We Need a Transcendent Ethic: I Think These Are Good Places to Start
We need a transcendent ethic. This is clear when you look at all the disagreement in the world based on moral issues. Arguably almost all disagreement politically, regarding questions of justice, and even personally come from issues of morality and ethics. One solution to this issue is establishing a transcendent ethic. This means guidelines that will always hold true in any issue, fundamental values that we can always refer to when issues get messy and confusing. This ethic would be perpetuated throughout society as religious teachings have in the past. We are in dire need of this right now, especially, more than ever. Our society has matured to a point where we know more than we did when these religions were established however we haven’t had the time to figure out exactly how to answer moral questions in the absence of these ancient traditional views.
These transcendent ethics would have to stand the test of time, they would have to have always applied, currently apply, and would always apply. It’s also clear that any transcendent ethic would need to be based in broad, abstract values. If they weren’t it would be difficult if not impossible to apply it to any and all issues that arose. In addition to them being abstract they would still have to be decently clear how to bring them down to real world issues. Now that we have some basic guidelines for how to establish these ethics it’s time to look at what needs to be primarily valued to establish them.
I argue that the suffering and health and well-being of sentient and self-aware creatures needs to be the primary value. Following that it would be sentient but not self-aware creatures. After all, what else matters? While this may seem like a very straight forward answer it becomes a little less clear when the questions become “What causes suffering?” or “What contributes to the well-being of sentient creatures?” When we have the answers to these questions we will be able to answer specific questions about morality and ethics. At this point however I think we can already start to create the statements that determine what transcendent ethics are in different realms of the world. Here I want to talk about business, government, local community, education, and individual ethics.
There are two directions to ethics and morals. The positive direction is doing something good that helps relieve suffering or create well-being and health for sentient creatures. The other is the negative direction (still part of being good despite what it sounds like) which is not doing things to cause suffering or to lessen the well-being and health of sentient creatures. Business falls almost solely in the negative direction. This is because business aims to make personal profits. This is its sole mission meaning it takes the possibility away of the mission being to help others. This still leaves the negative aspect though. This means that the place morals and ethics have in business is making sure that the activities of the business don’t cause suffering or decrease current well-being and health in sentient creatures.
This discussion is a huge place of contention right now in modern society. Unfortunately self-interest and personal agendas have largely taken over issues of government and politics right now. This in and of itself is a major moral issue but let’s take a look at the ideals of what government would do regarding the established broad ethic. The role of government is to create infrastructure, to create and enforce regulations and laws, to establish an education system, and to incentivize the society to take place in upholding these values. This is how I think the transcendent ethic would play out in each of these roles. Infrastructure should be created that supports everyone equally and that helps provide basic necessities to the population such as transportation, sanitation, sewage, water, and basic needed foods. Regulations and laws should reflect what most benefits the individual by not restricting any freedoms that don’t cause harm to others, enforcing laws and regulations that don’t cause suffering, relieving existing suffering, helping maintain current well-being and health, and increasing well-being and health as much as possible.
Arguably the most important sphere on this list is local community. This is where we spend most of our time and these are the people we interact with the most. Local communities should stick together and support each other through hard times. Additionally they should encourage local spending because supporting local businesses helps the whole community thrive and doesn’t add to the problem of disproportionate corporate power and wealth. Not only does buying local help these problems but it also helps maintain quality and good customer care because the bigger a company gets the harder it is to keep the level of expectations high on these fronts which are of the utmost importance in a business.
While maybe part of government education can also be a private institution and it is such a large issue it deserves separate focus. We all know the current education system has problems and really is fundamentally broken and serves very specific agendas and views of how society should run. Instead it should incorporate the strengths of every individual by individualizing the system and helping each student realize their own personal potential. In addition basic morality and ethics such as the transcendent views discussed in this article. Critical thinking, open-mindedness, the creative process, and being taught to think for ourselves should also be a primary focus in the beginning years. These are things that are starkly ignored in the current system and this gives rise to arguably all the problems we see in fully-developed adults that could be easily avoided if taught young.
The individual is what makes up every system and institution listed already. The individual is what needs to be valued when facing questions of morality and ethics. Now the question is “What can the individual do themselves not acting in an institution or group?” The fundamental answer is the same lying with doing our best to not cause suffering, doing our best to relieve it, as well as creating as much health and well-being as possible in the world and maintaining that which already exists. What this looks like played out is making the best decisions for ourselves to get to a better place in life so that we can help others do the same. We need to look at the current problems facing the world and see if there’s anything we’re doing that is helping contribute to them then stop doing those things or reduce the activity of those things as much as possible. We need to research and pay attention to the effects of everything we do and buy. Most importantly we need to hold loving-kindness and compassion as our primary intentions when dealing with others.
I think with these ethics and morals established as being fundamental and central to any society and individuals’ lives the world would see a sharp decline in the negative things we always hear about and root out the problems that lead to these things. Storytellers and artists will be the ones that lead the masses to modifying their ways because those types of messages are the most powerful and can affect us at unconscious levels without the need for much intentional processing that would be needed when just reading the established ways. We’ve seen this method powerfully rippled through societies in the past in forms of religions and mythologies and it will be the same if we want to move in a new, better direction.