What Are Ethics?
Conventionally understood, ethics are a set of moral principles: a
set of rules which should
in our lives. These rules define what is good, and what is bad, and as
they express the purpose, the meaning, the aim, of our lives.
The Ethics of the Past
1) Primitive Ethics: Might is Right
Might is Right is the ethics of the barbarian, the primitive human being, and is just the human equivalent of the laws which govern animal behaviour. These ethics assert that right is on the side of the most powerful, the most strong: that what decides an issue is strength. Such ethics are primarily ethics of the individual in isolation.
2) Utilitarian Ethics
This is essentially the belief that what is right is happiness, and especially the "happiness of the majority": that is, what is right is what makes the most people happy, or secure, or comfortable.
3) Traditional Religious Ethics
The basis for most traditional religious ethics (Christian, Islamic and Judaic) is revelation from God, via a Prophet or Prophets, who reveal God-given laws which we should follow.
We should follow these laws in order to avoid being punished by God, in this life and the next, and to win a place in Heaven, or Paradise.
The basis for the religious ethics of non-revealed religions (such as Buddhism) is to attain something akin to "nirvana"/ end the cycle of birth-rebirth of one's soul, and so attain eternal bliss and happiness.
The reasoning behind all religious ethics is therefore a personal
as God/the Buddha/the Master says for then you will gain
not be punished, and so on. You might also gain personal fortune/good
Traditional religious ethics also gave rise to the concept of
Right" where a Monarch (usually a King) was regarded as a
God, who therefore derived his authority from God and who therefore had
right to make and enforce laws because he was doing God's will on
Europe, this concept developed, as traditional religion declined, into
of "divine right of State governments" who ruled on behalf of The
who derived their authority from The People. Thus were State Ethics
4) State Ethics
This is basically the ethics which underlie all modern Western nations: the State, in the form of some "elected government" decides what is right, and what is wrong, and makes laws based on its beliefs and political policies.
State ethics is a sort of synthesis between Utilitarian ethics (the happiness of the greatest number) and the ethics of Plato. For Plato, what is good is defined as what contributes to harmony (we might say what contributes to "peace") and happiness.
In addition, according to the ethics of Plato, the ultimate reason for doing what is moral is still a personal, individual one: to earn reward, in this life and the next, since individuals possess an immortal soul.
From Utilitarian ethics State ethics derives the concept of the happiness of the majority; from Plato, it derives the concept of an ideal - or at least useful but always powerful, supra-personal - State, governed by laws made by law-givers who not only decide how prosperity, happiness and such like, can be attained, but who also possess the power, the authority, to make those laws enforceable.
Essentially, State ethics means that what is wrong - what is unlawful - is what the State says is unlawful, and the State bases its judgement on either one or both of the following:
a) on political or social ideas which form the basis for the Political Party, or movement, which is either elected into political power, or which seizes power.
b) On a "mandate" from "the people" who are said to have given their
approval, or consent, for the policies of the Government by voting for
This is "utilitarian ethics" where what is considered right is
majority of people agree is right, or feel is right.
State Ethics can also be based, in part, on the prevailing religious
which is accepted, or is believed to be accepted, by the majority of
a certain nation, State, or country.
The quintessence of State ethics is that a State, a government, can and should introduce laws - which are enforceable by State-appointed officials such as the Police - to create a "good" society for its citizens, with their being punishment of those who contravene the laws which the State and its officials decide are "good" or "right", or of benefit to "the people".
Thus State ethics depends upon abstract notions such as The State,
People", the "will of the people", and upon concepts such as
the "will of the people" is said to be made known and which gives the
its mandate, and its authority. In many ways, Marxism and similar
theories, are just versions of these concepts of The State, and The
The New Cosmic Ethics: Morality of the Future
Cosmic ethics are revolutionary because they are not based upon the individual, not based upon the happiness of the greatest number, and not based upon some God-given revelation.
The conscious expression of the Cosmic Ethic begins with Aristotle, for whom arête (often mis-translated as virtue, but which properly is excellence) was a balance between extremes: that is, the avoidance of excess in feeling, action, thought, behaviour and deed.
That is, individual excellence, and excellence for the community, could be attained by following a reasonable, reasoned, middle way. This concept is itself a conscious expression of the basic attitude which underlay classical Greek society, manifest as this attitude was in the dramas of Aeschylus and Sophocles.
However, for Aristotle, the reason for striving for excellence is to attain a good or prosperous life: both in this mortal life and the next. That is, the goal, or meaning, of life is still understood in terms of the individual: in terms of their prosperity, their fortune (for good or bad) and in terms of their prospects, in this life, and the next. This is in contrast to Cosmic ethics.
The basis for Cosmic ethics is empathy. That is, the perspective is
of the Cosmos, of ourselves as one finite, mortal, causally-existing
nexion: one connexion to the Cosmos and all other Life. When we act in
an empathic, compassionate, and honourable way, we are opening and
evolving this nexion; and accessing (presencing) what is numinous. When
we act in other ways, we not only close this nexion, but we cause or
contribute to the suffering of other Life. According
to Cosmic ethics we should do something not because we expect some
this life or in the next, and not because we are told to do it by
someone else, but because it is the empathic thing to do and manifests
our true nature, our real duty, as human beings; because it is an
expression of, an affirmation of, Life itself, and the evolution of
Life toward the cessation of suffering and the emergence and evolution
Our duty is an expression of our evolving humanity. That is, by doing our duty, we are being human; we are acting in accord with our human nature which is to be empathic, fair, just, rational, and to change, to evolve ourselves so that we can increase The Numen itself: that and those things which manifest, presence, express the very life and sentience of the Cosmos.
According to Cosmic ethics, we are the Cosmos - and thus Nature -
made manifest and in evolution: what we do,
not do, affects the Cosmos, and Nature, and thus the living beings of
Nature. We can either
Nature, or harm Nature. We aid the Cosmos - the living-being which is
our Cosmic Being, of which Nature is one incarnation - when we, because
of empathy, act with honour and compassion, and thus are fair, just,
Basically, personal honour is a manifestation of our human
we can respect the dignity, the rights, the freedom, of others, and how
do our duty to Nature and the Cosmos beyond.
Thus, although Cosmic ethics and Kantian ethics may seem to have some things in common - such as using reason, the respect for the dignity and rights of others - they are very different not only because of the importance in Cosmic ethics of empathy, compassion and honour, but also because of how Cosmic ethics conceives the individual. For Cosmic ethics, the individual is but a living nexus, a sentient manifestation of Nature, linked to other human beings, connected to their ancestors and their ancestral culture, connected to Nature, and thence to the Cosmos beyond. For Kantian ethics, the individual relates to a transcendent pure Reason (basically, a mystical conception of God), from whom the purpose and meaning of life is derived, as it is with religious ethics.
According to Cosmic ethics, what is good is that which manifests and increases empathy, and that which manifests honour and compassion and thus that which does not cause or contribute to the suffering of any living being. Thus, our duty is to do what is honourable and what aids Nature, the living beings of Nature, and what aids the Cosmos. Thus, the criteria is not our own "happiness", nor the the happiness of the majority.
Accordingly, communities and supra-personal Institutions - to be ethical - should encourage empathy, personal honour, and compassion (and manifest these virtues) and thus encourage and enable us to do our duty to Nature, to the living beings of Nature and the Cosmos, with such communities and supra-personal Institutions respecting our right of honour and our right and duty of compassion.
Addendum: Brief Critique of Kant and Hegel
Kantian and Hegelian Ethics: Religious Ethics in Disguise
The ethics of Kant are basically a development of the concept of traditional religious ethics, where revelation of God - the laws revealed by God - are replaced by "reason". That is, our moral duty derives from understanding the world around us and acting in such a way that we respect the dignity, the rights, of others. Why? The Kantian answer relies on the notion of duty. According to Kant, the only valid human motivation is duty; an individual has a duty to respect moral law, which itself is known through Reason. But what is Reason - that is, how does this duty arise? Kant, wishing to avoid deriving duty from God, settles on the concept of the norm: duty is that which does not take away the autonomy (freedom) of others and which allows an individual to be autonomous. Kantian ethics is the morality of the categorical imperative.
In effect, Kant replaces the aim of happiness (of the individual; the majority) as well as the aim of God with the concept of the Norm, even though his ethics are a pure expression of religious ethics. Replace his Reason with God, and his ethics function perfectly.
Thus, in many ways, Kantian ethics are mystical, transcendental,
Christian ethics without the Old Testament concept of God: that is, the
of the Protestant religion, in particular the Lutheran kind.
For Hegel, morality, the good, derives from the transcendent Will, the Universal Will, which is knowable via the The Dialectic, the conflict between Spirit and Matter. The State is objectified Spirit, but not Spirit itself; the being of the individual is defined via the State, and thus by interaction with the dialectic for the State reveals ethics to individuals, and obedience to the State - according to Hegel - enables freedom.
In effect, the State is understood as a revelation of Pure Spirit, a
revelation of the Universal Will, and in the final analysis, Hegel's
Spirit is nothing other than the God of monotheistic religion.
Objections to Kant:
1) The idea of Kantian autonomy is against the reality of Nature and the cosmos. For Kant, the individual is in isolation, and defined only according to a transcendent pure Reason.
For Cosmic Ethics, the individual is considered as a living nexus between other human beings, and thus is a nexus between Nature and the Cosmos.
For Cosmic Ethics, duty is what is compassionate and honourable; that is, duty is balance between personal honour, the good of Nature and the good of the Cosmos, discovered as this duty is through empathy and practical reason.
Practical reason is rational thought based on a) principles of logic; b) practical observation of the external world; c) scientific experiments; d) the scientific method which asserts that observations should be repeatable and verifiable, with observations explained and connections made between observations by the fewest, most simple, most logical, explanations.
According to Cosmic Ethics, the duty an individual has arises because the individual is a nexus: a living link, and has potential to evolve themselves, and thus the sentience of the Cosmos itself. And also the potential to harm Life itself, as Life is manifest in the nexions which are living beings.
2) The Kantian norm does not allow for evolution, and who decides what is the Norm? The Norm is never properly defined (for instance in its relation to the real law which governs a community, society or State). Furthermore, while this Norm may be known, or discovered, by a Philosopher or Philosophers, who can communicate such knowledge to ordinary people and who may (as envisaged by Plato) act as "law-givers" on the basis of this knowledge, do ordinary people, who do not have this "mystical" knowledge, have a duty, enforceable in law, to obey the edicts of these "law-givers"? And what happens if the knowledge of one of more of these law-givers is wrong, or false? Is there a duty, by others, to rebel against their laws?
According to Cosmic Ethics, honour is the basis for justice and
honour is through a practical Code of Honour which itself expresses the
results of empathy and noble reasoning.
Objections to Hegel:
What is the Hegelian Universal Will and how is it made known? Hegel answers that it is made known via the State. But this, according to Cosmic Ethics, is a negation, a denial, of individual honour and thus a negation of freedom because the individual is expected to, and can be compelled to, obey the State which assumes the right to make laws, and punish individuals, because this State sees itself as a reflection of the Universal Will, or at least the Will as a coming-into-being.
Like Kant, Hegel reduces such things as justice to an abstract fundamentally impersonal idea which is said to exist external to individuals in some "pure" or "ideal" form which can be approached, or made manifest in some way, via some other abstract thing such as a law, or some Institution, or even by some State, or some prophet, sage, Monarch or "leader" who is in contact with God or the representative of God, or who has a "Destiny", or who is said to embody or manifest the Spirit of the Age, or something similar, and whose word is therefore law, or can become embodied as law which other people are duty-bound to follow and obey.
This abstraction, in essence, is also what religion - and State ethics - do. In complete contrast, Cosmic Ethic affirms that such things as justice exist only in noble empathic individuals and not in any abstract, supra-personal, form such as a law, an Institution or a State, and also not in any one person who assumes the guidance, moral or otherwise, of other individuals. For Cosmic Ethics, justice and freedom are manifest, and can only be manifest, in fair, noble, empathic, individuals who uphold honour, who are compassionate, and who thus accord all other individuals the freedom, the right, to live according to honour and compassion, regardless of the culture, the social status, the alleged or presumed race, the education, the occupation, the past, of those other individuals. Cosmic Ethics further asserts that any other type or notion of "justice" is tyrannical or has the potential to become tyrannical and will so become tyrannical) because, being abstract, such abstract notions deny and take away the fundamental sovereignty and empathy of the individual.
Such abstract concepts - with the consequent inhuman denial of
are further developed in the ideas of Marx and others who reduce the
individual to a virtual mechanistic automaton governed by economic
a material dialectic which assumes and which requires, for the creation
"ideal society", at best a suspension of morality and individual
worst the abolition of morality in favour of an "enlightened few"
majority through political tyranny.
Hegel gives no satisfactory answer as to the nature of this Universal Will, asserting only that it is transcendent. Ultimately, it can only be defined as God, who is transcendent, monotheistic.
Furthermore, the Hegelian concept of the individual does not accord with the individual as a living nexus: a link between their own collective, and the collective which is Nature. Instead, there are the Hegelian mechanistic, abstract, concepts of the State and of such things as "human history" where States, and Empires, are considered by Hegel to manifest the dialectic whereas what they did manifest was a disrespect of Nature, a disrespect for the honour and freedom of human beings, and a general disrespect for all living beings.
Thus there is in Hegel (as in Marx and others) no account of
part of Nature, as depending on Nature, as possessing empathy and the
virtue of compassion, and on having a duty to Nature and to the Life -
the Being, the sentience - of the Cosmos itself:
ignored by most if not all historical States and Empires which have
polluted and ravaged Nature in a quest for profit, indulgence, pleasure
power, and which in one way or another have trampled on the honour and
of fellow human beings, as well as having caused immerse suffering.