Friday, October 06, 2000

Entry 55 dated 20000919

willychang's question
How come nobody asks if PAP cares about ethics?

As the ruling government body of Singapore, does PAP care about ethics?

Is using National Reserves for political objectives ethical?

Is paying themselves more (when the rest of Singapore took pay cut) ethical ?

Is prosecuting opposition parties to bankruptcy ethical?

As leaders of a Country, shouldn't they be setting standards that we can all aspire to?


my answer
Isn't it obvious?

For the first generation, Macchiavelli is a major influence. So is legalism. Expediency is a keyword -- do what is necessary to remain in power. GRCs, as well as upgrading only if voted in. And there's also the ISA. Fairness? Nope...not in politics.

From "The Prince":

"Men are always wicked at bottom unless they are made good by some compulsion." Hence our emphasis on strict laws.

"It is much safer for a prince to be feared than loved, if he is to fail in one of the two." Now you know why the PAP is not too interested in being popular; more important for the people to be afraid.

Only the best deserve to rule. This idea of philosopher-king may be found in Plato's Republic. Meritocracy -- still an influential belief. Hence the induction of scholars into the civil service and high salaries for politicians.

Rulers should rule in the interest of the people. This is from Confucius. Hence the perception that our government is paternalistic. They seem to know what's good for us. Or do they?

Entry 54 dated 20000917

sky's question to me, arising from Entry 37
What Do You Expect the 'divine' to be Like???

'Pantheism', hmmm. You mentioned somewhere that some 'gods' 'resemble humans so closely' (in the 'negative' aspects), and you seem to disdain such notions concerning those 'gods'. Well, in your opinion, what do you think the 'divine' (or 'Divine') is like; or rather, should be like??


my reply to sky
I don't know actually...

...but I do feel that it is highly unlikely that any version of the divine will reward some with eternal life and condemn others to eternal torture.

In contrast, I find the idea that the whole universe is a manifestation of the divine is a fairly plausible one. In the view of some, everything in the world is made up of holons -- something which is both a part and a whole. Atoms are holons because they form a PART of molecules but they are also WHOLE entities (being made up of nucleus, protons, electrons etc). Similarly, we are holons as well: we make up PART of the members of individual families, and we are WHOLE individuals as well. Families are WHOLE entities but they are also PART of some community and so on. From the tiniest particle to the largest is holons all the way up until we come to ALL THERE IS. Perhaps the intimate realisation that we are part of this ALL THERE IS is what the mystics term enlightenment -- to be one with the divine.

Something like this theory is present in many schools of Hinduism and is also explicated in the works of people such as Ken Wilber.

It's still a bit too mystical for my liking, but I am more able to relate to this view of the divine than thinking of it as a HE, who doles out eternal happiness or eternal torment, according to whether or not you choose to believe in Him.

Thank you for giving me the opportunity to speculate on a possible, and highly tentative model of the divine.

My personal theory of the Universe and of man's place in it is far from final and complete, of course. In the meanwhile, I still see the need for ethical reasoning to serve as a guide to daily living.


sky's rejoinder
'Knowledge', 'Wisdom', ... .... and TIME. * ... tick ... tock ... *

Dear witness,

"The world is truly a wondrous place though -- so much knowledge and wisdom to try and acquire.... but so little time."

True, though perhaps I personally wouldn't use the word "wondrous"...? So much 'knowledge', but how much of this 'knowledge' is really essential to our lives? So much 'wisdom', but how much of it is truly 'wisdom'?

And even if we want to 'know' everything (which we honestly can't) or 'know' as much as possible, how much time would that take? We have so little time. Are our precious lives simply worth all this supposed 'knowledge' and 'wisdom' accumulated together, or are they worth much more than these? Even if we eventually 'know' everything, how much of it can we put to good use? And would we end up truly happy, satisfied, ... or more frustrated, more disappointed, more helpless (or more realisation of helplessness), more sense of meaninglessness, etc.?

And do we really want the 'answers' that we claim we are looking for, or are we afraid to face the 'answers' which may not be what we want them to be? If we are serious seekers and finders, we would eventually have to settle down somewhere. Seeking and finding knowledge and wisdom is good in itself, but such should be guided by sound principles, if we are to be truly satisfied and 'fulfilled'. Just sharing my view - I'm NOT saying that only I have 'all the answers'.

For me, I personally believe (and you DON'T HAVE TO if you don't want to) that "the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom (and the same for knowledge)". Please note that 'fear' need not be exclusive of 'love'. I personally believe 'the Lord' will satisfy me with true knowledge and true wisdom that come from Him if I seek Him first. This does not negate my own responsibilities, of course, which is a parallel issue.

I too believe that even for those who are incapable physically to understand knowledge and wisdom, 'the Lord' is able and willing (if it is His will) to do a 'saving work' in the person; with Man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible. I thank Him that I do not have to know or do everything in the world in order to stand justified before Him, because of what He has done for me, for He is gracious and merciful. (This does not mean I do not have to know anything or do anything; but this is another different issue.)

You do not have to agree with all these if you don't want to; just sharing with you about my 'philosophies' of Life, which were not of my 'original thinking' (my 'natural self' would not have wanted it!), but which I have personally come to claim 'ownership'.


my reply to sky the next day, 20000918
We all get off in different ways!


Why wouldn't you use the word "wondrous"?

It is listed in the Merriam-Webster Collegiate as:

[Main Entry: won·drous / Pronunciation: 'w&n-dr&s / Function: adjective / Etymology: Middle English, alteration of wonders, from genitive of wonder / Date: 15th century / that is to be marveled at : EXTRAORDINARY]

Firstly, I find our planet Earth wondrous because of its very fecundity. It's so teeming with life. There's life everywhere -- even in the harshest climes. There's even life in front of us that we can't see -- germs, bacteria and viruses -- and they are just so ubiquitous. But outside the Earth, so far, there is total barrenness. Absolutely remarkable.

Secondly, I am amazed by what science tells us about the size of the universe. We think of our planet as big, but we are just one of several planets revolving round our even more gigantic sun. We think of our solar system as big, but we are just one miniscule system amid a horde of others, so that distances from one galaxy to another may be measured in light years. Totally mind-blowing.

One can't help but be moved when one contemplates the aliveness of our planet and the unimaginable size of the Universe.

I am also terribly awed by how scientists are able to discover the laws governing how our Universe works. That Newton's laws of Universal Gravitation (though superseded by Einstein's theory of Relavitivy) for instance, are able to account for the movements of planets as well as the motion of tiny atomic particles is truly remarkable. Just one set of mathematical equations, but how great the explanatory power!

Some may think that all this is no big deal compared to the exploits of a superbeing who is the alpha and the omega. The only problem is that the Universe is there for all to grasp... the theories governing it may be tested and accepted or rejected but the concept of a superbeing called God is totally non-material and quite out of reach.

So yes, I may be naive in marvelling at what may be mere physical phenomena but there is such a wealth of phenomena to wonder at that the scope is large enough to last me to the rest of my life, and then some.

I suppose we all get our kicks in different ways. I wish you all the best in your search for ultimate wisdom.

Wednesday, October 04, 2000

Entry 53 dated 20000919

pgymy's message to individual
hi [individual] ...

btw I do agree with you that emotions are an illusion.


my reply to pygmy
Go kick rocks!!

Pygmy, individual...

Emotions are illusions??

I suppose it depends on what you mean by illusions.

Tell you what....both of you should go kick a rock with your bare feet. Then tell yourself that the pain is only an illusion. ;-))


pygmy's reply to me

hi [witness] in the case of physical pain, if you speak to any neurologist, they will confirm that physical pain is indeed an illusion.

Have you ever experienced a cut or injury where you felt no pain till you be became aware of the wound?

Also, I differentiate 'emotions' from 'feelings'. To me they are 2 different experiences.

Whether physical pain differs from emotional pain is a different matter.


my counter to pygmy
Is anger unreal?


Before we can decide what is or isn't illusory, we have to define illusion and distinguish it from reality.

Intuitively, I am of the opinion that emotions are as real as anything else.

Is anger or joy unreal? I don't see how this position that emotions are illusions is defensible unless one chooses to indulge in some kind of mystical word-play.


pygmy's counter to me

hi [witness], to me the operative word in your reply is 'real'.


1 of or relating to fixed, permanent, or immovable things (as lands or tenements)

2 a : not artificial, fraudulent, illusory, or apparent

an intense emotional state induced by displeasure.

The physical experience of anger is real, but anger comes from making a conscious or unconscious choice to be angry, it has to be induced and therefore is of the mind. If this is not the case than it is illogical or impractical to suggest that someone not to be angry.

If an angry person's perspective toward the same set of 'real' facts that induced the anger changes, would not the experience of anger itself change? I believe so. Anger is reversible.

Main Entry: il·lu·sion

the state or fact of being intellectually deceived or misled

a misleading image presented to the vision

something that deceives or misleads intellectually

perception of something objectively existing in such a way as to cause misinterpretation of its actual nature

HALLUCINATION 1 (3) : a pattern capable of reversible perspective

Merriam-Webster Online

There is nothing mystical about this.


my counter to pygmy
Get real!! ;-))


That one may have a choice about whether or not to be angry does not imply that anger is unreal. And in many instances, anger wells up within a person spontaneously.

You will note in the dictionary entry on illusion that the element of deception is present in most of the explanations except the last one. In this last case, the "reversible perspective" could take the form of an optical illusion, for example, of a drawing (a "pattern") which could be interpreted as that of a young lady or an old woman. It is clearly not meant to be applied to anger -- whether one can choose to get angry or not.

Somebody walks up to you and spits in your face. Are you being deceived in any way, when you become angry in this context? How is your anger unreal?

To take another example. A loved one dies and one griefs. Is that grief unreal??

A lion pounces on you and you feel fear. That fear is unreal??

Get real!!


pygmy's counter to me

hi [witness] Are you aware of when your own mind is deceiving you?

If you spit in my face, I may choose to feel pity for you instead of anger. I could also be feeling remorse because I did something to hurt you badly enough so you would spit in my face.

If 2 people were placed in a perfectly safe room that only had a door and no other means of entering. The door is shut and the lights turned off. One is terrified of the dark and the other is so comfortable that he/she goes to sleep.

Which one is having the 'real' experience of the room?

This is an interesting exchange. A facet of [witness] that I have only just witnessed.

ps. if a lion pounced on me ........ WOW! what a way to go!


my counter to pygmy

"If you spit in my face, I may choose to feel pity for you instead of anger. I could also be feeling remorse because I did something to hurt you badly enough so you would spit in my face" (pygmy)

Okay. So are you saying that those feelings of pity or remorse are unreal?

Actually I re-read your earlier postings and noted your comment that "The physical experience of anger is real..."

Is there a contradiction here or what?

I think what you are saying is that one may be deceived (by one's mind, by other persons etc.) into feeling certain emotions but that these emotions are real experiences. At the bottomline then, the emotions experienced are real, not illusory.


And yes, it is an interesting exchange ;-))


pygmy's counter to me

hi [witness] perhaps I should correct myself and say that the experience of emotions is real, but when these emotions are based on illusions they are as real as the illusions can be.

An easier example to illustrate what i mean is a sense of job security in a particular company or a sense of security in a particular relationship with someone. This is something many of us would like.

Without doubt, the person feeling this security is feeling a 'real' sense of security, but this sense is inspired by an illusion because the security does not really exist.

To me, there is no such thing as security in a situation where the potential outcomes are not in our own hands.

I remember some years back the GM of an American bank here in Singapore reading about the closure of his own branch in the newspapers one morning. If this manager thought he could give his staff job security and they thought they had job security, then both were experiencing illusions.

I also know of people who felt very 'secure' in their relationships until the moment their partners decided to walk.

How 'real' was the emotional sense of security in the 2 examples?

The only reality I am able to experience with regard to security is to be secure within myself. This sense of security is not an illusion. If I lose my job I know I have the ability to find another. If my partner leaves me, I know there will be someone else who would like me enough to want to be my partner. This is to me is "being real".

So how much of our emotions is real?

btw I do not consider the fear experienced while confronted by a lion the same as fear of the dark. One is a response to a very real situation involving physical danger and does not involve the imagination. The other is a response to something in your imagination.


my counter to pygmy
Fear is fear is fear

I tend to think that all emotions are real, whatever their causes, and whatever their basis.

So what causes the emotions to arise may involve trickery or deception, but whatever is felt by the individual as a result is very real.

Thus, fear is fear whether it arises because of real or imagined danger. In each case, one may be able to detect the objective signs of the emotion -- the heart beats faster, one starts to sweat, and one becomes increasingly alert. Isn't this sufficient proof of its reality?

To advocate that some emotions are real and others are illusory does not sound plausible. The causes of the emotions may be illusory, but the emotions themselves are real, unless one is acting in a play, for instance. So your original intuition that "The physical experience of anger is real..." is actually correct.

Entry 52 dated 20000917

my reply to sky
I don't really wish to speculate


As said before...religion is man's relationship with his god. It is beyond the material. There are some who would choose to dwell in this realm. That's fine.

I see the more pressing problem to be life on earth -- how do we get along with one another and make this place better for all beings. It may be a more modest aim, but it is focussed on an area that I am sure is there, and is important.

In my idle moments, I may sometimes even speculate on what lies beyond but always, my primary concern is this material world. That I think, is the basic humanist position.

When pressed for my position on the various religions, I am inclined to say that there is likely to be some superstition involved but I am not really interested in disproving this or that religious belief. The main thing, always, is how to make this world into a better place, for as long as we do exist.

Religious or secular, I believe that as long as there is this urge to improve the lot of all in this Universe (as far as possible), we can always work together to realise this vision. If the sentiments are right, the details can always be worked out.

Thank you for your generous contributions.


my followup message to all
About the religious background of Hitler

Here's an extract:

[[Hitler was a Roman Catholic, baptized into that religio-political institution as an infant in Austria. He became a communicant and an altar boy in his youth and was confirmed as a "soldier of Christ" in that church. Its worst doctrines never left him. He was steeped in its liturgy, which contained the words "perfidious jew." This hateful statement was not removed until 1961. "Perfidy" means treachery.

In his day, hatred of Jews was the norm. In great measure it was sponsored by two major religions of Germany, Catholicism, and Lutheranism. He greatly admired Martin Luther, who openly hated the Jews. Luther condemned the Catholic Church for its pretensions and corruption, but he supported the centuries of papal pogroms against the Jews. Luther said, "The Jews deserve to be hanged on gallows, seven times higher than ordinary thieves," and "We ought to take revenge on the Jews and kill them." "Ungodly wretches" he called the Jews in his book Table Talk.]]

Source: John Patrick Michael Murphy, "Hitler Was Not An Atheist".

Note that this article is also interesting in its references to Martin Luther, the founder of Protestantism.

For the full article, go to


sky's reply
The Bible vs. the religious background of Hitler

Dear witness,

Thank you for sharing these with us. According to the Bible, God and His Word most certainly do not approve of some things which the people whom you mentioned have done in their lives. Whatever they may have done, Christianity should have its authority on the Word of God and not on the lives of imperfect Man.

Entry 51 dated 20000917

sky's reply to me (see Entry 27)
'Belief' in What Sense? And Why may 'Morals' be Supposedly 'Self-Evident'?

'Belief' in 'God'? In what sense? What do we believe about 'God'? Do we believe everything He says, or just 'some' of it? If our mouths say one thing but our actions speak another, can we say that we truly 'believe'??

The Bible says that even the devils/demons believe, and tremble, but they are not "heaven-bound". We can claim to 'believe' in His existence and Rulership, etc., but we can be not for Him, but AGAINST HIM. We can 'believe' whatever we like or want about Him or anything else, but it will be futile for us if our 'beliefs' are not based on Truth.

Hitler may not have truly believed in the God of the Bible. He may have defined his own terms, or followed the terms of others, as to who God is, what He is like and so on, in whatever manners that He may have deemed favourable to some other underlying desires which He may have had.

Remember that Hitler and his 'Catholic Church' were anti-Protestantism and anti-Semitism, among other things. If you have a Bible, perhaps you could check it to see if the Bible would have approved of their views and of whatever they did. Word of reminder : the Bible is the Book of progressive revelation (from God, as it claims), so please do not merely read (NOT 'do not read'!) the Old Testament or even the time of Christ.

One more thing : while 'belief in God' and 'morality' do not necessarily go together, the reason why 'morality' seems to be 'self-evident' (as you call it) to some humanists (NOT ALL) and their like counterparts, could be because the God of all creation has overruled the affairs of morally-polluted Man and left marks of this 'morality' imprinted on our consciences (which you say is imbibed from our parents, teachers, environment, etc.... but obviously started off from SOMEWHERE or SOMEONE in the Beginning...). And 'morals' could have gone "some other way", or never existed, ... but why did it have to "go this way", so to speak? Have you considered these, and what are your views?

Entry 50 dated 20000917

my reply to sky
Fact vs Interpretation


In the realm of religion, there are interpretations and there are interpretations. But the evolution of the Protestant work ethic is a documented fact. Here is a relevant quote from the Encyclopedia Brittanica (

"Protestant ethic: in sociological theory, the value attached to hard work, thrift, and efficiency in one's worldly calling, which, especially in the Calvinist view, were deemed signs of an individual's election, or eternal salvation.

The German sociologist Max Weber in The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism (1904-05) held that the Protestant ethic was an important factor in the economic success of Protestant groups in the early stages of European capitalism, for, because worldly success came to be interpreted as a sign of election, it was vigorously pursued."

So it looks like if you disagree with the doctrine of election or pre-destination, you need to sort it out with the Calvinists.


sky's reply to me
Small but Important Clarifications

Dear witness,

I did not disagree with any fact that some people established certain ideas concerning what they called 'Protestant ethics'. It is only how Biblical or non-Biblical or unBiblical such ideas may be that are my primary concern. And regarding the issue of interpretations, perhaps we could discuss it some other time.

And I DIDN'T SAY that I "disagreed" with the doctrine of election or predestination. These are mentioned emphatically in the Bible (and as such are relatively essential), and to be understood in the proper contexts. I believe that God is absolutely sovereign; why should I disagree with these doctrines? Regards.


my reply to sky
Way to go, sky!

In effect, we are just simply looking at things from two different perspectives -- me from the sociological, and you from the biblical.

That's alright, I guess.

Thank you for the generous sharing. And I truly do appreciate your courtesy and understanding.

Entry 49 dated 20000917

my reply to sky
Just a homily

God helps those who help themselves is simply a traditional homily to encourage self-reliance. It is a commonsensical notion and may or may not be in line with the Bible's teachings depending on how one chooses to interpret it.

As a homily, it is in broad alignment with the Protestant work ethic. Some Christian sects believe that whether or not one goes to heaven is a matter of pre-destination. The problem is how would one know whether or not one is pre-destined to go to heaven. Some one came up with the idea that if one is successful in this life, then it implies that that person is blessed by God and that it could be taken as a sign that he is heaven-bound. From then on, many Protestants were able to strive for material success with a clear conscience.

Sociologists such as Max Weber attributed this work-ethic as one of the main reasons why the West was able to prevail against the East.

sky's reply to me
Some Clarifications

To witness :

Regarding the issue of 'predestination' which you mentioned, let me clarify that in the Bible, these are among the things of God which He has chosen not to reveal, in His Grand Play of 'Good vs. Evil' on Planet Earth. God is under no obligation to reveal every single aspect or detail of His will to Man; and Man does not understand every single aspect or detail about God, and his responsibility is simply to have faith in whatever He has revealed in His Word and to obey it wholeheartedly. It is not for the people of God to know whom He has 'predestined', but for them to simply carry out faithfully whatever mandate He has given them. Why should we have to know who is 'predestined' or who is not? To make our lives easier?? No way, but away with the carnal desires of the flesh!

Regarding what you mentioned about someone coming up with the idea ..."that if one is successful in this life, then it implies that that person is blessed by God and that it could be taken as a sign that he is heaven-bound." Regardless of what this person meant, even in the Bible, God sends sunshine and rain on BOTH the righteous and unrighteous. God's common love and grace expressed in the form of His blessings pour out on every creature on Planet Earth, according to His own good will and pleasure. It is only His particular love and grace which is something different, but that has to do with 'predestination' as well as some other attributes of God.

Material and other earthly blessings and achievements on Planet Earth do not necessarily imply that a person could be heaven-bound, whether it is in the Bible or some other Books. Even the poor beggar and leper and the repentant thief in the Bible "went Home" justified by the grace of God, in spite of how much they may have owned on Earth or whatever they may have done. The coveteous rich man in the Bible, on the other hand, went "elsewhere", unjustified before God. God is 'no respecter of persons', simply because He alone is Lord over all, as claimed by the Bible. And Ultimate Justice comes beyond the ashes and the graves, which is why you do not see it being fully satisfied in this Life of ours.

Regarding the statement "God helps those who help themselves", once again let me clarify that God is no respecter of persons, and that no human being is omnipotent, and God alone has control over all-a control which human beings try to have but fail to achieve it, because they are the finite creation and not the Infinite Creator. It is NOT a commonsensical notion, whether in reference to the Bible or not. God is overall active and not passive in relation to Man. If God is gracious and merciful, He is able and willing to help even those who are unable or unwilling to help themselves, provided it is His will to do so. If God is sovereign, He is under no obligation to help even those who help themselves, or to cater to our every whim or fancy. Not by human might or power, but by the will of God (but this does not negate human responsibility, which is a separate issue). If God be God, then the statement that "God helps those who help themselves" is NONSENSICAL, NOT commonsensical.

I am so sorry that your view of 'God' is so small.

Entry 48 dated 20000916

skyocean's reply to me (see entry 23)
God does not always "help those who help themselves."

"...even the 'god' concept is fraught with so much difficulties." I agree with you on this, witness. However, I wish to clarify regarding the statement : "God helps those who help themselves" with reference to the 'God' of the Bible, not to your 'god' concept, whatever it is.

The Bible most certainly does not accept this sweeping statement. There have been instances whereby Christ (who laid claims to Himself as Deity as understood by the Jews of His time who were highly cultured and religious people) healed even those who were unable of themselves to exercise faith in His healing powers. There have also been instances whereby God did not even heal or grant help to those who had faith or who 'did whatever they could'.

Faith is Man's responsibility towards God; but God, being sovereign and omnipotent, does not need to rely on our 'faith' in order to bring about His help. He chooses to help us according to His own purposes and His most pleasing and perfect will, for His own glory, as the Bible teaches, ...not according to our own whims and fancies, or even our own power and might.

Even true Christians know from life's experiences, that God does not necessarily grant every single wish of ours, and that He does not necessarily grant us 'success' in every single thing we use our own strength to work hard on. We can 'help ourselves' all we can, but God determines the outcome, whether we realise or acknowledge it or not. True Christians also know from life's experiences, that God often helped us (and still does) in our times of need, even when we 'couldn't help ourselves', or didn't have the faith in Him to help us.

Ask ourselves, Christian or no Christian : What need is there for a 'God' to help us if we can really help ourselves?? UNLESS, deep in our heart of hearts and our mind of minds, we really realise that we are helpless and finite human beings after all, and that not everything is 'within the control of ourselves or those around us'???

To sum up the Bible's (or Christianity's) view in its proper context, it is a sweeping statement in the light of the Bible (not necessarily other Books or other 'philosophies') that "God helps those who help themselves." Rather, it should be : "Whether God helps us or not, it is in accordance with His own sovereign will and purposes, and He has His own reasons for doing so or not doing so, which are 'good' and 'perfect'. God helps even those who cannot 'help themselves'; and He also does not necessarily help those who can 'help themselves'." To a true Christian, God is the Sovereign Party; we are the ones who are subject to Him.

Entry 47 dated 20000911

stevenhern's reply to me (see entry 25)
isn't Covey a Mormon?

my reply to stevenhern
Covey is a religious person

Covey is definitely a Christian (not too sure of the denomination) but his approach in The 7 Habits is mainly secular / multi-denominational. Perhaps the only spiritual element in his approach is Habit 7 -- Sharpen the Saw, when he advised all on the continuous practice of the other six habits as well as taking care of the whole person -- physical, mental and spiritual.

I have no qualms about learning from anyone, religious or not.

Entry 46 dated 20000919

Individual's reply to me
There are no universals!

Consider: "Do as little harm as possible" If you are threatened with destruction, it makes more sense to cause as much harm as possible to your potential destroyer to ensure if you survive, it will be less capable (ideally totally incapable) of threatening you again.

What is "good" and "right" depends first on the individual, and then on the situation. In a sense, all things relate ultimately to the individual. It is after all the individual who is thrown into this world and forced to make some sense out of it. Therefore, I propose that the only "good" is that which benefits the individual. Note that this does not mean commiting a crime for self-gain is "good". Not unless you can be absolutely sure you'll get away with it. As this is statistically unlikely, then the consequences of your crime will obviously be detrimental to yourself. Nor would it be "good" to you if by upbringing and social influence, your conscience weighs on you after committing it and getting away with it. Therefore, committing a crime is "bad" in this sense.

Similarly, if an individual is forced into a situation where he/she is forced to choose between two outcomes both detrimental to him/herself, then obviously that which is less detrimental to the self is "good" in relation to the other. For example: If I kill A, I may be executed, but there is a small chance I may get away with it. However, if I don't kill A, I will definitely die (for whatever reason). Obviously the right thing to do would be to kill A.

In real life, situations aren't so simple, but Hume said all complexities can be reduced to their basic components. I say after analyzing each of these components and coming to a conclusion, we will be able to decide for ourselves whether or not something is right or wrong, but only in each particular situation. And yes, what may be right for me may not be right for the next individual.

my reply to individual:
Close to universals?


When one destroys one's enemy, one could still be following the principle "Do as little harm as possible" (or some suitably modified proposition) if in one's judgement, not killing him would result in the greater harm he may do to others, not excluding oneself.

Perhaps even if there are no absolute universals, there could be statements that are close to that, and yes, it does depend on the situation quite a bit. So...close to universals to serve as a guide, plus more thinking, depending on individual circumstances. How's that?

Take sanctions against Iraq, for instance. Should they be continued seeing that the sanctions are also causing suffering to women and children? It's a difficult problem since the positive effects of the sanctions (as a preventive measure from Iraq becoming a bully again, as a deterrence to others etc) have to be weighed against their negative effects (harm done to the innocent). In the end, it's a difficult situation but the principle "Do as little harm as possible" could be a useful starting point to help parties concerned to come to a decision.

Of course, self-interest could also be a competing principle, (something like "Preserve the self whenever possible"?) but then, how would one make sense of altruism, or is there really no such thing?

So perhaps, what is required is not a mere listing of principles but a hierarchical list, one in which some principles may be more important than others.

In any case, whether or not there are true universals in theory, it may still be useful to attempt to draw up some sort of code, to serve as a guide to daily living.

One practical example was "The Sex Code: morals for moderns" by Francis Bennion, published in the early 90s, which is, unfortunately presently out of print.

Entry 45 20000914

my2cents message
So what is real and what is virtual?

Quote " So what is real and what is virtual?

What is ethical and what is unethical? " Unquote from 43.1

Nothing..... everything is virtual... the AIs has controlled the world.. and we are just leaving a virtual dream they have created... ahhh.....

Just my2cents.... Too much Matrix... The world is unethical... just live with it.......


My reply to my2cents
Anything goes??

Is it the case that it is impossible to distinguish between the ethical and the unethical? Or that one person's ethical is another person's unethical? Or that one culture's ethical is another person's unethical?

If any of the above is true, ethics become nothing more than relativism. Something is right because it appears to me, or to my culture to be right. And if you or your culture thinks that the same thing is wrong, why then, you are right too. In such a context, how is one to distinguish right from wrong?

Bringing God into the picture doesn't help much either. Is an action good because God says it is good? Or is an action good because God recognises it to be good? The former view leads to absurdities such as "If God had said that adultery is good, then adultery would have been good, but unfortunately he said that it was bad."

So how does one distinguish between ethical and unethical? One possible answer is...... it is self-evident. Actions that are good are recognisably so, and does not need any justification. We just know that it is so.

Consider the statement: do as little harm as possible. What is your instinctive reaction to it? Do you think it is a good or bad principle? Isn't it self-evident that it is a good principle?

The challenge for ethics is to discover such universals so that we can use them as guides to our daily lives.

Reference: Theodore Shick, "Is morality a matter of taste?" (Free Inquiry Magazine, Vol 18 No 4.) The URL of FI is

Entry 44 dated 20000911

My "farewell message" as school term re-opens
Thanks, everyone!!

School reopens today, and I may not be able to get into this board as often as I would wish. I have loads of marking to do!

Thank you so much for participating, and in such an open-minded fashion.

I am extremely grateful for your enthusiasm in discussing this topic because your messages have stimulated my thinking on this issue and I find myself learning so much from our exchanges.

This is what active learning is all about by the way -- not the teacher standing in class and delivering the facts but a participatory mode of learning through asking questions, challenging views and arguing matters out. If only this kind of vibrancy can be recreated in our classrooms!

That we all managed to conduct the discussions in such a civilized manner and on such a sensitive topic is truly amazing to me. And that we have managed to make this thread the most popular thread in the whole forum is just as remarkable.

If you had asked me if Singaporeans would be interested in discussing ethics a fortnight ago, I would say that the interest would be at most lukewarm. Looking at this thread however, in answer to the question, "Do we care about ethics?": it just has to be "Yes, yes yes!!!"

Thank you everybody and also to whoever in the ST who suggested this topic, which by the way, is one of the few that is not an offshoot arising from a letter to the Forum page.

Warmest regards.


Pygmy's reply to me dated 20000911

hi [witness], very glad to hear you are a teacher, a noble profession. It would be good if you are teaching in Singapore.

You contributions have added value to this forum and will be missed. All the secular humanistic best to you. cheers!

Friday, September 15, 2000

Entry 43 dated 20000910

jackpolo's comments on my entry
I see you point witness you're almost godly..

I see your point. You do see the necessity of punishment in society . For a moment I also thought you equated punishment with condemnation of the person. However in the real world , some amount of subjectivity will come into play. Afterall we are all humans even if we are judges, doctors or lawyers. I can't imagine a judge sentancing a man for rape torture and then murder , and thinking within himself , "oh he's a fine man actually but ah! a pity the effects of environment and society..." The sentancing judge will in all probability be disgusted with the crime himself, but hopefully he will still be fair in his judgement.

Ideally if a judge sentances a man, he does so giving him that punishment which befits the crime and not more, I would have thought. To give him more than necessary punishment so that it will be a deterrent to others is itself wrong. Why should he be victimise to be a deterrent or an example, just because he happened to be the no1 or no 22nd one to commit the crime? So I think we are in agreement where that is concerned.

Looking at your posting on Hitler again, maybe you believe too much in what Hitler says. Hey, the man was a politician, a dictator a racist responsible for the Holocast and you believe him when he says he is a Christian? If Hitler for all his vile deeds is a Christain, then I am an Angel. But I really should not judge Hitler, who are we to judge him. Bibically only GOD will judge in the end days.

Entry 42 dated 20000910

My reply to lincoln
No need to condemn, but still need to punish!

I think you have misunderstood me. Non-condemnation does not preclude punishment. Kindly read my reply to jackpolo which is coded as (Entry 21).

Here's the meaning of condemn (Merriam Webster's Collegiate Online Dictionary):

Main Entry: con·demn Pronunciation: k&n-'dem Function: transitive verb Etymology: Middle English, from Middle French condemner, from Latin condemnare, from com- + damnare to condemn -- more at DAMN Date: 14th century 1 : to declare to be reprehensible, wrong, or evil usually after weighing evidence and without reservation 2 a : to pronounce guilty : CONVICT b : SENTENCE, DOOM 3 : to adjudge unfit for use or consumption 4 : to declare convertible to public use under the right of eminent domain

I am using the word in the most common sense of it -- sense 1. You could pronounce a convict guilty and yet in your mind not think of him as evil.

Admittedly, this is more a mental attitude. But it is crucial because it allows you not to hate the criminal, but to hate what he did.

Entry 41 dated 20000910

lincolnsoo's response to me (entry 19)
If we just condemn the act and not the criminal

If we do that, we will probably have to build more mental homes instead of jails. Efficient defence counsels will usually argue for the criminals.1) an unintentional rash act 2) moments of acute madness 3) abused childhood leading to psychotic behavior 4) mental disorder 5) suffering from halluciationary effects due to drugs or psychotic sydrome 6) provocation causing moments of lost of control and rage.

So what do we tell the parents of the victims,"Sorry your daughter was just unfortunate that she was killed . The killer although her lover was suffering from temporarily dementia and thought your daughter was his abusive step-mother, so he strangled her and that is also partly because he has this neurosis "self strangulation syndrome" which he does to himself as an act of self abuse. When he killed your daughter he actually thought he was abusing himself" So uncle and aunt, sorry your daughters death was unfortunate, we condemn the act or acts that caused her death but you know, we cannot condemn Frankie Foo, because he has all these problems!" 'So we have enrolled him in Serene Home for the Mentally Unsound till he gets better"

I'll say a "load of rubbish!" If I were that uncle and aunty who lost their daughter.

"We understand your loss and your anger and your feelings uncle and aunty but we have condemned the acts in the newspapers already, what more can we do, we cannot condemn the criminal, maybe we should condemn his step-mother for having abused him that led to his psychotic behavior."

"No we cannot dothat because the stepmother was that way because of her own step-father who also abused her and made her the psychotic lousy step mother that she was!"

Entry 40 dated 20000909

My reply to Pondicherry
Use the tool or is up to you

All of life make up the contents of ethics. The other day, we discussed the ethics of prostitution. Ethics in government and politics is relevant in the issue of ministers' salaries. Bioethics will become increasingly important as the mysteries of genomics are revealed. So long as life has to relate to life, the ethics of it make up one notable aspect of such a relationship.

I agree that ethics has to rely on certain principles that are universal in nature. The challenge may be to discover exactly what all these principles are and come to a consensus regarding them. Should man lord it over the animals, for instance, just because he can?

Blame ethics? Whatever for? You have to decide if you wish to apply rational thinking as your guide to action or if you wish to listen to priests and mullahs. Just do what you feel is useful for you. Whichever tool you use, the objective is a win-win situation for all concerned -- whenever possible.

Entry 39 dated 20000909

Pondicherry's query to me [modified by him]
Ethics-the reasoning from?

Ethics; where does ethics come from?. It must have been derived from a body of universal principles and or shared philosophies or beliefs. Some of these beliefs may even be religious philosophical beliefs. It could even be some share values or understanding within a community thus we may say the ethics of doing business differs one country to another. We cannot blame ethics for man's frailty. Can we blame religion for man's frailty?

Euthanasia now that's interesting. Is it ethical? No? No life support? it that ethical? Private Oncologists charging exhibitant fees, is that ethical? Hospitals looking into your CPF account and demanding deposits before admitting you in, is that ethical? Hospitals insisting that your bills be totally paid up before releasing the body of the deceased, is that ethical?

Entry 38 dated 20000911

red wind's reply to me
Thank you for considering - to Witness

Thank you for your consideration of my posting. I have always tried to keep an open mind about things (quite difficult at times though). I've constantly tried to live by the precept, 'question everything and believe nothing absolutely' - especially one's own views. One's own views are often limited by our current state of intelligence. And if we are to acknowledge that our intelligence is constantly growing, then our views, if on the right track, is nothing but a step closer to the truth but never completely possessing it in its entirety. Constant revision, modification and that much needed dash of humility seems to be the key.

I applaud the intellectual humility you have exhibited and if anything, it can only see an ongoing positive correlation between growing intelligence and grasp of the truth. I completely agree with you, " much knowledge and wisdom to try and acquire...but so little time." But humanity and the rest of creation is worth the effort isn't it?

I salute you.

Best Regards. And the best for your academic year.

Edwin Anthony

Entry 37 dated 20000911

My reply to red wind
Still seeking the divine...


A perceptive posting. Although I have just about given up on formal religion, I do believe in some aspect of the divine (though this may not be any kind of being at all). I find theories such as the Gaia Theory (the world is truly a living organism) to be inherently an attractive one.

I greatly admire especially the views of the likes of Ken Wilber whose landmark book "A Brief History of Everything" (Shambala Publications, 1996, available at Borders) is absolutely riveting. Wilber refers to those who subscribe to a purely materialistic landscape as living in flatland. His division of the lifesphere into four sectors: individual-external (scientific/objective), individual-internal (psychological and spiritual/subjective), society external (sociological) and society internal (cultural) -- in my view is very insightful.

For instance, based on Wilber's categories, the mind/brain problem becomes more easily understood. Brain is what you get when you examine the individual from the outside looking in. From this external-objective perspective, no matter how sophisticated your tools are, the mind is nowhere to be found. In order to study the mind, we need to adopt the internal-subjective perspective. Once we adopt this perspective, it is so obvious that we do have minds: pain for instance is a distinctive feeling that is more than just the excitation of a nerve.

If anything, I think I could be a pantheist. But my experience of the divine is still so elementary that it is akin to that at the kindergarten stage or below.

The world is truly a wondrous place though -- so much knowledge and wisdom to try and acquire.... but so little time.

Entry 36 dated 20000910

red wind's reply to me
Religion and Humanism - to Witness

I view 'God' as an 'ideal'. Arguing about the existence of God diverts us from focusing on what God 'stands for'. Some years ago i was caught up in a discussion on whether God exists. I however thought that the question, 'if it was good to believe in God', to be more fruitful. Dwelling on the problem of 'the existence of God' would depend on the criteria which one applies to determine the 'truth' of a phenomena. When applying the scientific method, 'God's' existence cannot to date be proven. However, the question we should ask is, 'Does Science discover reality or CONFINE our perception of it'? Are there no other methods to determine truth? Our love-affair with science has brought about a tunnel-vision that has focused our view on one at the expense of trying out others. I am not stating a support for or against here but merely stating that we have a lot to learn and that relying on one means failing to consider other possibilities. If anything, that is a more 'scientific' view when one considers the spirit with which Scientific inquiry has been pursued.

I see that you are inclined to categorise 'religion', 'god', 'myth' and 'superstition' together, sometimes implying their interchangeability. That is erroneous. Can we not extract that which is relevant and appropriate to answer the queries brought about by the excesses of our times? Such a view as that which you propose is contradictory to your posting on morality as a matter of degree. Bad in one area does not mean ALL bad does it?

Wars being conducted in the name of religion do not make the latter bad but is more indicative of our misinterpretation of religious precepts. Humanism is not guiltless when it comes to this. History has shown that Western Humanism was one of the main contributory factors in bringing about a standard of comparison which in turn was utilised to justify slavery, extermination of peoples, deforestation and some of its legacy includes the current crisis we are facing with global climatic conditions. Does this mean that humanism in itself is bad?

Condemning either humanism or religion is similar to throwing out the rice because of a few weevils. I urge you not to make that mistake in your analyses which has been very well thought out and most eloquently expressed to date.

I believe that a fusion is required between humanism and religion. Spiritual guidance along with 'helping ourselves'. Let us really study all aspects of a phenomena before prematurely discarding it.

Best Regards,

Edwin Anthony

Entry 35 dated 20000910

My reply to red wind
Religion is not for me

Scriptural texts are problematic because they are inextricably bound up with myths, moral prounouncements and common sense. If even the starting assumptions of these texts are questionable (for instance, does god exist?) how can they be relied on for moral guidance?

If indeed the texts are so superior as moral guides, there wouldn't have been so many instances of war conducted in the name of religion.

Religious texts are so nebulous in their interpretations that elites can interpret them anyway they like for their own agendas. Hence Marx's observation that "Religion is the opiate of the masses".

There is a wealth of humanist literature in the history of mankind more than enough to last several lifetimes to pore through. I prefer to rely on these, and on my own thinking, as a guide to action.

Like the laws of science, the principles of humanism are sometimes uncertain. But there is no choice. It is either that, or reliance on superstitions.

Entry 34 dated 20000910

red wind's comment to my reply
Religion - a particular time and culture? to Witness

Yes, different religions may have arisen in response to and as remedies for particular maladies of a particular time and space. However, that is no basis to state that it is only for THAT time and space. Many religious precepts may be as relevant our day and age as it was during the time of its creation. The 13th commandment of Christ's, 'love your neighbour as yourself' is one.

There are a host of issues which religion in time and country of origin may have addressed. However, timeless 'sins' such as greed, hate, lust, etc, are as relevant then as they are now. The green movement and some new-age groups are actually the legacy of our religious pasts attempting to rectify the damage caused by our movement away from these pasts.

If one is to discard these precepts and rely on one's 'own reasoning' then this begs the question, "what criteria is this 'reasoning' based on'?

Our conscience contains a variety of precepts that may be a product of our times but may also contain those of a religion of another time and space handed down through the ages by its incorporation into the customs and conventions of other 'times and spaces'. A historical 'psychoanalysis' is required here.


Edwin Anthony

Entry 33, dated 20000909

My reply to Pondicherry
The struggle to be good

Ethical reasoning is a tool that helps you to decide what to do in a given set of circumstances.

In most situations which are not problematic, conscience in fact will automatically prompt you to do what's right. Ethical reasoning comes in useful in the case of moral dilemmas.

Still, after arriving at a theoretical best solution, you need to translate this solution into action. How can ethics be blamed for man's frailty?

The point is that a religionist will consult his holy books to decide what to do. But holy books are written for a particular time and a particular culture. Myths and legends also abound in holy books. I prefer to place my trust in reasoning things out. But whether holy books or rational thinking, in the end, action still needs to be carried out. And that's where we falter.....being moral will always be a struggle.

And as you pointed out, there does seem to be universal moral principles which we can try to adhere to and which when interpreted sensibly is in the best interest of society. So little shifting needs to be done --- it is when moral dilemmas occur (eg euthanasia) that we may have to do some hard thinking.

Entry 32, dated 20000909

Pondicherry's posting
[witness] Morality ever shifting in one's life?

Just a thought: If ethics is so reliable (as in your posting) [see Entry 13], why is it that in one instance one can betray his friend , and the next instance he is still faithful to his wife?

The set of ethics that influences his relationship with his friend must surely be the same set of ethics that guides his relationship with his wife. Right? What sayeth you?

Sunday, September 10, 2000

Entry 31 dated 20000909

My reply to sky
An interesting question

My thinking would be that it is not a religion in the literal sense (senses 1, 2 3 of your dictionary definition) but it could be a religion in the metaphorical sense (sense 4 of your dictionary definition -- as in "she was religiously devoted to her studies.")

I think the defining quality of any religion in the literal sense must involve the worship of an entity bigger than himself. It has thus often been said that Buddhism for instance, because it does not believe in a God, is not a religion but a philosophy.

But the issue is really a complex one because different people have different perceptions about their beliefs. So for many who do think of Buddha as some kind of God, Buddhism is indeed a religion and is commonly labelled as such.

I tend to think of secular humanism as an attitude of mind rather than as a religion. For more information on secular humanism, is one good source.

Entry 30 dated 20000909

skyocean's entry
Is 'Secular Humanism' really a 'Religion' in itself ???

What I saw in a Dictionary:

"religion. (1) BELIEF in one or more gods, esp. that they made the world and control it and give men life after death. (2) A PARTICULAR SYSTEM OF BELIEF and the worship, BEHAVIOUR, LIFESTYLE etc., CONNECTED WITH IT. (3) the life of a RELIGIOUS ie.person who has given his/her life to the service of God. (4) SOMETHING that one TAKES VERY SERIOUSLY, OFTEN AS A MATTER OF CONSCIENCE. "

"god. (1) a being (one of many) which is worshipped, as one who made or rules over (a part of) the life of the world. (2) a person or THING TO WHICH GREAT IMPORTANCE IS GIVEN. (3) a person who likes to think that he is very important and should command obedience from others. "

Dear witness, going by any, some or all of the above definitions, would you consider 'secular humanism' to be a 'religion' in itself???

Entry 29 dated 20000909

individual's affirmation of my message
The Superman

I fully agree with witness! To quote my favourite philosopher (most other people hate him):

"...God is dead! The churches and temples are his sepulchres!" (FN)

I believe we make our own destiny, and there is no place for a divine being(s) if we are to achieve our utmost potential. Such a being and all its attendant commandments and the dogma of its curators and followers serve only as a "dangerous myth" (FN) to restrain the truly exceptional INDIVIDUAL in what he/she can attain. "Religion is the opium of the masses" (Karl Marx). It is "a denial of life" (FN)

On ethics and morality - "The Ubermensch (Superman) rises above the culture, ethics and morality of the herd. He CREATES his own culture, ethics and morality".

Who is this "most dangerous philosopher of our time"? FN - Friedrich Nietzsche!

Are we bold enough to leave behind this "dangerous myth" of religion and take that first step to becoming "The Superman"?

Entry 28 dated 20000909

My reply to redwind's message (Entry 8.2)
The hero lies in you

I agree that belief in God may frighten, or move or inspire some people to behave better, but these are by no means inevitable consequences.

There is also the question of which god or gods to believe in.

Generally, I am fairly sympathetic to the Buddhist ideal of man as potential superman (or loosely speaking, god), the pantheism of Hinduism and Taoism, and the humanism of Confucianism and the classical Greek philosophers.

I think that believing in anthropomorphic gods however do more harm than good -- these gods resemble humans too closely -- they are whimsical, they behave violently, they are power-hungry...and they do not hesitate to condemn unbelievers to eternal torment for the flimsiest of reasons.

I believe that we have a rich enough heritage of humanism to draw from in order to learn to be moral beings. In the age of modern science and technology, I see no reason whatsoever to rely on superstitions as moral anchors.

Entry 27 dated 20000910

My clarification to redwind
Hitler believed in god

The main point under discussion was whether belief in god is distinct from morality. Hitler professed himself to be a christian. Hence he clearly believes in god. But most people see him as immoral because he is racist. Hence my point that belief in god and morality does not necessarily go together.

Entry 26 dated 20000910

redwind's comment to me (Entry 11)
Hi Witness

Just a word about Hitler. What is the point you're trying to make in your second last paragraph? True. He proclaimed himself Christian. However, proclaiming yourself Christian does not make you a 'practicing' one, unless one was to consider just the ritual observations which, in itself, hardly qualifies one as a Christian.

I definitely agree with you that belief in God is different from being ethical or moral. The first may aid in the inculcation of the latter but is not a 'necessary cause'. However, as stated in my earlier posting, it helps.


Edwin Anthony

Entry 25 dated 20000910

My reply to redwind
I believe in ideals too

Ideals are fine with me. I am a fervent admirer of Confucius, of the Greek philosophers, of Gandhi, Budhha and intellectuals such as Sartre or Darwin or a host of others.

Religious ideals are something else altogether. Whilst I do admire Jesus, I doubt the claim that he is the son of god, because even the god concept is fraught with so much difficulties.

Not too sure about the concept of selfish interdependence though. Covey didn't mean it this way. What I admire about Covey's framework in fact is that it is basically principle-centred leadership. Don't we want everybody to be happy, if possible? Then we have to make the effort to think win-win. Surely better that than win-lose or lose-win?

Entry 24 dated 20000910

redwind's reply to me
Interdependence - to Witness

'Can't we depend on one another for support?'

Unfortunately, many a time, that is more like the blind leading the blind. An ideal is required as an additional guide. An ideal of a 'son of God' who loved us so much as to allow himself to nailed to a cross, an ideal of a Buddha who gave up his princely status and wealth in search of enlightenment, an ideal of a Confucius who chose to rather spend much of his years espousing the merits of social responsibility rather than just content himself with a high government post, etc, etc. These ideals are of immense relevance to our daily 'modern' lives as much as they were in their own times. Our path since our divergence from these ideals and our increasing dependence on our own 'wisdom' and reliance on other like-minded individuals has seen much strife in human-human and human-nature interactions.

Interdependence is good. No. It's great! Religion serves as guide in how this interdependence should be toned. However what we have here now is a 'selfish interdependence' where the 'other' is valued insofar as what i can 'get' out of him or her.

God helps those who helps themselves. Yes. But our 'helping ourselves' now seems to be quite frequently at the expense of another.


Edwin Anthony

Entry 23 dated 20000909

My reply to lincoln
Where's the connection?

Why does the fact that we are not perfect necessarily lead to reliance on religion? Can't we depend on one another for support?

I think Steven Covey in his book "The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People" made an important point when he moved that the highest stage of maturity of humans is not independence but inter-dependence.

Even if you choose to believe in god, remember that God helps those who help themselves.

Entry 22 dated 20000909

lincoln soo's comment to jack's message (Entry 12)
Who dare claims he is ethical?

Humans cannot be totally ethical and moral in their lives. Unless of course they are not humans. It is becauseof that that we need God -a religion. Well at least the majority maybe with the exception of "philosophers". Yet some philosophers do believe in God.

Entry 21 dated 20000910 begins here:

My counter to jack
The purpose of punishment

Punishment supposedly serves as a deterrent, both for the perpetrator of the crime as well as for others.

Punishment could also be reformative; hopefully through undergoing the punishment, the criminal realises that he has done the wrong thing and will repent.

Punishment is traditionally also carried out for retributive purposes -- an eye for an eye -- or the revenge principle.

You can punish someone without in your mind condemning him in any way. There is this humble acknowledgement that if you had his genes and experienced what he experienced, you may be a criminal too. But for practical reasons, society has to be protected against criminals; hence the punishment. But no necessary condemnation.

Entry 20 dated 20000910 begins here:

jack's reply to me
What a wonderful world of no criminals

Yes, we can talk about whether there is free will or not .if there was indeed perfectly "free will" I would have chosen not to be borned! Right?

What a wonderful world of no criminals! In principle yes condemn the act, but not the criminal. By punishing the criminal for the act, are we necessarily condemning him? No. Like you said when one lives within a community or society there will always be rules to adhere to(the regulation of human behaviour). Inevitably for differing reasons some people will break the rules. So if punishing is deemed to be condemning then what should be done? Let the ones who commit the acts just continue as they are?

Personally I am against condemnation of any one, but I can see that in many cases punishment is necessary if persuasion, corrective counselling has failed and even so after punishment, counselling should continue.

After they have been punished and served their term and have been counselled, do we still continue to "condemn" them by excluding them from society proper by denying them jobs etc etc, now that is another issue.If we do, then we are condemning. People do make mistakes in their lives and they do need to be given that second or third chance.

Entry 19 dated 20000910 begins here:

My reply to jack
Condemn the act, not the criminal


Human behaviour is a complex issue -- can a person help doing what he does? I am not too sure even if there is such a thing as free will. If we are the products of our genes and our environment, where is the room for freedom of the will?

Practically speaking though, human behaviour needs to be regulated -- society needs to be protected against those who commit crimes, for instance. So we condemn negative acts and try to take measures to minimise the occurrence of such acts but I don't think that it is useful to condemn the person.

Isn't there something like such an attitude in the new testament too -- judge not lest ye be judged, remove the beam from your own eye before you try to remove the dust from the eyes of others etc...

Entry 18 dated 20000909 begins here

jack's counter to me
That's life..Moralising vs judgment and evaluation

In principle one should not be too quick to "moralise" about others without knowing all the facts of the case of the person's life. But as to evaluation and judgement, one is called upon to do this all the time. And sometimes evaluations and judgement can be wrong. And we learn from mistakes. It is part and parcel of daily living.

If one does not take a stand in an issue. It can be argued that the person is such a careful and fair or principled person, he does not like to judge others. Or is the person just airy fairy with no stand on the issue?

Entry 17 dated 20000909 begins here

My reply to jack
Let's not be too quick to judge others

Fair enough. It may be useful to make value judgements at times.

In the example of the doctor, it seems so simple because it is a made up example. In real life, it may not be so easy to pass judgement because the situation will be far more complex. So I wouldn't want to waste too much time passing judgements on others unless I must.

When I look at a criminal, I try not to judge him. Instead, I wonder if I will be that way too if I had his genes and was subjected to the same experiences as he.

It's hard as it is to decide what to do with our own lives without making unnecessary judgements about the lives of other people.

Entry 16 dated 20000909 begins here:

jack's reply to me
Passing judgement or evaluation!

But life is also like that! People will have opinions which hinges on evaluation or judgement as to good or bad right or wrong. That's just how society functions.

You can't have a nebulous situation. Nothing really good nothing really bad, nothing really right, nothing really wrong.

You said the "good doctor .... the bad husband" - that can be said to be a judgement right?

Entry 15 dated 20000909 begins here:

My counter to jack
The good doctor... also a bad husband. Life's like that.

In the current book I am reading entitled "The Secrets of Love & Lust" (by Simon Andreae, Abacus Books, 2000), women may be said to be both Madonnas and Whores. Depending on the time of their menstrual cycles and their moods, their behaviour undergoes changes.

We are not robots you know. So the single label "ethical" is not enough to capture the whole person. Averaging out the qualities in this case would just be meaningless.

Why is it so important to pass judgement on anyone, anyway?

Entry 14 dated 20000909 begins here:

jack's rejoinder to me
(witness) reply in

In, I had already given you my reply. But I have yet to get a reply from you as to your thoughts about the"doctor"(my example given). Would you consider him ethical? morally right? morally right at times only? ethical at times? ethical in his professional life but not moral right in his personal life? Can we really compartmentalise his personal and professional life or do we average it out and say he is ethical on the whole?

Would you say he is an ethical person?

Entry 13 dated 20000909 begins here:

My reply to jack
Morality is not a constant attribute

But of course, no one's perfect. Morality as a human attribute is not something that is constant. Depending on time, place and circumstances, our behaviour may be said to be moral or immoral. It is more like "You behaved immorally when you betrayed the trust of your friend" but on another occasion, "You acted rightly when you remained faithful to your wife despite the opportunity to stray." The important thing about relying on ethics is that it encourages you to think rationally about your actions instead of just relying on your conscience.

But the original point I was trying to convey was that believing in god and being moral are not the same things. Do you agree with this view?

Entry 12 dated 20000909 begins here:

jack's reply to me
Ethics and Morality

Yes how many are" genuinely ethical " as you put it in all aspect of their lives? I can see that a person may be extremely professional and ethical about his work and his career. eg. a doctor who is ethical in his practice, but in his family life he is adulterous and a wife basher. So he may seem to be ethical in his professional life but under conventional standards, he is not a person of good morals. Would you still consider him an ethical person?

Entry 11 dated 20000909 begins here:

My reply to jackpolo
Ethical = Moral!!


Being ethical is synonymous to being moral!

Here's proof from the Merriam-Webster's Collegiate On-line dictionary:

[[[Main Entry: mor·al / Function: adjective Etymology: Middle English, from Middle French, from Latin moralis, from mor-, mos custom Date: 14th century

1 a : of or relating to principles of right and wrong in behavior : ETHICAL
b : expressing or teaching a conception of right behavior
c : conforming to a standard of right behavior
d : sanctioned by or operative on one's conscience or ethical judgment e : capable of right and wrong action etc...

synonyms MORAL, ETHICAL, VIRTUOUS, RIGHTEOUS, NOBLE mean conforming to a standard of what is right and good....]]]

Of course, action speaks louder than words. One needs to walk the talk. But if one is genuinely ethical, then one is also being moral.

Belief in god however is quite different from being moral or ethical. Such a belief may frighten or move or inspire someone into being moral, but these reactions are not inevitable.

This proves that belief in God and morality are very different attributes, and one cannot assume that where the former belief exists, the latter is also the case.

Hitler is the perfect example of someone who believes in God and yet is immoral. Do you have some insider information that he doesn't believe in God? (That he proclaims himself to be a Christian on the other hand, is common knowledge.)

As for the issue of conscience, read my earlier posting on "What is conscience?" and see if you disagree.

Entry 10 dated 20000909 begins here:

jackpolo's reply to my message (Entry 5)
Hilter may have thought himself Christian maybe...but

I am not too sure if having a good conscience is a given. Are you saying that good and evil conscience is a given in people? (ie a conscience guided by good, and conscience guided by evil.) Then again you may ask what is good and what is evil-relative isn't it? Dependent on conventional standards, I would have thought.

True that morality may not necessarily go hand in hand with the belief in God. But as you said "People can be motivated to be moral because of their belief." Then if they are so motivated then they'll find it difficult to sleep, if not they 'll sleep alright despite the fact that they have doine wrong.

By the same token an ethical person may not necesarily be moral.

As for Hitler, he may have considered himself to be a Christian,maybe But being a Christian surely does not mean just calling yourself a Christian right? many people Christian and non-christian would have considered Hilter not a Christian.

Entry 9, dated 20000909 begins here:

My reply to pt 1 of redwind's message:
Conscience alone cannot ensure morality

Assuming that by conscience is meant the sum total of our nurturing and environmental influences, I absolutely agree with you about conscience. That is why my view is that it is not sufficient to rely on one's conscience -- it is the lowest common moral and cultural denominator. We have to be able to rise above our consciences sometimes.

Entry 8 dated 20000909 begins here:

redwind's double-barrelled reply to my message (Entry 5):
Belief in God Vs Morality - A thought, Witness 1

'Having a conscience is a given. Everybody cannot help but have a conscience'

But what is contained in this 'conscience' is the question. If the conscience is to be likened to Locke's 'tabula rasa'(a clean slate) on which the morals of a particular space and time are written, then we have to look into the moral content of that particular time and space. Customs and conventions are to an extent unique to a particular time and space as these, like the personality of any individual, are subject to change and evolution. This begs the question, evolution in 'what direction'. For instance, the concept of 'progress' itself has undergone redefinition through the ages and especially in the west.(with the conflict between secular and the religious, the scientific revolution and renaissance humanism) This in turn defined self-realisation and individual interpretation of 'progress' in their own lives. And again, in turn, our conscience. This interpretation may not necessarily bode well for the lot of humanity. There was an increasing emphasis on the individual, a mechanistic view of all phenomena, a subject-object division between humanity and nature, earthly gains and so on. For instance, in the colonial period, the 'conscience' of significant figures in the west thought slavery, extermination of peoples of ‘inferior cultures’ and deforestation justifiable. At the end of the day we have to inquire into the 'inclusiveness' of a person's conscience. Is there increasing focus on the self as opposed to the other? The 'content' is an important factor which points to the personality of the status quo.



Belief in God Vs Morality 2

'Morality has to do with man's relations to his fellow man. No belief in God is necessary for a person to behave morally'.

I agree that belief in God is not necessary for a person to behave morally. However, I submit that belief in God helps inhibit ‘immoral’ behaviour and further ‘encourage’ moral behaviour. It serves as an additional restraining force especially in a society where self-interest and the Darwinian perspective (Spencer’s ‘survival of the fittest’ is relevant here) has significantly displaced earlier ideals of communality and social responsibility. As far as the law, customs and conventions are concerned, sanctions, when these are transgressed, are only suffered when one is ‘caught’. Belief in God however means that one is ‘watched’ all the time. That of course does not mean that all ‘believer’ do no evil. It just means that we have an additional restraining force. This is not to be underrated. I once argued with my mother saying that there was no point of people going to church or taking part in other religious activities as these very people were guilty of all kinds of ‘sins’ when they stepped out. She however said, “Have you considered the possibility that they may be even worse without these”. I must admit that it made me think.

In our ‘autonomous morality’(ref. Piaget’s theorizing on morality) we have to look at society’s motivational forces and the directions it provides. What are these motivational forces and directions? Japan is one example. It was considered to be one of the most progressive nations in Asian colonial history. Why? It got rid of its Buddhist and Taoist theology (even to the extent of burning down some of these temples) which discouraged exploitative tendencies in favour of State sponsored and manufactured Shintoism. This was done to pave the way for the successful diffusion of western Capitalism. Buddhism encouraged restraint, detachment and moderation, Taoism, a love for and unity with nature, Christianity, an other-worldliness and love for all, Hinduism, also a unity with nature, Confucianism, communality and social responsibility. All contained precepts that were antithetical with capitalist emphasis on self, greed and materialism. This historical movement inevitably affects the conscience of the individual. Self-realisation has become synonymous with the fulfillment of earthly desires. It has led to the widespread hedonism and consumerism which is the hallmark of our times. The self has been redefined along with its conscience. With the displacement of a religious ‘Nirvana’ of spirituality, love, moderation, detachment and altruism with one of ‘More, More and More’ and ‘I, Me and Mine’ in this world, we are left with the disconcerting question on its impact on our individual consciences.

I am a secular Christian, Buddhist, Hindu, Confucian, Taoist, etc. I believe in the significance of spiritual motivation and direction in human affairs.

A Thought….

Best Regards,

Edwin Anthony

Friday, September 08, 2000

Entry 7 begins here

My entry dated 20000906:
Two Ethical Geniuses

"...the holy has been acknowledged by us to be loved of God because it is holy, not to be holy because it is loved (of God)" [From Plato's Euthyphro, c 380BC]

A paraphrase of the above quote is that when something is right, God approves of it; it is not right just because of God's approval.

In my humble opinion, Plato is an ethical genius because he was one of the first to recognise that ethics takes priority over religion.

Almost the same kind of attitude is evident in Confucius who lived even earlier. His humanistic stance is obvious in this quote from the Analects:

"Chi Lu asked about serving the spirits. Confucius said, 'If you can't yet serve men, how can you serve the spirits?'"

These insights are all the more remarkable because both men lived at a time when superstition was rife and intimately a part of their cultures.


Pondicherry's response dated 20000906:
Plato and his Republic Confucius and his Analects

Hard to agree with all things expounded by Plato. I think he would have made the perfect Dictator. Confucius philosopher maybe but would have been a mediore King.

Ethics maybe the body framework, Conscience the mind and Religion the soul. All three needed for a balanced person living within a community


My response to Pondicherry dated 20000906:
Not perfect but still...

Actually, I was referring specifically to their humanistic stances. There is definitely an elitist streak in Plato but his contribution to logical thinking cannot be denied.

Considering the times from which they sprang from, the achievements of Plato and Confucius remain considerable. Plato's influence on Western civilization was rivalled only by that of Aristotle, his student. Together the ideas of both men with regard to logic and philosophy influenced the thinking of Christian intellectuals (such as Thomas Aquinas and St Augustine) for centuries to come. Confucius's influence was equally strong, and his teachings have dominated Chinese civilization down to this very day.

Entry 6 (backdated entry, dated 20000905) begins here

More ethical food for thought

Is Pornography Evil?

"I am lucky in that I have a body that men like to look at, and I enjoy showing off. But at the end of it all, it's only a body -- I have breasts and genitalia, as does everyone else. I really can't see what the big deal is. I believe that we live in a very sick society because sex is hyped up to be something very magical and mysterious, only talked about in hushed voices, and hidden from the children. It's the most natural thing we've got. Does seeing a breast corrupt? How can it when everyone has them? Sexual activity is seen as dangerous and labeled pornography -- why? Nearly everyone on the planet does it -- everyone has the equipment. What's the problem? My views are simple: sex is natural. We all have bodies, but we are told sex is dirty, not to be talked about, that it will corrupt our children. We are banned from looking at it. Yet the most horrific scenes of violence and murder are almost encouraged. We give our children toy weapons; our films and books are full of violence and murder. And people tell me I'm corrupting our society. It's sick." (Nicki Lewis, Pornographic Model)

By the way, amazona.... I never said that pimps are necessarily immoral. Only those who FORCE others to prostitute themselves are immoral.

Isn't ethics interesting? ;-))

Entry 5 dated 20000909:

Belief in God vs Morality

"...only if you have no conscience and you don't believe in an Almighty God" (jackpolo)

Having a conscience is a given. Everybody cannot help but have a conscience.

Believing in god on the other hand is another thing altogether. I am not too sure if you are implying that morality goes hand in hand with belief in God. That would be a totally false idea.

Morality has to do with man's relations to his fellow man. No belief in god is necessary for a person to behave morally.

Religion primarily has to do with man's relations to his god. A man could be motivated to be moral because of this belief. But it should also be borne in mind that religious persons are not necessarily moral. Hitler, for instance, was a Christian.

Entry 4 begins here

jackpolo's entry dated 20000906:
Prof Lee Chun Wah-your comments plse?

You have expressed your views about ethics, and having been the first the start the thread rolling on this issue, perhaps you would care to share further your views, stance and comments re:

1) the relative importance of each: 1) conscience 2) ethics and 3) religion so as in your own words"to make society a more liveable place for all."

2) The issue of Prostitution both ethical and moral in relation to: a) the pimp b) the willing prostitute c) the unwilling prostitute d) the act of prostitution and e) the willing customer(ie.lonely men)

It will be interesting for me to learn from and to hear the views of a man of higher academic abilities. Thank you.


The Prof's response to jackpolo dated 20000906:
Responding to JackPolo with thanks...

I would like to respond to the mail from Jackpolo - 12:46am Sep 6, 2000 SGT. With regards to

1) the relative importance of each: 1) conscience 2) ethics and 3) religion so as in your own words" to make society a more liveable place for all."

Interestingly, I am currently also having a discussion with my former professors in theology on issues related to what you have listed here. Having been trained in the tradition of Notre Dame (among other scholarly places), I would take "conscience" as the moral imperative in life. Kant had argued that this element is fundamental in shaping how we ought to act. The rest such as ethics and religion are no less important; they are directional anchors.

With respect to 2) The issue of Prostitution both ethical and moral in relation to: a) the pimp b) the willing prostitute c) the unwilling prostitute d) the act of prostitution and e) the willing customer(ie.lonely men...

The second issue that you listed above is complex. I submit that both ethically and morally prostitution is inadmissible. However, as you have pointed out, there are the willing and unwilling prostitute, the pimp (or must I say manipulator), the act and the customer, this entire platform of players is a social problematic that cannot be resolved easily. I have no solution for this issue. But I do hold the belief that there are prostitutes who are are compelled by circumstances to partake in it. Very sad, indeed. Of course, the act is not love or emotional joy; in my view, it lies in the profane level of physical "fun", probably demeaning to the idea of being human.

Yes, there is the economic transaction of paid sexual services. However, as a society, we need to level up the livelihood of everyone to the extent possible. It would be disastrous if we hold the view that as long as there is a seller and a buyer that the prostitutional act is justified. Being responsible human beings, we ought to be all embracing of others' welfare too. Our conscience ought to prevent us from sliding into this drain of moral decay.

I thank you for your participation in this discussion. If you are interested in talking about issues in media culture, let me know. In any case, media culture is one of my many areas of work at NTU. Drop me a note anytime at []. Assoc Prof LEE Chun Wa


My response to the prof dated 20000907:
Questions for the Prof

Prof Lee...

How is sex as physical fun "profane"?

Why is engaging in commercial sex "probably demeaning to the idea of being human"?

How is condoning prostitution akin to "sliding into this drain of moral decay"?

It seems to be that we are needlessly repressive when it comes to matters pertaining to sex. It is a natural need, just as food or drink. When no exploitation is involved, why create guilt about the practice unnecessarily?


Entry 3 begins here

Pondicherry's post dated 20000905:

Ethics-the science of morals. Conscience-the moral sense of right and wrong. Religion- a system of faith and worship. they are all important and have a role to play in human lives. Even so, life is not perfect, because we are humans with human frailties!

Religion often guides the conscience- so it has its role to play Ethics- the science of morals may not be as potent as religion, which although may demand faith rather than logic. What is logical may not necessarily always be ethical!

I tend to agree with you Jackpolo,"let conscience be my guide!


My response dated 20000905:
What is conscience?

From where does our conscience spring? From the environment, I guess -- over the years, as a child grows up, he imbibes the values of his parents, his teachers and his peers. In transactional analysis, the conscience part of our personality consists of the PARENT component (the other two being ADULT and CHILD).

Is conscience a reliable guide to behaviour? In most cases involving conformity to societal values the answer is largely yes. But there are some cases when we cannot just rely on our consciences.

Take the use of pirated software for instance. How many are innocent? Does it prick our consciences that we are stealing from others? I suspect not much because the practice is so ubiquitous. And it is so easy to rationalise and ignore our consciences anyway. The CHILD in us wants to have something for (almost) nothing.

Here is where ethics can play a role to try and clarify the case through rational thinking. Without such thinking, we may continue to do the wrong thing in a mindless way, just because it is the usual way that society operates. Thinking about one's actions regardless of one's conscience is calling upon the ADULT component of our personality.

Deciding to be ethical however requires discipline and will. It is not enough to know right from wrong. The real challenge is to translate knowledge into action. Theoretically though, ethical reasoning is superior to just relying on our conscience.

Just more musings.

(Both postings are dated 20000905)

Entry 2 begins here.

My post dated 20000905:
Is prostitution immoral?

In conventional terms, undoubtedly so. But if you think about it rationally, it is not necessarily the case.

The prostitute provides a service for a fee. Workers everywhere provide their services; in return they receive their salaries. In that sense, workers are prostituting themselves too.

When people think of prostitutes as immoral, I suppose the issue is that the service they provide is sex. How is providing sexual services considered immoral? Sex, like food, is a basic need. Would you call cooks and waiters immoral?

Some people have needs that they cannot satisfy in conventional ways -- they may be lonely people, for instance, who are lacking in social skills. So they visit sex workers (the preferred term for prostitutes, which is not value-neutral). How are the sex workers immoral in providing such a service?

I don't pretend to have all the answers. Am just thinking out loud. But I would never hastily conclude that just because sex workers provide sex, that they are immoral. Judge not, lest ye be judged.


Response by lincolnsoo dated 20000905:
Witness, so Prostitution is moral immoral or amoral?

Witnessing the postings I don't think anyone made the statement that prostitution is immoral. In fact a person who believes in ethics can argue it is moral. It is a service. No one did the judging. Are you judging witness?


My response to lincoln dated 20000905:
What do you think?

Did I say that anyone make that statement?

Actually however, amizona did give a hint about the issue: "For example every profession has its own code of ethics. So even a professional prostitute can say "I have got my code of ethics, I don't just take money I provide a service! and I will only get paid if my client is happy" But we may argue about the moral issue with regards to prostitiution."

Notice the "But" as if to disagree with his previous sentence.

Take it that I was inspired to muse about the topic because of amizona's posting.

Me judge? Nope, I wouldn't dare.

So what's YOUR take on prostitution?


bolehtahan's response dated 20000905:
Maybe better to be ethical like witness!

So if I am religious, chances are prostitutes are out for me because religions believe in abstinence from pros.

If I am man of conscience also difficult because conventional societal socialization norms says hey prostitution is not morally good for me.

But if I keep to ethics and I believe prostitutes are ethical -they provide a service well I am helping them too ..OK lah! I think I am ethical


My response to bolehtahan dated 20000905
Be free to think!

Yup... you are free to think. Soar like the bird. Break free from holy books and social norms. After all, Sartre did say long ago that "Existence precedes Essence": that we are here is undeniable, but what we can become is entirely up to us.


amazona's response dated 20000905:
Don't add to what I said please

Witness I think you have over =interpreted me here. What makes you think I agree or disagree? with my first statement.

I am merely pointing out that ethically prostitutes may have a code of conduct and feel they provide a service to others. But of course morally there could be differences in opinion about such a service? Now what did I agree or disagree?

Now maybe you should tell lincoln your stance rather than put his question back to him.I am interested to know also if you think prostitution is "moral immoral or amoral?"


My response to amazona dated 20000905
Prostitution is....

...a way to make a living. Insofar as it provides a useful service for men who cannot (or do not wish to) obtain sexual gratification in other ways, I would tend to think that it is an honest profession that needs to be better acknowledged. The person who forces another to prostitute herself is the one who is immoral. So if a woman enters into the profession of her own free will, she's making a career choice which should not automatically disqualify her from being thought of as a moral person.