Ethical Commandments


Fans of Dr. Bossypants may remember that she blogged about ethics for a while before turning to trauma. Clever of her, because she firmly believes the infliction of trauma on others is unethical, so all her blogs are still relevant! And faithful readers also know she believes that trauma damages babies, children, and all people severely. Such damage may result in these same people then inflicting trauma on others later in life, perhaps not even realizing it as such. It is a vicious, potentially deadly cycle.

Philosopher Bernard Gert (1934-2011) created a list of ten moral commandments. Here they are:

  1. Do not kill other human beings.
  2. Do not cause unnecessary pain (this lets surgeons and dentists off the ethical hook).
  3. Do not disable another human being.
  4. Do not deprive another human being of freedom.
  5. Do not deprive another human being of pleasure.
  6. Do not deceive others.
  7. Keep your promises to others.
  8. Do not cheat.
  9. Obey the law.
  10. Do your duties—those required by social relationships, your job, your commitments, and so on.

Gert realized that there may be times when you are certain the deeply moral thing to do is to break one of the commandments. If so, he believed that you should only break it if you’d be willing to allow everyone else, in all times and in all places, to break the same commandment in the same situation.

It seems obvious that killing, hurting, disabling, or depriving people of freedom or pleasure causes some level of trauma in the hurt, disabled or deprived one. Being lied to and cheated isn’t much fun, and in some situations, can also be traumatic. And of course, at the social level, our culture would fall apart if everyone broke the law all the time, and/or failed to do their personal and civic duties. We’d have a broken culture.

But beyond this set of rather obvious conclusions, Dr. B would like readers to ponder another set of costs. We can easily see the cost of such actions on those acted against, or on society at large. But what are the costs of crossing those lines to the actor? The cost of breaking those profoundly basic moral edicts? The killer, the torturer, the liar, the cheat, the dictator–why are they willing or able to cross those lines, and what does it do to their psychological condition?

Dr. B believes in the long run, the actor is diminished in the process of acting unethically. But it is, perhaps, a habit-forming brutal cycle with enough shallow rewards to keep the unethical actor repeating the harmful actions.

Is there a way for society to help cheaters, liars, law-breakers, or brutal people to see the costs to themselves? Is there a way to peel back the “rewards” and help humans see that ill-gotten gains are ultimately malignant? Or could we at least stop tolerating or admiring such actions? Probably not, but Dr. Bossypants is going on record, with the wise Bernard Gert, as saying that killing, hurting, disabling, depriving, lying, cheating, breaking the law, and failing to do your basic duties—these are all unethical, psychological corrosive actions harming the victims, our community, and most likely harming the perpetrators as well.

Thank you for any thoughts you may wish to post. Also, someday soon, Dr. Bossypants promises to write something upbeat. And because of Number 7 above, you can bank on it.


3 thoughts on “Ethical Commandments

  1. Yes, I agree that many times, perhaps most of the time, unethical corrosive actions harm the perpetrator as well as the victims. However, there are some people, as you know, whose psychological make-up is such that it just feels good to “get it over on someone” and I don’t know where the hurt to them is. I’m wondering what hurt you might see them experience in that case? (Except in the case of finally getting busted and going to jail perhaps.)

  2. How will these tenets address a murderer? Does one politely ask them to stop? And how polite must you be, when dealing with groups of lunatics, working together, that are bent on inflicting every atrocity to any whom aren’t in their cult? Perhaps a tearful plea will cause them to rethink their entire lives and suddenly develop basic reasoning skills?

    As for why people become immoral [aside from brain deformities]: not everyone lives in the ivory tower, wherein one can be thoroughly naive and remain alive – muchless have the time for such comforting fantasies; in the real world, life is pressing, and often crippling; after a time, with their options constantly dwindling, people make desperate choice fueled by the wild emotions generated in constant misfortune.

    But then, give people too much opportunity, too much comfort, and you get this “philosopher’s” tenets: a collection of childish concepts that are extremely destructive in the real world: if the judicial and military systems followed these tenets for even one day, hundreds of millions would likely suffer when a small percentage of humanity took advantage. If that small percentage were forewarned, a series of events could occur that set humanity on a course to self-destruction.

    That percentage will always exist, until the penalties for immorality are punished to much greater degrees: insanity, whether from the violent or the delusional, spreads like disease; unless you address the source, it will keep spreading. Since it consistently occurs to this day, we can surmise the source remains, and thus required more drastic measures than currently utilized.

    And while most people can be taught to police themselves, there are those with brain deformities whom must be permanently restrained. And there will always be new children born, whom must all be forced to learn morality and maturity, until humanity’s inherently primitive nature is forced out of them. But, by all means, pick a random third-world country, and wander through it being nice; maybe that’s all they needed.

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