July 21, 2003

Ethics vs. Scruples

Several of my friends and I were having an interesting conversation about situational ethics. Namely, what is the basis for an ethical standard? Now, for a Christian this sounds like a fairly straightforward Sunday School answer: "the Bible." But think about it, is it that you do what you should do based strictly on a biblical standard and if so, is it just based on the spirit of the Word or on Levitical law? Take the question a step further: assume that a perfectly legitimate activity (ethically) is made against the law by the government that you live under... do you follow the law or continue on as you have? What happens when it's something like handgun ownership where you feel that it would be wiser to keep the gun if it weren't against the law?

Personally, at least in the past I was very rarely driven by ethics or "moral standards" but rather by my own standards which I referred to scruples. The basic difference in my lingo is this: ethics are based on an absolute external standard and scruples are merely actions taken in order to keep one from getting into trouble. Put simply, my scruples are intended to keep me out of jail and from getting arrested while ethics are to keep a level of moral decency. Currently, scruples take a back burner to ethics because many of my scruples are simply watered-down attempts at ethics that don't hamper my life as much.

A simple contrast of ethics and scruples. Ethics say don't lie and if one digs, one could even come up with a reasoning behind this imperative rooted in not deceiving and hurting others that resolves to the Golden Rule (do unto others as you would have them do unto you.) On the other hand, scruples say don't lie when you don't have to and if you have to, be good enough to not get caught. This scruple is based on life experience that the more you lie, the harder it is to keep the truth straight in your own head and the easier it is to have the whole damned house of cards come collapsing down around you. If it were expedient, scruples would have no problem with lying to everyone all of the time so long as one wasn't caught.

Of late I have come to this conclusion: ethics have a place and a reason otherwise our benevolent and omniscient God wouldn't have created His ultimate standard of perfection. A proper understanding of the character of God (probably the reason that it took so long for me) causes one to quickly come to this conclusion and thusly understand that in the end a failure to uphold this standard will result in hurting oneself or someone else. Of course, if one cares nothing for others or God ethics are largely pointless... therein the great gap between theists and everyone else. If the end all and be all is merely self, what reason for empathy or sympathy? Altruism is an idiotic farce by this standard and the only law of the land is to perpetuate self and continue living a good life. Scruples promote this and ethics merely get in the way... and thus you understand the existance and place of both sets of standards.

Posted by Vengeful Cynic at July 21, 2003 12:30 PM