Origin of Ethics

Author: Vanshika Shukla
The other day I got into a verbal exchange with a friend of mine about how the idea of God is unnecessary for our ethics to evolve or to some degree for our sense of morality. He claimed that ethics refer to the rules provided by an external source, whereas, morality is something subjective and to some degree, he was right over his claim that science has made us more rational, which explains why we should reappraise ourselves before throwing away our heritage and knowledge bequeathed to us by our ancestors.


If you’re an inveterate reader of Mythology, then you’d have noticed a certain degree of resemblance in the themes or gist in the stories from different civilizations, from all across the world, civilizations that were not even close and were separated by time frame, like Greeks, Indians, Egyptians or Vikings for that matter. Through these similarities, It looks like our ancestors were trying to tell us something important.


And the same goes without saying for the religions of the world. We humans no matter where we are on earth, have independently came up with an idea of higher value or transcendent value, you can personify it and call it God. It’s your imagined reality and you live by that.


Every individual has an ideal self, the transcendent self and we are judged by that ideal harshly. These archaic and mythic characters that makeup “the archetypes” reside within each one of us, and it is these “archetypes” that symbolize basic human motivations, values, and personalities. Swiss psychiatrist, Carl Gustav Jung came up with this theory years back when he said that the universal, mythic, archetype characters reside within the collective unconscious of all the people.


Each one of us intent to reach that ideal self and that’s the reason why we get depressed when we fail to achieve something because we are constantly being judged by our own self. We as a group try to see that Ideal in our gods, or mythical beings.


Now the question arises why do we even create an ideal being in the first place and how we collectively as a civilization, came to the same point in history. Maybe, this has to do with the predisposition of human consciousness for the order. To understand this, just think for a minute how good you feel on the days when you get things done and not so much when you have been sitting on the couch the whole day doing absolutely nothing. We humans, with our every action create order out of chaos, every single day. But by the 2nd law of thermodynamics, the entropy of a system as a whole always increases. Then how can we create order from disorder without defying the laws of Physics? That’s a topic for a whole another article.


Now you must be thinking, how our proclivity for orderliness has any correspondence, whatsoever, with the idea of God.


Well, we humans live in large groups and for our society to function smoothly it is imperative that we believe in an imagined reality. The point I’m trying to draw here is that we humans have been indoctrinated by the stories, myths, and religious text that have been passed down to us by our ancestors. Our morality and ethics that drive our culture are predicated on the idea of God or the transcendent being. We just can not extricate ourselves from that. If there is no higher value or transcendent value, then we can do whatever we want. If everybody starts doing whatever they want, then the whole human civilization will collapse. And that could lead to the destruction of our species. Now, you could see why we humans collectively believe in the idea of transcendent value and why our consciousness has a proclivity for an order in our life. So that we could function as a society and evolve in the process without ripping each other apart, even though we very much want to.


“Psychology is ultimately mythology, the study of the stories of the soul”

~ James Hillman