The Search for Guiding Values as the 'Problem of Ethics'
theme: The concern for the so-called 'problem of ethics' (how to make people virtuous) is the search for guiding values in the resolution of human problems. So what is the source of guiding values? Resolution of perplexing issues of 'ethics' and 'morality' is possible with analysis in terms of biological principles rather than in terms of philosophical speculation. The human conscience is the source of a 'natural ethics'. Natural ethics is moral intelligence or 'morality'. Morality is moral consciousness or 'conscience'. The human conscience is the source of a 'natural ethics'.
Conscience is an emergent property of the human organ for making meaning or 'learning' and learning is the natural function of the 'brain'. The guiding values which have been prescribed by religions and philosophies can be found within a person's consciousness or 'conscience'.
The objective study of fully developed and healthy self-actualized individuals reveals information about the end result of normal human growth and provides a basis for the formulation of a natural 'science of ethics.'
What is the meaning of the word 'ethics'? Ethics is a branch of philosophy known as 'moral philosophy'. Moral philosophy is about life and how it should be lived. And so ethics is about the philosophy of life and how it governs our dealings with our fellow human beings and the world we live in...
Origin of the word 'ethics' The word 'ethics' comes from the Greek word 'ethicos' which is derived from the root 'ethos' which originally meant both 'custom' and 'character'. The customs of a community are the social mores which form its character or 'ethos'. This original broad meaning of the word 'ethics' came to refer to the formation and perfection of human character and human 'virtues'. Later the word was used to define the virtues. Eventually it was used to describe the philosophy dealing with the ideals of human relatedness. Webster defined ethics as both 'the science of moral values and duties' and as 'the study of the ideal human character, actions, and ends'. The confusion between custom and ideal character still exists. The modern meaning of the term 'ethics' is based on the American concept of morality as ethical conduct dictated by external authorities i.e. 'moralism'. According to the dictates of moralism, a social community is possible only if all the individuals are united by a communally fixed moral order. The moralistic view is based on a mistrust of human nature and belief in the innate wickedness of human nature i.e. 'evil'. '
Traditionally, throughout the history of philosophy, theology, psychology, natural desires have been considered annoying and even threatening. Theologians, political philosophers and economic theorists have conceived of various strategies to remove, deny or avoid people's 'unwanted' desires and needs. People's happiness has been considered in terms of improving their conditions with a view to eliminating their needs.
For centuries the attempts to formulate a system of ethics have been based on the mutually exclusive contrast between 'what is' and 'what ought to be.' The age-old axioms of human nature and ethics perceive reality in terms of classes and concepts which are mutually exclusive, for example selfish-unselfish, good-bad and so on. These dichotomous concepts have resulted from centuries of teaching people that the intrinsic human instincts are animal instincts and they are therefore immoral and not to be trusted. This false notion has provided the premise for many so-called 'systems of ethics' which have been built in the style of Aristotelian logic... Although they have an intrinsic logic, it is built on a fallacious premise which results in the emergence of pseudoproblems which become impossible to resolve. One such example is derived from the fallacious notion that the interests of the individual and of the society are mutually exclusive and antagonistic. Therefore civilization must primarily be a mechanism for controlling and policing human instinctive impulses. The resulting pseudoproblem which emerges is based on the dichotomous view which sees freedom and social responsibility as separate when in fact they are interconnected. The following question is impossible to resolve since it is meaningless... "How can the interests of the individual be reconciled with the interests of the society?"
Codes of ethics are formuated on the basis of the assumption that human nature is basically corrupt and evil. Throughout human history, people have been taught that their intrinsic human instincts are 'animal instincts' and therefore immoral and not to be trusted. The result is dichotomous concepts of human nature in terms of polarities such as selfish-unselfish, good-evil and so on. These age-old axioms of human nature imply that the reality of 'what is' is mutually exclusive from the reality of 'what ought to be'. Consequently it is believed to be necessary to search for guiding values to live by. Attempts have been made to formulate a system of ethics which is based on the premise that ethical values belong to a domain which is external to human nature. This notion has served as the basic premise for many ethical systems which have been built in the style of Aristotelian logic.
Mistrust of human nature as basis for relativistic concept of ethics or 'ethical relativism' Mistrust of human nature is derived from the notion that human existence involves separate material and spiritual realms a notion which originated with the scientific revolution of the eighteenth century 'Enlightenment'. The conceptual dichotomy between matter and spirit was incorporated into the 'scientific' worldview and forms the basis of the discontinuity between natural and 'supernatural', the person and 'God'. The profound mistrust of human nature is derived from the 'Fall/Redemption' theology' of 'orthodox' Protestant Christianity which was adopted by the Protestant Calvinist and Puritan movements. According to the theology, as a result of the original 'fall' from God's grace, each individual is brought into this life tainted with sin and is therefore inherently corrupt and must suffer in this life. Even an afterlife without suffering depends on God's redemption. In the moralistic view, the individual is expected to be morally responsibile for restraining the evil impulses of their basic nature even though they are considered to be powerless and insignificant. Since it is not possible to live without values and norms, people are expected to rely on the authority of strict codes of civil law and moral standards set in the form of 'codes of ethics'. Codes of ethics are codes of morality based on external authority... The ethical codes are irrational value systems which are formulated according to the interests of different social institutions... 'medical ethics', 'business ethics', 'military ethics' and so on. This relativistic concept of ethics makes value judgements and ethical norms a matters of arbitrary preference. Ethical relativism is based on the belief that there is no way to make objectively valid statements about ethics. Only those individuals who abide by the codes are considered to be ethical and only they can be made responsible for teaching and preaching the moral life.
The so-called 'problem of ethics' is peculiar to American capitalist culture Capitalistic economic theories of modern technological society teach people that their aim in life is the successful fulfillment of their duty to work. They are made to believe that they need to work for money, prestige and power in order to achieve happiness. They are persuaded to make everything important except life and the art of living. They act against their basic instinct for self-preservation while under the illusion that they act in their own self-interest. Ignoring their true self, their integrity and their intrinsic faith in human dignity and courage, they lose sight of the fact that it is in their 'real' self-interest to live in harmony with themselves and their fellow human beings. Instead they value themselves (and others) on the basis of material success. This coercive social system leads to a confusion of values: 'freedom' is confused with licence, 'adaptation' with conformism, 'discipline' with submissiveness, 'independence' with anti-authoritarianism, 'equality' with uniformity, 'individuality' with selfishness. The distortion of social values produces an infantile attitude toward the social system, mirrored in the child's reaction to dominant and intolerant parents and further cultivated by the demands of the system. Not valued for their intrinsic morality, people become morally confused. In their moral confusion, they learn to depend on behavioural norms which are prescribed in the form of codes of ethics.
Based on the mistaken idea that the interests of the individual and of the society are mutually exclusive and antagonistic, the notion that the function of civilization is to control instinctive human impulses gives rise to insoluble pseudoproblems or 'problems of ethics'. 'How can the interests of the individual be reconciled with the interests of the society?' 'How is it possible to formulate a philosophical system of ethics which can be applied to the teaching of values? How does one teach the virtues? How does one formulate a 'science of ethics?' 'How can people be made to lead ethical lives?'. Answers to such questions have been attempted for centuries. Theologians and philosophers have sought the same guiding values, theology depending on the authority of dogma and philosophy denying it. The religions have looked to some external authority - a God, sacred book, ruling elite, ruling individual or some set of universal principles such as the Ten Commandments. Philosophy has tried to formulate systems of morals in terms of universally fixed sets of ethics. According to the law of moral universality, ethics is a matter of universal morals which are applicable to any specific human situation. Humanists have attempted to construct a naturalistic value system that could be derived from a knowledge of human nature i.e. 'humanistic ethics'. And scientists have attempted to use the scientific method of the impersonal model of science in its narrow meaning of science as orthodox science or 'scientism'. The fatal weakness of scientism is its inability to deal impersonally with human problems of individuality, consciousness, ego-transcendance, values and ethics.
"It was primarily the physicists and the astronomers who created the Weltanschaung and the subculture known as 'science' ...including all its goals, methods, axiomatic values, concepts, languages, folkways, prejudices, selective blindnesses, hidden assumptions. The impersonal model failed with the personal, the unique, the holistic... the fully human person... The fatal weakness of science is its inability to deal impersonally with the personal, with the problems of individuality, of consciousness, of beauty, of transcendance, of value, of ethics. (Maslow Psychology of Science xiii)
Age old teaching of mistrust in human nature The problem of ethics cannot be resolved if it is stated in the form of a question which in its very asking makes assumptions that render the question meaningless. Throughout human history, people have been taught that their intrinsic human instincts are 'animal instincts' and therefore immoral and not to be trusted. The result is dichotomous concepts of human nature in terms of polarities such as selfish-unselfish, good-evil and so on. These age-old axioms of human nature imply that the reality of 'what is' is mutually exclusive from the reality of 'what ought to be'. Consequently it is believed to be necessary to search for guiding values to live by. Attempts have been made to formulate a system of ethics which is based on the premise that ethical values belong to a domain which is external to human nature. This notion has served as the basic premise for many ethical systems which have been built in the style of Aristotelian logic. Even though the premise is fallacious, the ethical systems which are built onto it are intrinsically logical.
"The fatal weakness of science is its inability to deal impersonally with the personal, with the problems of value, of individuality, of consciousness, of beauty, of transcendance, of ethics." (Arthur Wirth. Forward xiii in Abraham Maslow. The Psychology of Science: A Reconaissance. New York and London: Harper and Row 1966)
Approach the problem of ethics from a holistic perspective of human nature The problem of ethics is a product of logical deduction from a false premise. It is the falsity of the premise which creates the moral dilemma. The dilemma is a pseudo-dilemma resulting from ignorance of the holistic perception of human personality or 'human nature'. With wholistic perception many so-called 'problems' become pseudoproblems resulting from an ego-centered mental process which dichotomizes and distorts reality. A wholistic perception of ethics eliminates the dichotomous perception of reality... understand the unity of the world of ideas. The 'problem of ethics' - is a pseudoproblem resulting from the premise that the basic nature of the human personality or 'human nature' is corrupt... immoral 'evil'. In fact human nature is not corrupt and there is no problem of ethics.
It is possible to formulate a 'science of ethics' using a scientifically objective approach but this requires an investigation into the real nature of the the human personality or 'human nature' on the individual level and on the collective level ... as a unique social organism and as a social species. As a member of the human species, each human organism has a biologically inherited 'intrinsic conscience' which is based on their unconscious perception of their own human nature and their human needs. In addition each individual has a unique potentiality which is manifested in a personal decision making process based on their own will, sense of responsibility, strength and courage. The necessary basis for a scientific value system is the understanding that for proper growth and development, an individual's instinctive needs must be understood and respected. When people are taught that they should despise their human nature ("I am only human") then they cannot have respect for their own needs and the impulses towards their gratification. The age-old problem of ethics can be resolved if it is based on the assumption that human nature is potentially good and productive.
The problem of ethics must be approached from the perspective of a science which incorporates the expanded consciousness of the human mind i.e. 'holistic science'. A scientifically objective approach is possible if the objectivity is based on a holistic view of the human organism as a social organism and human nature as a social nature. The assumption that the human individual is naturally unsocial is false. It makes no sense to assume that civilized social life is incompatible with freedom.
The problem of ethics is one which deals with the personal, the unique and the holistic. It deals with those aspects of human nature which give rise to the expanded consciousness of 'humaness' i.e. 'ego-transcendence'... defines the core of the human personality or 'human nature'.
The scientific formulation of a natural value system based on human needs requires that a distinction first be made between the so-called 'higher' needs and the so-called 'lower' needs. Both 'higher' and 'lower' needs are shared by all members of the human species. The 'lower' needs include the basic physiological needs, the need for safety, the need for belongingness, the need for love and the need for respect. With varying strength in terms of urgency they are related to each other in a hierarchical fashion. The need for food is more pressing, more prepotent, than the need for safety, which in turn is more prepotent than the need for love etc. Also known as the 'deficit' needs (D-needs), the 'lower' needs rely on sources outside the individual and depend on other people for their gratification. An individual makes personal decisions on the basis of the need which must be gratified before he can be motivated by another 'higher' need. He naturally makes decisions within the framework of an equivalent value system, that of the so-called 'Deficit-values' (D-values). Motivated by deficiency needs, he can be described as 'deficiency motivated.' He perceives other people in terms of their usefulness as sources of gratification for his need deficiencies rather than perceiving them in terms of their own intrinsic values. Dependent on other people, he must be flexible and responsive to their reactions. Thus relying on changeable factors in a non-reliable social environment, the 'deficiency motivated' individual is prone to anxiety, to hostility and ultimately to a lack of freedom. His interpersonal relations are limited and interchangeable because they are based on need gratification. Once the individual has gratified his basic 'lower' needs during a normal growth process, he becomes less dependent on others for the gratification of the 'higher' needs for growth, creation and production, also known as 'Being needs' (B-needs). The 'higher' values are those biologically based constitutional ethical impulses revealed during the proper development of psychological health. They enable the individual to adjust to the realities of a social environment. For gratification of the B-needs, the individual relies on his own inner resources. Making his personal decisions on the basis of B-needs, he naturally makes his choices within the framework of the equivalent value system, that of the 'Being-values' (B-values). Motivated by the Being needs for growth, he can be described as 'growth motivated.' The growth motivated individual becomes independent of other people for the gratification of his growth needs. Characteristically autonomous and self-sufficient, he experiences 'true' freedom and enjoys the pleasure of insight and production. The truly free person has capacities which are characteristic of 'self-actualization' to make decisions in his 'true' self interest; to perceive other people in terms of their intrinsic qualities; to have a non-judgmental, non-interfering attitude towards others; to perceive reality holistically. His comprehensive understanding of other human beings which forms the basis for meaningful interpersonal relations constitutes successful adaptation to a changing social environment. In the process of successfully adapting to a changing social environment, the 'self-actualized' individual is capable of making decisions in his own 'true' interest. At the same time, those same decisions are in the interest of other individuals and of the society at large. The self-actualized individual lives in accordance with natural biological laws and the evolutionary process. In this way the so called 'science of ethics' becomes a natural value system which is formulated on the basis of the natural laws of the nature and existence of the human individual as a social organism.
When human needs are met, the rest follows naturally because each individual has a unique potentiality for personal decision making based on their free will, their sense of responsibility, strength and courage.
Ethical living or 'ethicality' is a question of moral intelligence or 'morality'
No single set of moral standards can be applied to all humans...To impose a uniform code is therefore to create complex, intractable moral dilemmas - these, of course, are the current condition of mankind.
Morality is exercising the human responsibility for living in reality as it is (requires holistic perspective and objectivity... living in the 'truth'.
Development of a rational conscience is 'moral development'. Moral development depends on respect for the intrinsic biological necessities of human nature the human needs... and spiritual growth unconditional love.
The dilemma is a pseudo-dilemma resulting from ignorance of the holistic perception of the
The problem of ethics is a matter of individual freedom and moral consciousness or 'conscience'. The human conscience is the unconscious perception of human nature and human motives i.e. 'human needs'. Human needs are human values and they include spiritual needs for spiritual growth - the 'metaneeds'.
When people are taught that they should despise their human nature ('I am only human') then they cannot have respect for their own needs and without respect for their own needs, they cannot have respect for the needs of others.
Each individual has a biologically inherited potential for moral consciousness i.e. 'intrinsic conscience'. Development of the conscience depends on recognition and respect for of the intrinsic biological necessities of human natur
.Development of a rational conscience is 'moral development'. Moral development depends on respect for the intrinsic biological necessities of human nature the human needs for spiritual growth.
It is the rational human conscience which is the source of the guiding values sought by religions and philosophies.
The fully developed human conscience is the source of a moral consciousness or 'morality' as 'natural ethics'. True morality is the morality of free conscience. free morality... 'true 'freedom'.
In the context of the premise - human nature is basically evil and corrupt - the
'moral problem' of man and society today is . ...
"Making choices and decisions according to his own organismic valuing process, the individual lives by values which facilitate his own survival, adaptation, self-enhancement and the enhancement of the human race. Like other species of the animal kingdom, Homo Sapiens, the social human animal, naturally behaves in accordance with an organismic valuing process which enables him to adapt to his changing social environment .... With the recognition of the potential universality of the organismic valuing process of the human being, the perplexing issues of 'values' and ethics could be resolved. (Rogers, C. "Person to Person: The Problem of Being Human" Real People Press, Lafayette, California l967)
A 'science of ethics' and a 'science of education' are both concerned with the full development of the individual's powers and potentialities in the process of becoming fully human. In order to achieve his full human potential as a human being, the individual is instinctively aware of his own basic biological and biologically based psychological needs. They must be satisfied in order for him to achieve his full humaness, his potential as a 'whole' human being. 'science of ethics' and a 'science of education' both depend on the knowledge of human development for the knowlege of the real needs of the developing human being. Both depend on the 'science of man' (science of human nature) as a basis for determining what constitutes man's natural self-interest - his natural and real self-interest in happiness, not in terms of material success but in terms of an ethical and productive life.
Ethics based on an external authority vs. ethics based on human moral development:
Science of Ethics as Natural Ethics Changing the basic premise for a 'science of ethics' involves the assumption that human nature is potentially good and productive. Some of the age-old philosophical questions could easily be resolved if they were asked on the basis of this new assumption and within the framework of the new paradigm.
"The greatest philosophers of the modern age have attempted to found a science of ethics on the method of natural science - and failed. The reason is that the world of value is of such a nature that mathematical and empirical methods cannot be applied to it. Ethics is thus an elusive game; unless you approach her just right she will change in your hands and vanish; like the princess in the fairy tale who, when 'caught' appears as a deer. This autonomous nature of ethics, which we will call 'nonnaturalistic', was seen by Plato, but the philosopher who established it in modern times was Kant. Hartman, R. The Science of Value in Maslow A.H. (ed) New Knowledge in Human Values. New York: Harper, 1959. page)
"How is a social life possible for man if each one is only striving to
assert his own individuality? This objection is characteristic of a false
understanding in moralism. Such a moralist believes that a social community is
possible only if all men are united by a communally fixed moral order. What this
kind of moralist does not understand is just the unity of the world of ideas. He
does not see that the world of ideas working in me is no other than the one
working in my fellow man....A moral misunderstanding, a clash, is impossible
between men who are morally free...To live in love towards our actions, and to
let live in the understanding of the other person's will, is the fundamental
maxim of free men."( Steiner, R. Philosophy of Freedom: Philosophy of Spiritual
Activity. The Basis for a Modern World Conception. Some Results of Introspective
Observation Following the Methods of Natural Science. London: Rudolf Steiner
Press, 1970 139) "Persons who are free in this sense only obey themselves.
Persons who are not free in this sense are 'unfree' - they submit themselves to
control." (Steiner Philosophy of Freedom p. 140)
Lowry, Richard J., A.H. Maslow: An
Intellectual Portrait Brooks/Cole Publishing Co., Monterey, California, l973