Moral Truth: Created, or Discovered?

We can employ a three part litmus in determining whether we have a good ethical theory: 1) it must describe how and why we should be and behave with others and ourselves, 2) it must count the self and the other interchangeably, being true for all or none, and, like all truth, 3) it must be discovered, not created. Note that if a theory does not pass the first part of the litmus, it fails the last two parts by default; if a theory passes the first part but fails the second, it fails the third by default. If it fails the third part, but passes the first and second parts, it has no anchor to reality. If a theory doesn’t get those basics, it is an inferior theory only studied in Ethics for the same reason we study and learn from our mistakes. All ethical theories claim to explain how or why we should be or behave, but only one of them (please stay tuned for our feature theory) succeeds in explaining how ‘and’ why we should be ‘and’ behave, and most fail the other two parts of the litmus. This paper will mostly focus on the third aspect of the litmus, explaining how moral truth is discovered, not created.

There are four basic approaches to take as regards moral truth: 1) there is no moral truth, either created or discovered (nihilism), 2) moral truth is unknowable (skepticism), 3) moral truth is created by the individual or cultural will (subjectivism or relativism; individual/divine or cultural voluntarism) (noncognitivism could be considered subjectivism and is addressed as emotivism below) (note that ‘culture’ is on the ‘nurture’ side of ‘nature vs. nurture’ and so is created, not discovered), and 4) moral truth is discovered in the essence of human nature or God’s nature (universalism; human or divine essentialism)(note that if objective values are not universal, if they are different for supposedly different types of people, they fail part 2 of the litmus—a standard is true for all, or it is true for none). The terms ‘voluntarism’ and ‘essentialism’ are being used in ways not often found in any of the referenced sources, so clarification may be in order. Voluntarism is the view that moral truth is a creation of will, whereas essentialism is the view that moral truth is discovered in the essence of human nature or God’s nature. Soon we will see how human essentialism is actually ‘created’ and only divine essentialism is discovered, but we must build up to that. Suffice it to say that voluntarism fails the third aspect of the litmus.

So truth, including moral truth, is not created (voluntarism), not an act of will, but discovered (essentialism), a fundamental aspect of reality. Recall this is the third aspect of our litmus. If you think there are things that are really, truly wrong (and we all behave as if we do)–like abuses of the church, for example–then you agree there is moral truth that anyone with a conscience can discover. Voluntarism could be considered a type of nihilism, because it does not acknowledge essential meaning. If a voluntarist praises or criticizes another’s social behavior, they are acknowledging shared created meaning, while ignoring what our shared moral sense implies about moral truth–like when Sartre (whom we will soon discuss) prescribed moral responsibility (“In choosing myself, I choose man”) without allowing it as an aspect of our common nature or essence.

We live against nihilism (except cultural voluntarism), skepticism and subjectivism whenever we find ourselves criticizing or praising the social behavior of someone from our own culture, and we live against relativism whenever we find ourselves criticizing or praising the social behavior of someone from another culture. In other words, we all live as if we know there is unchanging meaning and objective morality. Something in each of us intuitively knows that we all share the same moral sense underneath and beyond our cultural applications and adaptations and that our senses are not deceiving us. To silence such a voice inevitably leads to a departure from reality (and social disintegration). All of our senses evolved because there was something very real to be sensed. The senses of sight, sound, smell, taste, and touch in all of us imply that there is something very real to be seen, heard, smelled, tasted, and felt. Our moral sense detects when things are going as they should, and when they are not. It is the work of the theories in Ethics to define what it means for things to go as they should.

“If there is no God,” Pastor Tim Keller writes, and A.J. Ayer argued, “then there is no way to say any one action is ‘moral’ and another ‘immoral’ but only ‘I like this,’” (1) (‘emotivism’). At first this criticism may make it seem like we should favor our intellect over our intuition when attempting to discover the moral standard. It is, however, reasonable to ask: "If we have no feeling of moral approval or outrage, then do we really care about whether something is morally right or wrong? If we don’t feel that it’s wrong to harm a child, then how is logic going to persuade us? … Feelings such as disappointment, elation, grief, and even love are all responses to certain situations. They develop according to some inner logic; they don’t strike at random. … A new breed of thinkers, including the American philosopher Martha Nussbaum (1947-) (read more), hold the theory that our moral values do indeed have a strong connection to our emotions, but that doesn’t mean the values or our moral decisions reflecting them can’t be rational. According to this theory, there is a rational element within our emotional life that makes some emotional reactions reasonable and morally relevant, while others may not be,” (2). That rational element is our conscience, our moral personality, which is not removed from emotions, but governs them according to a moral standard.

When discussing whether reason (ethical rationalism if all by itself) or intuition (emotivism if all by itself) plays a higher role in discovering the moral standard (of how and why we should be and behave with others and ourselves), think of intuition as an accelerating vehicle, and reason as the steering wheel and breaks—and the moral standard as the energy fueling the vehicle. Without the moving vehicle, there is nothing to govern. Without the governing, the vehicle will be aimless and likely crash. Without the fuel, there is no motivation. Soil is less ‘designed’ to grow gardens than a vehicle to run on fuel, but we can also think of our intuition as the field in which the moral standard can either grow or die, and our reason helps to cultivate it or weed it out. So our conscience, our moral sense, is rationally intuitive. Voluntarists suggest we create the fuel and flower (though, again, truth cannot be created)–essentialists suggest the fuel and flower are part of human nature (actually voluntarism) or have been around and will be around forever—love (God) (Greek virtue theory, we will soon see, has a slightly different twist), love that is not only the fuel, but the destination—for what the steering wheel (reason) is aiming. The fuel, the flower, it is the Why? reason and intuition were designed to seek out, according to essentialists, or choose to create, according to voluntarists. Recall that voluntarism fails the third aspect of the litmus.

We, being neither unchanging, nor self-sufficient, cannot be our own absolute source of discovered moral truth. On our own, apart from God, we adapt love into what it is not, still perhaps calling it love, though it isn’t, or feigning to abandon it altogether, though we cannot… not without that part of ourselves dying. Often, we love from a lack because we are lonely and feel empty, but He loves and helps us to love from abundance because He is completely fulfilled and it is in His nature to pour out unmerited love. Some argue that God, eternal love, is just an imaginary friend for those whose need for affiliation is unmet by those around them, but C.S. Lewis writes, “One thing, however, that marriage has done for me. I can never again believe that religion is manufactured out of our unconscious, starved desires and is a substitute for sex. For those few years H. and I feasted on love, every mode of it—solemn and merry, romantic and realistic, sometimes as dramatic as a thunderstorm, sometimes as comfortable and unemphatic as putting on your soft slippers. No cranny of heart or body remained unsatisfied. If God were a substitute for love we ought to have lost all interest in Him. Who’d bother about substitutes when he has the thing itself? But that isn’t what happens. We both knew we wanted something besides one another—quite a different kind of something, a quite different kind of want. You might as well say that when lovers have one another they will never want to read, or eat—or breathe,” (3).

So the highest, ultimate good is love (eternal, self-sufficient God). Love is right just because it is right to love. “[Right] is an intuited value not definable in terms of something else…that ‘ought’ to be followed in one’s intentions and actions,” (1). All humans hold expectations of how we ought to be treated by others, as evidenced in our feeling wronged when others, who we assume (being selves, too) are aware of those expectations, defy them. The expectations, or values, of God’s general revelation in nature are seen in “the striking resemblance of [the] basic ethical principles [of] … the great moral creeds of mankind’s civilizations,” (4). This striking resemblance is due to our common humanity, our sharing the moral sense of love (image of God). A human with a normal childhood will develop a natural moral sense just as a seedling correctly nurtured will develop into a healthy plant. That it is possible to influence an impressionable child’s development of conscience is why it is so important to cultivate their growing moral sense. We must be taught how to love, even though we already have the capability to love, for the same reason we must be taught math, even though we all reason mathematically to varying degrees. Note that just because our sense of things may change and grow, does not mean God, the standard, changes and grows. If it changes, it is not ultimate.

Heraclitus and Cratylus, before evolution was a theory, said that everything is in a state of flux, which would imply “there are no unchanging absolutes, ethical or otherwise,” (5) except that Heraclitus believed in “an unchanging logos beneath all change and by which the change itself is measured. …that all men should live by this absolute law in the midst of the flux of life” and “Cratylus carried change so far that he destroyed the idea of change itself. When everything is changing and nothing is constant, then there is no way to measure the change,” (5). Some philosophical naturalists claim there are objective, yet evolving, absolutes not anchored in the unchanging (the constant, the Logos), that came into being with humans and will evolve as humans evolve and cease existing when humans cease existing. Such adaptable, anchorless standards cannot reasonably be considered absolute.

Among philosophical naturalists, some justify a particular morality by suggesting that it merely serves evolutionary purpose [does it make sense to you that all of nature operates under “survival of the fittest” – but it is grounded in nature that humans should treat others as ends and not merely means (which we will soon discuss)?]. This is to move from “is” to “ought” (evolutionary, is; purpose, ought). Hume’s is-to-ought fallacy, or the naturalistic fallacy, explains why it is illogical to go from is-statements to ought-statements, to derive prescriptions from descriptions. That nature, even human nature, is a certain way does not require that it should be that way – nature cannot prescribe (which is why human essentialism is ‘created’ and only divine essentialism is ‘discovered’) (human essence is patterned after divine essence) (litmus, part 3). Neither can nature give us purpose. It only provides the capacity for creating man-made purpose or seeking out supernatural, essential purpose. Again, in nature we have the capacity (“ought implies can”) for moral behavior (including enforcing human rights), but nature, regardless its ‘selectivity,’ cannot tell us whether empathy and selflessness, or brutality and selfishness (“might makes right”), is morally superior (and so it cannot tell us how we ought to be or behave, or to count the self and the other interchangeably) (litmus, parts 1 and 2). So, answering that how and why we should be and behave with others and ourselves is to fulfill evolutionary purpose—isn’t saying anything meaningful (is a fuel tank full of air) (unless you grant that God can use evolution with the purpose of forming us into His image, but even then, it would be divine purpose, not evolutionary purpose).

One might argue that if we cannot derive an ought from nature (is), then why can we derive all valid oughts from God’s nature, essential love? The answer: it is not that prescriptions are derived from descriptions, it is that all that is, derives from (has its being in) fulfilled love (God). Our temporal consciences grasp the eternal love God intends us to reflect. To reject God’s unmerited, steadfast, unchanging love is to reject full existence, to choke that part of you made in His image. Again, one cannot proceed from is (nature) to ought, and one cannot anchor the unchanging in what changes, so one must discover the unchanging, supernatural standard in an eternal, supernatural God who is essentially good.

There certainly are socially-constructed and -reproduced values, some which conform to God’s character with or without the intention of their creators, others which are sandcastles for the tide, all considered by individual voluntarism to be created “truth”. However, preceding and outlasting them all is an eternal standard: the uncreated, eternal way we should be (character), what we should do (conduct), the ultimate end (consequences), is love (God, the fuel and destination) that endures all circumstances (the image in which we are made). This standard did not have to compete in the marketplace of ideas to achieve its superior status, but always passes the test of intellectual, intuitional fire, because it always has been and always will be the superior standard for all eternity (I AM). All other standards which conflict with His nature are inferior and incomplete compromises by comparison. Let’s have a look…

Since the Greeks saw virtuosity as something to be developed, one might expect they had not applied virtue to God (or, in their minds, “gods”), who cannot develop and is pure actuality. This is exactly what we find in the dialogue with Euthyphro, wherein Socrates asks whether something is right because God wills it (divine voluntarism), or if God wills it because it is right (Greek essentialism). He sees problems with both options. If it is right because He wills it, right is dependent on God’s arbitrary will – He could will that murder is right. If He wills it because it is right, He is under the moral law, rather than being its absolute source. But, the solution Socrates missed (and Aquinas caught) is that God is what is right (love) (divine essentialism). Therefore, Greek virtue theory is voluntaristic by default, failing part 3 of the litmus. Plato’s concept of “The Good” (the Form from which everything else derives), though eternal, had no anchor, an eternally good (loving) God who wills in accordance with His good (loving) nature (note that love is impossible if one is not a personal being). Unlike us, He did not have to develop virtue – He has always been a Virtuoso. Perfect virtue cannot be arrived at. He has always been.

To Aristotle, everything has its own virtue, or purpose, and if it performs its virtue, it is virtuous; if not, it is lacking in virtue. So his thoughts are teleological, telos meaning goal or purpose (different from the consequentialism discussed later, because it is dealing with the ultimate purpose of humans, rather than the consequences of their actions or the ‘any old goal’ approach of pragmatism). Virtue was built into reality from the beginning (essentialist) (this is what Sartre, whom we will later discuss, objected to: essence precedes existence). A thing’s virtue is its final cause in Aristotle’s theory of the four causes. A material cause is what a thing is made of. An efficient cause is the creative force acting upon the material. A formal cause (remnant of Plato’s theory of Forms), is the shape or idea of the affected material. A final cause is the purpose of the affected material. [Aside: In the theory of evolution, which Aristotle did not anticipate, the first material cause would have been the singularity, and it is hard to say what would have been its efficient, formal, and final cause, from Aristotle’s perspective. Starting from now, the human body and all its systems is the material cause. The efficient cause is the environment which shapes (like sandpaper to wood) the body and what it is used for. The formal cause is what the body is shaped into; how it changes to better suit its environment. The final cause is how the newly shaped body is actually used in its environment; the reason it was shaped. So the formal cause becomes the material cause, and the final cause becomes part of the efficient cause. As the universe was complete before it started, the final cause is to love. However, there is a problem with rooting the final cause to the formal cause—the naturalistic fallacy. Just because there is a natural basis for morality does not mean nature endorses it as anything beyond “is.” Nature cannot prescribe. (So the formal cause springs from the final cause, as God has fashioned us according to His purpose: love.)]

Virtue is what something does best, according to Aristotle. The virtue of humans (human essentialism), what humans do best (Aristotle: man, in particular), is reason, or contemplation. Contemplation is good for us and makes us happy, virtuous people. To perform virtuously is to make a habit of reasoning well and developing a rational character, which Aristotle equated with moral goodness. The conflict between Aristotle’s virtues and Christian virtues is solved by discovering the standard of love in God’s essence, the essence in which we are created, as demonstrated in Christ’s sacrifice. Reason, then, is not our ultimate purpose; it is what enables us to choose it. Aristotle’s teleology fascinated Thomas Aquinas. Purpose, built-in virtue, implies a Designer.

Greek essentialism, in Socrates/Plato’s case, had no anchor (eternal love implies eternal personhood, and they didn’t even get the “love” part yet), and in Aristotle’s case, according to Hume’s is-to-ought fallacy (discussed earlier), no (eternal) ought can logically be derived from anything in the (ever-changing) natural universe (is), including from evolving humans (and, again, that is why Greek and human essentialism is ‘created,’ not discovered, as in divine essentialism—human essence is patterned after divine essence). The natural universe can, however, have its being within the divine source of that standard. The uncreated, eternal way we should be (character), what we should do (conduct), the ultimate end (consequences), is love (God, the fuel and destination) that endures all circumstances (the image in which we are made).

Kant’s categorical imperative reads, "Always act so that you can will that your maxim can become a universal law.” On the surface, the words “will” and “become” sound like voluntarism, like we will moral truth into becoming, but underneath, Kant’s categorical imperative is a method of discovery (litmus, part 3). Perhaps it would have been better to word it this way: “Always and only act if your maxim qualifies as a universal law.” If we don’t dig any deeper, Kant’s recognition that everyone should follow the same rules because all selves share a moral sense, sounds like the categorical imperative is just another way of stating the Golden Rule. However, note that Kant thought the Golden Rule had a loop-hole: getting out of our responsibility to help the other by claiming we would not want the other to help us, which is answered when you acknowledge you would want someone to put themselves in your shoes when considering how to relate with you, and so you should put yourself in the shoes of a person who genuinely needs help and help them even if, in the same situation, you would not ask for it. He also emphasized following the categorical imperative despite inclination (purely out of duty), as opposed to Mill’s rule utilitarianism, which consists of universal rules leading to greatest voluntaristically defined happiness for everyone, essentially a voluntarized Golden Rule. What is lacking in Kant’s categorical imperative, and Mill’s rule utilitarianism, is that they should have allowed for the uncreated, eternal way we should be (character), what we should do (conduct), the ultimate end (consequences), to be, not voluntaristically defined happiness (utilitarianism), not following rules for the sake of following rules (Kant’s categorical imperative), but love (God, the fuel and flower) that endures all (even painful) circumstances (the image in which we are made). Maybe then Kant would have allowed for some universal maxims to be greater goods than others, rather than requiring we be truthful to a murderer about his possible victim’s whereabouts, taking all the love and joy out of the Golden Rule he considered too simplistic, but should have been left in its essential form.

In existentialism, “How and why should we be and behave with others and ourselves?” is somewhat answered by emphasizing an authentic character, valuing that we take responsibly for our choices, and considering important the consequence of responsible freedom. The answer to the question wasn’t as important as, to the essentialist, experiencing it as true, and to the voluntarist, creating it. Totally opposed to the DNA-dancing of philosophical naturalism, vehemently disagreeing with Aristotle and Aquinas that our virtue or essence is built in to the universe from the beginning, Sartre instead thought it is determined by us only after we exist, and not before [“existence precedes essence”]. However, essence is “essential” and can only be discovered–it isn’t something to be determined–and so Sartre should have used a term other than essence, because to put it ‘after’ existence is to annihilate it. He admitted as much when he argued that there is no human nature beyond when we choose ourselves, and in so doing, choose all men (litmus, part 2). However, there must be human nature—the virtue, essence or purpose of humans must be to create meaning through choice as an individual (litmus, part 1)—if Sartre was right about authenticity. If there is no human nature, there is no obligatory moral autonomy common to all humans (and no bad faith). So, it is rather ironic (and self-contradictory) that Sartre’s antinomian, voluntaristic (litmus, part 3), subjectivist thinking has made it into the field of Ethics largely due to appealing to that which it attempts to deny—essential obligation. He said “existence precedes essence” – but if there is no essence which precedes existence, there is no real essence (and no obligation to create it; litmus, part 1). If there is real essence, essential obligation, it precedes existence (or has eternal existence—is God—love—the essence after which our essence is patterned—how and why we should be and behave with others and ourselves)—and we are free to responsibly choose or reject it, as the ability to love is the ability to choose love, to create love after the pattern of our creator. If we reject it, we reject full existence. Creating a new anchor will not appeal to those who just found out their old anchor is just as made up, if they see the irony. They will accept only the discovered, though they have lost faith in it, and find the created to be a massive let-down. Kierkegaard grounded the answer to “How and why should we be and behave with others and ourselves?” in God, eternal love, the Golden Rule, and in so doing, passed all three parts of the litmus, and as the father of existentialism he emphasized that you haven’t got the truth if you are not living it.

Relativism is cultural voluntarism, the view that moral truth is created by the cultural will. Again, truth is not created, but discovered (litmus, part 3). It cannot be said that relativism is cultural essentialism, because it is based on the actual doings of the majority (whereas what we do is not always what we ought to do, and since Ethics deals with why and how we ought to behave with others and ourselves (litmus, part 1), and since we should avoid the is-to-ought fallacy, this is not a positive aspect of relativism). Remember that ‘culture’ is on the ‘nurture’ side of “nature vs. nurture” and so is created, not discovered (essential), and human essence is patterned after divine essence. The basic impulse driving the view that acknowledges as moral truth the values of the majority of a given culture, and that every culture’s values are valid for that culture, is the admirable, merciful feeling that, just as we would not want another culture’s values forced upon ours, we should not force our culture’s values on other cultures – we should instead respectfully and nonjudgmentally seek to preserve cultural freedom and diversity (golden irony, for this is the Golden Rule incorrectly applied, suggesting the Golden Rule is more basic than any relativistic misapplication). There is much to be said for respecting and preserving cultural diversity (note that to claim such respect as essential, transcending culture, is to contradict the impulse of tolerance, and that the tolerance of relativism is ineffective in cultures without that impulse), however, the absolutist view is not that we force our values on (or adopt the values of) cultures that do not share them (ours), but that absolutes are discovered in and between every culture while maintaining diversity (and that such diversity does not negate the similarities). Related to relativism is a discussion of the two opposing viewpoints of how morality and legal justice relate: naturalism (essentialism), and legal positivism (voluntarism). Naturalism is the viewpoint that the laws of society should reflect universal moral standards that are given by God and/or are part of human nature. Legal positivism is the viewpoint that the laws of society should be based on a consensus of legislators, because there are no universal moral standards. [Aside: some might argue that even if there are universal moral standards, it would be intolerant to force them upon people, and so favor legal positivism, because it is much more tolerant to (tongue in cheek) force upon people laws made by fallible legislators. Others feign loyalty to anarchism.] This paper is written from a naturalist viewpoint, that the laws of society, and how their violation is dealt with, should reflect universal moral standards both anchored in God (love, the fuel and destination) and resonating with human nature, essentially the Golden Rule, which does not give more importance to others than to self (or vice versa), but acknowledges the value of both (loving yourself is assumed as good and to be applied to the selves of others). The existence of this universal moral code shows us that enforcing discovered eternal moral truth does not violate cultural diversity, but acknowledges common humanity and common ground. To not hold all cultures accountable to a standard which applies to all cultures (except when contradicting itself by universalizing tolerance) is to insult the moral autonomy of each culture’s members (their status as free persons able to discern moral truth and make moral choices) (litmus, part 2), and is to exclude them from the resulting benefits of following it.

Laws governing social interaction are relative to socially interacting beings, the way laws of physics are relative to the physical universe. If those laws cease to be, physical and social existence ceases to be, and vice versa. Right away we notice a difference between physical laws and moral laws. Though you can attempt to violate neither without consequence – you can actually violate moral laws. They do not describe how humans “do” always behave. They do not describe nature. They go beyond science. Science merely describes nature, describes the fact of morality—it cannot prescribe or condemn. Oughts are supernatural, created by man (like all technology) or reflecting God’s nature (love). His moral laws describe the answer to the question of how humans ought to behave toward others and ourselves. This sort of question transcends individuals and culture, as it applies to all socially-interacting, morally autonomous beings, not a particular individual or culture. However, the answer is true for every individual of every culture, because it is true for all with a conscience. To say we can be good without God (i.e., follow the Golden Rule as if we designed it rather than discovered it) is similar to discovering e=mc^2 and maintaining that it is created and needs no physical universe (but love is eternal and essential, whereas e=mc^2 describes the created). Apart from Him, we are not free to do good. He designed our moral sense and capacity to love (after His image) and apart from His eternal goodness (love), the term “good” in the phrase “freedom to do good” has no essential meaning. All definitions of good apart from God’s essential, unmerited love are as sandcastles for the tide.

The impulse of relativism simply misapplies the Golden Rule, which is a more basic and essential aspect of each theory. Sartre said we choose our own purpose and grounded this in our shared freedom. Bentham and Mill grounded their universalized happiness principle in our shared need for happiness. Kant grounded his categorical imperative in fairness to everyone’s shared moral sense. Aristotle thought virtue was built in to reality. They were all right – we are all free and responsible to choose the best purpose (God’s essential love), we all need to be happy (to love and be loved, despite the circumstances), we all share a moral sense (of love, not merely double-standard and undermined intentions), and the highest virtue (love) is the ‘final cause,’ the meaning of life beyond the beginning. Since love is the virtue which defines all other virtues (the highest purpose), then essentially good reality must be a personal being who is complete love (perfect, eternal social interaction between Father, Son, and Holy Spirit). The moral law of love is discovered—creation comes in when we choose Him, and what is created is the Kingdom of Heaven, whose paths are paved with the Golden Rule.

References:

(1) Tim Keller The Reason for God: Belief in an Age of Skepticism (Dutton, Penguin Group) 2008 (153; 409). See www.ReasonforGodDiscussion.blogspot.com!
(2) Nina Rosenstand The Moral of the Story: An Introduction to Ethics (McGraw-Hill, Inc) 2003 (10, 13, 15).
(3) C.S. Lewis, “A Grief Observed” in The Complete C.S. Lewis Signature Classics, (Harper Collins, 2002) (659).
(4) The quote is from (5), page 362, with reference to C.S. Lewis, The Abolition of Man (New York: Macmillan, 1947). The section on theodicy in this link is also interesting: www.iep.utm.edu/m/mencius.htm
(5) Norman L. Geisler, Paul D. Feinberg Introduction to Philosophy; A Christian Perspective (Baker Books) 1980 (400).

Note that my first exposure to the distinction between essentialism and voluntarism is in Appendix 12: Extreme Calvinism and Voluntarism, of Norman Geisler’s “Chosen But Free”.

Also note that this paper is a highly abridged version of “The Sword and the Sacrifice Philosophy” found here:
http://www.ichthus.yuku.com/topic/46/t/The-Sword-and-the-Sacrifice-Philosophy-full-text.html

Neither. Morality is deduced from the need to avoid/reduce chaos among humans. It isn’t given by God, or legislated by majority vote. It is honoring the equal rights of all to their life, liberty and property without violation by force or fraud. It is based on one simple assumption that life is of value and human life is of the greatest value. Any other moral code inherently promotes chaos, while this at least deals with evil on a universal basis. (Grey areas: ?some animals?, abortion).

Are you saying these rights, and this value, are “discovered” and not created? That is very far from “neither”.

Thankyou for replying.

They are universal moral standards, but not “given by God” as you qualified it. They are easily deduced, and the equality stated applies to all sentient beings. As much as it would be helpful if God would remind people of that, He can’t, and maintain our free will.

Hello Ichtus (Did I spelled that right?):

— Voluntarism is the view that moral truth is a creation of will, whereas essentialism is the view that moral truth is discovered in the essence of nature, human nature, or God’s nature."
O- Unless the will is placed in the former place of God, or outside of nature, human nature even, then these are one and the same.

— It should be noted that truth, including moral truth, is not created (voluntarism), not an act of will, but discovered (essentialism), a fundamental aspect of reality. If you think there are things that are really, truly wrong (and we all behave as if we do)–like abuses of the church, for example–then you agree there is moral truth that anyone with a conscience can discover. Voluntarism could be considered a type of nihilism, because it does not acknowledge essential meaning. If a voluntarist praises or criticizes another’s social behavior, they are acknowledging shared created meaning, while ignoring what our shared moral sense implies about moral truth–like when Sartre prescribed moral responsibility [“In choosing myself, I choose man,”], without allowing it as an aspect of our common nature or essence.
O- The problem is that in general strokes you could paint an essentialist perspective to many things, but you blur, willfully or not, certain differences that are crucial to many contained in the natural or essential group. Voluntarism, like relativism, besides being nihilistic, is also a more tolerant position. In fact it is an essentialist perspective that informs terrorist and fundamentalist and it is an excess in it’s own right because it lacks humility.

— To Plato, virtuosity was not seen as something one is born with, rather it had to be achieved and so virtuosity (something to be developed) apparently had not been applied to God (cannot develop, is pure actuality).
O- Plato believed that virtue could not be taught, but that it is remembered. See the Meno.

— This is seen in the dialogue with Euthyphro, wherein Socrates asks whether something is right because God wills it (divine voluntarism), or if God wills it because it is right. He sees problems with both options.
O- Plato did not see a problem with the second option because he believed that the will of the gods comformed to the Forms.

— If it is right because He wills it, right is dependent on God’s arbitrary will – He could will that murder is right. If He wills it because it is right, He is under the moral law, rather than being all-powerful. But, the solution Socrates missed (and Aquinas caught) is that God is what is right (love) (divine essentialism).
O- I haven’t read Aquinas, but I have heard of the argument which is pretty good but misses the entire point. Plato did not ask what was right and expected the answer to be Divinity so and so. In fact, if someone had suggested that Zeus was what is right, just as you now suggest of God, he would attack that by the vulgar conception of Zeus and most gods in ancient Greece. The respondent would then have to renounce his vulgar conception or defend a vulgar morality. Same applies now with the idea of God as what is good or right because now we place God’s actions under the microscope and find much that is vulgar or immoral in our eyes today. Read the Old Testament, especially the Book of Job.

— Friedrich Nietzsche knew that if there is not a single standard in the market place of ideas that didn’t have to compete for its status, but has always been superior, then there is no real standard, in an absolute/eternal sense (essentialism) – there are only human-created standards (voluntarism).
O- What he missed is that the participants in the competition of ideas reflect a perennial narrative, that underlying each there is a substratum that reflects the common humanity, situation, circumstances, natural needs in human existence but which found different expressions. We like some songs over others and yet most songs have a ruling meter, a common bpm’s, similar instruments. Sometimes you hear the beat again but twitched just enough as to make it, seemingly, unique.

— He felt the absence of God and unsuccessfully attempted to fill that abyss when he made his standard the will to power, and attempted to make it absolute/eternal through his thoughts on the eternal return (attempting to create the eternal is like attempting to accelerate to infinite miles per hour).
O- But what you also see in this is the universal, it seems, human need for the absolute and eternal and that only a “God” can “kill” God. True atheism, and I think that Nietzsche strove towards that, is impossible without piety…I am not being obscure or talking paradoxes to make complicated something that I feel, but that the true atheist is wired, or thinks, much in the same way as the pious though towards a different excess. The eternal return and the Will begin to absorb onto themselves the former properties of God except what they found incorrect in God.

— The two opposing viewpoints of how morality and legal justice relate are naturalism (essentialism), and legal positivism (voluntarism).
O- Or, as I would put it, “Traditionalism” or “Conservatism” and “Reformatism” which can be confused as “Revolutionism”.

— Naturalism is the viewpoint that the laws of society should reflect universal moral standards that are given by God and/or are part of human nature.
O- That have been given already, therefore this perspective likes to maintain the status quo. Ii it encounters a challenge, it moves backwards towards other given codes or creates something new so long as it rhymes or harmonizes with was was previously given or taught by Nature/God.

— Enforcing discovered eternal moral truth does not violate cultural diversity, but acknowledges common humanity and common ground.
O- However this commonality you find, when put to the test, it is caught in inpracticalities. If I like to get drunk I will also allow another person to get drunk, while a third person would find that immoral and yet I have treated him as I wish he would have treated me. Even prior to this you have another objection. The Golden Rule does not attest to a common humanity. If it was common to humans then it would not need to be stated at all, nor would it need to exist as an exhortation. As Paul might argue the existence of the Law attest to our fallen nature, to our vice, our immorality, our inhumanity to other humans, our unfairness to others, to the more common situation which is that man usually treats himself better than he treats others or The Other. The fact that it NEEDS to be ENFORCED belies it claims to be universal and reveals that it is arbitrary and it’s reach equal to it’s applied force, therefore it is not discovered but enforced.

P.T.

The word “deduced” suggests “discovered”… Show me the deduction.

Omar, I have read your reply and appreciate your thoughtfulness. I will reply when I have more time to give a reasoned one. Thanks.

You can discover something simply by stumbling over it. Deduction requires active inquisition.

Assumption: Life is of value and sentient life is of ultimate value. (If they indeed no value, then there is no framework for anything but chaos.)

Life is best preserved and enhanced under good order, which in a perfect world is achieved by the universal moral code of honoring the equal rights of all to their life, liberty and property free from violation through force or fraud. But the world and humanity are imperfect, so the maximum possible good order is obtained by the maximum number of people adhering to that moral code, reinforcing the opinion of others to do the same by their example (iow, following the principle of enlightened self-interest).

We don’t all act as if we think some acts are truly wrong. Some of us (perspectivism/Nietsche) act as if we disagree with some acts. That doesn’t make them “truly” wrong.

The rules of conduct in a social sheme were probably “discovered” - by trial and error. But the standard could easily have been “what works”. Like any game, the rules are defined by the objectives. That doesn’t make the objectives “objectively” true. Nor the rules.

Omar - Nietzsche missed no such thing. He did recognise that not everyone gets to call the tune.

— Omar - Nietzsche missed no such thing. He did recognise that not everyone gets to call the tune.
O- Actually Faust, I think that Niezsche wrote just enough and in such a way that he was a one-man-testament. And like either testament in the Bible he can be quoted or held in support to opposing positions. In light of the Eternal Return, is there a competition of ideas or a repetition of ideas? Of course as Jorge Luis Borges demonstrated in his Historia de la Eternidad, this was not an inevitable conclusion.

The (universal) moral code I mentioned above is basically a restatement of the Golden Rule. Several religions came up with that, and it was probably at the core of those religions before they started adding all the extraneous stuff they wanted the followers to treat as morality. Because they did, they are now the just target of the confusion they created, and unfortunately, so are the ones they’ve indoctrinated who subsequently rejected that religion. S’why so many atheists are so hard line. “Screw it. It’s all screwed up. There is no God period.”

Omar:

— Voluntarism is the view that moral truth is a creation of will, whereas essentialism is the view that moral truth is discovered in the essence of nature, human nature, or God’s nature."
O- Unless the will is placed in the former place of God, or outside of nature, human nature even, then these are one and the same.

This had occured to me as well, considering God is simple (‘do’ and ‘be’ have no distinction in Him). When discussing voluntarism and essentialism, will is not equated with essence, or else the problems can not be examined.

— It should be noted that truth, including moral truth, is not created (voluntarism), not an act of will, but discovered (essentialism), a fundamental aspect of reality. If you think there are things that are really, truly wrong (and we all behave as if we do)–like abuses of the church, for example–then you agree there is moral truth that anyone with a conscience can discover. Voluntarism could be considered a type of nihilism, because it does not acknowledge essential meaning. If a voluntarist praises or criticizes another’s social behavior, they are acknowledging shared created meaning, while ignoring what our shared moral sense implies about moral truth–like when Sartre prescribed moral responsibility [“In choosing myself, I choose man,”], without allowing it as an aspect of our common nature or essence.
O- The problem is that in general strokes you could paint an essentialist perspective to many things, but you blur, willfully or not, certain differences that are crucial to many contained in the natural or essential group. Voluntarism, like relativism, besides being nihilistic, is also a more tolerant position. In fact it is an essentialist perspective that informs terrorist and fundamentalist and it is an excess in it’s own right because it lacks humility.

I don’t understand what you are saying in bold. This will be discussed in the Reason for God discussion I hope you will join. I do not think tolerance is the highest value. For example, I will not tolerate child abuse, whether or not it is acceptable in some culture. An essentialist perspective that sees God is love also condemns terrorism. I do not see how that lacks humility. I don’t think it is prideful to recognize when something is really wrong–and know you are right about that. It would however be prideful if you were to be tolerant so as to avoid personal insults of lacking humility.

— To Plato, virtuosity was not seen as something one is born with, rather it had to be achieved and so virtuosity (something to be developed) apparently had not been applied to God (cannot develop, is pure actuality).
O- Plato believed that virtue could not be taught, but that it is remembered. See the Meno.

Disclaimer: I am not an expert on Plato. Anamnesis. Like deduction. Or intuition/instinct. Still, it had to be developed through repeated virtuous behavior, is the point. Conflicts with God’s pure actuality.

— This is seen in the dialogue with Euthyphro, wherein Socrates asks whether something is right because God wills it (divine voluntarism), or if God wills it because it is right. He sees problems with both options.
O- Plato did not see a problem with the second option because he believed that the will of the gods comformed to the Forms.

Disclaimer: I am not an expert on Plato. In the Symposium, the god of love… loves from a lack. I’m not sure how ‘conforming to the Forms’ gets rid of the problem. A God who is under the law (rather than its source), is not all-powerful God.

— If it is right because He wills it, right is dependent on God’s arbitrary will – He could will that murder is right. If He wills it because it is right, He is under the moral law, rather than being all-powerful. But, the solution Socrates missed (and Aquinas caught) is that God is what is right (love) (divine essentialism).
O- I haven’t read Aquinas, but I have heard of the argument which is pretty good but misses the entire point. Plato did not ask what was right and expected the answer to be Divinity so and so. In fact, if someone had suggested that Zeus was what is right, just as you now suggest of God, he would attack that by the vulgar conception of Zeus and most gods in ancient Greece. The respondent would then have to renounce his vulgar conception or defend a vulgar morality. Same applies now with the idea of God as what is good or right because now we place God’s actions under the microscope and find much that is vulgar or immoral in our eyes today. Read the Old Testament, especially the Book of Job.

Disclaimer: I am not an expert on Plato or Aquinas. Are you agreeing that Plato’s concepts about the divine did not allow for the conclusion that God is the source of virtue (deduced, intuited, etc.), then? … that the gods were conceived as the source of law and order… but were not themselves virtuous? Your conclusion that God’s actions in the Old Testament (Job specifically) are ‘vulgar’ (depending on what you mean by ‘vulgar’) is debatable. If you simply mean ‘common’ (as in relating and relatable to the average human)–I completely agree, and I do not consider it lacking in virtue.

— Friedrich Nietzsche knew that if there is not a single standard in the market place of ideas that didn’t have to compete for its status, but has always been superior, then there is no real standard, in an absolute/eternal sense (essentialism) – there are only human-created standards (voluntarism).
O- What he missed is that the participants in the competition of ideas reflect a perennial narrative, that underlying each there is a substratum that reflects the common humanity, situation, circumstances, natural needs in human existence but which found different expressions. We like some songs over others and yet most songs have a ruling meter, a common bpm’s, similar instruments. Sometimes you hear the beat again but twitched just enough as to make it, seemingly, unique.

Disclaimer: I am not an expert on Nietzsche. You are describing a naturalistic theory of socially-evolving morality. Nietzsche fancied that was the whole picture, and that he overcame it. Did he not?

— He felt the absence of God and unsuccessfully attempted to fill that abyss when he made his standard the will to power, and attempted to make it absolute/eternal through his thoughts on the eternal return (attempting to create the eternal is like attempting to accelerate to infinite miles per hour).
O- But what you also see in this is the universal, it seems, human need for the absolute and eternal and that only a “God” can “kill” God. True atheism, and I think that Nietzsche strove towards that, is impossible without piety…I am not being obscure or talking paradoxes to make complicated something that I feel, but that the true atheist is wired, or thinks, much in the same way as the pious though towards a different excess. The eternal return and the Will begin to absorb onto themselves the former properties of God except what they found incorrect in God.

Disclaimer: I am not an expert on Nietzsche. If the need be universal, perhaps that which meets it be real… like with hunger and food. That which we “create” to meet the need for the “discovered” will never meet it… one guess at why he went insane. God was never really dead, of course. It is delusional to think the contingent can ever be necessary. We do not absorb properties of God, but are made in His image.

— The two opposing viewpoints of how morality and legal justice relate are naturalism (essentialism), and legal positivism (voluntarism).
O- Or, as I would put it, “Traditionalism” or “Conservatism” and “Reformatism” which can be confused as “Revolutionism”.

I’ll stick with what I already said.

— Naturalism is the viewpoint that the laws of society should reflect universal moral standards that are given by God and/or are part of human nature.
O- That have been given already, therefore this perspective likes to maintain the status quo. Ii it encounters a challenge, it moves backwards towards other given codes or creates something new so long as it rhymes or harmonizes with was was previously given or taught by Nature/God.

Often times, the status quo is completely out of whack and must be changed in order to be more in line with the essential (sourced in God).

— Enforcing discovered eternal moral truth does not violate cultural diversity, but acknowledges common humanity and common ground.
O- However this commonality you find, when put to the test, it is caught in inpracticalities. If I like to get drunk I will also allow another person to get drunk, while a third person would find that immoral and yet I have treated him as I wish he would have treated me. Even prior to this you have another objection. The Golden Rule does not attest to a common humanity. If it was common to humans then it would not need to be stated at all, nor would it need to exist as an exhortation. As Paul might argue the existence of the Law attest to our fallen nature, to our vice, our immorality, our inhumanity to other humans, our unfairness to others, to the more common situation which is that man usually treats himself better than he treats others or The Other. The fact that it NEEDS to be ENFORCED belies it claims to be universal and reveals that it is arbitrary and it’s reach equal to it’s applied force, therefore it is not discovered but enforced.

The Golden Rule attests to a common humanity because ‘self’ and ‘others’ are seen as being the same as far as what kind of behavior from others is seen as appropriate. If humans always behaved that way towards eachother, there would be no need for a rule. Ethics does not deal with how humans always “do” behave (description) – it deals with how humans always “ought” to behave (prescription). It describes how we behave when we love… when we conform to the image in which we were made (essential virtue)… which is as much a choice as rebelling against it. Without that choice, it wouldn’t be love (love must be a choice).


The Paineful Truth:

– PT

You can stumble over stuff via inquisition… that’s never happened to you? If the value you mention is not essential to reality (not just human reality)–then, you are right…there is no essential value. This ‘honoring’ you speak of is another word for ‘loving’. If that is essential to reality, then essential reality is a personal God who is love. You mention all the ethical theories without their titles in your last sentence… I attempt to address their weaknesses (and the alternative) here: http://theswordandthesacrificephilosophy.blogspot.com.


Faust:

– Faust

“Disagree” is another word for “consider wrong” (granted, we might be wrong in our disagreement). If there are no objectives that are ‘objectively’ true, then “what works” is no objective standard to be found by trial-and-error. However, if “love” is taken as the objective, then “what works” in the short- or long-run is what fulfills that objective, but it gets more complicated. Here: "There is, …some truth in relating good to long-range results. If there is an absolutely good God, then surely He is interested in bringing about the greatest good for the greatest number in the long run. However, the results (in the long run) do not determine right; rather, what is right according to God will determine what the results will be. Further, since only an omniscient God can know what will bring the greatest good to the greatest number in the long run, then only God is in a position to determine the right way to bring about these best results,” (360). I’m tired so I apologize if I messed that all up.

Of course there is serendipity, but most of the time, what we discover is the result of deduction (induction, whatever). Rather than moving stuff by rolling it on logs, we deduce that we can build a cart with wheels cut from the logs.

Honoring is not necessarily loving at all. Someone could be the most obnoxious, hateful, detestable person imaginable who I wouldn’t want to be anywhere near, and I’d tell him that to his face, but I would still insist on his equal rights.

You ask, "There is no other religion but Christianity which understands the answer to ‘How should we behave with others and ourselves?’ "

Maybe no other religion, but the concept of enlightened self-interest is far superior to turning over responsibility for you life, especially for your repentance, to someone who died 2000 years ago–or to anyone, even God. It is impossible to achieve redemption without personal active repentance for your sins and regrets.

And yes, I do believe in God.

Icthus - no. Just plain “no”.

Matters of aesthetics, or personal taste, are based upon individual preferences. Morality does not distinguish between individuals.

I don’t eat veal. But I have no basis upon which to tell you not to.

Created.
Which is obvious to anyone who doesn’t need to be taught what to value …

Psychologist Jonathan Haidt has an interesting empirically grounded theory he calls “Moral Foundations Theory”. The theory was created to understand why morality varies so much across cultures yet still shows so many similarities and recurrent themes. In brief, the theory proposes that five innate and universally available psychological systems are the foundations of “intuitive ethics.” Each culture then constructs virtues, narratives, and institutions on top of these foundations, thereby creating the unique moralities we see around the world, and conflicting within nations too. The foundations are:

  1. Harm/care, related to our long evolution as mammals with attachment systems and an ability to feel (and dislike) the pain of others. This foundation underlies virtues of kindness, gentleness, and nurturance.
  2. Fairness/reciprocity, related to the evolutionary process of reciprocal altruism. This foundation generates ideas of justice, rights, and autonomy.
  3. Ingroup/loyalty, related to our long history as tribal creatures able to form shifting coalitions. This foundation underlies virtues of patriotism and self-sacrifice for the group. It is active anytime people feel that it’s “one for all, and all for one.”
  4. Authority/respect, shaped by our long primate history of hierarchical social interactions. This foundaiton underlies virtues of leadership and followership, including deference to legitimate authority and respect for traditions.
  5. Purity/sanctity, shaped by the psychology of disgust and contamination. This foundation underlies religious notions of striving to live in an elevated, less carnal, more noble way. It underlies the widespread idea that the body is a temple which can be desecrated by immoral activities and contaminants (an idea not unique to religious traditions).

Haidt’s research involves applying the theory to political “cultures” such as those of liberals and conservatives. The current American culture war, we have found, can be seen as arising from the fact that liberals try to create a morality relying almost exclusively on the Harm/Care and Fairness/Reciprocity foundations; conservatives, especially religious conservatives, use all five foundations, including Ingroup/Loyalty, Authority/Respect, and Purity/Sanctity. You can find out your own moral foundations profile at ted.com/index.php/speakers/j … haidt.html

Hello Ichtus, and thank you for waiting:

— This had occured to me as well, considering God is simple (‘do’ and ‘be’ have no distinction in Him). When discussing voluntarism and essentialism, will is not equated with essence, or else the problems can not be examined.
O- That is my point. The examination follows from what might be an unwarranted division. Let me be plain: I am not saying that how we behave ethically does not have a natural, biological root, but that this is NOT the entire story. Many things are learned. I believe that this common humanity is coupled with a similarity in circumstances and provides you with similar moral systems…similar, but not the same. It is not ONE morality that is discovered by all these different societies, but that we come up with similar solutions to similar problems found in similar human societies.

— I don’t understand what you are saying in bold.
O- Ratzinger notes the problem quite well in his book:“Truth and Tolerance”. Attempts to find a common ground can be useful only as a preparation towards instruction, Christian and true. Once an accord is found, as in a similar moral or ethical code as the precept of the Golden Rule, the Christian as Christian cannot stop there because the truth is not in that but in Jesus Christ’s salvation. Similarly, Muslims would also point to a similarity between the peoples of the Book but only to then demand a comformity with their Book above all others. The Golden Rule is not accepted as evidence of a common essense, by me, because there is no necessity for this. The Golden Rule can be explained as a derivative of a similar situation in human societies. If the Golden Rule, of doing onto others as we wish others to do onto us, was a natural element of humanity, an instinct perhaps, you would be ill-fitted to explain human agression, since no one likes pain nor death. The Golden Rule could be instinctual, but some might say that it reflects our basest drive to retaliate. While it tells you to do onto Others it does not specify and there is no universal agreement on that which should be done. Granted we do onto others what we think is fair, but we do not agree about what is fair. If a person rapes a child, what is more fair? To kill him or to imprision him for life? Between these alternatives, both which have been used, which one have we “discovered”? Every action has a reaction, but what is “equal” is up to our judgement, our choice from diverse alternatives; there is not just one possible course of action which we all have discovered.
In the religious arena this is even more poignant because religions are held in a balance until a choice is made out of faith and not some scientific discovery of what is clearly, in all rational eyes, undisputable. Religions as you see in other responses, can be grouped and classified to provide for certain aspects, certain needs of human society, but I repeat that a similar humanity is not discovered, just as circumstances are not discovered- they happen to us but can only elicit a choice from various alternatives, similar, but not the same. Both killing the rapist and imprisioning him for life are similar alternatives because they agree in the requirement for retribution, but these alternatives are worlds apart as far as final results. Same can apply to morality. Diverse, but similar, moralities agree on being fair, fair exchange, do onto others as others would do onto you or do to others what you would like others to do with you, same fair exchange concept applies, but what is fair differs from culture to culture and from time to time. Slavery became illegal in our Christian country only in time. It was NOT discovered that slavery was morally wrong, but argued that it was wrong eliciting a choice from jurors and never gaining a unanimous vote, so to speak- we went to war after all.

— I do not think tolerance is the highest value. For example, I will not tolerate child abuse, whether or not it is acceptable in some culture.
O- The devil is in the middle. But please do not mistake intolerance towards the abuse of children as equal to religious intolerance. I feel much more comfortable imprisioning a child molestor than imprisioning a jew, for example, and that is what we are concerned here. Religions differ about what God desires from us, what code of conduct we should live by, what Book is indeed sacred. What is Justice? It is Socratic in simplicity thus giving you a hint that I find nothing simple in the answer. What happens with the person who does not agree with what you have clearly discovered as “universal”, “essential” or “natural” to man? Look at history and you find persecutions, inquisitions and marginalizations or dehumanization. I don’t mind imprisioning a rapist, but would you burn Giordano Bruno at the stake? Would you give Socrates the hemlock because they dared to doubt what you do not?

— I don’t think it is prideful to recognize when something is really wrong–and know you are right about that.
O- Let me just say again that a child molestor is not what I have in mind but a religious disident. We can be in agreement over defending the helpless, no doubt, but not as to which religion holds the unerrant view, the Truth that MUST be taught to all for the sake of their salvation.

— Disclaimer: I am not an expert on Plato. In the Symposium, the god of love… loves from a lack. I’m not sure how ‘conforming to the Forms’ gets rid of the problem. A God who is under the law (rather than its source), is not all-powerful God.
O- Forms simply are what they are. Think of a Form as the speed of light or the Law of gravity. They are, they have being as they are constant and unchangeable. Plato influenced, I think, Aristotele’s Immovable Mover.

— Your conclusion that God’s actions in the Old Testament (Job specifically) are ‘vulgar’ (depending on what you mean by ‘vulgar’) is debatable.
O- Make your argument then.

— If you simply mean ‘common’ (as in relating and relatable to the average human)–I completely agree, and I do not consider it lacking in virtue.
O- God’s actions are vulgar, common, plebeian, but in disacord with His preconceived Essense and what we consider to be fair. He is a Judge that gave Job what Job did NOT deserve. Something we expect out of human judges but not from the perfect judge. It was so scandalous that the Book of Job had trouble in making the canon.

— Often times, the status quo is completely out of whack and must be changed in order to be more in line with the essential (sourced in God).
O- But, as God has already spoken (and how do we know when He has spoken or has not?) and we have divine spcriptures for all times, for all ages, divine and relevant even today (see Bob on this) then the instructions to fix today are listed already there, in those pages. They were discovered by Moses, by Jesus, Paul and even, perhaps, Mohammed.

— The Golden Rule attests to a common humanity because ‘self’ and ‘others’ are seen as being the same as far as what kind of behavior from others is seen as appropriate.
O- Self and “neighbor”, or self and what is equal to it, but humanity, as a whole, was not made equal to the self. You have racism and other kinds of discrimination, like sexism, because each self allows for a portion of people to be left out of the category of “human-like-me”. We have the power within us to love everyone…so long as there are enough people left out there for us to hate…

— If humans always behaved that way towards eachother, there would be no need for a rule. Ethics does not deal with how humans always “do” behave (description) – it deals with how humans always “ought” to behave (prescription).
O- How many books on ethics are there? One or several? If one then it was discovered. If several, then it was created (that is that human choice is involved)- that is how I see it.

— It describes how we behave when we love…
O- It “describes” or “prescribes”? I think you mean:“It prescribes how we ought to behave when we love”…have we really discovered ONE code by which we ought adhere to when we love?

— when we conform to the image in which we were made (essential virtue)… which is as much a choice as rebelling against it. Without that choice, it wouldn’t be love (love must be a choice).
O- A choice, however carries an indeterminism with it that cannot exist if the code is discovered, there fully made, pristine and free of human tampering, divine and prefect. I don’t choose whether or not 2+2=4. It is that by the definition of the contents, the symbols. It makes no conection with the world, but morality does and that is why there is a certain uncertainty that can only be overcome with a choice. A “discovered” morality is also, or hopes to be, like a mathematical equation and it is as certain as it is inhuman.

When someone claims that a given situation has “value” they are begging the question.

If we can just arbitrarily claim that some thing is “valuable” then ethics are “discovered” via our arbitrary whims.

If values are innate, why must they be taught? If values are arbitrary, why are there cross-cultural themes and similarities?

All moral systems are man-made.
Even IF there are supernatural beings attempting to guide our behavior, revealing themselves to the writers of ancient books, our morality is STILL man-made. Why? Because when a superior being appears to you and gives you a message, it is YOUR judgment call to decide whether this creature is good or evil. YOU would have to judge whether that “spirit” flowing through you is Holy or Demonic. Every set of rules in every religion required a human being to proclaim that they are from a good god and not an evil, deceptive devil. So when I argue about the morality of any religion’s sacred commandments, I am not in a debate with God, I am in a debate with the human being who decided for himself that the rules revealed to him fit his opinion of what the True God would say.

Really good questions Felix.