A Case for Ethics


Part I – Introduction

In this essay I will attempt to put the difference between ethics and morals into focus, with the objective of returning ethics to its rightful place where it belongs. Ethics and morals for the last two millennia have been so thoroughly mixed up, that it is very hard to accept that this was not always so. For those reading this essay it will hopefully dawn that this swallowing up of ethics into morals was no accident. A tree does not suddenly disappear, leaving only a shrub growing on its amputation. It took an ax first to hew it down. The same counts for ethics. This essay assails the notion that ethics and morals are generally one and the same, and it explains how and why this notion came about and for that we must start at the very beginning.

Trying to understand Ethics and find out what has happened to it, we first have to study its relationship with morals. Thus this article is about morals and ethics, a concept subject to much confusion. What are ethics, what are morals? we ask. In today’s language, the terms are interchangeable and seemingly for all intent and purposes considered identical. But are they? The case for morals is heavily slanted over ethics. Today morals are emphasized and ethics expressed in terms of morals. A brief look at the dictionaries will show that, e.g.:

"Ethics, or moral philosophy, the branch of philosophy concerned with conduct and character, is the systematic study of the principles and methods for distinguishing right from wrong and good from bad.” [1]

That brings us straight back to morals. Another one reads:

"Ethics in philosophy, the study and evaluation of human conduct in the light of moral principles, which may be viewed as the individual’s standard of conduct or as a body of social obligations and duties.” [2]

That does not clarify much either, as it stresses morals through moral principles and social obligations and conduct. It only proves our point as these definitions are stacked against ethics, because, as we shall see shortly, they negate ethics by expressing them in terms of morals. And the main point remains, if there is no difference between morals and ethics, then why through the ages have there been two entirely different and unique terms existent to define the same idea? One would think that at least one term would have become obsolete and disappear into oblivion. It does not make sense and as if the nonsensical was not enough still more definitions in ethics are continuously being added, as if in an attempt to save the ‘ethics’ principle. But from what?

In the so-called ‘science of ethics’ these new terms that have appeared we find such gems as ‘descriptive ethics’, ‘normative ethics’, ‘meta-ethics’ and ‘philosophical ethics’; philosophical ethics is often called normative ethics and distinguished from descriptive ethics. Then there is ‘situation ethics’ which is a system of ethics that evaluates acts in light of their situational context rather than by the application of moral absolutes. And finally there is moral philosophy, but that is just another word for ethics, according to the definition. Have we had enough? [3]

All this indicates that the terms morals and ethics pose a profound problem for modern society. It is also a curious fact that man stubbornly has been holding on to the term ethics, almost intuitively I feel, and that in spite of the fact that basically all ethics is explained in terms of morals, and moral values etc.

So what do we have? Two basic terms: morals and ethics, of which the latter is expressed and explained in terms of morals, and while curiously being put into a secondary position, paradoxically the term ethics is being expanded through subdivision into narrower and still newer perspectives. It is obvious that of the two, the term ethics is yet the greater enigma. The question we ask is: Why and when did the two, morals and ethics, become so entangled? Is there a difference, and if so what is that?

There is an apparent reluctance among academics to openly discuss the possibility that there may be more between morals and ethics than science will acknowledge. At least that has been my experience. I have an uneasy premonition that for many scholars there is the feeling that there is indeed a very meaningful difference, that not everything in ethics can be reduced to morals. That as a consequence, today’s academic finds himself in a double bind. On the one hand he must defend the ‘science of ethics’ and be ‘scientific’; on the other he has to deal with a gut feeling that ethics is more of a religious notion, such as an inner directed integrity, not definable in words and belonging more to individual man’s inherent development and character, than to moral standards, which are set by society based on (its) culture.

This is aggravated by the fact that there has always been an uneasy truce between science and religion. For science, which is a methodology that stands on organization and proof, to acknowledge one of its disciplines (ethics) as a nebulous religious component, is near blasphemy.

Religion fills in the empty spaces for man that is left there by materialistic science, such as the vacuum of the universe and the spiritual. Science takes control, analyzes and seeks proof, and does not have room for religion. Religion’s venture is belief, but science is believed in as well. The god of science, being a materialistic and jealous god, walks the earth and does not look kindly at competition, not even from a god who dwells in heaven. However, we must remain with both feet on the ground and attempt to find a way out of this dilemma, existing between morals and ethics.

An analysis of the words ‘morals’ and ‘ethics’ indicate quite decisively that they cannot be the same, not even remotely. Firstly, the difference is not simply a question of a different language, such as morals originating from Latin and ethics from Greek. There is more. The Oxford dictionary says that the Latin word ‘môs’ serves as the basis for morals, also relating to ‘mores’ which are views of a group accepted without question by all its members, and that the Greek word ‘ethos’ from which Ethics derives, refers to personal disposition, character.

This makes clear that morals refer to all members of a group, while ethics applies to an individual, i.e. singularly. That seems to go along with the gut feeling of our academic above and should settle the matter and in fact it does. Customs or mores (from which the term ‘morals’ derives) of a social group, carry a peculiar sanction and when broken means condemnation for the offender. Ethics resides on a higher plain than morals and is engendered by an internal pressing need fueled by intuition; somewhat like a ‘spiritual instinct’ in contrast with basic instincts.

Morals then regulate behaviour as they deal with relationships between members of a society, and well as the dogmatic relationship between these and its deity. These regulations can be in many a form, from silent regimen to laws in law books, and can also be found in catechisms of conventional religion, either oral or written, etc.

Based as they are on custom and law, morals resist change and emphasize conformity. One speaks about moral instruction, moral complexities, moral issues and the like. Also moral insight as pertaining to a book or story. Morals of course where they concern law can never be amoral or immoral as law is the very basis for morality, however, laws can be ‘unethical’ or even unjustified, i.e. one can use morals to nearly justify anything. Despotic governments thrive on this aspect. Aiming to maintain sameness and the status quo, laws can never be flexible and paradoxically also not precise enough to allow for exceptions; loopholes yes; exceptions no!

Ethics are much less tactile than morals. In comparison with ethics the word morals is much more loosely used. One can learn what morals are, even legislate them, but one can only KNOW ethics. Ethics are not set down in any law book, because if they were they would end being ethics and join the code of morals.

Ethics reflect the fundamental values peculiar to a specific person and character, influenced by culture but not being an integral part, and are based on a religious notion inherent in the person and not necessarily induced by society. Ethics suggests spiritual maturity and virtue, integrity, and, therefore, hint at a degree of quality, of which non-conformity may be its very result.

It is ethics’ independence and man’s individuality that often collides with morals, which preaches adherence. Society will deal unkindly with anyone who tries to be different! It was Avens who said that we keep asserting our identity against the world without realizing that this self- assertion is “… a futile attempt to remain the same day in day out.” [4] And that conformity is exactly what society enforces with morals and law, either because of envy and fear on part of the individuals in that society; or because of the leaders’ fear of losing power.

This shift in meaning from ethics to morals, i.e. the substituting or expressing of one through the other, was facilitated greatly by the term ‘custom’ that erroneously helped to incorporate ethics into morals. To clarify this, to most people a person’s mannerisms coincides with the character of a person, which governs his habits and that, as we saw above is but a short step to customs, which govern behaviour. But the two customs are not the same, and have different subjects as well.

Morals and law pertain to a society, and an example of a society’s custom is the commandment: “Thou shall not work on the Sabbath!” that became enshrined in law, applying to all people in that society, and was repealed only within recent times. On the other hand, a custom associated with a person’s character is more of a character trait than anything else, not a norm, such as we can speak of a ‘loyal’ person. Such a trait pertains exclusively to an individual, not group.

To speak of a loyal society does not make much sense for exactly the reason that society is not a person.

Because of the emphasis on morals over ethics it is behaviour that has become the focus, behaviour displayed by the members of a society; rather than ‘what would be my responsibility?’ That conformity is also shown in that the terms ‘morals’ and ‘manners’ are closely related. i.e. in the sense of displaying ‘good manners!’ The emphasis is on looks rather than on integrity; hypocrisy over honesty. The usage of the term morals has become top-heavy to the neglect of ethics, as a result of which inner discipline and conscience of a person shifted from ‘knowing better’ through an inner integrity to a greater reliance on laws. This of course was but a short step to ‘what can I get away with’ rather than ‘what would be proper’. The considering of other people in one’s attitude became much less of an issue as well, contrary to the way ethics would have it. It is difficult when told to ‘behave’, while seeing others making a very prosperous living in such unethical business as the weapons trade or so called ‘killings’ in the stock-market.

Because of the neglect of a man’s ethics in favour of consistency of behaviour the demand for individualism and identity has also grown all out of all proportion. It is exactly because of this stressing of conformity and concentration on groups rather than the individual that morals impede individualism and hence man’s ethics. In more extreme circumstances morals may compel man to act against the grain of his own character. Also this compulsion to sameness can stifle man’s creativity and progress when such a change threatens society’s custom. Any such a change will often initially be resisted by the majority, and then not too subtly either. It is nationalism that feeds on this attribute.

It is also this forced sameness that ‘preempts otherness’ and accounts for racial discrimination, discrimination that it publicly condemns. Discrimination, therefore, points an accusing finger at today’s morals and laws, not ethics. Frye comes close in his assessment of society and its stresses: “Wherever we turn, we are made aware of the fact that society is a repressive anxiety-structure, and that creative power comes from a part of the mind that resists repression but is not in itself moral or rational.”[5] Ideas do not originate in a court of law, but in the soul and imagination of the individual, and so does ethics in the heart.


To repeat and sum up: Ethics implies high ideals and is governed by the religiosity (in contrast to religious creed) of an individual on an esoteric (subjective) level. Man selected the use of morals over ethics, law over virtue because after all it is easier to break a law than counteract one’s conscience. (Freud’s superego attests to this) And it is this shift from ethics to morals to keep ethics an inseparable part of morals, that is encouraged by society’s government and power base. It is the objective of this essay to study this phenomenon and explain it. This is not to say of course that man’s conscience cannot be polluted through egotism, etc. But one can always wonder where that pollution came from, and environmental conditioning, i.e. the obsession to conform, is at the top of the list of suspects.

Confusion is one thing, having trouble understanding the difference between moral standards and ethical motives is much more serious. If ethics is made part of the law as well, then what about a person’s feelings towards what is right or wrong? Not having a clear picture of oneself and/or one’s place in society corrupts. It manifests itself in the reduction of self-esteem, and an increased selfishness that has taken on mega-proportions in today’s societies. The give-me society and the projection of looking at government as the parent figure for hand-outs is yet another symptom.

Part II – History of Ethics and Morals

For Western Society the concept of Morals and Law originated in the first five books of the Bible’s Old Testament, called the Torah by the Jews. It was with Christianity that the OT with its morals firmly entrenched rode piggy back into Western civilization. It is there that we start our exploration for the true meaning of morals and ethics. We will find that the notion of morals is older than that of ethics, and it is through the OT that morals connect man with god and set standards of behaviour, often also rituals, that are pleasing to his god.

The Israelites, (earliest Jews) had such a close and symbiotic relationship with their created god Yahweh. They even went for strolls together as it were. Where the Christians, in particular after the Reformation, had a private relationship with their god that was surely not the case with the Jews. For them it was a group affair, i.e. a relationship between Yahweh and his people. Yahweh mostly dealt with the Jewish leaders, the Patriarchs, (Isaac, Jacob etc.) not the common folk.

This special bond of the Jews with Yahweh and his morals was made possible, because their life on earth and their religion were totally integrated and to an extent still is. It is in that light that we must consider their so called covenants that became the specimen for morals for Christianity and the Western world.

The Jews were Yahweh’s chosen people and Yahweh walked the earth with them, sometimes even visibly in a pillar of fire, or talking through burning bushes. Yahweh liked fire and if we can believe Freud, he was a vulcano god.[6] Fire-and-brimstone threats were his specialty, and it is no wonder that the early Jews thought twice before breaking a commandment of his.

Yahweh was and is a tribal god, which is indicated in the greatly archaic nature of his commandments and also the ritual sacrifices he demanded. Yahweh’s mind was black and white, he either praised or sanctioned his chosen people, depending whether he concurred or condemned their behaviour and actions. There was no in-between, or gray area where compassion resides. Yahweh led (‘governed’) by announcing at every venue his wishes through his commandments, enforcing them with threats, if coercion was necessary.

Yahweh’s ‘thy will-be-done’s’ main objective therewith was ensured, which was the maintenance of the status quo and with him being well in charge.

Erasmus was not far off bringing up this corrupt aspect of Yahweh when he commented: “(Yahweh) punished sins that His creatures as made by Him could not help committing, was an immoral monster unworthy of worship and praise;…”[7] It is interesting that he uses the expression ‘immoral’. One may ask whether morality should not also apply to the god himself, a god who by all accounts was not only the creator of man and by man, but also of man’s morals, and who resided on planet Earth among his chosen people. These ‘morals’ left something to be desired, and Yahweh’s ‘morals’ as shown above, and they give tremendous lip service to the sanctity of the word and legalisms, but not compassion. Yahweh’s hubris is too large for that and too selfish.

Yahweh’s commandments can be found in the Torah and Talmud; the Written as well as the Oral law that together constitute the very mold of morals, being the basic textbooks regulating Jewish life and thought, in particular in respect to civil and criminal matters, Sabbath and holy days, marriage and divorce, etc. Orthodox Jews believe the Torah was revealed directly by God Yahweh to Moses on Mt. Sinai. It was on this mountain that Moses received the tablets with the Ten Commandments.

For the Jews, the Torah lays down the fundamental laws of moral and physical conduct. The decalogue is the best known, but there are another six hundred plus commandments besides the famous Ten in the Torah. Then there is still the Oral Law contained in the Talmud. (called MISHNA in Hebrew) These commandments are divided in 365 negative covenants (seemingly one for each day of the year) and 248 positive commands. The word positive here does not mean necessarily favourable, they just mean what one should do, while the negative ones state what one should not do. An example of such a positive instruction is: “Honour thy father and thy mother….”[8] When one examines all those laws and covenants in the Torah one at first sight tends to be impressed, because of all the detail these go into. Nothing seemingly is left to chance.

For Jews a life that consists primarily of strict adherence to laws and commandments, causes life to be more of a ceremony than an actuality. Free will and therefore ethics, i.e. individualism, under these conditions become severely hampered.[9] And it were these commandments and moral principles that man inherited from Yahweh’s chosen people and that became the foundation for Western society’s morals, permeating its laws and leaving a indelible imprint on the Western way of life.

It were the Pharisees who established Jewish tradition through the oral interpretation of the Mosaic law, putting their stamp on it and writing them down. Today that law book is oral in name only, because the final set of the Mishna was written down during the 1st and 2d century, with some later editions.

The Pharisees were sticklers for precision and elaborated each and every covenant with hairsplitting detail, to ensure that tradition was upheld. Another word for tradition is ‘more’, and that are morals. There is no better evidence than this affirmation that morals serve the past, not the future. But there is more. Because of its detail, these covenants did not leave much room for imagination for Yahweh’s chosen people. What counted was the past and the correct relationship with watchful Yahweh, that was to be always the same and correct in Yahweh’s eye.

It is this very sameness that as perfection is stressed throughout Judaism and permeates today’s Western society as a cancer. But what is perfection? Nothing can be added to something that is already perfect as that would undo that perfection, because anything that is already perfect, cannot be made more perfect. Therefore, perfection implies death, because life itself is change. Even in the Garden of Eden Yahweh resisted change, and if Eve would not have disobeyed him, and not had eaten from the tree with the forbidden fruit, we would not exist in our present civilized form, having remained animal like, because it is that what this act symbolizes. That Eve’s act wasn’t entirely successful can be seen in man’s struggle with his dark side.

Yahweh not only presents a perfect image to his chosen people, but to Christians as well, and he commands them in return to be perfect, in his image.[10] To quote Jesus again: “You, therefore, must be perfect, as your heavenly Father.”[11] Mankind ever since has lived under the curse of this moral of having to be perfect in the eyes of Yahweh.

For a Christian it is as much impossible to be without sin as to be perfect. Both are doublebinds of the first order, and paralyze man’s innovative ability through Yahweh’s commandments (morals). This sword of perfection hanging over man’s head cautions him ‘not to stick his neck out’; it accounts for the ’emotional plague’ identified by Wilhelm Reich, to name but a few curses.[12] Because man, falling short, must always blame himself, not Yahweh. Man has become a spiritual zombie with Yahweh encapsulating his soul. As a result Western society has become a guilt ridden mass of people. Rank, in Beyond Psychology said it as no one else could: “The static concept of perfection – the super goodness of the Protestant puritans – is the very cause of neurotic man-made imperfection in its most morbid form.”[13] Being a Jew himself, he could have added from whom Western society inherited this perfection, namely Yahweh and the OT.

In the New Testament Jesus confirms the law in the OT, stating “… that he did not come to destroy the law, but to fulfill it,”[14] meaning that all of the OT laws remained valid and were to be obeyed. Jesus, a Jew and most likely himself a rabbi, confirmed that he (and therewith Christianity) was committed to all laws in the OT, with no exception. And to make sure that he was not misunderstood, he added: “… and it is easier for heaven and earth to pass, than one tittle of the law to fail!”[15]

Then Jesus, displaying the magic of the word turned the OT commandment of honouring one’s parents on its ear by uttering the statement: "If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple.”[16] This is but an example of the many inconsistencies and contradictions of which the Bible is capable.


To iterate, the OT is quite clear on Yahweh’s relations with man through his morals: “You have declared this day concerning the Lord that he is your God, and that you will walk in his ways, and keep his statutes and his commandments and his ordinances, and will obey his voice,” nowhere to my knowledge did Yahweh make a commandment, requiring man to tell him the truth, whether he might like it or not. Job found out what happens when one did. One could define this as the birth if hypocrisy as it was more important to please Yahweh than be truthful.

John’s testimony in the NT echoes this sentiment that democracy and free speech are not part of Yahweh’s vocabulary, when he says: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.”[17] This seemed to imply that man need to become like god first to be able to have enough cloud to speak. That is in contrast with what ethics is all about, namely that both god and man can learn from each other’s insight. The ancient Greek, as I will show hereafter, proved that between man and god there can be such equality. However, Yahweh’s 600 plus commandments contained in the OT preempts that for anyone who appoints him as their deity.

This nepotism to the word stands out clearly in a court of law where legal niceties are often more important than ethical motives. Hairsplitting arguments over a point of law that may go on for hours on end. The court will bent over backwards to seem to be ‘correct’; or when a so called ‘fair trial’ is nothing but legalities and law, instead of fairness and impartiality, i.e. impartial from the law. In both situations the victim seemingly is forgotten. And it were precisely those who rely solely on morals for justice that have created the legal system (which binds society), together with their dogmatic god in Judaism and Christianity, making it what it is today.

A final comment: The commandments contained in the OT are mostly morals and standards for man to live by and please Yahweh. Morality for the religious Jew and Christian is the will of Yahweh. Morals in the OT therefore, have very little to do with a person’s integrity and happiness for that matter, but everything with keeping Yahweh’s covenants. Yahweh was and is to the Jews the source and the sanction of the moral law.[18] Jesus made sure to confirm this for the Christians as well. Therefore, the law has too often very little to do with what an ethical person would consider justice. This means that the morals of the OT are more concerned with materialism, such as promised lands and lucrative rewards, than with integrity. Today that religious materialism is practiced on the stock market, and one can observe it as Christianity for sale on television.

Part III – Ethics in Ancient Greece

Ethics had its birth in Greece during its Golden Age, also known as ‘The Hellenic Tradition’! For some people–”–”mostly Christians–”–”to say that ancient Greece copied their ethics from the OT is nonsense and wishful thinking on their part. That absurdity has a lot to do with the dogmatic conviction that there is only one god and that must be Yahweh, to the exclusion of everything else, an unreasonableness not surprising for people with a god like Yahweh. The Hellenic influence on later Hebrew works is well known. As a matter of fact, the two were so far apart in a humanitarian and democratic sense that they were impossible to reconcile. They were so opposite that one could be suspicious that somewhere later in history–”possibly earlier than later, but ongoing–”a conspiracy was set afoot, to attempt to bridge the gigantic gap, and put ethics into the lap of OT morals. If that is so then this smacks more of politics than religion.

Hellenism is the culture, ideals and pattern of life of classical Greece, especially of Athens during the reign of Pericles; a life style that is often contrasted with austere, monotheistic Hebraism. Hellenic civilization was the earliest of ancient Greece’s two civilizations, Hellenic and Hellenistic, and did not last very long. (457-404 BC) However, it’s influence today is still being felt, in particular in our understanding of democracy. There is not a nation today, that has reached a secular statehood to that extent and quality, being totally separate from religion, and where the individual in importance was superior to the gods. In comparison, modern governments in one way or another are tied to a religion, through education, upbringing of its members, and last but definitely not least, through the legal system that has its principles in the OT, culminating in the oath taken in a court of law.

It was the Greek success in the Persian Wars that in 457 BC opened the door to Greek thought and democracy. It initiated an unprecedented Golden Age in Athens, when the statesman Pericles made Athens the pre-eminent city in the world in architecture and the arts. However, Athens also prepared for the inevitable conflict with Sparta that Pericles knew would come and that would spell the end of Athens’s prominence.

Sparta, being itself a very autocratic and military state, became suspicious of Athens’ freedom and declared war on Athens. Athens was destroyed around 400 BC. With the destruction of Athens the Hellenic civilization in Athens came to an end, but still continued in the outlying areas and caused the cultural centre to move to Alexandria. But before all that happened Athens gave birth to the greatest genius of philosophy of all time, a man by the name of Plato, in c. 428B.C. Plato was the acknowledged master since the death of his nestor, Socrates. Plato taught on all subjects, including the relationship of man with his soul, being man’s spiritual counterpart. He would for ages to come be the paradigm of philosophical thought.

The Hellenic tradition of reason and liberality in particular at Athens easily outdoes today’s Western sense of democracy. Its quintessence also shows how dramatically this tradition differed from the OT story of Yahweh and his people, here are the main attributes of Hellenic culture:

“The (Hellenic) civilization of Greece was founded upon ideals of freedom, optimism, secularism, rationalism, the glorification of both body and mind, and a high regard for the dignity and worth of the individual man. In so far as the individual was subjected at all, his subjection was to the will of the majority. Religion was worldly and practical and served the interests of human beings. Worship of the gods was a means for the ennoblement of man. They kept their priests in the background and refused under any circumstances to allow them to define dogma or to govern the realm of the intellect. In addition they excluded them from control over the sphere of morality.” [19]

Freedom of the individual for the investigation of any subject, the spirit of free inquiry, in short it was the first time in history, that the mind was supreme over faith, logic and science over superstition. It was man and the development of man’s excellence that was its main motive, everything else was secondary. If the advance of man is measured in the gaining of awareness and raising of the level of compassion and understanding, then I cannot think of any other civilization having this as its main objective. In any other culture, today or ancient, man had to share the importance of thought with a godly power, or possibly worse still, submit totally to the power motive in man itself. The Greeks saw religion for what it was and with that feared that the clergy would interfere with man’s spiritual development. And that was no idle fear to wit Judaism and Christianity today. [20]

The Greek Philosophers busied themselves speculatively with the questions of the end of life and ideals pertaining to how to live life. Their gods were supposed to teach them but not hamper them. Those Greeks could have paraphrased Nietzsche who said: “There are gods, but not one god!”.[21] It were their virtues that introduced the notion of ethics. These virtues were, Justice, Prudence, Fortitude, or Temperance, Manliness, Beauty, Supreme good, Excellence, Goodness, Righteousness, Chastity, Beneficial quality. A Life of Happiness and Idealism was connected with ethics and was practical and attainable. To clarify: ‘Right’ here meaning right works for the best result; virtue being excellence, ability and capacity.

There is evidence that the Greek Platonic philosophers believed in some form of an afterlife and incarnation, until man’s final state had been completed, something like Hinduism, having gone through all its earthly stages. For Plato it was the soul of man, not man that was reborn into another world and possibly to return in man. Plato’s world was for man to gain consciousness of life to a highest degree possible. The realization of man’s Self was his major ethic.

For one to understand the difference between morals and ethics, it is necessary to grasp the difference between Greek thought and how Yahweh wanted the world to be. One criticism that has been leveled on the Greek mind was that it lacked discipline, and just let run its imagination off into all directions. But is not that exactly what freedom is, and is not that the price one pays for freedom, as long as the end result justifies the means? And some result it was. Another question raised sometimes is whether these ancient Greeks were perfectionists. They could not be as perfectionism can only exist under the law, not with freedom of imagination. It is, therefore, not unreasonable to expect from a follower of Yahweh that he confuses excellence with perfection.

No special god in ancient Greece took on the importance such as Yahweh had done and still does. No god was that important enough to the Greeks to bother them with jealousy, laws etc. Perspective and clarity of mind were important, that is seeing and understanding things clearly. Where the Hebrews’ concern was with conduct and obedience toward Yahweh, for the ancient Greeks it was perspective that counted. Seeing things clearly of course means, seeing the subject in its ‘natural’ environment, and understanding its relationship between man, the universe and god(s), not just between oneself and a jealous and vengeful god to the exclusion of everything else.


A short comment on the necessity of imagination: Life is a continuance of changes, the moving to new things and experimentation. Restricting the imagination entails a reduction of life; unrestricted imagination is life sustaining.[22] Imagination, being part of the Free Spirit of Experimentation is a virtue of Ethics. Morals, however, through its command of Yahweh that “… man should not make graven images.”[23] and its emphasis on sameness kills the imagination and, therefore, restricts life.

The freedom of the Greek mind during the Golden Age of Athens has never been duplicated since. Modern man’s freedom is certainly not as great as one is made to believe, and does not even come close to that of the ancient Greeks. And what made it all possible was that the religious fraternity during the Hellenic civilization was denied power over the intellect and individual. All this is precisely the reverse in the relationship of Yahweh and his people; it could not be more opposite.

And as far as the statement that the Greeks copied from the OT goes, how about the Church’s’ admission that Medieval Christian church ‘borrowed’ the first four above virtues from the philosophical thought of ancient Greece. They called these the ‘natural’ (or ‘moral’) virtues, with the following reported associations, Prudence corresponding to the intellect, Temperance to feeling, and Fortitude to the will. Justice was a social virtue and regulated the others (said the Church after having put all of these into a moralistic perspective). But, as we shall see shortly, that was part of the Churches’ strategy, incorporating ethics as morals. And that was ages after the ‘abduction’ of ethics by morals.

To set the record straight, no significant inroad was ever made by the OT that can be traced back to Greek thinking. It was not until the apostle Paul that Christian doctrine made some inroads in Greece and then mostly among the extensive Jewish population. Christians in Greece and around the Mediterranean were mostly Jewish in those days, Jesus never having disavowed his Jewishness, nor had Paul and both preached extensively to Jews. It is ironic in this regard that the Greek orthodox Church went its separate way from Rome in the 5th century A.D.

Part IV – Ethics and Early Christianity

By now it is clear that somewhere there must be a missing link that should provide us with proof and also detail of the history and procedure of how exactly Ethics and Morals became so intertwined to the expense of Ethics. Here are the relevant facts.

The major, but certainly not the only, culprit was a man who lived about six hundred years after Plato, around 200 A.D., and who went by the name of Titus Flavius Clement, or Clement of Alexandria and who went on to become one of the early Fathers of the Church and later the first Bishop of Rome. Borne in Athens, he was trained in all the classical works, including philosophy. His attraction towards the Christian faith brought him to Alexandria, at the time a famous centre of learning, where his philosophical and religious ideals were both met.[24]

There Pantaenus, a famous Christian Gnostic and head of the Christian School gave Clement the ‘deathless element of knowledge’.[25] This knowledge, or gnosis may very well have caused Clement to become a devoted and fanatical Christian proselyte.

Clement dedicated his life to fuse Christian faith with Greek (Platonic) philosophy and make Christianity the major movement. Clement et al, because there were more of the Alexandrian Church fathers of the second and third century, (e.g. Origen, Athenagoras etc.) had a Herculean task. That is, make a product salable, and that product was Christianity. Clement’s success is well worth to be called a case study in opportunism, success of ‘failed’ insight, and assuring a prosperous future for the Roman Church.

Being a learned man, Clement’s thinking must have gone something like this: If Christianity was ever to become successful it had to break through the barrier of being mostly a Jewish sect and become something much greater, something like a religion. Unfortunately, in those days the term religion had a different connotation than it has today. While being mostly a religious sect, Christianity had to be accepted as a philosophy, in particular in Greece, for it to be sanctioned. That is where the sect had a problem, the early Christians were mostly fisherman, slaves, uneducated women and other simple folk; the Greek philosophers were mostly scholars. An odd mix the two were, to say the least. It was its paltry and illiterate aspect that had prevented pristine Christianity until then from assuming a more intellectual and philosophical character.

These simple Christians had understandably a very negative and suspicious attitude towards Greek philosophy, whose people they considered stuck up. On the other hand the Greek philosophers had to be convinced that Christianity and philosophy were really a ‘perfect’ match, and persuaded that their own doctrines were actually very similar to Christian doctrines. Clement had his work cut out for him.

There was one solid advantage that made Clement’s work much easier if not possible. It so happened that between 30B.C. and 146C.E. all of the Hellenistic territory had passed under Roman Rule,[26] and as a result of that the Hellenistic philosophy had degenerated into mysticism and did not have the credibility it once had.

How did Clement overcome these formidable obstacles? If ever the wish was the father of the thought, Clement’s was it. After a lot of deep thinking and analyzing, he put the results of that process into action.

Clement dealt first with the Christians by telling them that present Christianity was already a form of philosophy, and that they had nothing to worry about.[27] Nothing would change. Then he had to tell the Greek philosophers something very strong and convincing to be even listened to. And that can only be a lie that is so huge and convincing that no one dares to question it. As I said before, Clement knew his stuff.

Here is what he told them: “Christianity,” he said, “instead of Greek philosophy, was actually the ‘true philosophy’; Greek thought actually having been ‘stolen’ from the Old Testament.” For good measure and to make it sound plausible he added that (Greek) philosophy had its origins not in the minds of Aristotle, Plato, or Pythagoras, but rather in the writings of the Old Testament itself.[28] For a lie, that was one of the biggest ones ever told.[29] But to return to Clement he was not quite finished yet. With what must have been a true poker face he assured that what the Law of Moses provided for the life of a Jew, philosophy enlightened the mind and heart of a learned Greek. Then to finish the philosophical argument Clement clinched the deal with such niceties as “Moses, David and Plato were all ‘Christians before Christ’"; that “Philosophy was not unique in it its own right, but rather wholly depended on Christianity for its own ideology.” and so on.[30]

The real dirty deed was done with his statement: “What the Law of Moses provided for the life of a Jew, philosophy enlightened the mind and heart of a learned Greek.”[31] In one foul swoop the stifling, suffocating, hairsplitting ways of the Torah were put on the same level with the enlightened and freedom loving ways of the ancient Greeks. It is very well possible that with that statement Clement wanted to pacify the considerable number of Jews of early Christianity and preempt their objection to seeing their beliefs being taken over by yet more Gentiles. Whatever, Clement concluded with affirming that Greek philosophy was inferior to the perfection of the Christian faith.

But Clement did not only deal with the OT, by taking OT morality and ‘integrating’ it with the virtues of life, he also appealed to the New Rich in his book, titled: "Who Is the Rich Man That Is Saved?" arguing that wealth, if rightfully used, is not unchristian. Clement’s view of course contradicts Jesus’ teaching of “…it will be hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven.”[32]

Clement and his followers later stated that they had managed to present Christianity to the Greek without ever compromising the essence of the Christian faith.[33] But did they? Because if the way that Clement used to sell Christianity to the masses, is morally acceptable, then it demonstrates that Greek ethics had been converted–in the name of Christianity–to morals leaving only an ‘ethical’ mask, wrapped in the legalese of word magic.

After having succeeded making Christianity a major philosophical movement, it was but a logical step to put the law and hierarchy of the Roman Church in place. Freedom of thought and intellectualism was nibbed in the bud, making it subordinate to the Church with Clement’s next degree: "The way to peace and concord is through obedience to established authorities, the bishops.”[34]


It spelled the end of an era and Clement was the death knell for the Greek classical view of ethics, subjecting ethics forever to the morals of the OT. It was a dark age for intellectual freedom, optimism, and rationalism and a premonition of the Dark Ages looming over the horizon.

The final battle was not totally over, however, because the importance of the law (of Moses) remained a major controversy, in spite of Clement’s efforts. The matter was not finalized until the Council of Nicea (325 A.D.) that Emperor Constantine convened, and over which he actually presided himself. It was him who decided the matter favourably for the law. Interesting is that he was not even a Christian, not having been baptized. He put off baptism until his deathbed, at which point he was too ill to be immersed. He was just sprinkled with holy water, probably setting the precedent by being the first person to be baptized that way.[35]

Part V – Jews and Ethics during the Middle Ages

It was not as if nothing had happened between the death of Nero till the Reformation. For one, Roman Catholicism had been very busy putting its political power base in place, any individual obstructing the system was pulled before an inquisition tribunal and dealt with summarily. If it was a country doing the obstructing, a friendly power of Rome such as Spain would take care of it in a most unfriendly way. Morals and Ethics in the Church did not receive much attention, seeing that the Popes (sometime there was even more than one) were solidly entrenched, not giving morals a second thought.. The way things were, viz. very earthly, making too much of a moralistic comment would have attracted the attention and might have resulted in an accusing finger being pointed at the Church and Papacy instead.[36]

The orthodox Jews and their Torah scholars had not sit still, however, and were vocal about morals and ethics within their learned community. In their fashion they settled forever that ethics were OT morals, by making it a science. One such scholar was Maimonides, who became very prominent in the second half of the twelfth century,[37] and it was him who picked up the cudgel where Clement had left it.

Maimonides spent most of his life working on the Talmud putting it into a code of Jewish Law, called the Mishna Torah. To give an idea, one of such covenants reads: “The righteous will rejoice when he sees the vengeance; he will bathe his feet in the blood of the wicked.”[38] Moral or not a moral, it definitely would not pass anyone’s ethics. And this one is not an exception, the OT is full of these gems.

Maimonides was ” ..a seminal Jewish thinker (who) negotiated the philosophical conflict between Athens and Jerusalem in the crucial area of ethics,” says Weiss in his book Maimonides’ Ethics, the Encounter of Philosophic and Religious Morality. The title itself of course already poses a problem, i.e. it betrays the confusion inherent in the words ethics and morals. We know now that morals are past oriented and ethics directed at the future– in the sense of something divinely new within an individual–attempting to solve this problem in terms of morals or law is futile.

The back inside-cover of the book of Weiss portrays Maimonides as “A man who is put forward as a genius … whose fresh approach to philosophic ethics is the LEGALISTIC context in which he adapted it.” Legalistics is a standard of morals, not of ethics. We know now that ethics cannot be defined, only approached and intuited. Therefore, to examine in detail Maimonides’ ethics would be a waste of time, being a reductionism to morals, were it not that Weiss uses the term ‘the ethics of Maimonides’, with which he meant Maimonides’ effort to bridge the gulf between classical philosophy and the Torah. That bridge, of course, is nothing but putting the weight of morals around ethics’ neck and dragging it into the past, effectively strangling it. But it is Maimonides’ ‘fresh approach’ that is continuing today.’

Yahweh cannot be trusted with ethics, nor can he be called ethical. A case in point is the Exodus of the Israelis from Egypt. It took ten plagues to make Pharaoh relent, and the tenth plague was the death of every first-born in Egypt.[39]

That was terrible punishment and plain murder, but was it necessary? It was Yahweh who made it necessary, because before any of the plagues had even started he announced (to Moses): “…but I will harden his (Pharaoh’s) heart, that he shall not let the people go.” It was only after calling down all ten plagues of God’s judgment against Egypt and Passover that Yahweh at last made Pharaoh relent and let the people go.[40] Yahweh by design hardened the heart of Pharaoh, so that he could punish him more. That is extreme cruelty and sadism, there is no other word for it. There is no forgiveness for such an act.

For a person brought up with Judaism or the OT, to understand ethics in its real meaning and framework is impossible that is, to objectively see ethics as conceived by the ancient Greek philosophers, and not tied to an external god. The same goes for fervent Christians, who cannot even see Yahweh or Jesus Christ objectively. Many of those can be seen standing at street corners, attempting to ‘awake’ people rather than trying to wake up themselves. Faith projected outward has the nasty habit of being proclaimed to be a belief first, and then for the person wanting proof to silence his own deep inner doubt. Conversion serves this purpose par excellence, because if the novice can convert someone else then there must be some truth to it, how otherwise would that feat be possible? For true Christians and Jews their ‘truth’ is enshrined in their religion. They need to drop the notion of Yahweh as the only god, before even being able to see the trees for the forest. They need to deal with the matter at arms’ length, before they can even make an attempt to understand the issue of ethics. Otherwise it will only result in explaining ethics using ‘moral’ language ad nauseam. And that’s what we are seeing today!

Part VI – The Reformation and Beyond

Clement’s OT morals and Law of Moses ‘morally’ did not make a dent, not even with the clergy, except that these laws gave them much power during the Dark Ages. However, the hope that we kindled that with Protestantism ethics would get a life of its own unfortunately also lay in tatters. If anything, the Reformation strengthened the case against ethics over morals. How did that happen?

The onset of the Reformation was ironically the result of the breakdown of morals and the so called moral bankruptcy of the Roman Catholic Clergy. The first protest came with a bang, from a man named Luther even before the start of the sixteenth century, who while sitting on the john in his monastery had a tremendous flash of insight. Later the protest began to spill over to England and Henry VIII–whose motivation did not have much to do with religious conviction, but everything with the divorce of one of his wives–and then it finally invaded Scotland, France, and the low countries. This upheaval created a time of great religious uncertainty and persecution, for the Catholics as well as the Protestants.

In times of moral decay there usually comes a call to move back to the ‘solid’ past and basics, basics requiring tough, concrete actions, not abstract niceties like ethics or virtues. Something like “let’s lay down the law and straighten out this mess!” Then it was no different. Man needed something to sink his moral teeth in, and that was the law the Protestants of the Reformation found in the OT, where it was enforced with fire and brimstone. It suited the Christian Puritans of Protestantism, led by men like Calvin and Knox, to become the enforcers of Biblical Law, and make these come thundering down onto their flock from the pulpit. The time for Protestants that one’s sins were forgiven by a priest sitting in a cubicle was over, no more pope and no more priest, from now on it was: men, you are on your own facing Yahweh and you must do your own talking!

If fear is the enforcer of morals, either of Yahweh or because of revenge from society, then things definitely had gotten worse. Who had time to think about ethics in front of such an unforgiving deity? It was absolutely no accident that in those days it was practically impossible for a person’s character to advance beyond morals.

Both John Knox and Calvin were inflexible personalities; they abhorred imagination, which was attested by the fact that both were iconoclasts. In general the Reformation, being Teutonic, made for the patriarchal view of woman and the family.[41] The OT was still very much in charge. All in all the Reformation, though it ultimately improved the morals of Europe, permanently forestalled ethics of becoming of its own.[42] The purpose of the Reformation had been to take much of the (political) power over the individual away from the Catholic Church, to make the believer more independent. For that the individual had to take charge of his own life himself, through self-control and conviction, in other words ethics. Man was simply not ready and what really happened instead was that the power drifted gradually into the non-too-reluctant hands of the government. And government exercises power through law not ethics.

How much dishonesty is the church capable to produce? Consider this; after the Reformation both the Pope and Protestantism saw eye to eye that bigamy was permissible under certain conditions, so long as there wasn’t a divorce. Better have ‘secretly’ more than one wife than a divorced one.[43] It would have been more honest to allow man to divorce rather than play a charade, and all this in order to fulfill the literalism of the law. And it was widespread, because not only did Pope Clement VII agree with this masquerade, but so did Luther, Henry VIII, Erasmus, to name but a few. The age of hypocrisy was alive and well.

Part VII – Finale and epilogue :: Loose Ends ::

Ethics and Man:

Ethical man is on his own; his objective is not so much to please a dogmatic god as to submit to a private integrity of an inner and divine nature. For man to reach that maturity, he has to become conscious of not only his own internal god-head and being, but also realize his place in the Universe. In the OT man was a long way from that yet; for him to stick to the past and Yahweh was more secure than venturing into an unknown future. To maintain that past and lessen the fear of the unknown a close relationship with a deity was required, and that task morals accomplished for man.

Paradoxically to be ‘bound’ by ethics confers freedom; to be bound by moral laws is a life without virtue, and is, therefore, an existence with little meaning. Moralism goes hand in hand with materialism and keeping the past alive, as the OT clearly shows. Freedom can only exist when one is free of the past (such as being free of guilt).

This materialism is also very evident in the treatment of animals or nature by man as a matter of cause. To talk about man’s mistreatment of nature would fill more than a book, and therefore must be omitted here. For now we can assert that the respect for animals went the way of the Dodo bird, a species that was clubbed to death by the crews of the ships, that were carrying the missionaries to the new peoples, who were to be converted to Christianity and be ‘civilized’. Gone therewith the aboriginal who apologized to the animal having to kill it for sustenance. Gone also therewith the aboriginal ethic. There is no law that states that one should have a respect for animals. How could it? Yahweh put man over the animals and nature.[44] But respect is an innate feeling, expressing quality and esteem, and therefore, ethical. Anything that is life is also us, and deserves equal respect, never mind whether it crawls, swims or flies, even if we have to kill it to stay alive ourselves.

The State’s ‘nuptial’ agreement with Organized Religion

Does organized religion offer any positive answers and hope for ethics? The answer is ‘no’ and could not be anything different. Organized or dogmatic religion’s first objective is power and control over the individual. The carrot is having the key to an after-life. But before you can have that carrot, implies Matthew in the NT, “if you want to enter life, keep the commandments.”[45] Those commandments are the law! Religion somehow seems to attract those who like to lay down the law, said the late Alan Watts.[46] And he was right.

There is not a clearer proof that dogmatic Christianity and the churches use this to sway power over the individual and for Christians to remain ‘children of god’, obeying ‘parent’ Yahweh. They are kept in line through the notion of sin and the haunting feeling of guilt; they do not pay for their actions, but like a child may also not be able to sleep at night because of guilt feelings, until they have been forgiven by Yahweh, or alternatively suppress those guilt feelings as deep as they can. It is beyond their understanding that a mature and responsible person pays and ‘gets on with it’. This implies that there is no hope for Christians to ever grow up and free themselves from Yahweh’s yoke, without freeing themselves from dogmatic Christianity.

An Ethic not rooted in freedom of thought and expression is a fraud, which is the case when Hebraic laws and morals are called ethics. This conspiracy to confuse ethics with morals is continuing today. Compare this with the ancient Greek philosophers, who were directed to learn from their failures, to enjoy the happy life, strive for excellence, not perfection, and that is where the ancient Greek and Yahweh’s ‘children’ differ. Importantly, the old Greek lacked the guilt through sin, their only regret, if any, was of not having lived better, i.e. more nobly and magnificent.

Jews and Christians are well entrenched in Western Civilization and Culture. They share the OT, and the Mosaic Law serves as a basis for legal principles and system. Christianity serves Yahweh by keeping his morals current, as both adore the ‘power of the word’. Jews are very much attracted to the legal profession where in numbers they are disproportionately higher represented than their actual figures in the population warrants. The lawyers are similarly attracted to politics, where the legal profession shares representation in the elective body quite out of proportion to their numbers in the general populace. The Jews are also in inordinate numbers attracted to advertising, publication, the arts, in short wherever the product is the ‘word’. Most Christians like to argue, often heatedly, about the meaning of a Biblical text–which is not much different–rather than faith.

This infatuation with the word is one of the major reasons that ethics is misrepresented by morals. Clement and partners cleared the way and Maimonides picked up the ball from there. It has continued ever since, i.e. pulling ethics into morals and then bringing it ‘under control’ as a science of ethics.

But if ethics is so difficult to understand that we need professors, specializing in the science of ethics to befuddle the issue even more, then is it any wonder that the average man feels that it is none of his concern? He can’t be bothered. Let the academics solve it. But that is a contradiction, because ethics as we have seen is an individual matter, to be solved for everyone for him or herself. Why does science, or the legal profession, not drop the term ethics altogether and simply stick to the term of morals? Law, after all, is only interested in maintaining the status quo through words. It would be as grotesque to go the other way and attempt to express morals solely with ethics.

Here is the reason why! Morals today support a ‘dead god’, as Nietzsche put it so well and that was a very courageous and ethical statement on his part. Dead here means a god who has run its course. However, to drop the term ethics altogether and simply stick to the term of morals is a pipe dream, because the notion of ethics cannot be extinguished.

The reason that ethics and morals are treated synonymously comprises the major strength of the ‘moral’ authority. To have man think that morals are ethics gives the powers-to-be their hold over individual man, as it provides them with a super highway to the conscience of their subjects.[47] And when I speak about powers-to-be I do not just mean the visible ones, to the contrary, it are the ones not so visible that are meant here.

What is the pay-off for man? An uneventful and easy life without spiritual challenges, but also a life of submission.. For authority, a dull person is apt to be less of a challenge than animated individuals. With strong encouragement of Christianity, Judaism and the law, morals exist solely to kindle and satisfy man’s obsession for conformity and order, in other words ‘security’. It is through conformity that morals subordinate man’s quality of life to the moral drum beat of sameness and a dead-man-walking existence. So, the more the inner man is governed by the regulatory forces of the mind, and the beat of time, the more man’s soul retires out of sight to escape its suffocating hold. By discouraging man from trying to understand ethics, and confusing him stating that these are morals, control of man can be brought to bear. It is a development desired and designed by religious power mongers and its stooges.

Viewing Orwell’s 1984 and thought-police this way, it suddenly appears very realistic. If the individual can be induced to think that a so called ‘moral’ is an ethic, while it is not, it can be ‘sold’ much easier. A good example would be certain types of discrimination. Along the same lines is also the notion that if a person is made to think that he is free while of course he isn’t, then utopia has arrived for the authorities and rulers. And that ‘freedom’ is facilitated by the law taking all responsibility, and the individual having nothing else left then simply following it, because nothing else matters for him.

What is the cost of all this to man? The sad answer is man’s freedom and integrity. To clarify this, we have to take a step back. The purpose of morals, if we ignore Yahweh for the moment, is purely to set the standards of how members of a society should live together, to make it bearable and, unfortunately, often less than bearable. These standards do not always have to be part of the law, but can be customs as well. A good example of the practical difference of a moral and ethics is: a law may decree that one must deal honestly with one’s fellow man. It may set a penalty in case one does not. But that law says nothing about dealing and being honest with oneself. That would be impossible to regulate, you say. Right! but that is exactly one of the areas that ethics covers.

To give yet another example. The government may ordain something that for certain people if followed, would be felt as letting oneself down, betray one’s feelings, tread on one’s own integrity. The law says ‘do!’, one’s ethics says don’t! This aspect has nothing to do with wanting or not wanting, but with integrity and going against the grain, it is there that one has to be honest with oneself. A horrible example of how ethics were trampled happened in WW II. Discernment between ethics and “Befehl ist Befehl!” was something that the Nazis in WW II lacked and were severely criticized for, namely for blindly following orders. The ground rules (which after all were morals as these differ from race to race) for the SS were definitely different than for the average individual, and a good example of how ethics literally can be covered up by morals and done away with.

It is this very difference between morals and ethics and its inherent conflict that engenders man’s push for democracy and freedom of speech. And it are these freedoms that are challenged first and will also be the first casualty in adverse times. Today’s individual frustration in a seemingly moral, but uncaring society to a great extent may be the cause for man having a problem with the true meanings of morals and ethics. The implication of the not knowing or the not-acknowledging of man’s true inner feelings threatens man’s mental health and impairs loving oneself. Many nightmares are the symptom of this.

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Dirk W. Bruin was born and raised in the Netherlands. He sailed the seven seas as navigation officer on board of Dutch Merchant and Royal Navy vessels. He emigrated to Canada, and served as Systems Development Manager of a large transportation company. He retired in 1992 and settled in Nova Scotia to pursue interest in the History of Religion and Culture. Nowadays, he travels a lot and if not in Canada can be found in Europe collecting material for his writings. He contributed this article to Media Monitors Network (MMN) from Canada.


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