TED Conversations

Rob Warren

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What makes an ethical society?

Is it religion? The fear of eternal damnation in the afterlife will keep us on track.

Is it a sense of national pride? I love my country, therefore I love all those who dwell within it.

Is it the belief in a strong leader? He/She leads by example, so we must follow by the same example.

Is it wealth? Now I have my house, my car, my yearly holiday I can start caring more about the people around me.


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  • Dec 12 2011: Ethics is the discussion of right and wrong, where to draw boundaries. Being ethical means that you are able to discuss where boundaries of behaviour should be drawn, morality is your commitment to respecting those boundaries. The boundaries we, either individually or our communities, choose, flow from values which in turn come from our beliefs. Ethics is the discussion of how and where, within the context of a particular value system, the boundaries of right and wrong are drawn. Morality is then about how we live according to those boundaries.

    Therefore, I suggest that an ethical society is one which has the capacity to engage in continuous discussion as to what its beliefs are, its values and where boundaries of behaviour should be drawn. An unethical society is one in which this conversation does not take place! Personally, I think the comprehensive failure of Western society to engage in this ethical dialogue (and instead defaulting to individualism and consumption) is an important contributor to the malaise that affects the west today. An unethical society often leads to an immoral society because there is the assumption that 'anything goes' precisely because there is no conversation around what behaviour is and is not acceptable.
    • Dec 12 2011: Jan
      I think at least you have added something that needs to be considered. Without dialogue about the boundaries, which we don't have, it does become impossible to speak about cultural values.

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