Dismiss Notice
Join Physics Forums Today!
The friendliest, high quality science and math community on the planet! Everyone who loves science is here!

Are Ethics an artificial, man-made concept?

  1. Aug 30, 2003 #1
    Are Ethics an artificial, "man-made" concept?

    I'm going to present a few questions regarding ethics that I'd like people to answer. This will, perhaps, help me understand the topic better and it might help to prevent me from going over ideas that already exist on the topic of Ethics.

    1. What are Ethics?

    2. Are Ethics an artifical, "man-made" concept?

    3. Are Ethics a natural tendancy found in existance?

    4. Is there a Physics Equation that describes Ethics?

    5. What would be the advantages to sticking to an Ethical guideline?

    6. What would be the advantage to discarding Ethics?

    Please feel free to answer one or more of these questions. Thank you.
    Last edited by a moderator: Feb 5, 2013
  2. jcsd
  3. Aug 30, 2003 #2
    Of course ethics is man-made, but it is generally based on the benefits it gives to those formulating them. Having restrictions on murder and theft create order within a society, and societies create 'safety in numbers'.
  4. Aug 30, 2003 #3


    User Avatar

    1. A set of rules by which decisions are assigned value, allowing them to be made.

    2. Yes.

    3. Yes.

    4. Yes.

    Yep, yes to all three. Because man-made is an extension of nature, and nature is a moniker we apply to physical rules, that we generally can describe by equations - whether the equations are useful is another question. An ethical system is a natural part of the evolution of social life. Don't mean that a specific ethical rule has objective significance, though.

    5. Keeping society together. Self-reward mechanisms.

    6. A delusional sense of freedom? :wink:
    Last edited: Aug 31, 2003
  5. Aug 30, 2003 #4
    Re: Ethics

    I'm going to break ranks here.

    A system upon which one acts, tries to act, or should act on the basis of actions being good or bad.

    Well, yes and no. Each individual system of ethics has been devised by people, but, if you ask me, the basic tenet of some actions being good or bad is one that has truth to it.

    You'll have to clarify that for me. What would be the alternative(s)?

    I have a hard time imagining one.

    The protection of rights, the ensurance of stability, and the spread/protection of happiness, being able to fulfill the desire of socializing with others, and not being an outcast.

    Being able to partake in some joyful activities that ethical codes prohibit.
  6. Aug 31, 2003 #5


    User Avatar

    Let me translate this...

    What I am proposing is that it is impossible to live without some form of ethics, and thus it is impossible to really discard it, only transform it into a different set that is more appropiate to you etc. Even an anarchist has rule number 1 - there are no rules (and some invisible ones, like continuing to live = good etc). Thus, to presume that you are living without ethics is a delusion.

    Ever heard of a game called 'Nomic'?
  7. Aug 31, 2003 #6
    Re: Re: Ethics

    Here, I suppose I should answer my own questions to clarify the direction I'm heading with this age-old topic.

    1. What are Ethics?

    Ethics are the human/cultural/societal systems that perhaps reflect the naturally cooperative tendancies found in an equivalent such as symbiotic relationships. (Inorganic examples of ethics might be found in the actions observed in orbital balance suchas the relocation of an electron to accomodate a change in charge or energy exchange or in the changing orbit of a planet to preserve the stability of a solar system)

    This sort of system is "engineered" in a way that the small and seemingly autonomous actions of an individual organism/object benefits a larger group/scenario by providing an economic/cultural/intelectual/stablity matrix from which to continue growth of ideas/organics/structure/etc.......

    For instance: I think Dr. John Nash illustrated the natural tendancy toward Ethical Behaviour when he revised John Adams theory concerning industrial age economics...

    Nash suggests that the individual's asperations and ambitions and the acts that tend to actualize those ambitions must hold an advantage for the GROUP as well as the INDIVIDUAL for these individual ambitions to succeed.

    Adam's formula was more inclined to place the individual on auto-pilot expecting the individual's actions, regardless of there effects on the GROUP, would succeed in their ambition without harm to the general populace or the general climate of the economy.

    John Nash's equation appears to integrate Ethics and the inherent importance of Ethics into the formula for the success of an individual's or a group's ambitions or.... survival as a species.

    2. Are Ethics an artifical, "man-made" concept?

    I think Ethics are the human/cultural reflection of the function of "balance" in the universe... without which the universe cannot exist.

    3. Are Ethics a natural tendancy found in existance?

    See above answer. Ethics appear to be a natural survival mechanism.

    4. Is there a Physics Equation that describes Ethics?

    I'm sure there is. It may exist or it may have to be formulated.

    5. What would be the advantages to sticking to an Ethical guideline?


    6. What would be the advantage to discarding Ethics?

    Temporary success, no advantage.
    Last edited: Aug 31, 2003
  8. Aug 31, 2003 #7
    old rules, new times?

    1. What are Ethics?

    Agreed upon guidelines.

    2. Are Ethics an artifical, "man-made" concept?

    The enforcement of ethics by way of laws is man-made, but see 3.

    3. Are Ethics a natural tendancy found in existance?

    Some are, yes. I like to think of a toddler's tendencies before training. Children will behave ethically and kindly at times and at other times this must be enforced when animalistic emotion arises which circumvents kindness and ethics. That's just one example. If ethics were not basically a natural tendency, we could not have so much common agreement for the society-based agreements that ethics are.

    4. Is there a Physics Equation that describes Ethics?

    I think the equations about momentum and angular momentum applied to astronomy might prove, one day, to have similarities to people, their vibrations, and their tendencies and the effect of things or people upon people. Chakras are said to spin at varying rates depending upon health. I think that determining outcomes, even within ethical guidelines, is dependent upon how the momentum impacts an individual or their group.

    5. What would be the advantages to sticking to an Ethical guideline?

    Security, predicted outcomes, safety.

    6. What would be the advantage to discarding Ethics?

    A brutal kill or be killed scenario comes to mind where the victim would never have thought they would kill. Ethics goes out the window to instinct and survival. The advantage would be life.

    Interestingly, some organizations use this kill or be killed or stick to ethnicity or be snuffed out to motivate their group ethics. In this way, even war and killing becomes what they call ethical and noble.

    Thus, there would be strange advantages to discarding the manipulation of ethics.
  9. Aug 31, 2003 #8
    Re: old rules, new times?

    Thank you Holodeckie, that is some very good reading and an exploration of ethics from which I have drawn enjoyment and learning.

    I just came back to add that I think ethics is a two way street. A true form of ethics would be where an action or actions benefit the individual as well as the group... in equal proportion.

    We have something called Ethical Stocks or shares on the stock market. An Ethical share holder holds these shares because they are told that there are no dehabilitating effects on the environment (including humans) nor are there children or animals exploited in creating the product they've invested in. This is what I mean when I say "GROUP"... meaning the whole system involved, not just people... but the things that people affect and the things that affect people.

    The I Ching sums up ethical living or behavior quite succinctly, in my opinion, in these two axioms:

    Create a good influence.

    Remain blameless.

    As for "animal behavior" being devoid of ethics... consider a pack of wolves and their establishment of a social heirarchy. In the end their ethic serves to preserve the pack and the species. Their hunting serves to cull herds of Caraboo of the sick and elderly. Often they serve as population control for field mice. Never to they over kill. In their innate husbandery of the land, the wolves ensure the continuance of their kind. It is only when there are other factors, like unethical humans, figured in that their species is threatened.
  10. Sep 1, 2003 #9
    the virtue of animals

    I've long had a perplexity when people use animals as an example for better human behavior and when I say animalistic I suppose it does an injustice to animals because I means humans behaving with depravity and out of emotion.

    Interestingly, some recent reading nailed it ...

    "All we can say is that man brings forth that which he gazes upon and separates himself from God and man, and in this way he can go lower than the animal."

    It was in Life and Teaching of Masters of the Far East and they were referring to a group called, funnily enough, snow men. They were like wild creatures but they said ... "they have even lost the instinct of the wild creatures, for the wild creature knows by instinct when a human being loves it and it will respond to that love."
  11. Sep 3, 2003 #10
    Re: the virtue of animals

    I think I am basing the necessity and actual existence of Ethics on two or more specific conditions (or illusions):

    1. Stability (and its effect which is the survival of ideals, families, structures, societies and civilizations) is desirable.

    2. The desire for stability, and survival is a propensity that is influenced in humans by the example provided in the universal condition of a maintained and continued balance amid much change.

    3. Ethics, or mutually benefiting interactions between the group and the individual, provide a platform for graduated change that avoids the destructive and dehabilitating effects of a platform with unethical origins.
  12. Sep 4, 2003 #11
    Re: Ethics

    1. What are Ethics?

    Principles of right and wrong.

    2. Are Ethics an artifical, "man-made" concept?

    It depends who you ask. A Pantheist might claim nature provides us with innate ethics which society then alters, and that it really just depends on how you look at the issue. Is a mother loving her child practicing ethics or what? Do we possess free will or not? Such questions may be relative and simply depend upon how we choose to look at the issues.

    3. Are Ethics a natural tendancy found in existance?

    Again, it depends who you ask. Spinoza's Pantheism, for example, believes God/nature rewards ethical behavior with happiness.

    4. Is there a Physics Equation that describes Ethics?

    None that I know of, however there is an innate physical principle that could be described as the foundation of ethics. That is the concept of Harmony.

    5. What would be the advantages to sticking to an Ethical guideline?

    Although many perceive nature as chaotic, vicious, and full of dischord the opposite is actually true. Nature as we experience it tends towards syntropy rather than entropy, harmony rather than dischord, and these apply to people as a part of nature. We are healthiest, happiest, and most content when living harmoniously.

    In a recent study of practicing Buddhists, brain scans revealed they really are happier than the average.

    6. What would be the advantage to discarding Ethics?

    Assuming that we can only discard artificial ethics, the advantage gained would be spontenaity. Among Taoists such as myself, one might use artificial ethics to achieve such spontenaity. It's a bit like learning to play the piano. First you memorize all the little routines, but the long term goal is to just loose yourself in the music.
    Last edited: Sep 4, 2003
  13. Sep 6, 2003 #12
    Wuli, I am interested in your alegory between ethics and harmony...

    here is an equation that fits some of that metaphore, maybe!...

    "It is clear that increasing the interest in problem of harmony and golden section in modern science has found its reflection in modern philosophy in form of new original philosophical concepts. The Byelorussian philosopher Eduard Soroko who advanced in the 80th the highly interesting concept of "structural harmony of systems" developed one of the similar concepts. This concept and the "Law of Structural Harmony of Systems" following from it rightfully can be considered as one of the greatest philosophical achievements of the 20th century.

    Soroko's main idea is to consider real systems since "dialectical point of view". As is well known any natural object can be presented as the dialectical unity of the two opposite sides A and B. This dialectical connection may be expressed in the following form:

    A + B = U (universum). (1)

    The equality of (1) is the most general expression of the so-called conservation law.

    Here A and B are distinctions inside of the unity, logically non-crossing classes or substratum states of any whole. There exists the only condition that A and B should be measured with the same measure and be by members of the ratio underlying inside the unity.

    The examples of (1) may be probability and improbability of events, mass and energy, nucleus of atom and its envelope, substance and field, anode and cathode, animals and plants, spirit and material origin in the value system, profit and cost price, etc.

    The expression of (1) may be reduced to the following normalized form:

    `A +`B = 1, (2)

    where `A and `B are the relative "weights" of the parts A and B forming some unity.

    The partial case of (1) is the "law of information conservation":

    I + H = log N, (3)

    where I is the information quantity and H is the entropy of the system having N states.

    The normalized form of law (3) is the following:

    R +`H = 1, (4)

    where is the relative redundancy, is the relative entropy.

    Let's consider the process of system self-organization. This one is reduced to the passage of the system into some "harmonious" state called the state of the thermodynamic equilibrium. There exists some correlation or proportion between the sides A and B of the dialectical contradiction of (1) in the state of the thermodynamic equilibrium. This correlation has a strictly regular character and is a cause of the system stability. Soroko turns to the principle of multiple relations to find a character of connection between A and B in the state of the thermodynamic equilibrium. This principle is well known in chemistry as "Dalton's law" and in crystallography as the "law of rational parameters".

    Soroko advances the hypothesis that the principle of multiple relations is the general principle of the Universe. That is why there exists in accordance with this principle the following correlation between the components R and R è`H in the equality of (4):

    log R = (s + 1) log`H (5)


    log`H = (s + 1) log R. (6)

    The expressions of (5), (6) may be represented in the exponential form:

    R = (`H )s+1; (7)
    `H = Rs+1, (8)

    where the number s is called the range of multiplicity and takes the following values: 0, 1, 2, 3, ... .

    Inserting the expressions of (7), (8) into the equality of (4) we get the following algebraic equations respectively:

    (`H )s+1 +`H - 1 = 0; (9)
    Rs+1 - R - 1 = 0. (10)

    Marking in y the variables `H and R in the equations of (9), (10) we get the following algebraic equation:

    ys+1 + y - 1 = 0. (11)

    Let's introduce the new variable for the equation of (11). Inserting the expression of into (11) we get the following algebraic equation:

    xs+1 - xs - 1 = 0. (12)

    We can see that the latter equation coincides with the algebraic equation of the golden p-proprtion. The real root of the equation of (11) is inverse value to the golden p-proportion, i.e.


    where ts is the root of the equation of (12).

    In accordance with Soroko's concept, the roots of the equation of (11), which is equivalent to the equation of (13), expresses the law of the structural harmony of systems.

    Summing up Soroko had formulated the following "Law of Structural Harmony of Systems":

    "Generalized golden sections are invariants, which allow natural systems in process of their self-organization to find harmonious structure, stationary regime of their existence, structural and functional stability".

    What peculiarity has "Soroko's Law"? Starting since Phyphagor the scientists were connected the concept of a Harmony with the only golden proportion "Soroko's Law" claimed that the harmonies state corresponding to the classical golden proportion is no only for the same system. "Soroko's Law" allows an infinite number of the "harmonies" states corresponding to the numbers ts or the inverse numbers (s = 1, 2, 3, ...), which are the real roots of the general algebraic equations of (11), (12)."
  14. Sep 7, 2003 #13

    That's interesting, but a more revealing look into the subject might be expressed holistically rather than dialectically. Rather than generating meaningless infinities, holistic perspectives demonstrate principles of proportionality. For example, a recent finding has been that the entropy of information is proportional to the surface area. Thus, strangely enough, chaos is harmonious and entropy is syntropic!
  15. Sep 8, 2003 #14
    Re: Re: Ethics

    I wanted to comment that I was so intrigued by the comment about the Buddhist study, I wanted proof that it was not just a general and vague idea but a study, so I found it in the May issue of New Scientist.

    Indeed, it says they are happier and explains the research and credits the researchers. I enjoyed that.

    I'm not sure they are happier because they are within group ethics harmony, though. It seems more to do with the amygdala and thalamus and the effect of meditation upon these areas of the brain that deal with emotional response.

    I see it as important because we are not considering people who live as buddhists and abide by buddhist ethics, thus get along and are happy because of their rules. Rather, we are dealing with people who are happy because they have mastered their brains in a way that others need rules, police, and politicians to enforce for ethical conduct. One group is happy and one group resents imposed control.

    Plus, some buddhists have kind of supernatural physical abilities. It is as if they learned the disciplines in order to find their way beyond the rules, the parameters, others believe in, and because they are harmonious and peace-loving, good comes from the enhanced abilities.
  16. Sep 8, 2003 #15
    Re: Re: Re: Ethics

    Practicing meditation regularly is an ethical practice as far as Buddhists are concerned, just as refraining from over consumption and any number of activities are. A Christian, for example, might believe their body is a temple for God and therefore to over eat and not get enough exercize is unethical. Buddhism stresses the importance of not filling our minds with garbage, and of purifying our thoughts. A monk may meditate eight hours or more a day, but everyone is encouraged to practice regularly as not merely a religious practice, but an ethical one.
  17. Sep 8, 2003 #16
    ethical buddhists

    Yes. We agree they are ethical.

    I grow confused when you compare Buddhists to Christians, though.

    Don't christians mostly pray and while not advocating meditation?

    Until some Duke Neuroscientists research the amyglada of prayer-ful people, I will not be convinced that comparing apples to oranges gets the same community harmony and ethics that a buddhist achieves.

    I would even go so far as to wonder if the ancient masters knew full well that meditation had this brain effect and that is the very reason it was imposed, for the health and harmony of the group.

    I mean an adolescent may not want to meditate and the ethical imposition of it in a buddhist setting would enforce that he did. However, eventually, that happy brain gains the momentum and it becomes a desired and beneficial state. Ethical, yes.

    In societies where the emotions are not tamed and people do not learn how to tame them effectively, then they are more likely to be ethical (if they are) because of a fear of punishment, not because of a desire to feel happy. I doubt they are internally, deeply ethical, though. Buddhists are more like to be internally, deeply ethical.

    In some way, I suspect the outpouring effect is different, even though ethical harmony was the common denominator.
  18. Sep 8, 2003 #17
    The only comparison I was making between Buddhists and Christians was the common ethic of a healthy mind and body, not which is happier or anything else.

    I'm an amoral Taoist myself. Ethics to me are strange and foreign things people often fight over, push on others, criticize each other for, etc. In general, Taoists just prefer to describe such things without judging them but, of course, we all have our personal likes and dislikes as well.

    There is an old saying that wisdom comes from the east and creativity from the west. Buddhism and asian religions in general are more shamanistic than western ones and it seems it is the collectivist cultures of asia that support this. It can be a bit stiffling to say the least, but alternatively the violence and unhappiness of the west is the price they pay in my opinion. To each his own.
  19. Sep 9, 2003 #18
    So far what I know about "syntropy" is that "Fantappi showed that anticipated potentials correspond to a new type of phenomena, which he calls syntropic" and that syntropy defies the laws of thermodynamics. You didn't mean Synchopated did you!!!?

    I can see that Harmony definitely would result from if not rule chaos the same way that balance is a general rule. Harmony also seems to be a function of balance and of chaos.

    I can also see that sympathetic "harmonies" or influences are going to be a result of ethics that benefit the group as well as the individual.

    I think that under the terms of this thread we could substitute the word "harmony" with the word "influence" since an harmony as a result or function of sound or music continues to fold back on the following sequence of notes with an unmistakable influence (such as creating sympathetic harmonies etc.....).

    We may need to make this sort of adjustment (harmony = influence)in order to continue to facilitate a philosophical discussion about ethics rather than trapsing off into the topic and metaphore of music.

    Thank you!
    Last edited: Sep 9, 2003
  20. Sep 10, 2003 #19
    WuLi... it sounds like you are equating ethics with judgement... sort of...

    What I am seeing ethics functioning as is the lubricant for the masses as well as for the economy, the overall health of the community etc etc....

    If we look at ethics as the overall balance or ballast of a structure then you can see what I mean. When a portion of a structure becomes off balance, it is rejected in an attempt to maintain the majority of the structure. We see this in atomic structure, buildings and in the structure of the solar system.

    When one part of any of the above examples begins to exhibit erratic behavior or has gained or lost mass etc etc... the object is modified or rejected completely to preserve the overall balance of the major structure.

    All objects, be they quarks, eletrons, protons, planets, moons, asteroids etc... are subject to the "ethical" (metaphore) laws of balance. It may be orbital balance or something else but, for some reason, the universe requires a balanced arrangement, within all of its substructures, to exist.

    I believe this arrangement applies to all structures existing... including social structures. Without the "give and take" of ethics, there can be no society... and I am not going to judge whether or not that is a good thing. Society, for the moment, simply exists, period. It would not exist without ethics.
  21. Jul 1, 2004 #20
    I guess this is a good approximation. And it was right under my nose!

Share this great discussion with others via Reddit, Google+, Twitter, or Facebook