Ethics and Morality Group Guide

Volume IV, Number II

Artwork by Eleanor Bennett

How do we live in accordance with our deepest beliefs and aspirations? Do we develop a moral sensibility as we grow or are we born with it? This theme invites us to delve into one of life’s thorniest and most worthwhile topics.

1. In the Big Question, “Blank Disk or Software Included: Are We Born with Ethics and Morals?” Sofiy Inck explores the question of whether we are born innately understanding good and evil. She shares her own observations from babysitting and new scientific studies that she feels prove we are born with empathy that causes us to act for good. What do you think? Have you had any experiences that illustrate whether we are born with a moral sensibility? If so, does it tend to lead us to act upon our principles?

2. Each of the three feature articles tackle the topic of where ethics and morals come from. Is morality universal or relative, and therefore subject to change depending on culture or circumstance? One feature even asks whether humans are the only beings bestowed the power to make ethical judgments, or whether other animals are all born with the same rights to life. How do you make decisions in your daily life about how you act toward others? Do you use guidelines that have been passed down to you, or do you try to make decisions based solely on your experience in the world?

3. In his PerSpectives column, Lama Surya Das shares a Buddhist outlook on ethics. Beyond the stereotypical view of karma — what goes around comes around — Lama Surya also shows how good actions emerge from healthy living and habits. As he says: “Things reproduce in kind and not at random. Just as apple trees come from apple seeds and not from lemon seeds; our good habits and excellent character and destiny arise through repeating good, wholesome and helpful deeds, including our actions of body, speech, and mind.” In other words, the argument goes, we radiate goodness through habitual practice in all aspects of our selves, including our comportment in body, mind, and speech. What do you think about this view? Does this ring true in your life? Can people repeat bad habits but still make good decisions?