Sunday, April 10, 2005
Ethics and Morality
Ethics and morality are both expressed in terms of principles of right and wrong, but they apply to two different dimensions of living. Morality is how an individual organizes in a personal sense, his or her principles of right and wrong. It is personally determined, sometimes religiously based, but can be secularly based also. Many Americans believe that without religion, there is no morality, but this just is not the case. The theofascist Americans would agree if they had read anything of Aristotle or Plato's Republic. If they knew anything of the ancient Egyptian concept of Ma'hat or Mayet, they would understand that even in ancient polytheistic cultures, people asserted that no leader, not even one believed to be divine, could act arbitrarily. Mayet, however is an ordering principle that encompasses both morality and ethics.
Ethics are principles of right and wrong applied to specific vocations. If a doctor refuses to treat a gay person because he or she believes homosexuality to be evil, then that doctor had violated the ethics dictated by the Hippocratic Oath, but has upheld his or her morality. The personal desire outweighs professional considerations, therefore the doctor has acted selfishly, not altruistically. If a pharmacist refuses to fill a prescription for RU 486, or birth control of any kind, then he or she has chosen to follow morality instead of doing what is ethical, that is, serving the patient. A judge who refuses to marry two gay people on moral grounds has chosen his morality over public service, has chosen to act morally rather than ethically. The judge is self-serving, unethical, and should be out of a job. He is no altruist.
By way of ethics, people serve each other in a pluralistic society. By way of ethics, people may become citizens and respect each other. I consider citizenship to be a vocation with ethics, one no one can escape. Every citizen has responsibilities and obligations. These have nothing to do with fighting for one's country, but everything to do with honesty and bringing "truth to power." A citizen is more obliged to vote and testify than to serve in the military. A dissenting citizen is more obliged to protest the war if it is wrong, to call the government out for all its crimes than to agree with the government. If he or she stays silent, then he or she is self-serving, not altruistic.
Morality serves no one except the individual, with indignation at the wrongs of others, and conscience in the event wrong is done. To be moral, though, is no indication of altruism and public spirit. If anything, to uphold morality at the expense of ethics indicates shallow mindedness and selfishness.