Every man, in his own opinion, forms an exception to the ordinary rules of morality.
William Hazlitt

Welcome back to”Exploring Morality”. In this chapter we will have a more general discussion about morals and ethics than in previous chapters. Moving away from academic theory and into the area of personal ethics. For most of us, the words morals and ethics are basically interchangeable. In this case we will refer to ethics as the collection of your moral principles. Your ethics. We’ll go through a short history of a few moral/societal codes and how each was interpreted on a societal level and an individual level. First, though, we’ll begin with one bit of academic theory. Specifically the psychological theory of New York born psychologist Lawrence Kohlberg.
Lawrence Kohlberg
In 1958, while studying psychology at the University of Chicago(Go Fighting Maroons!) , Kohlberg wrote a dissertation that would be later known as Kohlberg’s Stages of Moral Development. He theorized that moral development is divided up into 6 stages, each supplanting the earlier one to better deal with more complex moral questions.  It was not the first study of it’s kind, but Kohlberg followed development later into life than most others did and wrote more thoroughly on the basic elements of change at each developmental level. The six stages were divided in to three different levels, as follows:
Level 1 (Pre-Conventional)

1. Obedience and punishment orientation

(How can I avoid punishment?)
2. Self-interest orientation

(What’s in it for me?)
(Paying for a benefit)
Level 2 (Conventional)
3. Interpersonal accord and conformity

(Social norms)
(The good boy/good girl attitude)
4. Authority and social-order maintaining orientation

(Law and order morality)
Level 3 (Post-Conventional)
5. Social contract orientation
6. Universal ethical principles

(Principled conscience)

The first level develops in young children through interaction with parents and other authority figures. The first stage being punishment. Children are experimental and will push boundaries. Their own ideas of right and wrong are very much, at this point, based on the justice dealt out by authority. “I got spanked for doing this, so I best not ever do it again!”  After  a bit of seasoning, the child quickly develops a moral approach that concerns him or herself and how they can benefit. Maybe they expect a favor in return as the basis for even helping at all. Helping someone is on a case by case basis and judged mostly on how it may benefit them most. Sociopathic? Yes. But, again, they’re developing children.  Some, sadly, carry a great many traits from these early stages on into adulthood.  Well past the point of knowing better. The second stage also translates into children avoiding doing wrong for fear of being disciplined. An action that does not benefit them at all. Again, the standard set forth by those early authority figures will very much effect their moral decision making on into adolescence and their teens.

Level 2 concerns the moral reasoning of adolescents and adults.  With the guidelines set forth from the development in stage one, the individual begins to form a sense of societal morality. how their society works, where they fit into it, and how they can be a “good boy”  or  “good girl”. The individual moves past concern for praise or punishment and simply follows rules to keep the social norm. Authority is still questioned but fear of reprisal or concern for reward is no longer the sole factor when judging right and wrong. The distinctions are more nuanced in adults but adolescents and teens  begin to develop social bonds outside their family network  and realize that they are part of something far larger. When it all finally sinks in is anyone’s guess. But, in my opinion, most adults seem to” get it” around their late 20’s. The rule of law becomes important as  a means to ensure  social harmony and respect for people. By stage four, moral actions are no longer ruled by personal consequence but by a need to maintain social stability.Looking out for more than just the individual. Social morals. Societal laws.

Level 3 is where Kohlberg begins to distinguish himself from his predecessors and garner a bit of controversy with his work. At this level, many adults begin to realize the world is made up of different people, different cultures, and different standards. Morality is no longer about social norm or acceptability, but about justice. A realization that many “laws” are unfair and should be disobeyed. That the greater good of all is worth more than the laws any society has created. We are involved in a social contract and when a law or ethical standard cannot meet that, it musty be thrown down. In stage six, the individual operates outside excepted law as he or she believes that a social contract is not broken by a single person’s unilateral action.  if you see injustice would you step in regardless of law? “putting your self in their shoes”(empathy). Will you act? In this way, the act becomes the end. not the means. A just act is justice served. Though Kohlberg admitted he can’t imagine many people operating on this level for too long. Then they eventually become the injustice they were trying to counter.

Kohlberg drew heat for this by focusing too much on a highly vague term, “justice”. Almost as if he were promoting a form of consequentialism. His work is highly regarded though as a more than suitable outline of  a person’s moral development. It is a framework used by many psychologists all around the world and a good starting point on discussing personal morals.

Speaking of which, let’s look at some famous moral codes from history. Laws and rules that shaped people and nations. We will begin in 12th century Japan with the code of Bushido, the moral code of the samurai. Bushido is believed to have formed from the teachings of several Japanese texts from the time including the Kojiki , the oldest existing book from Japan, dating back to the 7th century. It is a collection of history and myth that shaped the foundation of the honor code that would become Bushido. The Kojiki mentions the honor of the sword and the warrior’s devotion to master and land. All strong tenants of the samurai. The term Bushido, formed from the Chinese word “bushi”(warrior poet), did not appear in the original Kojiki and would not enter everyday Japanese language til around the 13th or 14th century.


Basically, they'll cut your head off in one clean slice, then write an awesome haiku about it.


By the 13th century, samurai were a special class in Japan and tasked with waging war for their masters, the shogunate. It is in the war torn era between the 13th and 16th centuries that Japanese Bushido becomes the code we know today. Duty and honor were above all else for  a samurai.  Duty to one’s land and master, and always honor in every action . Through this, a moral code was shaped for on and off the battlefield. A samurai code had already existed but Bushido expanded it and formalized it for all of Japan. Now you not only honored your enemy on the field of battle but honored the common farmer in his field. Not only loyalty to your master,  but loyalty to a greater Japan(for your master). A samurai did not solely dedicate himself to knowledge of war and the blade but also spirituality and the discipline of the mind. Though samurai were instruments sharpened to kill, Bushido was a code that respected life and venerated the fallen. By the 17th century many of the tenants of Bushido were made state law by the Tokugawa shogunate.   The Bushido code was easily applicable to the lives of all Japanese people. Respect for your fellow countrymen, honor and duty to the Japan and to your community, and a focus on personal responsibility and spiritual peace. After the fall of the shogunate, the code of Bushido remained a central tenement of Japanese culture. Passing through Imperial Japan and on into modern times, the duty and respect bound in Bushido still dictate the personal moral codes of millions of Japanese citizens. The samurai are highly regarded not just in Japan but also in the west where a similar code or conduct sprung up around the same time as Bushido.

On a personal note, there has never been, and there will never be, anything as badass as the samurai.



In Medieval Europe the knight class, very similar to the samurai, were developing their own code based on many of the same principles of honor, duty, and respect. The code of Chivalry. Chivalry is the English version of the Old French word “chevalerie”, meaning knighthood. Like Bushido, it was  a code formed on the battlefield between knights competing and battling for their lords.  Between the 13th and 15th centuries, the term became romanticized by  poets and bards and became a form of etiquette and proper moral behavior. Chivalry was very much a code rooted in  a particular religion, Christianity. This separates it somewhat from Bushido, which did give praise to a god or gods but was much more spiritual and esoteric. The chivalric stance toward women is attributed to the veneration of the Virgin Mary. though, in practice,  women of lowborn class were still looked down upon by many knights and nobles. The code of Chivalry honored duty and commitment to one’s lord and the willingness to sacrifice for the greater good. Even if it be your life.


Honor, duty, and funny helmets.


At the dawn of the Renaissance in the early 14th century, chivalry had undergone a change to appeal to a moral standard for most of Western Europe.  There is still debate as to whether the exploits of chivalric knights   set these standards   or if they were merely conducting themselves in a way that had already existed but was little practiced.  Either way, like Bushido in Japan, many Europeans honored the values of the knights. Even if many of them never seemed to serve them, the lower class still saw them as a standard to set yourself to. GOD, country, family. This was a creed most Europeans could relate to. Do right not just for you but of country and the glory of GOD.

While on the subject of religion, let’s move onto our final topic,  Zoroastrianism. Created by the ancient Persian(Iranian) prophet and philosopher Zoroaster sometime before the 6th century B.C., his teachings would form the base of one of the largest religions of its time. There is debate as to when Zoroaster was born or if he even existed at all. Ancient Greeks do refer to him though and call him “the founder of  Iran’s religion”, but they declare the rest as fantasy.  Mush as modern scholars would think of Jesus. Zoroaster was born into a family of priests and spent much of his life wrestling with the philosophical questions of the times. Primarily with the conflict between  ašaTruth) and druj(Lie). Zoroaster was the first noted moral philosopher to speak on “free will” and man’s “moral choice”. Zoroaster dismissed any kind of monasticism and taught that one must remain active in the Earthly to ever affect change and promote   aša. Moral choice was the central principle of Zoroastrianism. Asceticism was also frowned upon as, again, the world was  a series of choices and any predetermination was thought of as working against the aša.

Zoroaster? Who knows? He loved over 2000 fucking years ago! Wanna take a guess? that's how we got white Jesus!


These principles set Zoroastrianism apart from Hinduism, the major religion in the surrounding  area of South Asia,  and the fellow fledgling religion of Buddhism.  For many, Zoroaster’s moral teachings can be summed up in one phrase: “Good thoughts, good works, good deeds.” Simply living a “good life” did not make you a moral person. You had to be active in bringing about truth to your community and safeguarding it against evil influence. If not, you were the idle hands of evil(that sounds familiar).  Zoroaster promoted a strong connection to people and the earth. That worldly pleasure was not inherently evil. Men made it so. He preached  discipline and moderation while teaching a love for the joys of life and the companionship of your fellow man. Much like the samurai of Japan and the knights of medieval Europe, Zoroaster valued honor and respect and felt those ideas translated into proper moral conduct. Many philosophers added bits here and there to Zoroaster’s teachings over the years, much like the teachings of Jesus and Mohammad,   and Zoroastrianism has influenced many religions including Islam, Judaism, and Christianity.

Well folks, that about does it for this chapter. Hope you enjoyed this look at a few of the more well known moral codes that have existed in the world. I chose these three as many of their teachings either borrowed from or added to many of the ethical principles our society still values today. Trust, honor, loyalty, duty, and respect. Principles that have shaped the world many times over. Most men and women who carry a personal moral code fall back to many of these disciplines. A sense of honor that maybe no one but them understands. Hope you’ll join me again for our next installment. Still haven’t decided on the subject matter yet so I guess we’ll both be surprised!



Happy Travels!

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This gets my seal of approval.


At the bottom is “Good Thoughts, Good Words, Good Deeds” calligraphy written in Avestan by me (scanned and altered, of course).

That handsome guy that you see in my avatar probably lived no later than the 10th century BCE, and as early as the 12th-14th). The Greek narrative falls apart in several regards, and linguistic analysis demonstrates an archaic form of Avestan in his Gathas (hymns) concurrent with Vedic Sanskrit (its sister language). The date is indeed hotly debated; but the 6th century date has mostly been dismissed by Zoroastrian scholars, and Iranic linguists/historians.

Don’t feel bad, I just happen to be an amateur Zoroastrian expert. No matter, good job! (Honestly, Zoroastrians just love to be noticed. They’re like the religion that never gets asked to dance at the party.)

Nietzsche’s choice of Zarathustra was also no accident. He saw him (rightfully) as the father of Western moral systems.

Oh, and good stuff on Bushido (one can indeed see it to this day) and chivalry (to which Joseph Campbell has talked of a lot).

But screw them, they get talked about all the time. 😛

And why would we want to know where the concepts of the coming Savior, final battle between good and evil, hierarchy of seven angels, hell, devil, and quite a few more familiar concepts originated? Oh, right, they just happened to appear after Jesus from nowhere! Had nothing to do with the extent and influence of Persia in the Levant at the time. Of course not!

Haruko Haruhara

I wish I were smarter and could think of an intelligent response. That was very heavy. This makes me feel very self-conscious.

All I can say is if you think Samurai are tough, how about Afro Samurais?

Sensitive people probably shouldn’t watch this.


We have two kinds of morality side by side: one which we preach but do not practice, and the other which we practice but seldom preach.

– Bertrand Russell


I don’t have the super power of learned introspection that you have Adonai. Frankly, I’m happy that someone does such as yourself so I can learn something and broaden my understanding of certain things now and again from reading the thoughts of others on just this sort of subject…but isn’t morality simply, for the most part the accepted norm of the tribe,culture, ethos, society, commune or collective that we are born into and/or later move toward and relocate to because it makes more sense to us individually?
Some “groups” throughout time have found cannibalism or human sacrifice morally acceptable. Others are morally content with cruelty and an ongoing attraction to slaughter justified by war….while others forbid things which to many seem completely benign such as public dancing or revealing an exposed ankle.
While many of these acceptable or inexcusable “morals” have a foundation in one religion or another is peripheral in that “organized” religion in any hive or collective is by it’s nature established to enforce/reinforce/indoctrinate within the terms and conditional moral confines of a chosen communal body or to overcome (or be overcome) and over ride an existing moral code for a different (newer?) one… as monotheism and it’s practices overcame polytheism and it’s practices or (just for example) Christian missionaries replaced the moral code of the Aborigines, the Mayan or the indigenous people of North America.
Morals…a sticky wicket! And I applaud your bravery and confidence, Adonai in taking it on in your very interesting series.
I may not be able to follow it all…but I’m learning stuff and new ways to look at it. Thanks.


I have a question about individual morals. Does morality increase or expand as one grows older? Is there an experience based morality? I know there are things I did as a much younger person that I wouldn’t even consider doing now.
I was exposed to religion (Christianity) as a young child and I learned some of the basic moral tenets. Mostly the 10 commandments. After growing really tired of my objections to going to church every Sunday, my mother finally gave up and said I didn’t have go to church anymore. My dad never went with us. He never really talked about religion and I got the impression that he wasn’t too fond of it, yet he was a moral man, to a large degree.
While young, my morality was based on the general morality I found among my peers (and some immorality as well).
As I got a little older I began to notice that morality varied somewhat between differing groups of people. I found that a lot of people made moral choices according to their politics. Which still goes on and will go on after I’m long gone. I guess it’s sort of the “chicken/egg” conundrum.
I didn’t find a guide to daily living until my mid forties. And that was the accidental discovery of Taoism.


Hi KT, my belief is that morality most definitely SHOULD increase and expand as one grows older, and often does. What else are the lessons of life for, if not to increase our understanding and wisdom, thus helping us to make wiser, i.e. more moral decisions? The sad thing is when that doesn’t happen.
I think it goes back to Socrates’ saying that an unexamined life is not worth living.
If we don’t take the stuff of our lives, the things we’ve learned, the times we’ve been hurt or have hurt others, and use that as our main source of enlightenment and education, what are we doing?

We can accumulate all sorts of new skills and achieve greater worldly success, but ultimately we are “failures”. Our life was right there, in our face, so to speak, teaching us all these things about how to live, and yet we failed to learn. This, to me, is the only real kind of failure.


This is why I agree with the belief that technology will not save us.


I gotta agree with you there, KT. All speculative evidence on that subject points to an eventual robots rebellion and humans are found ineffective, redundant and illogical. 😀


I don’t believe that machines will ever be spiritual, or act in a spiritual manner. Interesting thought though. Could machines be developed that are moral? I don’t see how, but then again, I have little knowledge about software design and Artificial Intelligence.


I held those beliefs too, KT. Until I heard stories and parables of the prophet Gene Roddenberry. 😉


HAHA, the king of sci-fi TV.


Where is the morality found in this ” A person in full control of his consciousness will steal a beggars bowl from a blind man.” ?

Does morality increase or expand as one grows older?

Perhaps it adjusts to ones perception of what ones responsibilities become, the maturity of brain cells, hormonal changes, wishes, wants, needs.
Breaking a “law” in ones youth, with no responsibilities-family, shelter, food-and breaking it later has greater repercussions.
Writing some in stone even the stone degrades.


Bito, I don’t really equate laws and a moral consciousness. Laws are preventative. A forced morality is not the same as a chosen morality.

“Writing something in stone even the stone degrades.”

But I am not talking about degradation, I am talking about amelioration. I understand the general meaning of your sentence. That morals don’t remain stagnant.
I think “moral growth,” is one of the main purposes of life. If indeed there is a purpose to our lives.
I am not a religious man, but the Buddhist and Hindu beliefs concerning reincarnation may indeed have some merit.
In a Taoist sense, we are part of nature, and the conduct of nature (life) is to improve, or ameliorate.


KT, is it at all possible, that being moral is simply living in such a way that one would quite comfortably admit and describe it to the “tribe” they are associated with, without fear of ridicule, judgment, imprisonment, social banishment or repercussion?
And if that comes anywhere near close to possible wouldn’t that provide a distinction between individual morality and social morality, making them separate topics of discussion entirely?
I don’t have the answers nor do I pretend to. Just thinking out loud, so to speak.
I genuinely believe everybody’s winging it on this subject.


foxisms, LOL! philosphers throughout history have been “winging it.” I stated below that morality and spirituality are forever linked. Of course this is simply my belief, but it based upon observations made throughout my life and the observations of some exceptional others (exceptional in depth of thought).
What improves the individual, ultimately improves the whole.


KT…”What improves the individual, ultimately improves the whole.”
A very noble sentiment and if anyone is interested in ultimately improving the whole as an ultimate goal, Umbuntu (“Unhu”) philosophy of the Zulu might be of interest to them.
(Not necessarily as “the answer” to anything, but as an interest.)


foxisms, great suggestions. There is the same sentiment throughout many cultures. To me, that is the essence of spirituality. That all individuals add to the greater whole. The whole being all of Nature.


I hope you are on the right course there, KT.
If not, I’m in good company and will be in as much trouble as you are if there’s any penalty involved.


foxisms, That what I love so much about the Tao Te Ching. There are no punishments or rewards (other than the betterment of one’s life). There are only suggestions. No heaven and no hell. No rules or scriptures, just the 81 ideograms, that can be used as a guide to living, parenting and even governing a nation.


KT – At the risk of being sexist, I must note that Adonai makes a point that the age when most adults “get it” is in their late 20’s. I think most women are spiritually and morally more aware than men earlier because we are already imparting values on to our children at that age, especially women in my generation. Many women married out of high school or certainly right out of college – by my late 20’s I had two children in school – I was already responsible for their moral upbringing. At the same time, no offense to my ex-husband, though he provided for us financially I look back and realize how incredibly immature he was. Perhaps that’s because I had no choice but to grow up or maybe there is a difference between the sexes, but I saw this pattern often with young couples.


Artist, I don’t think you are being sexist. This is simply your opinion based on your own observations. An opinion that I don’t really disagree with. Mothers are nurturers, and part of that nurturing is moral in nature. How can it not be?


A-50…that’s why the original Gods were in fact Goddesses.
And would still be so today in very real and tangible ways.
Of the two genders, only the female has the greater capacity to feel, sense and create the life surrounding them.
Unfortunately, the warriors are locked in an anxiety closet and couldn’t see a partnership, only a threat from such genuine power.
..bearing in mind that without this (Yin/Yang) struggle, there would be no life at all.


I think the goal is to achieve a healthy balance between ying and yang. You can’t have one without the other.