Category: Ethics

Heinz von Foerster: Ethics and Second-Order Cybernetics. 1990

The following text is a keynote address Heinz von Foerster gave at the “International Conference on Systems and Family Therapy — Ethics, Epistemology, New Methods”, which took place in Paris in 1990. Introduction Ladies and Gentlemen: I am touched by the generosity of the organizers of this conference, who not only invited me to come to your glorious city of Paris, but also gave me the honor of opening the plenary sessions with my presentation.[1] And I am impressed by the ingenuity of our organizers, who suggested to me the title of my presentation. They wanted me to address myself...

Erich Fromm: Humanistic Ethics (1947)

If we do not abandon, as ethical relativism does, the search for objectively valid norms of conduct, what criteria for such norms can we find? The kind of criteria depends on the type of ethical system – the norms of which we study. By necessity, the criteria in authoritarian ethics are fundamentally different from those in humanistic ethics.

In authoritarian ethics an authority states what is good for man and lays down the laws and norms of conduct; in humanistic ethics man himself is both the norm giver and the subject of the norms, their formal source or regulative agency and their subject matter.

Levinas: Ethics as First Philosophy (1984)

This essay was published for the first time in “Justifications de l’Ethique” (Bruxelles: Editions de l’Universite de Bruxelles), 1984, pp. 41 – 51. I am quoting here from the English translation in “[easyazon_link identifier=”0631164472″ locale=”US” tag=”mainacademicsite-20″]The Levinas Reader[/easyazon_link],” edited by Sean Hand, 1989, p. 76. Ethics as First Philosophy’ is a clear and powerful summary of Levinas’s methodical and yet radical move away from Husserl’s transcendental idealism and Heidegger’s hermeneutics towards the ethical question of the meaning of being, as we encounter it in the face-to-face relation. Beginning with the phenomenological legacy which reveals knowledge as built on an intentionality...

Interfaith Declaration: Code of Ethics on International Business for Christians, Muslims, and Jews (1994)

The following description was written by Simon Webley, of the British-North American Research Association, who also worked on the text itself. INTRODUCTION A series of Interfaith consultations began in 1984 under the patronage of HRH Prince Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh, and HRH Crown Prince Hassan Bin Talal of Jordan. Followers of the three monotheistic faiths Christianity, Islam and Judaism took part, under the auspices of St. George’s House, Windsor and the Al Albait Foundation and the Arab Thought Forum in Amman. More recently Sir Evelyn de Rothschild has joined Their Royal Highnesses as a patron in this endeavor. A group of...

Immanuel Kant: Groundwork for the Metaphysics of Morals (1785)

The Groundwork for the Metaphysics of Morals (1785) by Immanuel Kant (1724-1804) is a cornerstone of moral philosophy. It was published in 1785, after the Critique of Pure Reason (1781) and just before the Critique of Practical Reason (1788). It is essentially a short introduction to the argument presented in the second Critique.  Kant argues that morality is based neither on the principle of utility, nor on a law of nature, but on human reason. According to Kant, reason tells us what we ought to do, and only when we follow our own reason are we truly free.  The text suggests several general...

Jeremy Bentham: Principles of Morals and Legislation. 1780

One can also approach ethics from the perspective of usefulness and utility. What will produce the greatest amount of happiness for the greatest number of people? The philosopher associated with this kind of thinking about morality is Jeremy Bentham (1748-1832). In his Introduction to the Principles of Morals and Legislation (1780), Bentham argues that the principle of utility should be the basis of morality and law, and by utility he understands whatever promotes pleasure and prevents pain. Is this principle enough to guide us through the difficult questions of ethical decision-making? Here are some excerpts: Chapter I. Of the Principle...

Ethical Systems

  The picture above suggests a way to integrate ethical systems on the basis of the structure of action. Ethical reflection can begin with the acting subject, the action itself, or the outcome.  Another consideration is the field of application: What actions can be subjected to ethical considerations? (Sneezing or falling from a tree is not an ethical act.) Furthermore, does ethics only apply to actions between subjects, like in the case of lying, or does it extend to other objects, like trees, animals, landscapes, etc.? The table below compares five different approaches to ethics: Relativism, Religious ethics, utlitarianism, deontology,...

Spinoza – Ethics

Spinoza’s Ethics is one one of the most influential books in Western philosophy. It was published by a friend in 1677, shortly after he had died. It was immediately attacked as being atheistic, because it suggests a conception of God without any anthropomorphic characteristics. The God of Spinoza is not personal; it is a God without  will, emotion, purpose, or mercy. According to Spinoza, this is not necessary since the world is perfect as it is; only our perception is so dim that we cannot grasp the deeper structure of nature. Spinoza also rejects the idea of free will in...

The Cambridge Declaration on Consciousness

The field of Consciousness research is rapidly evolving. Abundant new techniques and strategies for human and non-human animal research have been developed. Consequently, more data is becoming readily available, and this calls for a periodic reevaluation of previously held preconceptions in this field. Studies of non-human animals have shown that homologous brain circuits correlated with conscious experience and perception can be selectively facilitated and disrupted to assess whether they are in fact necessary for those experiences

The Law of Human Nature – C.S.Lewis

The following excerpt from Lewis’ book “Mere Christianity” describes very well the idea of a Law of human nature, as a foundation for universal ethics. Every one has heard people quarreling. Sometimes it sounds funny and sometimes it sounds merely unpleasant; but however it sounds, I believe we can learn something very important from listening to the kind of things they say. They say things like this: “How’d you like it if anyone did the same to you?”—”That’s my seat, I was there first”—”Leave him alone, he isn’t doing you any harm”— “Why should you shove in first?”—”Give me a...

Aristotle: Nicomachean Ethics

It’s one of the classics of Western Philosophy. You can find the full text at the Internet Classics Archive, here. Quotes from the Nicomachean Ethics (c. 325 BC): We are not studying in order to know what virtue is, but to become good, for otherwise there would be no profit in it. (NE 2.2) If there is some end of the things we do, which we desire for its own sake, clearly this must be the good. Will not knowledge of it, then, have a great influence on life? Shall we not, like archers who have a mark to aim...

Wittgenstein – Lecture on Ethics. 1929.

My subject, as you know, is Ethics and I will adopt the explanation of that term which Professor Moore has given in his book Principia Ethica. He says: “Ethics is the general inquiry into what is good.” Now I am going to use the term Ethics in a slightly wider sense, in a sense in fact which includes what I believe to be the most essential part of what is generally called Aesthetics. And to make you see as clearly as possible what I take to be the subject matter of Ethics I will put before you a number of...

Confucius – Analects, Excerpts

The Analects, or Lunyu, contain the words and acts of the central Chinese thinker and philosopher Confucius and his students. They were written during the Spring and Autumn Period through the Warring States Period (ca. 475 BC – 221 BC). The Analects are  the main work of Confucianism; the work continues to have a substantial influence on Chinese and East Asian thought and values today. This page contains quotes from the Analects, arranged by the themes found in Confucian Teaching: Jen – Humaneness Junzi (chün-tzu)- the Superior Man, or Gentleman, or Scholar Li – Rites Yüeh –Music Learning and Teaching...

Tao Te Ching

The following introduction is from the Tao Te Ching, Translation by Gia Fu Feng & Jane English. With Comments and layout by Thomas Knierim: “The Tao Te Ching  was written in China roughly 2,500 years ago at about the same time when Buddha expounded the Dharma in India and Pythagoras taught in Greece. The Tao Te Ching is probably the most influential Chinese book of all times. Its 81 chapters have been translated into English more times than any other Chinese document. The Tao Te Ching provides the basis for the philosophical school of Taoism, which is an important pillar...