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Still, these two are the primary perspectives for Western ethics and it is perhaps helpful initially to distinguish between them. The Greeks, as we.
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Brian Duignan. His answer was that it may not be possible to give such a reason to a person who does Ethics in Value Theory, Miscellaneous. Edit this record.

A History of Western Philosophy by Bertrand Russell

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Google Books no proxy Setup an account with your affiliations in order to access resources via your University's proxy server Configure custom proxy use this if your affiliation does not provide a proxy. Configure custom resolver. Almut Caspary - - Franz Steiner Verlag.

Kenneth R. Melchin - - Lonergan Web Site. Alan Mittleman - - Wiley-Blackwell. Warren Ashby - - Prometheus Books. Ethics in the History of Western Philosophy. Robert J. Sterba eds. Martin's Press. A History of Western Morals. Crane Brinton - - Paragon House. Humble and lowly people must be treated with kindness. One should not laugh at the blind or at dwarfs. Why then should one follow these precepts? Did the ancient Egyptians believe that one should do what is good for its own sake?

Since these precepts are intended for the instruction of the ruling classes, however, we have to ask why helping the destitute should have contributed to an individual's good reputation among this class. To some degree the authors of the precepts must have thought that to make people prosperous and happy and to be kind to those who have least is not merely personally advantageous but good in itself. The precepts are not works of ethics in the philosophical sense. No attempt is made to find any underlying principles of conduct that might provide a more systematic understanding of ethics.

Justice, for example, is given a prominent place, but there is no elaboration of the notion of justice nor any discussion of how disagreements about what is just and unjust might be resolved. Furthermore, there is no probing of ethical dilemmas that may occur if the precepts should conflict with one another. The precepts are full of sound observations and practical wisdom, but they do not encourage theoretical speculation. The same practical bent can be found in other early codes or lists of ethical injunctions.

In fact, the code reflects no such consistent principle. It frequently prescribes the death penalty for offenses that do not themselves cause death— e. Moreover, even the eye-for-an-eye rule applies only if the eye of the original victim is that of a member of the patrician class; if it is the eye of a commoner, the punishment is a fine of a quantity of silver. Apparently such differences in punishment were not thought to require justification.

At any rate, there are no surviving attempts to defend the principles of justice on which the code was based. The Hebrew people were at different times captives of both the Egyptians and the Babylonians. It is therefore not surprising that the law of ancient Israel, which was put into its definitive form during the Babylonian Exile, shows the influence both of the ancient Egyptian precepts and of the Code of Hammurabi. Yet, in other respects Israeli law and morality developed the humane concern shown in the Egyptian precepts for the poor and unfortunate: hired servants must be paid promptly, because they rely on their wages to satisfy their pressing needs; slaves must be allowed to rest on the seventh day; widows, orphans, and the blind and deaf must not be wronged, and the poor man should not be refused a loan.

There was even a tithe providing for an incipient welfare state.

A Comprehensive History of Western Ethics:...

The famed Ten Commandments are thought to be a legacy of Semitic tribal law when important commands were taught, one for each finger, so that they could more easily be remembered. Sets of five or 10 laws are common among preliterate civilizations. The content of the Hebrew commandments differed from other laws of the region mainly in its emphasis on duties to God. In the more detailed laws laid down elsewhere, this emphasis continued with as much as half the legislation concerned with crimes against God and ceremonial and ritualistic matters, though there may be other explanations for some of these ostensibly religious requirements concerning the avoidance of certain foods and the need for ceremonial cleansings.

In addition to lengthy statements of the law, the surviving literature of ancient Israel includes both proverbs and the books of the prophets. The proverbs, like the precepts of the Egyptians, are brief statements without much concern for systematic presentation or overall coherence. They go further than the Egyptian precepts, however, in urging conduct that is just and upright and pleasing to God. There are correspondingly fewer references to what is needed for a successful career, although it is frequently stated that God rewards the just. In this connection the Book of Job is notable as an exploration of the problem raised for those who accept this motive for obeying the moral law: How are we to explain the fact that the best of people may suffer the worst misfortunes?

The book offers no solution beyond faith in God, but the sharpened awareness of the problem it offers may have influenced some to adopt belief in reward and punishment in another realm as the only possible solution. The literature of the prophets contains a good deal of social and ethical criticism, though more at the level of denunciation than discussion about what goodness really is or why there is so much wrongdoing. They shall not hurt or destroy in all my holy mountain.

Unlike the ethical teaching of ancient Egypt and Babylon, Indian ethics was philosophical from the start. In the oldest of the Indian writings, the Vedas, ethics is an integral aspect of philosophical and religious speculation about the nature of reality. These writings date from about BC.

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They have been described as the oldest philosophical literature in the world, and what they say about how people ought to live may therefore be the first philosophical ethics. The Vedas are, in a sense, hymns, but the gods to which they refer are not persons but manifestations of ultimate truth and reality.

In the Vedic philosophy, the basic principle of the universe, the ultimate reality on which the cosmos exists, is the principle of Ritam, which is the word from which the Western notion of right is derived. There is thus a belief in a right moral order somehow built into the universe itself. Hence, truth and right are linked; to penetrate through illusion and understand the ultimate truth of human existence is to understand what is right. To be an enlightened one is to know what is real and to live rightly, for these are not two separate things but one and the same.

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The ethic that is thus traced to the very essence of the universe is not without its detailed practical applications. These were based on four ideals, or proper goals, of life: prosperity, the satisfaction of desires, moral duty, and spiritual perfection— i. From these ends follow certain virtues: honesty, rectitude, charity, nonviolence, modesty, and purity of heart. To be condemned, on the other hand, are falsehood, egoism, cruelty, adultery, theft, and injury to living things. Because the eternal moral law is part of the universe, to do what is praiseworthy is to act in harmony with the universe and accordingly will receive its proper reward; conversely, once the true nature of the self is understood, it becomes apparent that those who do what is wrong are acting self-destructively.

The basic principles underwent considerable modification over the ensuing centuries, especially in the Upanisad s, a body of philosophical literature dating from BC. The Indian caste system, with its intricate laws about what members of each caste may or may not do, is accepted by the Upanisad s as part of the proper order of the universe.


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Ethics itself, however, is not regarded as a matter of conformity to laws. Instead, the desire to be ethical is an inner desire. It is part of the quest for spiritual perfection, which in turn is elevated to the highest of the four goals of life.

During the following centuries the ethical philosophy of this early period gradually became a rigid and dogmatic system that provoked several reactions. One, which is uncharacteristic of Indian thought in general, was the Carvaka, or materialist school, which mocked religious ceremonies, saying that they were invented by the Brahmans the priestly caste to ensure their livelihood. When the Brahmans defended animal sacrifices by claiming that the sacrificed beast goes straight to heaven, the members of the Carvaka asked why the Brahmans did not kill their aged parents to hasten their arrival in heaven.

Against the postulation of an eventual spiritual liberation, Carvaka ethics urged each individual to seek his or her pleasure here and now. Jainism, another reaction to the traditional Vedic outlook, went in exactly the opposite direction. The Jaina philosophy is based on spiritual liberation as the highest of all goals and nonviolence as the means to it. In true philosophical manner, the Jainas found in the principle of nonviolence a guide to all morality. First, apart from the obvious application to prohibiting violent acts to other humans, nonviolence is extended to all living things.

The Jainas are vegetarian. They are often ridiculed by Westerners for the care they take to avoid injuring insects or other living things while walking or drinking water that may contain minute organisms; it is less well known that Jainas began to care for sick and injured animals thousands of years before animal shelters were thought of in Europe.

The Jainas do not draw the distinction usually made in Western ethics between their responsibility for what they do and their responsibility for what they omit doing. Omitting to care for an injured animal would also be in their view a form of violence. Other moral duties are also derived from the notion of nonviolence.

To tell someone a lie, for example, is regarded as inflicting a mental injury on that person. Stealing, of course, is another form of injury, but because of the absence of a distinction between acts and omissions, even the possession of wealth is seen as depriving the poor and hungry of the means to satisfy their wants.

Thus nonviolence leads to a principle of nonpossession of property. Jaina priests were expected to be strict ascetics and to avoid sexual intercourse. Ordinary Jainas, however, followed a slightly less severe code, which was intended to give effect to the major forms of nonviolence while still being compatible with a normal life.

The other great ethical system to develop as a reaction to the ossified form of the old Vedic philosophy was Buddhism.

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Until he was 29 years old, he lived the sheltered life of a typical prince, with every luxury he could desire.