The Origin of Ethics

My dad used to have a sign in his office that said “Rule #1- I am always right. Rule #2- When I am wrong, refer to Rule #1.” Unfortunately, that is the first thing that popped into my head when my cousin, a school teacher in the U.S. Virgin Islands, emailed me this question:

I am teaching an ethics class this year. Tomorrow we will be discussing the “origin” of ethics or basically where our ethics come from. I want to be able to read some answers to this question from people with different world views. Do you mind giving me a brief idea about where you get your set of values and your view of ethics?

Although I am not naïve enough to think that I am the only one whose opinion she desired, I was really excited about answering that one and I immediately took about 20 minutes and came up with this response:

First of all, I believe that every human has been endowed with a sense of morality by his Creator. This is not to say that we are naturally good, but that we understand that there are certain acts that are always wrong. However, I do not believe that it is wise to build an entire ethical foundation from my own mind or from humanity collectively.
Therefore, I tend toward absolutes and the majority of my ethical foundation is the Bible. Specifically, as stated in Matthew 22:36-40, obeying God’s direct command is my primary focus and treating others the way I want to be treated is my secondary purpose.
Finally, I don’t completely discount what is culturally considered to be right. If I am obeying God and treating others the way I should, cultural norms are a good guideline.

This was my quick answer, what’s yours?
Do you think I had my three criteria in the right order?
What else contributes to your personal value system?


About Jeff Postlewaite

high school principal since '07, father since '04, teacher since '03, husband since '03, sound tech since '96, UVA fan since '92, gadget junkie since '89, Christian since '88, Giants fan since '84, golfer since '83, brother since '83, human since '81

Posted on August 18, 2011, in Biblical Thought, Society in General and tagged . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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