[Permaculture] Ethics & Morals

eric + michiko emstorm at metro.net
Tue Jul 6 11:39:31 EDT 1999


John S. wrote:
> > From Eric:
> >I think this gets at what John was saying (correct me if I'm wrong!).
> >There need to be ethical guidelines to help guide a society's actions.
> 
> Close enough, and...I make a distinction between "ethics" and "morals" as
> follows:  when I tell someone else what is "right" for them (how "it" should
> be, how they should act, live, think, etc.) or they do likewise to me, I
> call that moralizing - dealing in morals, desiring to specify (and control)
> the behavior of others.  When I decide what is "right" for myself and live
> it, act it, etc. those are my ethics.
> 
> I make this distinction because these are two very different manners of
> living and I find it important to distinguish them using different words.
> If I like, adopt and live the permaculture ethics "by example," as best I
> can, great - they become part of my ethics, for better or worse, and
> hopefully I am attending to the consequences of my actions and setting what
> I feel is a positive example for others.  If I use them as a club to batter
> other people's behavior and tell them how they should live, I become a
> moralizer, just like countless political and religious organizations,
> individuals, etc.. 

I use "ethics" to mean a base set of "values" expressed as guiding
principles that an individual uses to make decisions.  I use "morals" to
mean interpretations and applications of ethics used to deal with more
specific issues and situations.  "Morays", a related term, are the vaguely
agreed upon rules of a society or community.  Morals are the more visible
side of one's ethics, and we interact with others mostly at the level of
specific issues and situations.  So, I could go along with John's
distinction in the sense that ethics are personal - individual and morals
are public - individual (and morays are public - shared).

The ethical principles one uses are _always_ a matter of individual choice;
in the end you will always have to make your own ethical decisions.  One's
ethical principles are always and continually influenced by the
circumstances of our lives (society, individuals, events, exposure to
ideas, etc.), but they can never be forcefully changed by others directly
(proselytizing, rules, laws, etc.).  This is why we often enjoy hearing
ideas that to some degree fit our own ideas, and why we often find ideas
too dissimilar to our own irritating, usually when we can't avoid hearing
them after we have reached our limit of tolerance.

Since morays are a loose agreement by the members of a society or
community, there may always be some degree of friction in the continual act
of defining and redefining the morays, and in the discussion (not always
verbal) of ethics and morals.  I can see it as a form of society duty to
make sure that your ethics are proportionately factored in to the morays of
your society and community.  Some set of morays will always be formed in
every gathering of people.  To be silent (again not always verbal) in the
discussion of morays is to passively allow the group / community / society
to move away, to whatever degree, from your ethics, thereby possibly
violating your own ethics or making it harder for you to follow them.  This
can also be seen as supporting unethical behavior.

We can all think of examples of when ideas have been "discussed" in ways
that are offensive.  Isn't this always because the discussion does not
allow for our ideas to be respectfully listened to or included?  We no
longer have the comfort of an ethically homogenious society.  Without the
ability to respectfully discuss ethics, morals and morays we are left with
the situation John mentioned: Ethics are private; Morals are offensive;
Morrays are invasive.  John's distinction between "ethics" and "morals" is
basically the distinction between "repectful" and "disrespectful", not
"mine" and "yours".  We have also come to confuse passion with agressiveness.

The question then becomes how to respectfully discuss ethics and morals and
agree on morrays.  


Respectfully,

Eric Storm


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