This piece was written 1/1/92 as part of "homework" for a New UU series. You may also wish to look at Personal Sovereignty and Education of a Free People for related material.
(When we speak about "ethical commandments" in a UU context, what we apparently mean are principles (injunctions, directives) for conduct which arise from ethical, that is, rational sources, rather than creedal, non-rational principles. This is distinct from those principles them-selves which are properly matters of ethics; their application, or formation into injunctions are matters of morals.)
Notes from Discussion - January 5, 1992
* Humans are animals but are unique in that they are reflective, therefore capable of premeditation of acts.
* Pre-meditation permits consideration of consequences, both personal and public, therefore it implies a need for a code of conduct to guide decisions and choices prospectively.
* Such a code must be be based upon ethical principles; the translation of the principles into guidance of action creates moral injunctions or precepts.
* The three (+ #4 (suggested by Toni, but implicit in my thoughts before this discussion)) tests for desirable human (moral vs. amoral or immoral) behavior:
1) Does the person have an internalized ethical view?
2) Is this view reflected in an externally expressible set of moral precepts?
3) Does the person attempt to act according to these precepts?
4) Are the ethical principles and moral precepts subject to change based upon life experience?
* Amoral behavior results from the lack of such an ethical structure and resembles that of animals who, while making choices, obey no moral precepts; immoral behavior results from a failure to pass primarily the third and/or fourth tests ( individuals who know better but fail to act on such knowledge or who refuse to reconsider their moral precepts and behavior in the light of life experience but hew dogmatically to principle).
* Objectifying "good" and "evil" is improper because:
1) it judges acts (and outcomes) independent of intent and
2) it produces silly injunctions, such as not eating meat on Fridays.
* Conscience (or intuition) represents an internalized subconscious summation of the total rational outcome of ethical and moral considerations and serves as a reflexive guide to promote moral action.
* All humans are more alike than different, in both hardware and software, so it is no accident that the process of deriving ethical principles should produce similar, if not identical, results in all "normal" (non-defective, properly assembled) persons. Two such principles which can always be expected to arise are "the golden rule" (categorical imperative) and pursuit of enlightened self-interest. The former is an aspect of virtually all traditional religiously derived ethical systems, in either positive or negative (abstaining from unwanted acts) form, while the latter encompasses Adam Smith's "invisible hand" which moves free markets (in goods or (I add) any other item of human interchange) to produce the greatest good for the greatest number (principle of beneficence).
* An apparent moral dilemma: A man driving his dangerously ill wife to the hospital finds that all the lights are red against him. Does he a) stop at each as the law requires or b) stop at none as his immediate self-interest suggests? The moral answer is not a) since this would be slavish accordance to external principle nor b) which would be neglect of larger outcomes of action but c) to stop at as few possible to produce maximum speed consistent with reasonable safety for himself and wife and persons in other vehicles. This solution, in fact, embodies the classical Taoist dualism illustrated by the injunction to be neither slave to passion nor unable to experience passion in its myriad aspects.*