Humanistic ethics is a universal value system which is based on each person's need to be truthful to the humanity of their own conscience - their own real self. Freedom of conscience depends on development or 'education'.
"Humanistic ethics is the applied science of the 'art of living' based upon the theoretical 'science of man'... "...the validity of humanistic ethics... to show that our knowedge of human nature does not lead to ethical relativism, but to the conviction that the sources of norms for ethical conduct are to be found in man's nature itself; that moral norms are based upon man's inherent qualities, and that their violation results in mental and emotional disintegration...the character structure of the mature and integrated personality, the 'productive' character, constitutes the source and the basis of 'virtue' and that 'vice,' in the last analysis is the indifference to one's own self and self-mutilation." (Erich Fromm Man For Himself)
Ethics as a branch of philosophy... 'moral philosophy' Ethics is a branch of philosophy about life and how it should be lived i.e. moral philosophy. Moral philosophy is more than a matter of academics because it deals with human relationships - not only within the human species but also with other animal species and even with the living plane 'earth'.
"Humanists for thousands of years have attempted to construct a naturalistic, psychological value system that could be derived from man's own nature, without the necessity of recourse to authority outside the human being himself. Many such theories have been offered throughout history. They have all failed." (Maslow Psychology of Being 149)
Ethics and morality The terms ethics and morality' have come to be treated as almost identical in meaning. The words tend to be interchanged although they have different derivations.
The term 'morality' refers to issues of right and wrong action. The term ethics which is sometimes translated as custom or usage is derived from the Greek word ethicos which is related to the root ethos a root which meant 'custom' as well as 'character'. Ethics was understood as being concerned with the formation and perfection of human character. In its original sense, the 'ethics' of a group was determined by its character and its customs. The 'ethics' of a group forms an 'ethos'. In the original broad meaning of 'ethics', the concern was with positive human excellences or virtues. Ethics was understood to be concerned with the formation and perfection of human character. Ethics refers to customary social behaviour. Ethical behaviour is behaviour of a virtuous character.Eventually, the term 'ethics' came to mean the 'science' dealing with the ideal of human relatedness. Webster defines the word 'ethics' as both 'the science of moral values and duties' and as 'the study of the ideal human character, actions, and ends'.
"The word 'ethics' comes from a root which means, originally, custom, and eventually, ethics comes to mean the science dealing with the ideal of human relatedness. This confusion between custom and ideals still exists in the minds of many people." (Fromm Man For Himself 169)
Confusion between custom and character: behavioural pradigm and 'ethical relativism' The confusion between custom and ideal character still exists in the belief that children simply internalize the behavioural norms of the society... that moral commitment is entirely learned through the mechanism of 'operant conditioning'... i.e. 'ethical behaviourism'. Sometimes the term ethics is used to refer to a 'code of behaviour' - a 'code of ethics' - which is valid and desirable for a given situation. There is a code of 'medical ethics', 'business ethics', 'military ethics' and so on. A code of ethics can easily degenerate into a code which serves the interests of those within a specific situation if it separated from universal human ethics. A code of 'medical ethics' can become a code which serves the interests of those in the medical 'profession.' A code of 'business ethics' can become a code which serves the interests of those in 'business'. Likewise for 'military ethics' and so on.
"Unable to resort to either revelation or reason, man adopted the 'relativistic' position which proposes that value judgements and ethical norms are exclusively matters of taste or arbitrary preference and that no objectively valid statement can be made in this realm. But since man cannot live without values and norms, this relativism makes him an easy prey for irrational value systems...the demands of the state, the enthusiasm for magic qualities of powerful leaders, powerful machines, and material success become the sources for his norms and value judgements." (Fromm Man For Himself p. 5)
'developmental-genetic conception' of ethical behaviour. The child moves from a primary dependence on external controls and sanctions to an increasingly sophisticated set of internalised standards.
"Our knowledge of human nature does not lead to ethical relativism, but to the conviction that the sources of norms for ethical conduct are to be found in man's nature itself; moral norms are based on man's inherent qualities, and their violation results in mental and emotional disintegration... the character structure of the mature and integrated personality, the 'productive ' character, constitutes the source and the basis of 'virtue' and 'vice' in the last analysis is the indifference to one's own self and self-mutilation." 'Self-love' and the affirmation of one's true self are the supreme values of humanistic ethics. "If man is to have confidence in values, he must know himself and the capacity of his nature for goodness and productiveness." (Fromm Man For Himself : Psychology of Ethics p.7)
Philosophical tradition In the great philosophical tradition, ethics is a code of behaviour which is valid for all human beings and for every living thing.... "ethics is not a code of behaviour valid in reference to this or that person or to this or that situation but to all human beings. Ethics is but to all human beings...and for everything that is alive. There is only universal human ethics applied to specific human situations." See Aristotle Ethics (Fromm Man For Himself 170)
Humanistic conscience is based on the knowledge of man's nature. The great tradition of humanistic ethical thought is based on a wholistic perspective of man in his 'physico-spiritual totality'. It is based on the belief that man's aim is to be himself, and that the condition for attaining this goal is that man be for himself. It is based on the premise that one has to know the nature of man in order to formulate valid ethical codes. Based on the validity of man's autonomy, valid ethical norms are formed by man's reason." (Fromm Man For Himself 7)
Ethics as a function of developed human conscience... 'humanistic ethics' Ethics is a matter of 'moral consciousness' or 'morality' of 'conscience' - not the authoritarian conscience or 'superego' (internalized authority of father or society) but developed conscience - the "inner voice that calls us back to ourselves, the inner core which is common to all human beings, our 'human nature'." (Erich Fromm 1963. The Dogma of Christ 171) Developed conscience is 'humanistic conscience' the basis for 'humanistic ethics' applied science of the 'art of living' based upon 'laws of human nature'. Living as an art is living by the laws of human nature... the process of developing into that which one is potentially i.e. 'freedom'. Inner freedom of 'morality' translates into 'outer freedom' of moral behaviour i.e. social responsibility or 'peace'.
Humanistic ethics is a universal value system which is based on each person's need to be truthful to their own humanity - their own real self.
"The aim of man's life is the unfolding of his powers according to the laws of his nature" In humanistic ethics 'good' is the affirmation of life, the unfolding of man's powers. 'Virtue' from 'virtus' is 'responsibility toward one's existence, excellence of one's achievement." 'Vice' is "irresponsibility toward one's own existence." (20)
Ethics and freedom: 'ethical individualism' Freedom as 'inner freedom' is freedom of the inner aspect of life - a state and quality of mind... 'freedom of the mind'... 'freedom of conscience'. Inner freedom is freedom of 'moral consciousness' or 'conscience'. Conscience is the source of guiding values for living which are defined by 'moral values' or 'spiritual values' i.e. 'human values'. Human values are a function of 'moral development'. The different stages of moral development - 'socio-cognitive stages' - represent stages of 'moral intelligence' or 'morality'. Morality is freedom. The free individual acts morally. Living in freedom is living by natural moral laws or 'natural ethics'. Natural ethics is a function of full development of the 'human personality' i.e. 'human nature'. Human nature as human conscience - the human 'soul' - is the source of all morality. 'Human' in the true sense means 'morally free'. The knowledge of human nature is knowledge of one's intrinsic morality or 'goodness' i.e. 'self-knowledge'. Self-knowledge overcomes the division between the subjective 'self' or 'ego' and the objective world i.e. 'self-transcendance'. In the realm of self-transcendance the individual lives in 'complete freedom' or 'true freedom'. True freedom implies responsibility of 'moral conciousness' or 'morality' of developed 'conscience'... 'responsibility of freedom'. Freedom without responsibility is 'license'. True freedom with guidance of developed conscience... moral intelligence or 'intuition' (ethical intuition) is required for meaningful life. Intuition as developed conscience.... creative intelligence or 'social intelligence'.
"Acting out of freedom does not exclude the moral laws; it includes them, but shows itself to be on a higher level than those actions which are merely dictated by such laws. Why should my action be of less service to the public good when I have done it out of love than when I have done it only because I consider serving the public good to be my duty? The mere concept of duty excludes freedom because it does not acknowledge the individual element but demands that this be subject to a general standard. Freedom of action is conceivable only from the standpoint of ethical individualism." (Steiner, R. The Philosophy of Freedom. London: Rudolph Steiner Press. 138)
Ethical intuitionism is the direct awareness of true right and wrong which can be formalized in the mind by logic and translated into rules of social action.
"Man is free in so far as he is able to obey himself in every moment of his life." (Erich Fromm. Escape From Freedom. p. 255)
Implications for education
The formulation of valid ethical norms by reason is based on the knowledge of human nature. Based on the respect for the dignity of human existence, the moral norms of humanistic ethics lie within the productive character which values the affirmation of the true human self. Valid ethical norms are formulatd on the basis of the inherent qualities of human nature which are manifest in the mature and integrated personality, the 'productive' character.
Education based on knowledge of human nature is education for ethics... for morality.... ethical or moral education... 'holistic education' ... for 'freedom'.
HUMANISTIC ETHICS universal human ethics AND RATIONAL AUTHORITY(use of reason) The source of rational authority is competence. "The person whose authority is respected functions competently in the task with which he is entrusted by those who conferred it upon him." (Fromm Man For Himself 10)
Rational authority depends on performance and requires constant scrutiny.
"If man is to have confidence in values, he must know himself and the capactity of his nature for goodness and productiveness." (Fromm Man For Himself 7 Humanistic conscience is based on the knowledge of man's nature. The great tradition of humanistic ethical thought is based on a wholistic perspective of man in his 'physico-spiritual totality'. It is based on the belief that man's aim is to be himself, and that the condition for attaining this goal is that man be for himself." (Fromm Man For Himself 7) It is based on the premise that one has to know the nature of man in order to formulate valid ethical codes. Based on the validity of man's autonomy, valid ethical norms are formed by man's reason. 1. naturalistic value system (Maslow) 2. organismic valuing process (Rogers)