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 Towards A Concept of Deist Ethics

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Number of posts : 1918
Age : 46
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Registration date : 2007-01-24

PostSubject: Towards A Concept of Deist Ethics   Wed Oct 03, 2007 10:48 pm

I just wanted to copy this topic over here. Travis wrote it a while ago.

I'm putting together a framework and wanted to get some feedback. I initially posted this at the Positive Deism forum, but I wanted to get as many perspectives as possible. So if you have the time and inclination, do you think this hot, warm, or cold?

Towards A Concept of Deist Ethics

This is a concept I have been trying to put together for some time, and I am not sure it is complete, or that it ever can be complete. As always, I borrow heavily from Integral Philosophy, so those familiar will see those elements present.

I imagine the first reaction is the audacity of it all. How is it that Mr. Clementsmith can even presume he can describe my ethics to me through using the common “Deist” descriptor along with it? My intention is not to provide a list of do’s and don’ts. It is rather to outline a framework in which Deists can generally agree, or at least understand how two people can have differing opinions on the morality of a certain subject yet both proceed from a Deistic stance.

The first thing we need to do is to determine some distinctions. In this topic, the two terms that are in most need of this are ethics and morality. These two are often used to mean the same thing as they are closely related. But I am going to use these two items more as x and y coordinates for a fuller perspective on the dynamics.

Ethics are a consciousness construction relative to a particular group, an ethos. For example, there is an ethics of the legal profession that some may not find very ethical at all. Ethics describes a general conception that binds a particular group of people to an accepted method of behavior.

Morals are a consciousness stage that assists in defining the viewpoint and actions of a particular person towards a particular “other”. An “other” can be either another person or a group of people. These stages can be generalized as ego-based morality, ethnic-based morality, and universally-based morality. This could be also understood as, “me” to “us” to “all of us”, or pre-conventional to conventional to post-conventional.

If one wants to simplify this even further, ethics are what you ought to do to be accepted by your perceived peers, morals are where you are actually at. The purpose of ethics is to influence behavior towards a higher moral standard until that standard becomes who the person is. Not all of this is just my speculation. A study done over a twenty year period has determined there is directionality in morality. Subjects were asked a series of questions such as:

Quote :
“If a family member were dying, and there was medicine available to save them which you couldn’t afford, is it morally acceptable to steal it?”

A moral stage one person (pre-conventional) will answer “Yes” because “Nobody tells me what to do!”

A moral stage two person (conventional) will answer “No” because “Stealing is against the law. Laws are there to enforce our morality”.

A moral stage three person (post-conventional) will answer “Yes” because “Letting someone die because they are poor is more immoral than breaking a civil code”.

Now notice, both the stage one and stage three responses are the same (“Yes”) which is the only thing a stage two person will recognize so they often see both such persons as “lawless” and thus “immoral”. But, the reasons why each said “yes” are an increase in the recognized complexity of a situation. It is this ability to qualify perceived complexity that defines a post-conventional response. The stage three is acknowledging the lawlessness while claiming a higher moral justification that is beyond egoic impulse or preservation. It should also be noted that in this study, people would advance from stage one to two and stage two to three. But the reverse never occurred (two to one; three to two). The reason being is that once a person becomes that moral stage it is impossible for them to try and deny it, it is who they are.

Now that we have outlined what is meant by morals, let’s get back to ethics. How do we attempt to find a common ground (ethos) among Deists? We should look at the time period from which Deism arose and why it arose to help find such a ground. The consciousness level that gave rise to Deism is the same that also spurred the revolutionary movement against monarchy and clergy. The framers of the U.S. government defined these ideals as “life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness” because “all men are created equal”, men, of course, now understood to be “humanity”.

To rephrase, in order for each individual to have life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness, they cannot also subsequently mean to deprive someone else the same opportunity for such because we are all created equal. Where it is perceived that one’s opportunity does impede upon another’s, the laws of the land are meant to settle such grievances. So the question for the Deist is, how do we avoid always resorting to the law while pursuing those noble goals? This is the context for Deist Ethics.

The best model always incorporates the best advances of the system before it. For Deism, that would be incorporating “the Golden Rule” or “do unto others as you would have them do unto you”. However, sometimes this generalization doesn’t always work. Just because some people may welcome unsolicited sex does not mean everyone else does. In his book, The Science of Good and Evil, Michael Shermer offers his suggestions for a more rational approach to ethics. Most of these align very nicely with the “life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness” ideals.

The first is a sort of addendum to the Golden Rule known as:

“The Ask First Principle”

The “Ask First” principle means that if you are unsure as to whether someone would care to be the "moral receiver" or your "moral giving", ask the person first. This helps to eliminate the ambiguity in certain situations. If asking makes you hesitant, it is probably a good indication it won’t be welcomed! “Life” is already addressed by our laws and under the Golden Rule and “Ask First Principle”. Most people don’t want to be killed, so don’t kill others. If you do want to be killed, ask someone else first whether they feel the same way! Although written a bit tongue and cheek, this question actually could come up with things such as assisted suicide and spousal wishes if considered “brain dead”.

“The Happiness Principle”

This works on the idea that most of us seek pleasure but want to avoid pain. “The happiness principle states that it is a higher moral principle to always seek happiness with someone else’s happiness in mind, and never seek happiness when it leads to someone else’s unhappiness.” Admittedly, this is not always easy to do, but it does serve as a good principle.

“The Liberty Principle”

This addresses the individual’s need for autonomy or liberty. “The liberty principle states that it is a higher moral principle to always seek liberty with someone else’s liberty in mind, and never seek liberty when it leads to someone else’s loss of liberty.”

What each of these broad outlines has in common is that they all proceed from at least moral stage two. In other words, a person must have the capacity to take the perspective of “other” to apply these principles. To what extent one can extend the perception of “other” (such as family, tribe, citizenship, humanity, and sentient beings) is determined by their moral level. But all Deists are at least moral stage two.

This gives a good start but some more support is needed. In our temporal existence we are continually asked to make value judgments. But how do we determine such? How do we determine situation A is more or less valuable than situation B? Should we even make such value judgments? My feeling is that such is necessary, otherwise anarchy prevails. Value judgments are a necessity in our temporal existence so as to increase the capacity and complexity of consciousness and culture. In Integral Philosophy, this is summed up as “the greatest span for the greatest depth”. Star Trek fans may recognize a parallel in Vulcan logic as “the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few, or the one”.

What this maxim states is that both are important in their own way. So, we may recognize the value of people who have a greater degree of depth in the utility of such individuals while also recognizing the importance of the larger general population. How we judge the balance between those two is how we determine value. For example, if one was the unfortunate victim of a sinking ship and only a limited number of individuals could fit into the lifeboat, how does one choose who lives and who dies? If the choice is between Gandhi and a Hell’s Angel, most would say Gandhi’s value is more than the Hell’s Angel. What about against 5 Hell’s Angels? 10? 50? 500? At what point does span have more value than depth? If a life boat needs a rower and only seats 25, but you have 30 children, how does one choose which children? Are a few extra children sacrificed to make room for a rower? Fortunately, most of us do not have to make these choices, but this extreme example is used to illustrate the maxim. It is not “all depth” or “all span”, it is greatest depth for greatest span.

This leads us to the next piece of the puzzle. How do we determine a depth of consciousness or culture? The answer, as in all evolutionary scales, is in complexity. When a particular consciousness level fails to answer the pressing questions of its particular life conditions, further development cannot occur. It takes an evolution in consciousness to propose new solutions that simply cannot be conceived by the less complex level. This new complexity will eventually also reach a point at which it cannot adequately answer the new life conditions, and consciousness evolution must occur again for further advancement. A study depicting this evolution is known as Spiral Dynamics and describes these increasing complexities as value memes (vMemes). A brief overview of such is thus:

First Tier: The Spiral is divided into two tiers, with the first tier comprised of six memetic levels. These first six memes represent almost the entirety of the worldviews, individual mindsets, and cultural manifestations found on this planet up to this point. From the bare subsistence of BEIGE to the fast-paced, multi-cultural marketplace (ORANGE/GREEN), the overriding concern is survival.

The unprecedented complexity and perils of the world today – and the actual survival of humans on the planet – are now demanding a quantum shift to a higher order of being, which is what second tier is all about.


Instinctive/survivalistic starting about 100,000 years ago

Worldview: a natural milieu where humans rely on instincts to survive
Mindset: do what you must to stay alive. Food, warmth, sex and safety have first priority
Manifestations: First human societies, starving masses, African bushmen, street people


Magical/animistic starting about 50,000 years ago

Worldview: a magical place alive with spirit beings and mystical signs
Mindset: keep the tribe’s nest safe and warm; observe tribal customs, seasonal cycles
Manifestations: Family rituals, shamans, blood oaths, magical New Age beliefs


Impulsive/egocentric starting about 10,000 years ago

Worldview: a jungle where the strongest and most cunning survive
Mindset: avoid shame, get respect, and do what you want
Manifestations: feudal kingdoms, rebellious youth, epic heroes, “terrible twos”


Purposeful/authoritarian starting about 5,000 years ago

Worldview: an ordered existence under the control of the ultimate truth
Mindset: Life has meaning, direction, and purpose; enforce principles of rightful living
Manifestations: Puritan America, codes of honor, the moral majority


Achievist/strategic starting 300 years ago

Worldview: a marketplace full of possibilities and opportunities
Mindset: Play the game to win; cultivate the optimistic, risk taking, self-reliance
Manifestations: The Enlightenment, Silicon Valley, Fortune magazine, corporate states


Communitarian/egalitarian starting 150 years ago

Worldview: a human habitat in which we share life’s experiences, freed from dogma
Mindset: Seek peace in the inner self and explore the caring dimensions of humanity
Manifestations: human rights movements, communes, Woodstock, multiculturalism

Second Tier: The first two memetic levels of the Spiral’s second tier are just beginning to emerge in the world today, with higher memes on the horizon. Second tier is progressively freed from the survivalistic self-concern of first tier, enabling humans to respond to the manifold global challenges that confront them. The emphasis is on being.


Integrative starting 50 years ago

Worldview: The world is a chaotic organism forged by differences and change
Mindset: flexibility, functionality, responsibility, and spontaneity have priority
Manifestations: integrative structures, systems theories, “Third Way” politics


Holistic starting 30 years ago

Worldview: An elegantly balanced system of interlocking forces
Mindset: experience and wholeness of existence through mind and spirit
Manifestations: holonic, intuitive thinking; global networks for global results

With this casual view one can now overlap the moral levels defined earlier with BEIGE to RED developing ego-centric morals, BLUE to BLUE/ORANGE developing ethno-centric morals, and ORANGE/GREEN and above developing world-centric morals.

Finally, we have to determine one last thing. What defines a Deist? We know that Deism arose with the Enlightenment which places it in the ORANGE vMeme. So Deism is a rationalistic conception of God as opposed to the vMeme that preceded it, namely BLUE mythic structure. Native Son, another Deist thinker, was able to give a succinct answer to the difference between a Deist and a Theist, and this was conceiving a God that was either impersonal or personal. Explained more fully:

"Enjoy every sandwich" ~ Warren Zevon
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PostSubject: Re: Towards A Concept of Deist Ethics   Wed Oct 03, 2007 10:49 pm

This is part 2...

Quote :
* Because theists believe that God exhibits a personality, they treat God as a person, and that's why they have faith. But Deists recognize that faith is something we have in persons, and God is not a person. Therefore we rely on reason rather than faith.

* Because theists believe that God has personal relationships with people, they accept "revelation", hearsay tales of his relationships with people in the past. Deists on the other hand rely on experience over hearsay.

* Because theists believe that God is a person in their stories, they accept their myths as literal accounts of his personal involvement. Deists on the other hand recognize myths as metaphor, wherein the "person" is merely symbolic.

* Because theists interpret their mythology literally, their religions are heavily dependent on the historical veracity of those accounts. Consequently, they maintain a biased interest in the findings of historians and scientists. On the contrary, deism is not dependent upon the veracity of such tales and can accept the findings of science and history as independent of their beliefs.

Because Deism arose during a transition phase of BLUE to ORANGE, some Deists will have a more conventional sense of morality while others will have a more post-conventional sense. What both Deists will agree on, however, is that each type of Deist has the right (liberty) to be at the level they are at, and have the opinions born of that backdrop (“I may disagree with what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it!”) Debate is encouraged because liberty of opinion is valued.

It is possible that post-conventionally moral Deists will assume conventionally moral Deists are “Christians in disguise” because their conventional sense of morality mirrors traditional theistic ones. But this would be incorrect because the difference in Deism and Theism is in the conception of God (personal or impersonal) not the moral stage from which they proceed.

Likewise, conventionally moral based Deists may mistake post-conventionally moral Deists as really pre-conventionally moral because their positions on moral issues appear more egotistical (or more precisely, ego-centric masquerading as world-centric). The reason for the confusion is that often the ego-centric and world-centric answers may be similar, although for very different reasons. This is the conflict I see in most Deist debates/discussions about moral issues.

There is one other malady of post-conventional morals that post-conventionalist sometimes falls victim to, known as extreme post-modernism. What occurs is that in the effort to prove a particular moral argument, the post-conventionalist will elevate a particular strand of a complexity and in the same action delete the complexity that defines post-conventional morals. An example of this occurred in a recent debate I participated in on whether the use of the atomic bombs on Japan was “moral”. The extreme post-conventional answer is “because my morality extends to all human beings, and since my post-conventional reasoning determines that killing is never moral, the only possible conclusion is that the bombings were not justified”. What just occurred is that the post-conventionalist actually took an absolutist stance to advance a particular strand within a complexity thereby rendering the subsequent complexity almost meaningless. Without the complexity it loses a sense of its post-conventionalism to attempt to account for complexity.

I feel that the true post-conventional response is “killing is in opposition to the highest moral ideals, and all conceived scenarios to avoid such must be attempted, but some temporal scenarios may make such unavoidable; to preserve the structures that make it possible for higher moral imperatives, sometimes killing is necessary but regrettable”. This allows other complexity factors to be incorporated because it doesn’t declare “killing is never acceptable no matter what the circumstances”. Admittedly, the circumstances must be very dire, but it doesn’t preclude it entirely. Sometimes killing is necessary so that the greatest depth can be afforded to the greatest span. In other words, is it more moral to uphold one higher moral complexity (no killing) if doing so may sacrifice the known higher moral-structures that supports them (including the one that declares: ‘no killing’)?

In conclusion, my assertion is that Deist ethics furthers life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness that allows for the greatest depth to be available to the greatest span to the extent it does not interfere with anyone else’s opportunity to do the same. We temper this outline by assigning values to people, places and things that we feel increases said opportunities. Deist ethics can only be grasped by individuals who have progressed past ego-centric impulses and have some ability to perceive the role of “other”. For it is this increasing ability of expanded perception that Reason enlightens.


"Enjoy every sandwich" ~ Warren Zevon
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