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?