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Common Ethics

  1. Jun 6, 2009 #1


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    By using the term "common ethics" I am referring somewhat to the idea of "common sense". You see it everyday in traffic, among pedestrians, in classrooms and everywhere there is human activity. We could say you can find it in the animal and plant kingdoms as well, but that would be an outright anthropomorphic projection of a concept purely concocted by the collective human mind.

    I am interested in the idea of common ethics because it appears to be a natural phenomenon rather than a human endeavor or construct. It appears to be the lubricant to the natural progression of the organization and evolution of all things, including non-living things.

    But I am jumping ahead of myself. If you observe the nuances of automobile traffic in practically every city or town in North America you'll notice that there is a high degree of ethics or common ethic that go into the smooth working of the function of traffic which is to transport people from A to B (etc). Without this common ethic or "common courtesy" traffic would be at a stand still and "constructive" progress would cease. Without the obligatory braking at red lights or to avoid rear-enders, without the pauses in movement to allow pedestrians to cross and the speed limits to minimize accidents, our entire society would quickly fall into anarchy and eventual ruin.

    In terms of non-living things and those living in the plant and animal kingdoms, where ethics is not a consciously-aware choice, we still see common ethics or events that make sense in terms of continuing the species and/or existence in general taking place across a broad, common spectrum. We sometimes refer to them as the laws (ethics) of nature and or of physics.

    When we study the concepts of "karma" and "all things being equal" and interpretations of the balance of "power" or energy in the universe, the result is a view of a magnificent, natural mechanism that has evolved over the last 13.5 billion or so years. And, what I'm proposing here is that one of the developments that have helped to bring about this entire universal environment is the natural selection of what I'm calling "common ethics". What do you think?
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  3. Jun 6, 2009 #2


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    It's probably evolved over the time we have lived in cities.
    Before cities everyone you met was part of your family/tribe or an enemy.
    In a city you had to find ways of dealing with other people, lots of our forms of politeness, shaking hands to show we are not drawing a weapon, removing your hat (helmet) to show you are trusting the other person etc. are ways of defusing a confrontation.
    Even the word politeness probably comes from polis - city
  4. Jun 6, 2009 #3
    I strongly disagree...

    Humans have been living in cities for a mere 12,000 years (since about 10,000 B.C. with Damascus in the fertile crescent... the birth of modern agriculture) which is an extremely short span of time for humans to evolve. It probably stems back to tribal roots portrayed on a much grander scale albeit more anonymous (I have no idea who you are or what you know etc. but we have a collective goal in mind).. in tribal areas (the ancient tribal communities consisted of very precisely on the order of around 100 inhabitants) we would know each other more closely. This also contributes to a lot of what is called the modern "bystander" effect where you see a dangerous situation playing out, but since you have no emotional or physical connection to the other you fail to see a need or simply don't know what society deems an appropriate action considering the circumstance.

    It is simply collective minds working together for a common good (I don't have any desire to crash into you and you have no desire to crash into me) and traffic laws facilitate this nicely. Now if you throw a wrench in the system (a tailgator, a speeding motorist, a police chase) I am sure you have seen first hand what can happen.... traffic comes to a standstill in some places and the entire order is thrown out of balance... so we like to stay in order as it is by far the most efficient and orderly way to do things... with the "best" result for all parties involved..
  5. Jun 6, 2009 #4
    Can't say that I see it that way...I think order is only maintained due to traffic lights and the fear of getting one's car dinged up. Of course, this mentallity only exists in the unied states..and if you go elsewhere, you'll find people ignoring lights and bumping into each other to squeeze by because they just don't care. All the spanish speaking countries I've visited have been insane to drive in.
  6. Jun 7, 2009 #5


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    Order is seen in every system. I think what I'm seeing in the way ethics acts to maintain order and thus progression of thought and action in human cultures is that it is simply an extension or "fractal" of the order we find in all of existence. This has to do with the notion that all life carries an "altruism gene" dictating cooperation within and between species. It is also demonstrated in symbiosis and in the fact that mutual benefit arises out of congruent cooperative interaction.

    For me to extrapolate ethics or common ethics into the realm of the "non-living" would mean committing allegory and metaphor that may or may not paint a true picture of what I'm trying to discover. To say the atomic bonds and chemical reactions exhibit features not unlike "common courtesies" and the protocols of traffic would only be correct were there a study that showed unquestionable, statistical results. Thanks for the responses!
  7. Jun 7, 2009 #6


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    I hear what you're saying here mgb_phys. The cities and civilizations of humans, in general, have been proving grounds for the evolution and selection of efficient ethical behaviours. Much in the same way that only certain temperatures will produce specific elements. The cities are concentrated environments of human interaction and this concentration spawns a rapid evolution of the most efficient... or "fittest" ethics. This is what I see happening with the relatively recent invention of the automobile and ensuing ethics of traffic. Each person with an auto is suddenly in control of a lethal weapon... one that can kill them and other people. It is also capable of major property damage... yet, everyone has one and everyone uses it and there are statistically few incidence of "unethical" behaviour being exhibited by each individual. Its surprising how far along "common ethics" has come in its evolution of efficiency.
  8. Jun 7, 2009 #7
    I believe you are talking about descriptive ethics. It would normally be studied in psychology or sociology now days as most of the study is done by scientific inquiry.

    I don't find it overly surprising that we developed laws etc. I would rather you prove that (i'm assuming you are using western values to define "common ethics") why it is more efficient comparative to other "common ethics" or values of other areas and even time periods.
  9. Jun 7, 2009 #8


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    I'm saying its surprising to me that such a wide spectrum of millions of individuals has been trusted with lethal weapons (cars) with few results of the abuse of those responsibilities. I'm only using traffic behaviour, western congeniality and other social graces as prime, observable examples... examples that prevail throughout the society I am apart of. The types of social law and ethics that are practiced in other cultures are something I'm not familiar with such as those in Africa or Greece or Burma etcetra. Although, there do appear to be more incidences of unethical behaviour in countries where fewer people drive autos. This may be because there is a heightening of the application of practical ethical behaviour when an individual is entrusted with larger responsibilities (such as getting behind the wheel of a car.)

    This is not descriptive ethics. What common ethics describes is the ethics we can observe that are shared from one individual to the next. It could be considered in sub-context to normative ethics. However, I am avoiding any references to "morality" and replacing them with reference to "practicality" and the survival instinct.
  10. Jun 7, 2009 #9
    Well normative ethics asks: 'What should humans do?'
    Descriptive ethics asks: 'What do humans do?'

    Humans abiding by 'common ethics' is something that can be empirically defined. So it answers what humans do not what they should do.
  11. Jun 7, 2009 #10


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    For my purposes in this study normative ethics is closer to the idea of common ethics in that it asks what should humans do "to survive" as a culture or civilization. Descriptive ethics simply examines what do people think is "right" which does not always fall under the heading of "shared ethics".

    For example, Canada has abolished the death penalty because her courts recognize the hypocrisy of making murder illegal while killing people for the crime. It may also be that the courts recognize the fact that setting the example of murder through use of the death penalty only further justifies the act of murder in the minds of the citizen. This is not a shared ethic with other many other countries yet contributes to the relative order and common ethical behaviour among Canadians.

    Normative ethics has to examine the efficiency of existing ethical behaviours then evaluates their efficiency and a choice is made as to which of them works well in a given society. This process of normative ethics is a manifestation of the process of natural selection. This is the study of common ethics and of their apparent efficiencies and deficiencies. Again, I steer away from mention of "morality" here because of the emotional and subjective qualities that come with that term.
    Last edited: Jun 7, 2009
  12. Jun 10, 2009 #11


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    Who is this duck-headed freeeck man?
  13. Aug 15, 2009 #12


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    Now I've brought this discussion to the attention of my friend the neuroscientist, department head etc.... who will believe nothing unless its been double blind tested, placebo control examined, rubber gloved up the office, experiment successfully repeated by peers and published in a major journal for review.

    You should have seen them wince when I used the word ethics in a way that might apply to inanimate objects and even living objects other than humans. I suppose she's right to point out that ethics is a human approximation of universal law. Ethics can only apply to human behaviour. And she begged me to find another word to explain what I was not making very much sense about.

    So... I thought later on that perhaps consilience (agreement between the approaches to a topic of different academic subjects, especially science and the humanities) might work... although it too is used to describe human behaviour.

    Is there a universal term for the mechanism of natural selection among inanimate objects? Is it "laws of physics"?
  14. Aug 15, 2009 #13
    Evolution doesn't require or suggest anything about the realm of the mind. As far as evolution is concerned, humans are just as "inanimate" as anything else.

    Also, to the previous comment about cities only being around for 12,000 years... sexual evolution can act pretty quickly. Social outcasts don't make many babies. Conforming to social norms (such as not running people off the road regularly) helps your prospects of getting laid.
  15. Aug 16, 2009 #14


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    I remove my helmut upon thou.
  16. Aug 16, 2009 #15
    I started to think about these common ethics and got many questions. One is that why do we follow these many kind of rules we have? I think most of us just follow the social pressure and many quite shallow(not sure if i use the correct word) feelings. So how much there is people who live their life following their opinion that come from deeper understanding of life and everything? And what kind of status they have in our society?

    Maybe this also has much to do with problems we have here on earth so i write something i think about them. System has made us somehow shallow(not sure if i use the correct word) or then most of us have always been like this and problems emerge because too much power is given to the consumer or to "the masses" and those in control don't have to think these questions too seriously or then the problems have developed so fast. Maybe this is just some kind of natural period when we begin to see this kind of problems and understand their seriousness and solve them in time or then not:smile:.
    Important is also to understand our own behaviour and effects of the technical development and not to use knowledge for selfish purposes etc etc...

    I think it is good to know about issues like global warming. It makes people think these problems and maybe makes attitudes to life itself more serious. So now everyone can or has to think these problems and maybe understands them better.

    Other big problem and maybe even more serious is empathy towards living things of other species especially towards those species that don't resemble ourselves much. How this could be solved when i think it is not very well understood even within scientists or anyone? I don't understand it very well even myself even though i have thought about these things much lately.

    And i also try to say that even if I see some problem I don't maybe care about it because most of us don't and it's hard to see the effect of one individual to the entirety(Is it correct word?). Why you should change your way of life if it doesn't solve the problem and if it feels like the problem would be there what ever you did?

    One question I find is what kind of methods is there to make people think these problems and so deepen the understanding of us all. I see that we need common ethics but we also have to work hard to include the deeper/broader understanding of planet earth and also life in general into these common ethics.
  17. Aug 17, 2009 #16


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    Your questions about people "feeling" others feelings and having empathy for each other can be addressed by the work of Darwin and Hamilton.

    Here's a mention of how the "altruism gene" has been traced back to one of the first multi-cellular organisms...


    Altruism can loosely be associated with symbiosis which is seen in even more primitive organisms like lichen. Lichens typify one of the three types of symbiotic relationships: mutualism. In this type of association, both the organisms that make up the lichen, an alga and a fungus, depend on each other and cannot live independently. Through photosynthesis, the alga produces the food the lichen requires, while the fungus absorbs vital nutrients and water for it.

    Its unsure whether the relationship between the three is truely one of mutual benefit or parasitic, both or benign.

    With the altruistic gene it is thought that it was naturally selected because it supports a mutually beneficial relationship not only amongst the same species... but also between species. The survival of any species can easily be shown to rely on the survival of pretty well all other species on the planet just by looking at a chart of the food chain.

    As for developing a sense of deeper understanding in the population of the world one has to ask... what is understanding? Understanding is a sense of having experienced that which you seek to understand. In order to bring this deeper understanding to every human on the face of the planet... I would prescribe the best education money can buy for anyone who can stop and drop the water bucket long enough to study the sciences, the arts, the trades and so on.

    The progress we've seen in cooperation and ethical conduct between nations, states and communities is due mostly in part to education. Whether that education has come via the electronic media, through life experiences or from an institution doesn't matter. As long as people remain curious and enthused... as well as empathetic... about their species and all the others and their environment, things can conceivably get better... and better.
  18. Aug 17, 2009 #17
    North America yes..but other countries, no. And this common ethic causes traffic jams,


    You've lost me. What are you talking about? Plants dont have ethics..

    I don't think that specific ethics have evolved, but rather certain emotional responses have evolved...which naturally give rise to a sense of caring and looking out for other people in any situation, which would have been selected for in humans since we are social creatures. Other animals are like this too, eg dolphins and apes
  19. Aug 17, 2009 #18


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    Its true and seems to show how ethics evolve to suit a region and its people. Even if they appear reversed in one region compared to another.

    I explained in one of the more recent posts that "ethics" is the wrong word for what I'm trying to find out about the commonality that exists between living and non-living matter. That commonality is the propensity to survive and the mechanisms that have evolved among these living and non-living entities that result in that survival.

    These responses are the result of genetic programing which survive today as a result of natural selection. They are candidates for the group of traits that help things survive.
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