Morals and Ethics

Sorry. Philsophical day.

I am vehemently against adult human beings following a moral system over an ethical one. The reason the 10 Athetistic Commandments bother me so much is that they outline yet another moral system, in place of an ethical one, with the very people you'd hope would reject morals. You could take them as a parody...but they don't come across as a joke.

Most people accept "morals" and "ethics" as being the same thing. They're not. I'm going to use biblical examples here, but that's what I'm familiar with.

Morality is a system of right and wrong, in which one follows given rules. The result of following a given rule is reward; the result of not following a given rule is punishment. The 10 Commandments and the Old Testament outline a moral system. "Thou Shalt." If someone doesn't follow the instructions contained in the Old Testament, various punishments are outlined; also, the stories illustrate what happens when someone doesn't do what God wants, and the result is never good.

Ethics is a system of good and bad (like Ray's preschool--good choice, bad choice), in which one espouses principals. The result of following a principal is the same as the result of not following a principal--whatever happens, happens. The Golden Rule and the New Testament outline an ethical system. "Treat everyone as you want to be treated." If someone doesn't follow the instructions, Christ points out that they'll never know God. Hell isn't mentioned, and Heaven isn't a place of reward--it's just "knowing God." They do throw in "life everlasting," but I hope you see the point.

The difference between the two systems is that with Morality, one's responsibility is limited to following rules. Whether or not the rules accomplish what needs to be accomplished is not under question, and, in fact, must never come under question. With Ethics, one is responsible for the consequences of one's actions, regardless of intent or even the supposed worthiness of the principal you follow. Suppose you come across someone who does not want to be treated the way you would want to be treated: you still have to live with the consequences. Maybe next time, you'll ask first.

This is not to say people who follow the 10 Commandments (either in the Book religions or the Atheistic version) do not take responsibility for their actions or that people who practice the Golden Rule always do; only that the systems themselves push for certain types of behavior and contain different assumptions. Morality assumes you follow instructions; Ethics assumes you're guided by a principal. Children follow instructions; adults should learn to make up their own minds and accept the consequences of their actions, all the way through. Mistakes will be made. "We are all sinners." This is something you live with--unless you truly follow a moral system, in which case you find a way to punish yourself or make yourself outcast from your group (or find a Judas goat).