Integral code of ethics?

The Mackey incident got me to wondering again why we have yet to see something like the above emerge, if not out of I-I that what about us, the general integral community? So I went back to my 04 essay “Giving Guns to Children” (in the Reading Room of Integral World) and pasted a few paragraphs below, with some questions to follow. The seminar on ethics to which I refer was one given by Walsh and Wilber (mostly Walsh) at I-I in 04.

“Wilber went on to explain that ethics were first stabilized as a level of development in the mythical stage. This is the reason why ethics get a bad rap; they can be perceived as ethnocentric. But this does not mean that all ethics are at this stage. Like all developmental holoarchies, ethics continues to grow into higher and more inclusive views with concomitant dignities and disasters.

“Walsh said in the seminar that ethics was a foundational practice, the starting point and cornerstone for all other integral practices. He said that at post conventional levels of ethical development we are no longer bound by the conventional rules of right and wrong. At this stage it’s more of a consciously felt, intuitive choice to act with appropriateness to each situation. It becomes more a spontaneous sense and expression of our true nature. That is why Wilber calls it the basic moral intuition, as they are no absolute rules for every case. Wilber gave an example of 10 people in a stranded lifeboat that could only handle 7, so who do you throw out? The BMI would take into consideration if one were Einstein versus if one were Hitler. While maintaining that there are no absolute rules on the one hand it sounds like the BMI does in fact have some universal criteria: save those that have greater depth and can make a higher contribution to the greater span of society.

“But the BMI will be interpreted from each level of consciousness and will hence generate that level’s moral stance. The typical warrior ethic, for example, will extend the greatest depth to a span only of itself, whereas the sociocentric stance will extend the span to a particular culture. The worldcentric stance extends the span to all people, but in orange’s flatland orientation depth is reduced to a mono-level happiness (typically exterior monetary success). This early level of worldcentric embrace cannot yet differentiate the different kinds of happiness or different levels of depth. However, the integral-aperspectival (yellow) level can make these differentiations. But at this level and higher the BMI must extend beyond a mere intuition in only the subjective, UL quadrant. A full ethical theory must embrace all four quadrants. (Wilber, 1995, pp. 613-615) “Otherwise we will very soon slide into solipsism and subjective idealism, which plays heavily into the hyper-agentic, hyper-masculine, disengaged and dangling subject of the fundamental Enlightenment paradigm.” (Wilber, 1995, p. 615)

“Walsh reiterated this idea in the seminar by saying that a peer group is needed for a post-conventional ethics. This is so that we can make commitments to one another and be held accountable. In that sense ethics in not just what each individual decides is right based on their individual moral intuition. Like Wilber’s above statements on integral law and the BMI, this must be validated in an intersubjective community of the adequate to hash out those universals that can be applied to case-by-case situations.”

So my first question is this: are “codes of ethics” limited to the blue meme? And codes in general, given their limiting “right v. wrong” thinking? We can see from above that ethics certainly isn’t limited to the conventional levels, as it continues to develop. And if by code we mean the right-hand, external expressions of the internal then so too would codes develop. What about in terms of legal codes? Certainly they continue to evolve to match the cultural center of gravity? So why no ethical codes? Yes they’d be more flexible, etc. but they’d be codified nonetheless.

So although there might not be “absolute” rules for every case within a rigid code, are their not broad, orienting generalities that might lead us in creating such an integral code of ethics. Are there not such broad, orienting generalizations to integral theory per se? Is there not a structure within which it must fit? And isn’t this AQAL structure itself one of the external measures of whether one is truly “integral?” Surely such a structural code could also be created for ethics that is flexible enough like the integral model itself to accomodate a higher moral imperative like the Basic Moral Intuition?

Not above that Ken said “a full ethical theory must embrace all four quadrants,” not just the individual uppper left.. “Otherwise we will very soon slide into solipsism and subjective idealism, which plays heavily into the hyper-agentic, hyper-masculine, disengaged and dangling subject of the fundamental Enlightenment paradigm.”

So one must ask: Why has such a code not yet been created? If ethics is “cornerstone for all other integral practices” then why has it apparently been neglected? And why are we still so preoccupied with our own, individual development and “process,” but have yet come together to express our collective values within a code of ethics? Perhaps we have yet to really evolve beyond our disengaged and dangling subjectivities, despite our talk to the contrary?


About theurj

Also known as theurj. I've contributed some essays to Integral World and co-founded Open Integral blog, now defunct. I continue to participate in Integral Postmetaphysical Spirituality forum.
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18 Responses to Integral code of ethics?

  1. Edward Berge says:

    I’d like to enlist our Buddhists in the audience to help with this, as Buddhism certainly has much to say about ethical codes. For example, see ”A Survey of the Souces of Buddhist Ethics” ( Now one might say this is from the mythical or ethnocentric level, but as we discovered in the Indigo Buddhism and Dual Mandala threads at the Zaadz/II pod ( and many of the Buddhist ideas are not really such at all, just reduced to such by an inadequate model. As the above notes, the purpose of such codes is mind training, not conformity of behavior:

    “…though the proclamation of the 227 vows is designed to restrain physical and verbal action, the underlying purpose of the vows is to control the mind’s motivating unethical action. This survey will show that of the three roots of ignorance, aversion, and attachment, the vows are primarily directed to eliminating the root of attachment.”

    That might give a clue as to the general COG of such practices and that they might be a guide in forming our own integral code of ethics.

    To highlight the difference between the goals and functions of ethnocentric v. worldcentric ethics, and reiterating the above, here is an excerpt from Roger Walsh’s Essential Spiritualty found at this link:

    Ethics is regarded, not as conventional moralism, but as a foundational practice for anyone who would really wake up. However, this practice is much misunderstood. As Confucius said, “Rare are those who understand virtue.” But the essential message is very simple. It’s the golden rule of Christianity, “Do unto others as you want them to do unto you,” or the silver rule of Confucianism, “Don’t do to others as you don’t want them to do to you.” But this is done with a very interesting twist, because ethics as the great spiritual traditions define it is not done as sacrifice. Ethics comes from a recognition that an ethical life is a superb means for training the mind and coming to awakening. It’s based on a very sophisticated understanding of the way the mind works. It’s based on an understanding that unethical behavior, behavior in which we deliberately intend to harm ourselves or others, springs from destructive and painful mind states such as fear, greed, anger, and jealousy, and reinforces them. That’s the kicker. Unethical behavior drives these factors deeper into our minds, it reinforces them, it conditions them, or in spiritual terms, it carves karmic traces deeper into our awareness.

  2. Matthew Newsham says:

    Don’t we have a highly evolved system of ethics in the form of national and to some degree international law? With those laws further ratified by cultural norms- social expectations, political correctness, etc…, followed by individual, or internal codes of ethics. It seems like all three address different quadrants pretty well and to some degree act to balance each other. Are we trying to discuss specifically “internal” UL ethics?

  3. Edward Berge says:

    Actually I think according to Ken “ethics” proper belongs the the “we” dimension of LL quadrant, with their codification in the LR quadrant. And I also think that while ethics are intimately related to law they are technically distinct lines in those quadrants. Plus adding the vertical level I’m trying to get at how “integral” ethics might include yet transcend existing ethcial formulations to date.

    A side issue is whether Buddhist ethics, already a few thousand years old, were “turquoise” or ethnocentric to begin with. This question was applied to various other aspects of the Buddhist canon in the referenced Zaadz/II forums.

  4. Edward Berge says:

    The following is from Hokai’s 5/25/06 blog at

    First of all, the historical Buddha himself has discerned that an authentic path must consist of ethical development, meditational development and wisdom development. In each of these three domains there prevails a specific language, a specific motivational drive, and a specific understanding of purpose and ultimate goal.

    In more advanced Mahayana sutric views, such as the Avatamsaka tradition, the three were not only inter-dependent, but also inter-related to such a deep level, that each was an aspect of the other two. In such a way, adapting a less arcane terminology, ethics starts as observance of certain behaviours, develops through inner recognition and motivational adjustment (functioning as a dynamic form of meta-formal meditation) and culminates as a fundamental recognition, an insight into the universal relatedness of all phenomena and, simultaneously, their transaperency to noumenon: taken together, their Emptiness. “Ethics” here covers all steps, hence in Zen the three precepts (abandon evil, practice good, save all beings), while in Shingon the three levels of shila/vinaya precepts, bodhicitta precepts and samaya precepts. These actually echo the Early Tradition’s admonition, “Abandon negative action; create virtue; purify your mind. This is the teaching of the Buddha”.

    Thus, “ethics” functions as a semantic locus for a transformation that takes place on all levels simultaneously – the deeper ones being revealed as the transformation itself progresses.

    Since we have a horizontal and a vertical aspect to the three paths of ethics, meditation and wisdom, we may envisage a useful matrix if we language it properly. Horizontally, ethics may be seen as any practice in the intersubjective domain of mutual regard, usually coined as “compassion”; meditation as any practice in the subjective domain of self-observation, usually coined “wakefulness”; and wisdom as any practice in the objective domain of understanding, usually coined “insight”. The Buddhist tradition has not done this explicitly, at least not on any significant scale, because all three trainings have been squeezed into the subjective domain almost by default. The discovery of the Ground in first person terms (“within your own mind”) was the very definition of contemplative realisation. The world and beings belonged to the “sphere of illusory appearance”. Not to mention that perspectives in these terms were not clearly differentiated in any premodern scheme that took root. Of course, what follows is that the traditional way of seeing the three trainings is more often vertical – as three stages or levels in self-actualisation. Wisdom was, in such context, seen as nondual and primordial, but even the discovering of such wisdom has stages of development which necessarily started with adopting “correct views”, or at least articles of belief. So, in the vertical and stage-like perspective, we may easily agree on a preparatory stage of purification, an advanced stage of visionary transformation, and a culminating stage of nondual realisation, after which the Ultimate is being expressed for the sake of every being in ever expanding skilfull means, also known as “method”. Putting these three-and-three together, we have preparatory, advanced and culminating stages of compassion, wakefulness and insight.

    …higher ethics is basis to higher awareness leading to higher understanding.

  5. Edward Berge says:

    Ken said the following in Integral Spirituality (draft, p. 132) when talking about “right view”:

    “… and the central linkage of: right ethics and right views > leading to right meditation (dhyana) > leading to right awareness (prajna) > leading to right compassion (karuna) > leading to right action and skillful means (upaya) on behalf of all sentient beings.”

    We discovered from the Indigo Buddhism thread that proper meditation development cannot be separated from the dharma, that all the different aspects of Buddhism are interrelated. That also seems apparent from the above. Plus Buddhist ethics also has levels of development built into its orgins. So all our other developmental lines like meditation or cognition ain’t shit, basically, unless we’ve done our ethcial homework. Which begins with the lowest level, like all training does. So if we haven’t inculcated those ethical practices then we cannot just jump ahead to moral stage 6 (or whatever). And it would seem that although not all Buddhist practitioners are beyond the ethnocentric it would appear the originators, like forming turquoise or above cognitive documents and practices, did at least the same for ethics. Hence it might behoove us to incorporate such Buddhist ethics into our own code of ethics, of course re-contextualzing them per Hokai’s observations.

    But one thing is clear: we ain’t “integral” until we do so folks. And it’s high time we give this much deserved and apparently highly under-developed line its due.

  6. AK says:

    Wilber is quoted as saying “…ethics was a foundational practice, the starting point and cornerstone for all other integral practices. He said that at post conventional levels of ethical development we are no longer bound by the conventional rules of right and wrong. At this stage it’s more of a consciously felt, intuitive choice to act with appropriateness to each situation. It becomes more a spontaneous sense and expression of our true nature. ”

    There’s one problem here that I see.

    I dont think ‘post conventional development’ is all that stable. And ‘consciously felt, intuitive choices to act with appropriateness’ can be misintepreted to suit one’s own desires. Its always a good idea to supplement these ‘intuitive states’ by checking them against a conventional code of ethics, and if necessary consulting with friends who can be counted on to tell the truth, even when it hurts.

    The other problem is that post conventional development may be a more fragile state of attainment than we like to think it is–it can be disrupted if we are put in situations that press hard on us enough to trigger regression to a lower stage of development.

    A very good example of such a sitaution was Philip Zimbardo’s Prison Experiment at Stanford. Its very frightening message was that the best and brightest Stanford students, when randomly assigned to roles of guards and prisoners quickly regressed to states of cruelty and degradation–the prisoner-students forgot they had the option of leaving the experiment at any time.

    And..these people had all been pre-screened to rule out any pre-existing mental illness. Under sufficient stress, its easy to ‘lose rank’ and fall a few colors on the Integral scale.

    Its tempting to think ‘I’m so mature that this could never happen to me”…

    Years back, I was in a state of misery over Gulf War One. I was walking home through a rather conservative neighborhood and felt irate when I saw all the American flags and yellow ribbons on the car antennae.

    I felt tempted to rip them off and toss them in the shrubbery—I was in a childish state of mind.

    But..I did not act on that impulse. The only reason I restrained myself was not because I respected people’s opinions and their propertybut for a much more primitive reason.

    I kept my hands to myself because I did not want to run the risk of getting caught.

    When I calmed down, and resumed a more adult level of thought and emotion, I looked back and was very glad I had not acted on impulse.

    We need absolute codes of ethics (and the ordinary laws of society)as a reminder of basic standards to get us past those periods of temptation when even the most mature of us regress and are tempted to harm others.

    Its like making sure to have a spare tire and jack in the car trunk so that we can get home in event of a tire puncture.

  7. Edward Berge says:

    I agree with you that ethics cannot be left up to individual, intuitive choices. By nature it is a communal validation and even at the higher ethical levels it can and must be codified, like law. Otherwise, as you say, it becomes subject to individual differences and preferences (and shadows). That almost sounds like boomeritis!

  8. AK says:

    The only reason I disagree with the ‘boomeritis’ label is that this is not confined to the baby boomers or to any one generation.

    Its a human tendency.

    I dont know if this is factually true, but years ago someone told the story of General Arthur Macarthur, father of Douglas Macarthur. It may be a good teaching story.

    According to what I was told, General Arthur Macarthur became the youngest brigadier general in the US Army–he showed his talents early and achieved rapid promotion.

    At the end of the Civil War, still a young man, he was put in charge of administering a vast portion of the Southern United States.

    Any merchant who wanted to do business in this devastated area had to get written permission from General Macarthur. Good were in short supply and any merchant could charge ruthless prices and make a rapid fortune. So the general’s signature was worth, literally, thousands of (gold) dollars.

    General Macarthur found his office crowded with aspiring profiteers, eager for his signature. There they were, smiling, carpetbags stuffed with bribe money, assuming that General Macarthur was as cheerfully corrupt as they were.

    The General was a straight arrow. He kicked them out of his office.

    The merchants did not give up. Instead, they sent someone else to plead thier case.

    General Macarthur found a new visitor at his office—a lovely young woman, sweet as could be, beautifully dressed, and with a welcome glint in her eye and enchantment in her smile.

    General Macarthur stood still, probably allowed himself a discreet sigh. He was a young, healthy man and had been away from home for a long time. But he rang his desk bell, summoned an orderly and directed the man to give the fair lady a courteous escort to ensure that she left the camp safetly, and uninsulted.

    Then General Macarthur went to his commanding officer and submitted his resignation, saying, ‘They are getting too close to my price.’

    General Macarthur did not kid himself that he was super-mature, impervious to temptation. Nor did he tell himself, ‘Oh, this is just a test to see if I can withstand temptation.’

    Part of being a good general is knowing the terrain where you can most likely win a battle. And…knowing on which terrain you are likely to be defeated–and should not even attempt to stage a fight.

    What saved Arthur Macarthur was not being impervious to temptation, but self knowledge. He knew what his price was and did not kid himself otherwise.

    He knew the conditions where he could keep his integrity and he knew the conditions where he was likely to fall.

  9. Edward Berge says:

    I found a link to this at the P2P Foundation blog of 7/12/07 Michel says: “It is the beginning of a true peer to peer ethic: how would our behaviour have to be, if we truly considered other human beings as peers.” The author of the below (Anthony Judge) also expands on these principles in an essay at


    Universal Declaration of Responsibilities of Human Intercourse

    a draft proposal

    Fundamental Principles for Humanity

    Article 1

    Every person engaging in intercourse with others, regardless of gender, ethnic origin, social status, political opinion, language, age, nationality, or religion, has a responsibility to treat them in a humane way.

    Article 2

    No person engaging in intercourse with others should lend support to any form of inhumane behavior; all people have a responsibility to strive for the dignity and self-esteem of all others.

    Article 3

    In engaging in intercourse with others, no person, no group or organization, no state, no army or police stands above good and evil; all are subject to ethical standards. Everyone has a responsibility to promote good and to avoid evil in any form of intercourse with others.

    Article 4

    All people, endowed with reason and conscience, in engaging in intercourse with others, should accept a responsibility to each and all, to families and communities, to races, nations, and religions in a spirit of solidarity: What you do not wish to be done to yourself, do not do to others.

    Non-Violence and Respect for Life

    Article 5

    Every person has a responsibility to respect life in engaging in intercourse with others. No one has the right to injure, to torture or to kill another human person during that process. This does not exclude the right of justified self-defense of individuals or communities.

    Article 6

    Disputes between states, groups or individuals, regarding the process and outcome of intercourse, should be resolved without violence. No government should tolerate or participate in acts of genocide or terrorism, nor should maje use of intercourse as a means of abusing women, children, or any other civilians as instruments of war. Every citizen and public official has a responsibility to engage in intercourse in a peaceful, non-violent way .

    Article 7

    Every person engaging in intercourse is infinitely precious and must be protected unconditionally, as with any outcome of that process. The animals and the natural environment also demand protection from abusive human intercourse. All people have a responsibility to protect the air, water and soil of the earth for the sake of present inhabitants and future generations.

    Justice and Solidarity

    Article 8

    Every person engaging in intercourse with others has a responsibility to behave with integrity, honesty and fairness. No person or group should rob or arbitrarily deprive any other person or group of their property during that process.

    Article 9

    All people engaging in intercourse with others, given the necessary tools, have a responsibility to take into account, in doing so, the need to overcome poverty, malnutrition, ignorance, and inequality. Through their intercourse, they should promote sustainable development all over the world in order to assure dignity, freedom, security and justice for all people.

    Article 10

    All people engaging in intercourse with others, have a responsibility to develop their talents through diligent endeavor; they should have equal access to education and to meaningful work. Everyone should lend support to the needy, the disadvantaged, the disabled, and to the victims of discrimination and abusive intercourse.

    Article 11

    All property and wealth must be used responsibly by those engaging in intercourse with others in accordance with justice and for the advancement of the human race. In the process of intercourse, economic and political power must not be handled as an instrument of domination, but in the service of economic justice and of the social order.

    Truthfulness and Tolerance

    Article 12

    Every person engaging in intercourse with others has a responsibility to speak and act truthfully. No one, however high or mighty, should speak lies. The right to privacy and to personal and professional confidentiality is to be respected by those engaging in intercourse with others. No one is obliged to tell all the truth to everyone all the time.

    Article 13

    With respect to the process of intercourse, no politicians, public servants, business leaders, scientists, writers or artists are exempt from general ethical standards, nor are physicians, lawyers and other professionals who have special duties to clients. It is for the professions and their members to establish appropriate ethical codes relating to the process of intercourse which reflect the priority of general standards, such as those of truthfulness and fairness.

    Article 14

    With respect to the process of intercourse, and as an aspect of it, the freedom of the media to inform the public and to criticize the institutions of society and governmental actions is essential for a just society. It is the responsibility of those involved to exercise their freedom with a sense of responsibility and discretion.

    Article 15

    While religious freedom must be guaranteed, the representatives of religions have a special responsibility to avoid expressions of prejudice and acts of discrimination toward those of different beliefs regarding the process of intercourse. They should not incite or legitimize hatred, fanaticism and religious wars, but should foster tolerance and mutual respect between all people engaging in intercourse.

    Mutual Respect and Partnership

    Article 16

    All men and all women have a responsibility to show respect to one another and understanding in their partnership and the associated processes of intercourse. No one should subject another person to sexual exploitation or dependence. Rather, sexual partners should accept the responsibility of caring for the well-being of each other.

    Article 17

    In all its cultural and religious varieties, bonds associated with intercourse require love, loyalty and forgiveness and should aim at guaranteeing security and mutual support.

    Article 18

    Sensible family planning is the responsibility of every couple engaged in intercourse. The relationship between parents and children should reflect mutual love, respect, appreciation and concern. No parents or other adults should exploit, abuse or maltreat children.


    Article 19

    Nothing in this Declaration may be interpreted as implying for any state, group or person any right to engage in any activity or to perform any act aimed at the destruction of any of the responsibilities, rights and freedom set forth in this Declaration and in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights of 1948

  10. AK says:

    Michel says: “It is the beginning of a true peer to peer ethic: how would our behaviour have to be, if we truly considered other human beings as peers.”


    If we get pre-occuppied with color coded rank schemes in which we arrange human beings in hierarchy according to presumed levels of development, that’s no longer seeing people as peers.

    And..that may be why portions of the Integral community that are infatuated with such schemes run into problems with ethicss–they’re not seeing people as peers–just as objects to classify in some arbitrary scheme of who is worthy is who is less worthy.

    Anyone at a lower stage of development can be written off as suffering from mean green meme or whatever the wrong color happens to be.

    The minute a scheme legitimizes treating some as less worthy than others, that is when the trouble sets in–you’re no longer peer to peer. You’re in a power imbalance.

    And those who are preoccuppied with where they fit in on a rank order hierarchy of development will be inmates of an unexamined power imbalance and thus be unable to think about power consciously–which may be why discussions about power and ethics dont get very far in certain sectors of the Integral community.

  11. Edward Berge says:

    Here’s how Ray applies the ethics of the prime directive, or basic moral intuition, to an integral political economy. From his essay on that topic at Integral World:

    In an integral political economy the prime directive is translated thus. The best way to ensure a healthy society is to ensure that each level is able to secure its core need, develop a surplus, and transmute that surplus into an evolutionary movement to the next level.

    A First Tier political economy is focused on selfish control of the surplus to the benefit of a narrowly defined ‘identity’ group. In a complex society these ‘identity’ groups are both (and/or) as small as an individual and as large as a sub-culture (based on religion, ethnicity, ideology, corporate interest, class, etc). The politics of this level is competitive and based around multiple, temporary alliances and rivalries. It is based on the win/lose paradigm – or its variation, the ‘I win more/you win a bit less’ paradigm.

    An integral political economy therefore supports sustainable development.

    An integral political economy would promote ethical investment, and further help define what is ethical.

    An integral political economy would ensure the maintenance of the commons in order to support the evolutionary flow of all sections of society.

    An integral political economy will emphasize an ethical imperative that challenges the excessive accumulation of wealth for non-productive indulgence.

    An integral political economy would argue for the proper governance of the world financial system to ensure that prime directive is followed.

    An integral political economy recognizes that fair trade is an essential component of a just economic system.

    The aim of an integral political economy is to ensure that the political and economic system acts in a way to maximize the evolutionary impulse for the largest group feasible.

    An integral political economy must recognize the reality of power and the ruthless determination of those who wield it.

    An integral political economy joins all of those critics of the current way of measuring wealth. The method of measuring the GNP should be changed. I like the approach of Bhutan, which talks about GNH – gross national happiness.

  12. Edward Berge says:

    From Thich Nhat Hanh’s 14 Mindfulness Trainings, which serve as a guide for ethical living to residents at Plum Village:

    1. Openness

    Aware of the suffering created by fanaticism and intolerance, I am determined not to be idolatrous about or bound to any doctrine, theory or ideology, even Buddhist ones. Buddhist teachings are guiding means to help me learn to look deeply and to develop my understanding and compassion. They are not doctrines to fight, kill or die for.

    2. Non-attachment to Views

    Aware of suffering created by attachment to views and wrong perceptions, I am determined to avoid being narrow-minded and bound to present views. I will learn and practise non-attachment from views in order to be open to others’ insights and experiences. I am aware that the knowledge I presently possess is not changeless, absolute truth. Truth is found in life and I will observe life within and around me in every moment, ready to learn throughout my life.

    3. Freedom of Thought

    Aware of the suffering brought about when I impose my views on others, I am committed not to force others, even my children, by any means whatsoever – such as authority, threat, money, propaganda or indoctrination – to adopt my views. I will respect the right of others to be different and to choose what to believe and how to decide. I will, however, help others renounce fanaticism and narrowness through compassionate dialogue.

    4. Awareness of Suffering

    Aware that looking deeply at the nature of suffering can help me develop compassion and find ways out of suffering, I am determined not to avoid or close my eyes before suffering. I am committed to finding ways, including personal contact, images and sounds, to be with those who suffer, so I can understand their situation deeply and help them transform their suffering into compassion, peace and joy.

    5. Simple, Healthy Living

    Aware that true happiness is rooted in peace, solidity, freedom and compassion, and not in wealth or fame, I am determined not to take as the aim of my life fame, profit, wealth or sensual pleasure, nor to accumulate wealth while millions are hungry and dying. I am committed to living simply and sharing my time, energy and material resources with those in real need. I will practise mindful consuming, not using alcohol, drugs or any other products that bring toxins into my own and the collective body and consciousness.

    6. Dealing with Anger

    Aware that anger blocks communication and creates suffering, I am determined to take care of the energy of anger when it arises and to recognise and transform the seeds of anger that lie deep in my consciousness. When anger comes up, I am determined not to do or say anything, but to practise mindful breathing or mindful walking and acknowledge, embrace and look deeply into my anger. I will learn to look with the eyes of compassion on those I think are the cause of my anger.

    7. Dwelling Happily in the Present Moment

    Aware that life is available only in the present moment and that it is possible to live happily in the here and now, I am committed to training myself to live deeply each moment of daily life. I will try not to lose myself in dispersion or be carried away by regrets about the past, worries about the future, or craving, anger or jealousy in the present. I will practise mindful breathing to come back to what is happening in the present moment. I am determined to learn the art of mindful living by touching the wondrous, refreshing and healing elements that are inside and around me, and by nourishing seeds of joy, peace, love and understanding in myself, thus facilitating the work of transformation and healing in my consciousness.

    8. Community and Communication

    Aware that lack of communication always brings separation and suffering, I am committed to training myself in the practice of compassionate listening and loving speech. I will learn to listen deeply without judging or reacting and refrain from uttering words that can create discord or cause the community to break. I will make every effort to keep communications open and to reconcile and resolve all conflicts, however small.

    9. Truthful and Loving Speech

    Aware that words can create suffering or happiness, I am committed to learning to speak truthfully and constructively, using only words that inspire hope and confidence. I am determined not to say untruthful things for the sake of personal interest or to impress people, nor to utter words that might cause division or hatred. I will not spread news that I do not know to be certain nor criticise or condemn things of which I am not sure. I will do my best to speak out about situations of injustice, even when doing so may threaten my safety.

    10. Protecting the Sangha

    Aware that the essence and aim of a Sangha is the practise of understanding and compassion, I am determined not to use the Buddhist community for personal gain or profit or transform our community into a political instrument. A spiritual community should, however, take a clear stand against oppression and injustice and should strive to change the situation without engaging in partisan conflicts.

    11. Right Livelihood

    Aware that great violence and injustice have been done to the environment and society, I am committed not to live with a vocation that is harmful to humans and nature. I will do my best to select a livelihood that helps realize my ideal of understanding and compassion. Aware of global economic, political and social realities, I will behave responsibly as a consumer and as a citizen, not investing in companies that deprive others of their chance to live.

    12. Reverence for Life

    Aware that much suffering is caused by war and conflict, I am determined to cultivate non-violence, understanding and compassion in my daily life, to promote peace education, mindful mediation and reconciliation, within families, communities, nations and in the world. I am determined not to kill and not to let others kill. I will diligently practice deep looking with my Sangha to discover better ways to protect life and prevent war.

    13. Generosity

    Aware of the suffering caused by exploitation, social injustice, stealing and oppression, I am committed to cultivating loving kindness and learning ways to work for the well-being of people, animals, plants and minerals. I will practice generosity by sharing my time, energy and material resources with those who are in need. I am determined not to steal and not to possess anything that should belong to others. I will respect the property of others, but will try to prevent others from profiting from human suffering or the suffering of other beings.

    14. Right Conduct

    For lay members: Aware of the suffering caused by exploitation, social injustice, stealing and oppression, I am committed to cultivating loving kindness and learning ways to work for the well-being of people, animals, plants and minerals. I will practice generosity by sharing my time, energy and material resources with those who are in need. I am determined not to steal and not to possess anything that should belong to others. I will respect the property of others, but will try to prevent others from profiting from human suffering or the suffering of other beings.are that sexual relations motivated by craving cannot dissipate the feeling of loneliness, but will create more suffering, frustration and isolation, I am determined not to engage in sexual relations without mutual understanding, love and a long-term commitment. In sexual relations, I must be aware of future suffering that may be caused. I know that to preserve the happiness of myself and others, I must respect the rights and commitments of myself and others. I will do everything in my power to protect children from sexual abuse and to protect couples and families from being broken by sexual misconduct. I will treat my body with respect and preserve my vital energies (sexual, breath, spirit) for the realization of my bodhisattva ideal. I will be fully aware of the responsibility for bringing new lives in the world, and will meditate on the world into which we are bringing new beings.

  13. joe perez says:

    Great posts, Edward and company. This is indeed an underdiscussed and underappreciated area, and I value the contributions in the dialogue so far.

    My first impression is to add the opinion that the article on peer-to-peer ethics is on the one hand (a) a good example of a true (healthy) green flattening of ethics into one vast pancake of an ethical terrain, and (b) an illustration of how the BMI must appear when the Absolute Perspective on Value is taken. In other words, sure it sounds good to say “promote the greatest depth for the greatest span”, and it’s awfully useful as a guide to the intuition, but in many circumstances it’s not practical or intuitive to consciously consider a person’s relative depth. The important thing, and often the ONLY important thing, is that they are a fellow human person. And as such, they are owing a certain absolute baseline of respect. Whereas the BMI gives a simple rule if you’re in a lifeboat with Hitler and Einstein, the P2P ethic gives a simple rule if you’re in a lifeboat and blindfolded with several total strangers.

  14. Tom says:

    Wonderful post. I very much agree with this and think it important: “[Walsh] said that at post conventional levels of ethical development we are no longer bound by the conventional rules of right and wrong. At this stage it’s more of a consciously felt, intuitive choice to act with appropriateness to each situation. It becomes more a spontaneous sense and expression of our true nature. That is why Wilber calls it the basic moral intuition, as they are no absolute rules for every case.”

    But I don’t think you are going to find much of an Absolute Perspective on ethics for the reason that it is “consciousness felt.” Thay’s rules would be a rightly unwelcomed imposition if it were to become a filter to read others’ conduct in the greater society.

    Note also that we cannot be in a position of treating the lower tier as a collection of Zoo Animals that All Knowing Us help and with All-Compassionate Hearts toss peanuts at.

    An Integral Ethics, spelled out and interpreted for others, instantly devolves into something creepily totalitarian, seemingly written by a big-brained, icky-sweet Barney the Dinosaur.

  15. Tom says:

    Of course, the reason I can say what I did, above, is because I am in the sole vmeme of the Third Tier, CLEAR, looking down from above at y’all. In the CLEAR vmeme, Consciousness=Purified Ethics. Unhappily, it is impossible for me to explain PE to you all.

  16. Tom says:

    PE is Godly. It allows anvils to fall on little girls’ heads. It is (w)hol(l)y inexplicable.

  17. Passing by the actually frequented battlefield, I will enter the more peaceful waters of “ethics”, the postings of which I have just digested.

    A very rich man said to me over half a century ago, back in Australia: “You have to know the law very well, so that you can live according to its loopholes.” He was referring, of course, to criminal and civil laws. Written “codes of ethics” only small, particular societies can have, but none of it can be generalised. As the transgression of them can be judged, and punished with blackballing, only within their own limits, they have no practical value outside of these. I very much agree that “we are no longer bound by the conventional rules of right and wrong. At this stage it’s more of a consciously felt, intuitive choice to act with appropriateness to each situation. It becomes more a spontaneous sense and expression of our true nature.” “The basic moral intuition” (intuition, as against instinct) – innate and not acquired – covers exactly my concept of ethics. Consequently each should live in and select his friends and the people he deals with from an environment that corresponds to his ethical standards. If he can.

    All the rest of Universal Declarations and Fundamental Principles for Humanity are only so many words without substance; and often even less than that. Example:

    Article 2: “No person engaging in intercourse with others should lend support to any form of inhumane behavior; all people have a responsibility to strive for the dignity and self-esteem of all others.” – Is, even if not lending active support, an ethical behaviour to stand by, keeping silent, and by doing so giving the passive approval of the silent majority to inhuman behaviour? And isn’t every single being’s – human or otherwise – responsibility and duty to act dignified and have self-esteem as a consequence? The second half of the quoted article, making worthy and dignified individuals responsible for the dignity and self-esteem of the sloth, insults the intelligence of a moron. To give each his due, to honour the honourable, to respect the respectable, to value the valuable, represents natural, correct ethics; all the rest is slimy hypocrisy, empty platitude. “He who would do good for another must do it in minute particulars; – warns William Blake – general good is the plea of the scoundrel, hypocrite and flatterer.”

    Article 5: “Every person has a responsibility to respect life in engaging in intercourse with others. No one has the right to injure, to torture or to kill another human person during that process. ..” – This is an éclatant example demonstrating that Ethics, for a “real human being” is limited to his intercourse with other “real human beings”. This is anthropocentrism, or “ethnocentrism” as some call it, and decidedly not globalism, nor integralism. In strong opposition to that attitude, I will quote Albert Schweitzer, the greatest “humanist” of the twentieth century, from his “Reverence for Life”:

    “To the man who is truly ethical all life is sacred including that which from the human point of view seems lower in the scale. He makes distinction only as each case comes before him, and under the pressure or necessity, as, for example, when it falls to him to decide which of two lives he must sacrifice in order to preserve the other. But all through this series of decisions he is conscious of acting on subjective grounds and arbitrarily, and knows that he bears the responsibility for the life which is sacrificed.”

    I found it odd, that none of the articles and rules were talking about being unethical to produce children irresponsibly and not bring them up to become independent, self-supporting and responsible persons; but to cripple them for more successful begging, to offer them to tourists for prostitution, and to make them work at a very early age. The natural, innate ethics of all the other mammals and all the birds cuts out even the thought of these kinds of behaviour. And isn’t it unethical to parasitically overpopulate, overrun and exploit the limited ecosystem of the planetary life, considering, from a purely egocentric perspective, only the human life of having any value?

    I suggest, that Ken Wilber’s ten in a lifeboat and only seven to stay has naught to do with ethics, because at that level there exists only the law of survival. Each and every one of the ten will do everything, applying the dirtiest tricks, including killing, to stay in the boat and survive. I would have to see as yet a peripherically situated ego who would jump voluntarily overboard saying that rather Mother Theresa should stay, because she “can make a higher contribution to the greater span of society”. I wonder if according to the BMI universal criteria Albert Einstein or Mother Theresa should stay in the boat. In any case, the decision should be fundamentally practical, considering which seven of the ten would make up the most competent team having the greatest chance to survive the highly risky ocean-trip and reach the other shores. We are all sitting now in a sinking boat, many times overloaded. What will be the ethical solution?

    I have read Wilber’s writings quite a few years back, but found his four quadrants and colour spectrum too categorising for categorising’s sake, specialising on and applying to only humans and human communities, not fitting into any integralist or holist theory. As far as the rest of the life-manifestations are concerned, it is a FQAL structure. And with over-categorising, full of subjective suppositions, comes the confusion. “Perhaps we have yet to really evolve beyond our disengaged and dangling subjectivities, despite our talk to the contrary?”, as Ray have correctly suggested.

    I like Ray’s applied ethics to an integral political economy, but instead of having economic power centralised, why not centralise only the final coordination, leaving organisations, decisions, responsibilities, ownerships and financing decentralised onto semiautonomous holistic levels of an integrated system that is self-sufficient within every order of its differentiations, forming an INTEGRARCHIC SOCIETY , where “integrarchy” means integrity within integrality.

    The Practices of Essential Spirituality of Roger Walsh should deserve an extra subject of discussion.

    National and international laws have naught to do with ethics, as my quotation of the rich Australian can show. Ethics has no “loopholes”; it sprouts from the inner growth of the individual, and, to a certain extent, it is the indicator of it, and is, in fact, of a higher moral order. People without a high ethical standing obey the laws in order to avoid punishment; people with one are not touched by these laws, because their ethical standards is above that of the laws. Exceptions are, when the laws contradict their ethical standards, in which case the latter dominates. Ethics develops in the inside and manifest in the inside character and in the outside behaviour of the individual. Laws develop on the outside and control the outside behaviour of the public. Ethics is the quality and inner guide of an integral being; laws, rules and regulations form a bunch of people only into a herd.

    AK has mentioned Philip Zimbardo’s Prison Experiment at Stanford. I have written an essay on that: THOUGHTS ON THE STANFORD PRISON EXPERIMENT, as also on THOUGHTS ON Dr STANLEY MILGRAM’S EXPERIMENT , this latter being repeated in several other countries, including Germany, Japan, Australia, all with very shocking results. Should you be uninterested to read them, here are some related words of Simone Weil contained in a letter she has written from the Spanish Civil War: “I feel that whenever a certain group of human beings is relegated, by some temporal or spiritual authority, beyond the pale of those whose life has a price, then one finds it perfectly natural to kill such people. When one knows one can kill without risk or punishment or blame, one kills; or at least one smiles encouragingly at those who kill. .. There seems to be in this some impulse or intoxication which it is impossible to resist without a strength of mind which I am obliged to consider exceptional, since I have not found it in anyone.”

    A remarkable after-note: Just very recently (2007) I have picked out the following lines from a scientific report: “Given the chance to get food by pulling a chain that would also deliver an electric shock to a companion, rhesus monkeys will starve themselves for several days.”


  18. Edward Berge says:

    Note how the following distinguishes, like I did, between ethical rules and principles.

    From Western Buddhist Review, volume 4 at

    Postmodern Ethics: A Buddhist Response

    Pano Skiotis

    First published in 1993, Zygmunt Bauman’s Postmodern Ethics [1] attempts an ambitious critique of European moral philosophy since the Enlightenment. The book tries to address what Bauman sees as the major failings of moral philosophy in the modern (that is, post-Enlightenment) period – it is his response to these perceived failings for which Bauman reserves the term ‘post-modern ethics’. For those wishing to deepen their understanding of the problem of ethics the book offers a number of useful insights. A major theme running through the work, for example, is the emphasis on morality conceived of as responsibility to others, as opposed to the conception of morality as obedience to moral rules. In making such a distinction Bauman makes it clear that our moral responsibility is infinite and cannot be reduced to the fulfilment of a limited set of rules. Another major theme is in the argument that morality cannot be ultimately ‘proven’ or grounded in rational argument, but that morality can only be grounded in that which ultimately precedes any attempt at reasoning, which Bauman terms the ‘moral impulse’.

    In this paper I will attempt to outline sympathetically the major elements of Bauman’s position and then I will elaborate on and modify Bauman’s ‘post-modern ethics’ by taking into account a Buddhist understanding of ethics. Whilst in general agreement with Bauman in relation to his critique of rules in ethics, for example, I will argue that
    there is a need for a clear distinction between rules and ethical principles. Ethical principles are distinct from rules in that, while they are guides to our moral conduct, principles are open ended, infinite in their demand upon us and do not serve in any way to limit our natural moral impulse. Following the Buddhist tradition in ethics, I will argue that we can turn to our underlying mental states and motivational dispositions in assessing the morality of any actions. Again following the Buddhist tradition, I will argue that the arising of what Bauman terms the ‘moral impulse’ cannot be separated from a clear vision or understanding of the human existential situation. Morality may not be able to be ‘proven’; it can however appeal to our deepest needs that arise from our inescapable existential situation.

    Because the term ‘post-modernism’ is often equated with relativism it should be made clear from the outset that the postmodern position outlined by Bauman does not reject the idea of a universal basis to ethics. Bauman makes it clear, in his introduction to Postmodern Ethics, that when he states ‘Morality is not universalizable’ [2] he is not stating the popularly held view that morality is a relative phenomenon that has no universal basis. He explains: ‘This statement does not necessarily endorse moral relativism, expressed in the frequently voiced and apparently similar proposition, that any morality is but a local (and temporary) custom, that what is believed to be moral in one place and time is certain to be frowned upon in another, and so all kinds of moral conduct practised so far happen to be relative to the time and place, affected by vagaries of local or tribal histories and cultural inventions; that proposition is more often than not correlated with an injunction against all comparisons between moralities, and above all against all exploration of other than purely accidental and contingent sources of morality. I will argue against this overtly relativistic and in the end nihilistic view of morality.’ [3] Bauman’s assertion that ‘Morality is not universalizable’ is rather meant as a statement against ‘… the substitution of heteronomous, enforced-from-outside, ethical rules for the autonomous responsibility of the moral self’ [4]

    In other words, Bauman does not wish to reject a universal basis to morality, which he sees as ultimately residing in the ‘moral impulse’ of the autonomous subject. Rather, it is the view that this moral impulse can be neatly expressed in (or even replaced by) a set of rational rules which apply to all situations that Bauman rejects.

    The main task of Postmodern Ethics then, is not to reject a universal basis for morality, but to offer a detailed critique of what Bauman characterizes as the ‘modern’ ethical philosophy and what Alasdair MacIntyre, in After Virtue, [5] calls ‘The Enlightenment Project of Justifying Morality’. [6] For both Bauman and MacIntyre the ‘modern’ outlook on ethics is fundamentally wrong in many of its central tenets.

    What then is this ‘modern’ ethical philosophy? Bauman and MacIntyre argue that the modern perspective in ethics has been essentially a search for justification and certainty in the grounding of ethics. The implicit or sometimes explicit goal of the search has been to discover a universally valid set of ethical rules that may be applied to any social situation with scientific precision. According to Bauman, social cohesion and social order provide the underlying raison d’être for this project, which served social and political goals as much as it did purely philosophical ones. [7]

    MacIntyre suggests it is no accident that the birth of modern ethics occurred when medieval Christianity began its decline. [8] According to this perspective, the modern world view arose in the void left by the decline in the primacy of Christian theism, suggesting that the need for certainty and order is deeply rooted in the Western psyche. But with the gradual undermining of God and the Holy Bible as the ultimate reference points for moral truth, there began a search for a new understanding of ethics. In MacIntyre’s and Bauman’s admittedly rather sweeping interpretation of the history of ideas, the modern philosophers, from Diderot through Hume and Kant and ending in Kierkegaard, despite their disparate views and philosophies, share a common concern to uphold a Christian morality without recourse to traditional Christian/Aristotelian teleology and theology. [9]

    Thus Bauman and MacIntyre suggest that the modern outlook on ethics can be understood not only as a response to philosophical problems, but also in the light of the need for a new basis for social cohesion, following the decline of medieval Christianity and the appearance of what MacIntyre calls the ‘autonomous individual’, evident in the rise of a new class of merchants, scientists and artists. In this view, the modern epoch can be characterized as an era in which believing Christians can no longer turn to their own religion for truth, either in the natural sciences or in matters of morality. Modernism is thus seen as a response to both a philosophical and a social crisis.

    In this interpretation of the post-Enlightenment period, the chief purpose of morality was no longer to support man in his reaching for a transcendent telos (that is, man’s quest for a higher state of being – according to MacIntyre, this had been the mainstream tradition since Aristotle and throughout the Christian Middle Ages), but rather the negative purpose of preventing man from acting on his immoral inclinations. Characteristically, Kant’s concern was to ensure that the voice of duty is heard, even when one’s inclinations may be to act immorally. [10] Kant even went so far as to assume that this is the essence of morality, rather than to achieve a state in which one’s inclinations are already moral. Thus Kant’s conception of duty implies that acting morally may mean secretly wishing that one could act otherwise – this is the very opposite of what Bauman calls the ‘moral impulse’, which is characterized by a feeling that one could not act in any other way. As MacIntyre explains in comparing the Aristotelian conception of virtue with Kant’s conception of duty, ‘Virtues are dispositions not only to act in particular ways, but also to feel in particular ways. To act virtuously is not, as Kant was later to think, to act against inclination; it is to act from inclination formed by cultivation of the virtues. Moral education is an “education sentimentale”.’ [11]

    Bauman further argues that the very fragility of this negative conception of morality, exemplified by Kant, lends itself to the state taking on the role of moral educator and enforcer. The state becomes the upholder of morality and reason, through the legal and judicial process. It also enables the justification of its imperial ambitions as being that of imposing a universally valid set of moral standards. A major part of Bauman’s thesis in Postmodern Ethics is the unmasking of this use of state power as being in the interests of certain classes and groups within society.

    For Bauman, ‘postmodernism’ represents a new acceptance of what the ‘modern’ world has sought to escape. Thus rather than being dismayed, Bauman celebrates the idea that morality is non-rational, that the moral agent cannot be controlled or coerced into being moral and that morality remains mysterious, unexplainable and unable to be reduced to universal rules. Bauman points out that ‘postmodern’ does not mean ‘post’ in the chronological sense. ‘Postmodernism’ does not occur after modernism, but is a response to it, that is, a negation or ‘disbelief’ in the modern outlook. In many ways we still live in a ‘modern’ society, not a postmodern’ one.

    Bauman’s advocacy of the postmodern position is informed by what he sees as the inevitable failures of modernism. He argues that, contrary to the modern prescription, moral phenomena are ultimately non-rational and cannot be neatly summed up in universally valid ethical rules: ‘morality is endemically and irredeemably non-rational – in the sense of not being calculable, hence not being presentable as following impersonal rules, hence not being describable as following rules that are in principle universalizable.’ [12]

    Bauman’s principal objection to an ethics based on any kind of rules is his insight that rules lead to a limiting of ethical responsibility. ‘Rules would tell me what to do and when; rules would tell me where my duty starts and when it ends; rules would allow me to say, at some point, that I may rest now as everything that had to be done has been done’ [13]

    It is important for my argument in support of a Buddhist ethical framework that we note Bauman’s principle objection to ethical rules: he sees them as severely limiting the moral impulse and therefore achieving the opposite of what they set out to achieve, making us less rather than more moral. I will later analyse this type of rule-based ethics as being a system of ‘closed’ ethics, as opposed to ‘open’ ethics, which do not constrain, but inform and guide our moral impulse. I will argue that the principles of ethics outlined in the Buddhist tradition are open ended and therefore escape Bauman’s critique. Morality is not a matter of obedience to rules, but this does not mean that the moral impulse does not need cultivation and training.

    But for now we can note the power of Bauman’s argument against a rule-based ethics – to the extent that an ethical system prescribes a limited set of rules which may be successfully and finally fulfilled – to that extent it acts as a constraint to our moral impulse. While a limited set of rules may be enforced, our moral impulse cannot be coerced or controlled, but neither can it be limited – it is open ended, even infinite, in its scope. But if ethics does not reside in fulfilling a set of ethical rules or duties, what alternative vision of morality is Bauman proposing? What does Bauman mean when he talks of our moral impulse? [14]

    In presenting his own basis for ethics Bauman draws heavily on the French philosopher Levinas, who describes the moral stance as one of ‘being for the Other’. This is actually an elaboration of Kant’s dictum to treat the other always as an end and never as a means. [15] ‘Being for the Other’ means recognizing the other not as a limited object to be appropriated for my own ends, but as an ‘infinite’ subjectivity, as a ‘freedom’. In contrast to a limited set of duties, my moral responsibility in ‘being for the Other’ is infinite, unconditional and not dependent on the Other reciprocating by acting in a like manner towards me. It is the very opposite of contractual obligation. In Levinas’ own words, moral responsibility is: ‘A responsibility that goes beyond what I may or may not have done to the Other, or whatever acts I may or may not have committed, as if I were devoted to the other man before being devoted to myself.’ [16]

    In Levinas’ rather poetic language, morality arises in response to the ‘face’ of the Other, which calls to me in its need. The Other ‘summons’ me to ‘self-sacrifice’, but this ‘summons’ is the ‘summons’ of an ‘authority’, not a force. Morality thus arises from an almost instinctual, primordial level of experience which can be termed the ‘moral proximity’ that I experience in my relationships with other people.

    Bauman and Levinas are contrasting two radically different types of human relationship. The first is ‘being with the other’ which is a relationship defined by reciprocation, contractual rules and obligations and relies on fear of punishment or self interest for its ultimate effectiveness. (In other words, it is a relationship ultimately based on power.) This is contrasted with ‘being for the Other’ which is a relationship of open ended responsibility and a response to the needs of the other. It is not a relationship that can be enforced or coerced into existence and cannot be justified in purely rational terms (in other words, it is a relationship based on love in its deepest possible meaning.)

    It should be becoming clearer why Bauman’s (and Levinas’s) idea of morality is ‘beyond rationality’. Bauman is pointing to the fact that ultimately moral choice seems to be made without any recourse to reasoned argument. There seems to be a point beyond reasoning at which we make our deepest moral commitments. It is the moral impulse that precedes any later reasoning that Bauman is describing. Rational argument must inevitably speak the language of reasons and purposes, but ‘being for the Other’ needs no further justification or reason. Morality, defined as ‘being for the Other’, is its own end; it is not a means to an end, at least where that end is thought of in terms such as self-interest or social harmony.

    But does such a view of morality lead inevitably to moral relativism and ‘emotivism’? MacIntyre notes that modern moral debates have an ‘interminability’ about them, because no ground for morality is sufficiently agreed or sufficiently persuasive to act as an agreed starting basis. He therefore claims that emotivism is the most characteristic moral philosophy of the modern age, with its insistence that moral ‘statements’ are essentially only expressions of personal preference. According to emotivism, ultimately all moral debates, even if couched in the language of reason, must boil down to personal preference, therefore I must use every devious means available (and not necessarily pure rationality) to win any argument. MacIntyre argues that the attempt of modern philosophy to ground morality, firstly in human passions and desires (Hume), then in human reason (Kant), then finally in criterionless choice (Kierkegaard) failed ultimately to give us any persuasive reason to act morally. For MacIntyre, it is the failure of modern ethical philosophy that has inevitably led us to emotivism. [17]

    But the question needs to be asked whether the ‘postmodern’ insights into the nature of ethics are leading us to a similar conclusion. If there is to be no reasoned basis to morality and if morality is a matter of individual choice or commitment can the individual seeking moral guidance be helped? If we accept the postmodern critique of rationality and rule-guided ethics are we inevitably on our own in adopting a particular moral stance? How are we to judge the value of one moral stance above another? We have come full circle to the age-old problem of finding a firm grounding for ethics.

    Many contemporary philosophers follow Kierkegaard in claiming that ultimately we are faced with a criterionless choice in adopting a moral stance. Stan Van Hooft, for example, in his book Caring: An Essay in the Philosophy of Ethics [18] seeks to explain why we cannot avoid being moral. He explains morality as being a set of commitments or choices which are expressions of our ‘deep caring’, which is our fundamental and inescapable relationship with the world and our place in it. It is because we are ontologically both a ‘self-project’ and a ‘caring about others’ (that is, we exist as beings who create themselves in time and who must relate in some way to the world outside ourselves) that we must have moral commitments. But Van Hooft cannot tell us which commitments to make – it is only the act of choosing that resolves my ethical dilemmas. [19] Of course, moral choice does not occur in a vacuum, but in a particular cultural context, but Van Hooft refuses to offer us any universal criteria for ethics that stand outside of culture. [20]

    It seems to me that there is a way out of the quandary presented to us in contemporary moral philosophy, and this is partly pointed to in Levinas’ characterization of morality. For Levinas, morality is characterized as ‘being for the Other’. This mode of being somehow transcends our natural self-centred inclinations. It is first and foremost in my ‘being for the Other’ that I transcend my own narrow ego-based self and reach for a new way of being, a way that could ultimately even be characterized as ‘saintliness’. [21] Levinas’ philosophy points the way to a conception of morality that can be found in the Bible and in classical thought – to a morality that is not to be justified in ‘human nature’, but rather in what humanity may become. It is this ‘new humanity’ or transcendent mode of being that is brought into being to the extent that we are able to put aside our own narrow self-interested point of view and be for the Other. We can talk of ‘man as he could be’ in a number of ways: as man who has ‘well-being’ in Aristotle’s conception, as ‘saintliness’ in the Christian tradition or as enlightened consciousness in the Buddhist tradition. But all these conceptions share a similar triadic structure MacIntyre has characterized as ‘untutored human nature, man as he could be if he realized his telos and the moral precepts which enable him to pass from one state to the other’. [22] The main point of these differing traditions is clear: in Nietzsche’s famous dictum ‘man is something that should be overcome’. [23] Morality derives its meaning from whether or not it is successful in achieving its telos, namely the bringing into existence of the ‘new man’.

    The human (defined as that part of us that remains bound by a narrow conception of self-interest) is not an end in itself, rather it is a promise (or perhaps more accurately, an opportunity) of something higher. It is in this sense of self-transcendence that the word ‘transcendental’ could be used to characterize any such philosophy of life, not to connote any metaphysical entity. The modern outlook on human existence and its consequential moral failure is to attempt to live without such a transcendental possibility. Let me emphasize again that such a transcendence does not necessarily imply any particular metaphysical transcendence (such as the transcendence of God), rather it is meant to connote a transcendence of the existential quandary of the human condition, a transcendence of the narrow confines of self interested, ‘ego based’ existence. Such a conception of what it means to be human is pointed to in all the universal religions and also in the Greek classical tradition.

    So, to summarize the moral position characterized by Levinas, the moral can be seen as a new way of being which has as its essence ‘being for the Other’ and a going beyond my own narrow self interests. This is hardly a new conception of morality, yet, perhaps surprisingly, it does not contradict any of the main tenets of the postmodern position. We can see that this ‘new man’ or new ‘way of being’ which is pointed to cannot be justified by reasoned argument alone – it cannot be ‘proven’. However, as I will later explain in my brief discussion of the Buddhist ethical outlook, this conception of morality does begin to appeal to us when we start to develop some degree of insight into the extent to which narrow self-interest causes ourselves and others a great deal of suffering. Its ‘appeal’ is one that is of the heart as much as the head.

    I have used Levinas’ poetic philosophy of ‘being for the Other’ as my chief metaphor for morality. But many other concepts and images could be put in its place. From the Buddhist tradition we can take the concepts of mettaa (loving-kindness) and karu.naa (compassion) to describe a similar experience. Perhaps we can even use a term from modern psychology – empathy – or perhaps Van Hooft’s ‘Deep Caring’ can be extended to describe such an experience.

    Once we accept ‘being for the Other’ as our key moral experience, a number of simple ethical principles follow quite naturally. It is critical to see, as Bauman and Levinas have clearly argued, that the ethical impulse needs no secondary justification. The principles I will outline are not justifications for morality, but elaborations or implications that derive from this primary experience. Ethics, as Levinas puts it, is ‘first philosophy’. We can only derive our moral principles from our primary moral experience or ‘impulse’. It is only because we are not always guided by this impulse that we have a need for moral principles. I will turn to the Buddhist tradition as my source for these principles, although being universal principles they may be found within other traditions also.

    The most fundamental ethical principle (or precept, or ‘training rule’) in Buddhism is to avoid harming living beings, or to put it more positively, to act with deeds of loving kindness towards others. From this great principle all other principles follow. [24] It should immediately be clear that this principle or ideal is not a ‘rule’ in the sense of prescribing a narrow set of duties that can be finally fulfilled. It is of the nature of a ‘principle’ or ‘ideal’ that it opens us to the infinity of our responsibility towards others. If such a principle were to degenerate into a collection of ‘rules’ imposed on us by an external authority (whether that authority be God or the state), we would act only out of fear of consequences to ourselves and not out of any motivation towards self-transcendence. Of course, a great deal of what goes under the name of morality is of this type, including a great part of the dominant Judeo-Christian tradition.

    A system of rules that is held together or receives its ultimate authority externally to the moral agent may offer us a mirage of security. Such a system of ‘closed’ ethics serves to remove our underlying moral and even existential anxiety by providing us with ‘safe’ and ‘secure’ answers to life’s dilemmas. But as soon as the authority is undermined (for example, through the demise of the Church or the state) such an ethics reveals its deep fragility. An ‘authoritarian’ ethics cannot finally provide us with the ethical society it promises. The man who does not steal because his hands are tied behind his back, or out of fear of being caught, is hardly acting ethically. The criminal justice system and other methods of controlling human behaviour by means of power is a last resort option at best and can clearly not be the foundation stone of a civilized society.

    To act with deeds of loving kindness towards others is to adopt a certain kind of attitude, even one may say a certain kind of emotional stance. The characteristic emotional attitude is of course that of love (in the sense of a deep friendliness and empathetic attitude). The Buddhist term here is ‘mettaa’, which has a meaning much broader and deeper than that conveyed by the modern understanding of the word ‘love’. Such a love in its perfected form is characterized by being inclusive of all living beings, but it has as its basis the love that we feel for ourselves and those closest to us.

    The basic emotional attitude of mettaa can be elaborated further as the Four Brahma-vihaaras or Sublime abodes. Mettaa is the first of the Brahma-vihaaras and the basis of the other three abodes, karu.naa or compassion, muditaa or sympathetic joy and upekkhaa or equanimity. Thus when faced by the suffering of others ‘mettaa’ is expressed as karu.naa or compassion. When faced with the happiness of living beings ‘mettaa’ is expressed as muditaa or sympathetic joy. Finally, when faced by the suffering and happiness of others in the light of the conditions that caused that suffering or happiness, mettaa is expressed as upekkhaa or equanimity or tranquillity. [25] By tranquillity is meant not a cold indifference, but a tranquillity that arises from the insight that any state of existence is impermanent and can therefore change into something better and higher.

    It is characteristic of Buddhist ethics that it is expressed in terms of the emotions as much as it is in any conceptual formulation. Emotions have an appeal where cold and reasoned calculation may not. An action motivated by love is naturally appealing to the moral agent without any recourse to secondary reasons. It is also significant that from a Buddhist perspective an action whose underlying motivation is love is as beneficial to the moral agent as it is to the receiver of that love. Paradoxically, the deepest ‘self-interest’ is served by ‘being for the Other’ and acting from a basis of love. Even Kant, with his emphasis on the disinterestedness and self-sacrificing nature of ethical duty, must admit that a certain ‘contentment’ does arise in acting morally. [26] This ‘contentment’ is well understood when we see that our ‘telos’ is to be attained through ‘being for the Other’.

    It is also characteristic of Buddhist ethics that it turns to our motivations for an assessment of the morality of an action. Wholesome actions follow from wholesome motivations. Without a positive emotional/motivational basis good cannot arise. This is not to say that we should not act intelligently and circumspectly as the situation may warrant – but it does point to the fundamental importance of our emotional dispositions in moral action. [27] It follows from this that awareness of our emotional/mental states is a good guide to the morality of our actions. If one was aware, for example, that one was acting from a basis of hatred or ill will (the opposite of love) it would follow that our actions would not be moral. Such a criterion is open to the criticism of being too vague to be of much use in any critical situation. But this vagueness can be lessened by developing mindful awareness, particularly through concentrative exercises such as meditation practice. Thus meditation in the Buddhist tradition has as its initial goals the cultivation of awareness of one’s underlying mental states and of cultivating and developing one’s positive emotions, such as ‘mettaa’ (loving kindness). In a further stage, meditation is aimed at direct Insight into the nature of reality itself. Such Insight is said to be characterized by wisdom and compassion. Morality and self-awareness or mindfulness are thus mutually reinforcing.

    One more characteristic of Buddhist ethics can be noted here: Buddhist ethics is naturalistic rather than theistic. Buddhism turns to our own psychology, to our own experience, rather than to an external source such as God or the Holy Bible for its ultimate source of moral understanding. Buddhist ethics could be described as empirical, in the sense that our own experience is the ultimate reference point for moral truth. Buddhist ethics seeks to appeal to our own experience in any attempts at persuasion. Awareness and self-reflection are therefore crucial elements in any Buddhist ethics. [28]

    Thus the ultimate reference point for all doctrinal formulations of Buddhism, including its ethical formulations, is an insight or experience of human existence which is open to all human beings to the extent to which they are able to reflect on their own existential situation. One may say that our conception of what it means to be a human being is derived ultimately from the reality of our existential situation, a reality which is true, in its principal elements, for all human beings. The truth that the Buddha understood is not a philosophy or a doctrine, but a direct insight into the nature of reality. The claim of Buddhism is that such a direct insight into the true nature of reality is possible for every human being.

    In the end, the only claim to truth that the Buddhist vision of reality can make is that derived through our own experience – by examining one’s own experience the truths to which the doctrinal formulas of Buddhism point will become self-evident. This is why the Buddhist tradition has an unbroken tradition of dialogue and reflective discourse – one does not take on the Buddhist doctrines on blind faith, but through a process of confirming their truth for oneself. It must be remembered that the word ‘Buddha’ essentially means ‘the awakened one’; the Buddhist tradition holds that this awakening is possible for all human beings, to the extent that they make the necessary effort.

    The Buddhist vision of reality has many different doctrinal formulations and is a huge topic beyond the scope of this essay. I will therefore pick up only a few themes which are most clearly relevant to the issue of morality. The Buddha taught that worldly existence is ‘dukkha’, which can be translated as suffering, but perhaps more accurately unsatisfactoriness. The metaphor used is that of an ill-fitting chariot wheel. This of course does not mean that there is no pleasure to be had from life, or even that these pleasures are worthless, but only that they are ultimately impermanent (anicca) and transitory. However, we refuse to recognize this simple fact. We act as though experiences and objects are permanent and substantial, when in reality they are not. We even believe our own self to be permanent, fixed and substantial when in reality it is nothing more or less than a flow of constantly changing experience. We are in reality ‘no-self’ (anattaa), that is, we exist in relation to everything else and are dependent upon a constantly changing flow of conditions.

    But we do not see this reality clearly. Through our false conception of worldly reality as satisfactory, permanent and substantial, we cling to experiences that are pleasant and reject those that are unpleasant. In other words, in dependence on ignorance (failing to see conditioned existence for what it is) we develop craving and hatred. (Ignorance, craving and hatred are to be found at the centre of the so-called ‘Tibetan Wheel of Life’ symbolized by a pig, a cock, and a snake – they are also known as the ‘three root poisons’.) Note here the fundamental place of ignorance, defined as a lack of clear vision of reality. With craving and hatred we have the psychological basis of immorality. Of course craving and hatred have a very large range of psychological manifestations, from mild dislike to an obsessive hatred, but they are all based in a desperate attempt by the ego to cling to what is perceived as pleasant and reject what is perceived as unpleasant. These negative emotional dispositions ultimately serve to reinforce this sense of ‘I’ or ‘ego’ as something which I must protect and nurture. Yet this battle of the ego is doomed to failure, with the resulting sense of unsatisfactoriness and disillusionment.

    Our deepest existential need is to escape from this sense of deep anxiety and unsatisfactoriness. As Gunapala Dharmasiri puts it, ‘the Buddha’s central problem was how to get out of this unsatisfying Samsara (‘worldly’ existence, that is, existence experienced through greed, hatred and ignorance) and achieve a permanent kind of happiness.’ [29] But this cannot be done until we begin to operate from a radically different basis. It is this new basis for being that is signified by the ‘teleology’ of transcendence, of the ‘new man’ or ‘enlightened being’.

    The only permanent solution to the crisis of the embattled ego is to transcend the ego altogether and move to a mode of being that recognizes our fundamental interdependence with others and indeed all phenomena. It is this underlying ‘purpose’ or ‘meaning’ that gives ultimate justification to the moral task. Morality, defined as a sense of responsibility for others based in the positive emotional state of mettaa (loving kindness), is the foundation of our attempt to live in the light of our clearest vision of reality. In being moral man moves from a false, inauthentic and unsatisfactory mode of existence to one which is authentic and ultimately satisfying. But in order to achieve such an authentic mode of being one must be able to see clearly the drawbacks of worldly existence. Thus man’s higher purpose is not one ‘given’ by a creator God, but is derived by reflection on the limitations and possibilities of his existential situation. Without this self-awareness of one’s existential situation one will continue to live a life based on a delusory notion of self-interest.

    The ‘postmodern ethics’ outlined by Bauman is an attempt to develop a persuasive critique of post-Enlightenment ethical philosophy as being obsessed with rules, rationality and coercion. As an historical critique it suffers from being too sweeping and all inclusive, and comes dangerously close at times to misrepresenting the complexity of post-Enlightenment ethical philosophy. Yet its usefulness lies in its clear critique of a major tendency in ethical debate. It also sets out an alternative ethics, an ethics of infinite responsibility, pointed to in Levinas’ philosophy of ‘being for the Other’. Buddhist ethics is similarly open ended rather than rule bound and hence serves as a useful elaboration of this trend in ethical theory. It should be clear that an ethics based on Buddhist principles could never be an ethics of ‘coercion’, in which obedience to authority (whether that be God or the state) has become the raison d’être of morality. Rather it speaks to the individual in his existential predicament and invites the individual to try out a new way of being – a way of being that ultimately transcends any narrow preoccupation with self-interest. Particularly useful for Westerners searching for a new basis to moral conduct is the Buddhist understanding of the centrality of emotional dispositions as a basis of morality and the importance of mindful awareness in the cultivation of positive emotional states. The Buddhist tradition also shows us that we have nothing to fear from broad ethical principles which help guide us in our attempts to move from an unsatisfactory state of greed, hatred and ignorance to one of compassionate wisdom and freedom.

    [1]. Bauman, Zygmunt, Postmodern Ethics, Blackwell, Oxford 1993.
    [2]. Ibid., p.12.
    [3]. Ibid., p.12.
    [4]. Ibid., p.12.
    [5]. MacIntyre, Alasdair, After Virtue, University of Notre Dame Press, Notre Dame Indiana 1981.
    [6]. Ibid, ch.5.
    [7]. Bauman, op.cit., p.14.
    [8]. MacIntyre, op.cit.
    [9]. Ibid., p.51.
    [10]. See Kant, Immanuel, Groundwork of the Metaphysics of Morals, trans. H.J. Paton, Harper Torchbooks, New York 1964.
    [11]. MacIntyre, op.cit. p.149.
    [12]. Bauman, op.cit., p.60.
    [13]. Ibid., p.60.
    [14]. While attempting to follow Bauman’s argument, it is worth noting a degree of confusion with Bauman’s use of Kantian terms. Bauman tends to use the terms ‘rules’ and ‘duties’ interchangeably, but Kant’s use of the term duty does not deny the autonomous working of the individual conscience, so Kant may be closer to Bauman than is at first obvious. The term ‘duty’, in Kant, may actually be closer to ‘moral impulse’ than Bauman’s interpretation makes clear.
    [15]. Kant, op.cit., p.63–7. Once more, Bauman may actually be closer to Kant than is at first obvious.
    [16]. ‘Ethics as First Philosophy’ in Levinas, Emmanuel, The Levinas Reader, ed. Hand, Shawn, Blackwell, Oxford 1989, p.83.
    [17]. MacIntyre, op. cit. ch.3.
    [18]. Van Hooft, Stan, Caring: An Essay in the Philosophy of Ethics, University Press of Colorado, Niwot Colorado 1995.
    [19]. Ibid., p.186.
    [20]. Ibid., p.114.
    [21]. ‘The Paradox of Morality: an interview with Emmanuel Levinas’ in The Provocation of Levinas, Bernasconi, Robert and Wood, David, Routledge, London 1988, p.172.
    [22]. MacIntyre, op. cit., p.54.
    [23]. Nietzsche, Friedrich, Thus Spoke Zarathustra, trans. Hollingdale, R. J. Penguin Books, Harmondsworth 1969, p.41.
    [24]. Other important moral principles are an elaboration of this primary principle. For example, in the area of communication such a principle would be to use speech that is kindly and promotes harmony. The practice of generosity would be another example. For a full elaboration of the ethical ‘precepts’ of Buddhism see Sangharakshita, The Ten Pillars of Buddhism, Windhorse Publications, Birmingham 1999.
    [25]. Sangharakshita, Vision and Transformation, Windhorse, Glasgow 1990, ch.2.
    [26]. Kant, op. cit., p.64.
    [27]. Sangharakshita, op. cit., ch.4.
    [28]. See Dharmasiri, Gunapala, Fundamentals of Buddhist Ethics, Golden Leaves, Antioch California, p.2.
    [29]. Dharmasiri, op. cit., p.11.

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