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this thread was inspired by craig's why be ethical? question. i was asked to contribute to it and i did as best as i could, but imho, it is not a proper question because it is not operational in concept. in other words, it can be answered in so many meaningless ways, that it becomes impractical to bother with it.

the question, should we behave ethically?, however, is more operational in that you can actually say something that can lead to practical action.

in this thread, any well-thought out contribution will have its link placed in this opening post with a very brief synopsis of its content. please provide rational arguments, deductive or inductive, based on religious teachings or otherwise.

please do not just spew out stuff that has no substance full of faith-based foolishness.

in friendship,



  • jacob's article negative preference morality argues that The Golden Rule provides a constructive, objective basis for moral behavior. link
  • jelle provides some good college material on ethics. link
  • ethical behavior can spawn ethical behavior (and visa versa). link
  • sangeeta provides a powerful post on the importance of action. link

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the truly golden rule!

one of the best arguments for behaving ethically is provided by the golden rule. it's a pretty obvious argument that we should treat others as we ourselves wish to be treated, but some adventurous philosophical types like to mangle it up with ideas like

"i'm a masochist, so shouldn't i torture others?"


"i should be nicey-nicey with everyone including the most horrid of oppressors."

our most gallant jacob has done an excellent analysis depicting the intent of the golden rule in his

Negative Preference Morality

The Golden Rule provides a constructive, objective basis for moral behavior.

the text is copied below for reference.

in friendship,



The Golden Rule is the only moral principle that grounds itself in objective observation. The primary three systems of normative ethics: deontology, consequentialism, and virtue ethics, all share the common failure to conclusively answer the question "Why should I care?" when they make claims of how individuals ought to behave. The Golden Rule, however, does not even ask that we care about the principle at all, it simply explains that when we act in a manner toward others that is inconsistent with how we would like to be treated, then we are being hypocritical and unfair. This replaces opinion with fact, so that the desires of individuals cannot be held above it. However, the Golden Rule does have some loopholes that ought to be addressed in order to form a more solid basis for morality.

One common criticism of the Golden Rule is that it permits those with self-harming preferences, such as masochism and suicide, to commit harm to others. But this is only true if we take the Golden Rule to mean that we should treat others with the same actions that we desire. But to say that individual A deserves action X because individual B desires X is a non sequitur, since if A does not desire X, then B is violating A's preferences, which B would not want for himself. The criticism actually implies its own solution: instead of treating others with the same actions we want to be treated with, we should instead uphold a respect for others' preferences. By the very nature of a preference, everyone wants theirs to be treated well, since you cannot hold a preference that you do not want to be fulfilled.

Another important issue to cover is that of conflicting preferences. Ideally, everyone could satisfy all their preferences without infringing upon those of others, but there are some preferences (i.e. bigotry) that are violated simply by existing or by not sacrificing oneself for others (i.e. slavery). However, the only way to enforce such positive preferences (desires to be accommodated) is by violating the negative preferences (desires not to be invaded upon) of others. For example, a slave owner's positive preference to keep slaves is unjustified, as it violates the negative preferences of those who do not wish to be enslaved. The slave owner could then restate his desire as a negative preference: "I don't want to have my slaves taken away from me", but this would just be rewording the initial statement. Once the enforcement of that preference is put into action, it becomes evident that it's just a positive preference in disguise, since the initial act of enslavement was theirs. That aggressive act was driven by the positive preference "I want to have slaves", which could only be reworded as "I don't want to not have slaves", which is a blatant double negative. Since the enforcement of a positive preference over a negative preference is in itself a violation of the Golden Rule, only negative preferences are morally viable.

When an individual violates the negative preferences of others unjustly, they lose the right to have their own preferences protected to the same degree that they committed a violation, as demanding rights for yourself when you break those of others is hypocritical and therefore invalid. Since preferences cannot be measured, the amount of force we can justifiably use to punish criminals for their actions is also indeterminable, and since excess punishment harms criminals worse than what their crimes deserve, we should keep force to the minimum necessary to make them stop and make amends for their actions. This way, the more that a criminal threatens (verbally or otherwise) to repeat their actions and resist consequence, the more force we can rightfully use to make them comply.

From these conclusions, we can now restate the Golden Rule as, "Do not violate the valid negative preferences of others". This can be expressed in deontology as "We have a duty not to harm the preferences of others", in consequentialism, "We ought to avoid outcomes that contradict preferences", or in virtue ethics, "Those who respect preferences are of pure moral character". So depending on the individual circumstance (i.e. personal decisions versus social/organizational policy-making versus character assessment), we may use this principle differently, but the underlying moral remains the same.

Thanks for re-posting this! After some consideration, I think my reasoning can be streamlined considerably though:

-All sentient individuals want their interests to be respected.
-Violating the interests of others while insisting that one's own interests be respected is an irrational double standard.
-Therefore, by violating the interests of others, one removes one's right to not have one's interests violated.

Two ethical principles can be extrapolated from this syllogism:
1- The Golden Rule

2- The Non-Aggression Principle (the idea that force is justified when, and only when, used to stop an aggressing force)

Nice into: Justice with Michael Sandel


Universally Preferable Behaviour: A Rational Proof of Secular Ethics (UPB)

nice to hear from you after a long time, jelle!

thx for the resources!

i've been watching a bit of sandel just now and like how he does things - and not just because he sports a similar hairdo as you and i!

unfortunately, he isn't veg:


nor does he provide desirable rationale for eating corpse:

I agree that industrial farming inflicts suffering on sentient beings, and that this is morally objectionable. Vegetarianism is an admirable response to this fact. Insofar as we can develop ways of raising and killing animals that does not inflict suffering, eating meat may not be morally objectionable.


stefan on the other hand is veg and opposes animal abuse etc, and his hairdo is much more similar to ours!

appreciate these links!

in friendship,


self-spawning behavior

generally, ethical behavior tends to lead to more ethical behavior and visa versa.

look at the inspirational effect dominic has on the people doing the WWYD show. of course, this is one of the main reasons this show exists - to spread the inspiration.


the uncompromising ethical behavior of people like thoreau, gandhi and martin luther king have inspired many to also behave ethically.

of course, unethical behavior can carry severe karma as the following quotes warn against.

"For as long as men massacre animals, they will kill each other. Indeed, he who sows the seed of murder and pain cannot reap joy and love."
Pythagoras, mathematician

"I have from an early age abjured the use of meat, and the time will come when men such as I will look upon the murder of animals as they now look upon the murder of men."
Leonardo da Vinci, artist and scientist

"While we ourselves are the living graves of murdered beasts, how can we expect any ideal conditions on this earth?"
George Bernard Shaw, playwright, Nobel Prize 1925

"In their behavior toward creatures, all men are Nazis. Human beings see oppression vividly when they're the victims. Otherwise they victimize blindly and without a thought."
Isaac Bashevis Singer, author, Nobel Prize 1978

"Nothing will benefit human health and increase chances of survival for life on earth as much as the evolution to a vegetarian diet."
Albert Einstein, physicist, Nobel Prize 1921

"You have just dined, and however scrupulously the slaughterhouse is concealed in the graceful distance of miles, there is complicity."
Ralph Waldo Emerson, essayist

"As long as there are slaughterhouses, there will be battlefields."
Leo Tolstoy, author

"We cannot have peace among men whose hearts delight in killing any living creature. By every act that glorifies or even tolerates such moronic delight in killing we set back the progress of humanity."
Rachel Carson, marine biologist

"Non-violence leads to the highest ethics, which is the goal of all evolution. Until we stop harming all other living beings, we are still savages."
Thomas Edison, inventor

"Until he extends the circle of his compassion to all living things, man will not himself find peace."
Albert Schweitzer, missionary and statesman, Nobel 1952

"If you have men who will exclude any of God's creatures from the shelter of compassion and pity, you will have men who deal likewise with their fellow men. Not to hurt our humble brethren is our first duty to them, but to stop there is not enough. We have a higher mission - to be of service to them wherever they require it."
Francis of Assisi, saint

(for more of this see bigG's thread here)

it should be a bit of a no-brainer to recognize the preferable choice, surely! :D

in friendship,


"Every good action shines in eternity…an example for the world to follow"

Why behave ethically… well why not?

The only way to contribute to the world is through our actions…our thoughts, opinions, logic, excuses etc. make no difference to anyone..and quite frankly no one cares what you think.

Action is where the world as we know it shows up. We live in the world of action.

"The time is always right to do what is right” Martin Luther King

Someone took action and we have streets, homes and food.

Someone took action and we have slavery, factory farms, global warming.

Someone took action and slavery was abolished, someone took action and laws to protect animal came into being, someone took action and people are choosing plant based to fight global warming.

My point is that our world arose from action …everything that we participate in has come from action. Hence, action has power. What drives action? Our words, our commitment, our vision to see a world a certain way.

“Some see the world the way it is and ask WHY, I see the way the world should be and say why not?”- Bobby Kennedy

To ask why we should even act in a way to make a difference come from a place of disempowerment. You don’t realize the powerhouse that you are. Each and everyone of us is powerful within the world of action. The question is will we embrace action to uplift others or live in a world of actions only for ourself.

I would argue that if nothing else, life is much more interesting in the world of action for empowerment. We are lit up, joyous and come into our own power when we take actions which serve another’s good.

"I slept and dreamt that life was joy. I awoke and saw that life was service. I acted and behold, service was joy.”- Rabindranath Tagore

So if you want a joyful life, serve…and the more you serve and more you realize that it’s not about you, it’s about all of us. Nature’s symbiosis exists with or without our consent…everything serves the greater good of the whole. Life come and goes and there is a quiet balance within nature…there is no pat on the back, or thank you…there is only serving the greater whole.

When we choose to leave this planet (yes many of us have choice in the matter!) all that we leave behind us are actions…why not take actions that shine to uplift the whole?

We come from nothing and go back into nothing… the tiny blip that you are in the continuum of eternity why not make that blip count?

"We cannot do great things..only small things with great love…” Mother Theresa

To not step into the understanding that you are powerful beyond words leaves you in the dark and lonely world of self. The little “i” who didn’t make that “i” matter… you came and left and that’s all that there is. However, every action you take can shines in eternity, so get up and shine…as my mentor once said “Be Magnificent!”

"There is hardship, injustice and unspeakable horror for so many. Sometimes we may wonder if the sun even wants to shine upon us. We may shake our heads and keep asking why? But 'why' only forms a quagmire for the intellect to be trapped in. 'Why' only delays us from doing. Trust only what comes from deep within: this is the root of faith and is the essence of our very being. For you see, the sun will shine, again and again. In fact, no amount of fearful darkness can put out the light of even one small candle. Through faith, heroism flourishes everywhere. Be Magnificent!"http://www.towardsfreedom.com/232.html

If you can’t fly then run, if you can’t run then walk, if you can’t walk then crawl, but whatever you do you have to keep moving forward.- Martin Luther King

Excellent and inspiring post, Sangeeta! I completely agree that it is what you DO that counts - not what what you say.  What you think/imagine is important because it drives what you do.

What you said about symbiosis and serving the greater whole and tying it into service is really neat.

Wonderful quotes as well!

Well DONE!

Good wishes


what a fine post indeed, sangeeta!

i hope your mentor would be smiling to see it.

the quote "Every good action shines in eternity" is a sangeeta original from the mid-90s:


here are some service quotes that reinforce your post (from a post on the physicsforum that you may remember):


consider the words

of John Kennedy:
ask not what your country can do for you: Ask what you can do for your country.

or John Wooden:
You can't live a perfect day without doing something for someone who will never be able to repay you.

or Leo Tolstoy:
The sole meaning of life is to serve humanity.

or Emily Dickinson:
If I can stop one heart from breaking,
I shall not live in vain;
If I can ease one life the aching,
Or cool one pain,
Or help one fainting robin
Up to his nest again,
I shall not live in vain.

or Damien Hess:
Giving what you don't have to give.
Giving when you don't need to give.
Giving because you want to give.

or Anthony Robbins:
Only those who have learned the power of sincere and selfless contribution experience life's deepest joy: true fulfillment..

or Albert Einstein:
Only a life lived for others is a life worthwhile.

or Helen Keller:
Happiness cannot come from without. It must come from within. It is not what we see and touch or that which others do for us which makes us happy; it is that which we think and feel and do, first for the other fellow and then for ourselves.

or Albert Schweitzer:
I don't know what your destiny will be, but one thing I do know: the only ones among you who will be really happy are those who have sought and found how to serve.

or Ann Radcliff:
One act of beneficence, one act of real usefulness, is worth all the abstract sentiment in the world.

or Ann Frank:
How wonderful it is that nobody need wait a single moment before starting to improve the world.

or Martin Luther King Jr:
Everybody can be great... because anybody can serve. You don't have to have a college degree to serve. You don't have to make your subject and verb agree to serve. You only need a heart full of grace. A soul generated by love.

so why is it that we find these words and those from whom they came inspirational? it is not because doing good things for others, just makes us feel good (even though that is obviously a fringe benefit - as Gandhi said The fragrance always remains on the hand that gives the rose.). it is because in each of us there flickers the hope that not only may tomorrow be better than today - but that we may be able to do our part to make it so.

we can do this because it is deeply in our nature - some would hope as result of evolution, some would insist because it has been branded into our souls.

mother teresa put it very beautifully:

If you are kind, people may accuse you of selfish, ulterior motives; be kind anyway
If you are honest and sincere, people may deceive you; be honest and sincere anyway
The good you do today will often be forgotten; do good anyway
Give the best you have, and it may never be enough; give your best anyway
In the final analysis, it is between you and God; it was never between you and them anyway


everything goes down in the history book of existence, so we really should make the effort to have good entries in it. ;)

in friendship,


I really enjoyed these quotes from these tiny blips in the continuum of time :) 

The original post argues there is no consequence to ones health to be non-ethical. One might view non-ethical behaviour as apathy? Apathy is a symptom of mental health disorders, such as schizophrenia and depression.


i don't understand what post you are referring to when you say it "argues there is no consequence to ones health to be non-ethical". could you please indicate where this original post is?

i think you have a very good point about apathy being a symptom of mental health disorders and think it is worth exploring more thoroughly.

in friendship,


I still think the "why be ethical question" is much more pertinent. The should and should nots tend to get messy. We shouldn't do anything. We either do it or we don't.

"doing" is why we have "behave" rather than "be" (as in the other question).

the word "behave" is operational while "be" isn't so much so.

you can always post in the other thread. i'm sure craig will be happy to discuss his perspectives with you.

in friendship,




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