Self-designed ethical principles written for final project in an ethics course.
1. In thoughts and actions, always adhere to the truth.
The first of my ten principles deals with Truth, and is the most important. This idea of remaining vigilant in your adherence to the truth permeates the rest of the principles here and everything I try to do in my life. I always try to be truthful in my interactions with others and with myself. The Truth is pure & simple, and avoidance of it is rooted in fear.
“No legacy is so rich as Honesty.” ~ William Shakespeare
2. Primarily consider your duty in a decision before the potential consequences of that decision.
This principle I developed in direct accordance with some of the theories learned in this ethics class. It deals with the opposing ethical viewpoints of teleological and deontological thinking, developed by 18th century German philosopher Immanuel Kant. In the embrace of the deontological concept, I will always consider the duty of a situation, role, or relationship before any calculations are made for a subsequent decision.
In the end, I believe following the duty will result in what is righteous. Any calculations or utilization of teleological thinking will be secondary. The key is properly prioritizing the duties and responsibilities I have first, in the decision-making process.
3. Always consider a choice from the perspective that we are collection of our past choices; in this way, we are what we habitually choose to be. And the choice will always be mine.
This principle gives me perspective in observing the choices I’ve made, am making, and will make in the future. When I consider the whole of the choices I’ve made in my life, as a collection I can look back on, the reflection should give me a clear picture of why I am who I am as a person. I believe we are a collection of these past choices, situations, and relationships, good or bad, and before moving on to live the life we want to lead we have to embrace the life we have already led up to this point, in its entirety.
I think this self-examination will help me in current and future decision-making and reaffirms my sovereignty in my self and the path I end up on. Looking into the past, it should be clear that the choice was always mine and always will be mine, to determine my path in life. In holding myself accountable, I ensure solidarity in the decisions.
4. Don’t lose yourself or become selfish in the hunt for greater things; always maintain a healthy perspective on your true self.
This principle is inspired from my reread of Frankenstein by Mary Shelley for this course. In the classic tale, Victor Frankenstein loses his sanctity of mind and true character in an ambitious yet ill-fated pursuit of unnatural knowledge. Despite good intentions, that of furthering the science of his field and advancing the human frame beyond the limits of death, the end result of his endeavor was the complete desolation of a promising life. When he succeeded in bringing a fully-formed new being into the world, despite its grotesque appearance, Victor had a duty to prepare the being for its own ineffable existence and assure its safety, and potentially its happiness. As a creator of life, Victor assumed responsibilities which he immediately abandoned, leaving the creature to its own miserable fate and subsequently, a terrible vengeance being enacted upon his own livelihood.
Blinded to his loved ones, confined to the madness of solitude, and seeking a dangerous secret beyond the limits of natural knowledge, Victor Frankenstein lost his mind, body, and soul in the hunt for something greater. His true self was a benevolent, sensitive and kind soul who loved his family with a sincere heart. This tragedy can teach the reader much about his own life and the extreme consequences following a dream unchecked can take upon an ambitious individual. I believe fiction often reveals truths that reality can obscure and this novel resonates with me in these ways.
5. Remember that nothing is worth sacrificing your integrity for.
This principle is not derived from any specific source and is relatively simple in its meaning. It and the first principle are the only two nearing an absolute nature. I plan to consider this mantra if ever faced with an especially difficult moral dilemma.
My character is the most intrinsic and integral part of my being, without it I am nothing. If my integrity is on the line, I would hope I would never be willing to sacrifice it. No matter what, no matter the situation or the person I may become in the future, I will remember this.
6. Trust the wisdom within experience, and strive for the virtue of a perpetual learner.
This principles comes from two moral ideals, freedom vs. virtue. The dualism and opposition of these equally significant aspects of human reasoning creates problems for just moral decision-making. Freedom to choose how to think and act is a necessity for the creativity and inspiration of ideals and healthy living in our diverse communities. Virtue is what we most want to achieve, lives composed of decisions which align with our individual codes and that we can be proud of.
However, as in all of ethics there are always exceptions to any concept of moral reasoning. As individual and sovereign beings within the community, moral freedom can result in collective atrocities such as genocide. At the same time, a universal definition of virtue may be impossible to decide upon.
Considering these walls to absolute righteousness in moral reasoning, I decide to trust the absolute wisdom of experience, my own experience or others. The truth of experience will be the arbiter of any judgments made on morality, i.e. after the decision has been made and the consequences observed, the moral justification can be discerned and more importantly, learned from. I believe life should be a perpetual learning experience, in which we internalize the essence of our past, good or bad, and move on improved and better for experiencing it. Additionally, we can avoid the pitfalls others have already experienced through earnest observations.
Thus, I plan to morally reason through each of my decisions in life, to the best of my ability and in line with my own personal code. I trust in these outcomes. But most important, is the learning process which follows and the takeaways from it. Building upon experience after experience in life, as a perpetual learner, means every day I become better.
7. “Act in such a way that you always treat humanity, whether in your own person or in the person of any other, never simply as a means, but always at the same time as an end.” —Immanuel Kant
This principle comes from the philosopher Immanuel Kant, who is the primary proponent of the categorical imperative and an absolute duty-based ethical philosophy. In this quote, he presents the relatively simple ideal of treating people — as people. Intrinsic within all human interaction there should be a certain level of basic human decency, in which we respect each other human being as an end, rather than as a means.
In dealings with human relationships or when making decisions which will affect human lives in some way, those involved should be considered as human beings, and not pieces in some game or calculations in an equation. I think treating ethics in this way, with a measure of basic decency towards your fellow man, will result in morally reasonable outcomes.
8. Be humble in the talents and privileges you possess and always use them responsibly and righteously to better the world and the people around you.
This principle comes from the idea presented in John Rawls’ theory of a just social contract under a theoretical veil of ignorance. In the thought experiment, society is placed under a veil of ignorance in which everyone no longer knows of his or her own place within the hierarchy of society (they don’t know if they are intelligent, rich or poor, talented or untalented, etc.). Then with the veil in place and so many personal unknowns, this society is tasked with creating a social contract to live under.
The thought experiment is designed to try and figure what exactly that social contract would have on it — what kind of social policies, economic infrastructures, and communal agreements would be enacted within that society. I think this is a useful process in that it makes us consider all of Man, even for a moment, as equal specimens of innumerable potential and possibility in life. Formless clay waiting to be shaped into something, anything, for any purpose. Thus, when the veil of ignorance is lifted, and an individual realizes they have a talent which could lead them to success, they will have this humble perspective. They took part in a once undefined and equivalent community in which they shared in the equitable creation of a social contract which respected each person equally. One the flip side, with the possibility of living in poverty due to unforeseen circumstances — a person under the veil would wish for a measure of communal assistance for the lowest classes of society.
Ultimately, I don’t know why it is one person is born with an ability to excel in what society happens to value at any given time, or why another person is born into the squalor of poverty and misfortune. Is the moral desert of each respectively, complete success and abject failure? I am not certain of the answer, but I do know that I feel obligated as a member of the human race to embrace the least of us, and in righteous mercy, serve the whole of my community in whatever ways I can. Thinking of the golden rule — it is how I would want to be treated if the tables were turned.
9. Be diligent, patient, and practice empathic temperance in all your relationships and endeavor to foster a sense of community among those close to you. No matter where you are, the stakes are high.
This principle is derived from the book Justice by Michael Sandel, as well as my philosophy professor in college John McDermott. It deals with the excesses and imbalances of modern American culture. A speech by Robert Kennedy in 1968 relates the significance of the poverty of satisfaction, rather than that of material poverty. American culture, the culture I grew up in, incentivizes certain values, values which will promise to advance an individual within the society. In my mind, the promotion of greed and “the accumulation of things” challenges the ideal way of life. The inevitable result of the aberrant pursuit of this ideal of success (attaining wealth, fame, fortune, a legacy) can become dissatisfaction, existential disquiet and personal emptiness.
I think it is necessary to reject the common idea of what constitutes success in the modern world and pursue whatever it is that makes one’s life personally meaningful. And ultimately, I think what makes life worthwhile is the personal relationships we can foster in the community, among friends, with loved ones, and with your own self. Focusing on these connections, which truly nourish the soul, takes time and requires empathy. But most importantly, it matters. Even if it is one person, in need of a friend or just a kind word, the stakes are high.
“Just remember, wherever you are, whatever you are doing in the community —the stakes are high.” ~ John McDermott
10. Embrace the differences in outside perspectives and the enriching qualities of diversity; every person met offers a learning opportunity and a space for companionship.
This is simply something I’ve always recognized in my life. If I had to point to the two things which keep mankind back from achieving our full potential and cause the problems we see in the world, it is greed and prejudice.
I believe a person is born to love and must be taught to hate. I think we should all try to fully free ourselves from prejudices, respect others in their differences, and learn to honestly embrace diversity as an enhancing quality and for the intrinsic value it provides to the human experience. I think there is no doubt — diversity makes us better. Diversity of cultures, thoughts, and beliefs are what make the human condition worth experiencing. In this way, meeting, interacting and befriending new people is the first step towards healthy living and unlocking our full potential as sovereign beings.
11. Live in harmony with the natural world, welcome the inevitable changes of the world around you, and stoically observe the existential meaningfulness of the eternal cycles of life and death.
Nature is eternal and is something to be learned from and harmonized with. So much of what modern man does is unnatural and outside itself as a member of nature. With the advent of technology, modern living can become antagonistic to truly communing and coexisting with nature as our ancestors did. I think it is necessary to travel, be outdoors, feel the sun on our skin, and regularly explore the natural world in any way we can. Children are innately keen to this kind of curious exploration, naturally seeking to scrutinize and scout the aspects of the earth yet untouched by mankind. Unfortunately, for most people, this sense of childlike wonder and discovery is lost over time. Every day I try to channel my inner child in this way.
In the same way that the progressions of science have revealed to us the natural cycles of change going on in the natural world around us, I think it is imperative for us to welcome the revolutions and transformations that happen so frequently in our own lives and societies. In our hearts and minds, changes may take effect swiftly or develop over time, and in this is a certain beauty we should appreciate instead of resisting; the inexorable shifts in consciousness as we grow older are as inevitable as the perpetual cycles of natural rebirth going on around us. Our own realities will continually change, like the seasons, and as with anything else — it isn’t what happens to us that truly matters, but how we think about what happens and why we take the attitudes we do towards our own changing reality.
Finally, comes the existential realization concerning life, and death. Ultimately, I believe the purpose of life is to give life meaning. In order to fully appreciate what it means to be alive, I plan to live well— by following my heart, doing right by myself and my fellow man, and creating a life in accordance to these principles I have now outlined. In this way, I will not fear death but instead, when the time comes, sing my death song like a hero going home.
“So live your life that the fear of death can never enter your heart. Trouble no one about their religion; respect others in their view, and demand that they respect yours. Love your life, perfect your life, beautify all things in your life. Seek to make your life long and its purpose in the service of your people. Prepare a noble death song for the day when you go over the great divide.
Always give a word or a sign of salute when meeting or passing a friend, even a stranger, when in a lonely place. Show respect to all people and grovel to none.
When you arise in the morning give thanks for the food and for the joy of living. If you see no reason for giving thanks, the fault lies only in yourself. Abuse no one and no thing, for abuse turns the wise ones to fools and robs the spirit of its vision.
When it comes your time to die, be not like those whose hearts are filled with the fear of death, so that when their time comes they weep and pray for a little more time to live their lives over again in a different way. Sing your death song and die like a hero going home.”
~ Chief Tecumseh
“Every man must decide whether he will walk in the light of creative altruism or in the darkness of destructive selfishness.”
~ Martin Luther King, Jr.
“A man’s character is his fate.”
(written in 2015)