it was O.K. to break the law because it was the only way they could get their point across? Or is breaking the law O.K. if it is for a good enough reason? Can a wrong and a right ever make a right?

A Final Example:
And now for the ultimate example that brings all aspects of ethics together at the same time, the proper solution to the situation, (the proper role of government), and the fairness of the solution, (the moral ingredient).

I will paraphrase and tell a similar story to the one that was told by former Secretary of Agriculture, Ezra Taft Benson to a group of college students many years ago. I cannot remember it in its word for word form, but here is the basic premise and the basic story.

The time setting is back in the days of wagon trains from the east going to settle in the West. The people who wanted to make the trip would gather up enough money from their group and hire a wagon master to lead them across the plains. This wagon master could be thought of as their government for all intents and purposes. On this wagon train are two other key participants, first a businessman named Jones who has over 200 horses that he was transporting to sell once he arrived in the West. The other important participant in this journey is the widow Brown, who had put all of her resources into this trip and only had barely enough left to complete the trip.

During the trip, the widow Brown’s horse broke it’s leg and had to be shot. The wagon master circled the wagons and asked the rest of the members of the wagon train, what should be done about helping the widow Brown since she did not have enough money to purchase another horse. Should they proceed without her? Should the wagon master use his power as the “government” to “take” a horse from Mr. Jones, since he had more than he could ever need? Or perhaps the rest of the wagon train should vote whether the wagon master should take a horse from Mr. Jones.

Now, the real ethical question is if any of these actions are ethical. What if you were Mr. Jones? Would you feel the same, if the wagon master took one of your horses? Would your feelings change if you knew that there was a vote that the wagon master takes a horse from you? This is the true test of fairness.

You see, we as a nation choose to have our government, which is really we, to take from the rich and give to the poor, because we do not wish to wait to see if the true solution would ever happen. And what would be the true ethical solution? Well, that would be for the wagon train to wait and see if anyone would give, loan, or contract with the widow Brown for a horse. Perhaps Mr. Jones would let her do his laundry or some other job that would allow the widow Jones to receive true charity, instead or robbing from Mr. Jones his right to do something charitable, and at the same time robbing from the widow Brown the self esteem that comes from not being the recipient of stolen goods, for which she never has to pay back.


It is all about Cause and Effect. Societies have seen in the past that as the “norms” of societies move away from everyone earning their own way and being self-sufficient and not being a parasite on the rest of society, that for the good of the entire civilization, we must not ever become like Rome, where in one of the main reasons it fell was because there were too many people who were living off the fruits of others.

Just as someone can solve a murder by applying the correct background to the crime scene, Motive, Opportunity, and Means, we must apply a consistent set of criteria to all ethics situations, in order to be consistent with our own set of values, and of which, the most important set of values should be the values we place on freedom and fairness. (Politics and Morals)


At 3:54 PM, Blogger Revka said...

Glad i found your blog! It is great to hear from so many conservatives. ALSO one who reads C.S. Lewis.
Since you have children I highly recommend the new book. "Help mom, there are liberals under my bed". My kids love it. You will die laughing as you read it to them.

At 6:32 PM, Blogger Free Agency Rules said...


Thanks for stopping by.

Yep, I don't see how anyone could read "the Question of God" by Dr. Armand M. NIcholi, Jr. and not be pursuaded to become a Theist.

The book is about the different logic of Freud and Lewis about the Greates question in the history of the world....Is there a God?

It amazes me that more people don't see this most important question at all.

I can hardly wait for "The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe", I believe it is out next month.

Drop by anytime.

I will link your blog right now.



At 9:26 PM, Blogger Roseville Conservative said...


All I can say is wow.

What an example you are to our generation!

God Bless...


At 11:29 PM, Blogger Free Agency Rules said...

Thanks Aaron.



At 8:39 AM, Blogger Free Agency Rules said...


The reason I wrote this was because I got to thinking that when people use the majority rule of the voters to force the taxpayers to pay for care of the poor, they are "forcing" their view of their ethics on the taxpayer.

Ironic, when these are the very people who don't want any other set of "ethics" forced on them.

Do they really think that is fair or living by the Golden Rule?



At 8:41 AM, Blogger Free Agency Rules said...


My youngest is 29 years old.



At 11:52 AM, Blogger Mahndisa S. Rigmaiden said...

11 29 05

Whoa what a through post FAR. I am almost done reading it, but wanted to take the time. I have also seen a definition of morals not necessarily related to mores, but more philosophically or religiously based. Yet I can dig your definitions and am thankful that you wrote this. I have been wrestling with such questions for quite some time and it is heartening to know, I am not alone. I will further comment when I am done reading this:) Have a nice day:)

At 9:33 PM, Blogger Reign of Reason said...

Posted a comment to yours on:


At 8:11 AM, Blogger rightsideblogger said...


send me an email when you get a chance.



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