My proposed ethical system


In another thread I contested that any ethical system must be examined in the extreme cases and see if it can offer an ethical solution for even very “far-out”, extremely improbable - but not impossible cases. I said that if one can create an ethical dilemma for which no “moral” solution can be found, then the ethical system is deficient.

One poster, e_c challenged me to provide a system which does not suffer this deficiency. See here: I provide such a system in my signature. Please criticize. I suggest you to read the whole thread.


What does your system define as being “Harm”.

Is it just harm to an individual? Harm to society at large? Harm to an ideal?

  1. Who defines harm? The victim, the perpetrator, or society, or a diety

  2. Why do no harm? Why adhere to such a vague rule? Where is the authority?

Also the problem is that it is left up to individual interpretation. What one consideres harm another may not.

It is actually contradictory

Let’s replace it with drugs.

Do no drugs.
If you do drugs, don’t do a lot of them.

The second principle by its very nature negates the first. If you follow the second you break the first. It’s nonsensical.
It’s very zen though…


The above appears hopelessly circular.

Ethical systems guide us in the choice of acts. By definition, an act in compliance with the ethical system is always an ethical solution. [You may think otherwise because, as we know from a prior thread, you judge acts based principally of their perceived outcome/consequences.]

What meaning of “moral” do you adopt - does it mean ethical? What test can be applied to an act to test its “morality” if not to test whether it is in compliance with the ethical system? Some separate principle about the perceived consequences perhaps?


One big “bullet to bite” in this case is that “harm” to one person may not constitute “harm” to another. You must ultimately accept that the notion of harm is arbitrary… and yes, there are persons sitting in mahogany paneled offices sipping brandy holding professorship in philosophy at major universities who do indeed have the courage to bite this bullet. They are wrong, but they have the integrity to accept where their principles lead.

Furthermore, there is the problem of what kind of circumstance justifies doing what amount of “harm.” This too seems wildly arbitrary, unless an appeal is made to proportion - but in that case, we are back to the original problem of “harm” being an arbitrary value.

Another bullet to bite is that one doesn’t always know how an action might harm others, even supposing everyone has the exact same value of “harm.” Is one bound to calculate this harm before each action? How does that work? (There are many questions within this question.)

This theme has been hit probably upwards of a dozen times in the past 6 months on CAF. It never goes anywhere for 2 reasons: first, and most importantly, the discussion begins with the wrong focus (viz., not “happiness” but “right and wrong”), and second, the unwillingness of persons proposing some system apart from a natural law virtue ethics to accept the thornier implications the system they are proposing.


Yes, your idea is deficient.

We may NEVER do evil, even in pursuit of good.

God’s system is perfect. It is not deficient. We are not free to change God’s law. We conform to it.


Right. If all doctors truly followed the Hippocratic oath of “do no harm”, there would be no abortions.


Please provide an exhaustive list of circumstances wherein harm is required, and what degree of harm is measured to the circumstance. Thanks in advance.


If you guys don’t know what “harm” is, I suggest to take Biology 101. Hopefully none of you are physicians or medical students.


…You can’t be serious.

Ok. Last go. How about stealing money? Harm, or not harm? Adultery - harm, or not harm? Lying to gain advantage over another - harm, or not harm?

Not even getting into conflicts of choosing between kinds of physical harm… To kill the fetus, or to risk starving the family because of a lack of money? To sever the arm, or to risk gangrene? To deny this person shelter, or that person shelter?

But here we have the proof. We disagree about what harm is, so it’s a totally arbitrary system.


there are incredibly well educated people on these boards. Many of us have advanced graduate degrees in a variety of subjects. Please try to charitably discuss the issue you created a thread for. But beyond that, one need not be a physician to understand harm.

Can you add to the discussion?


#2 is quite troubling. Are you suggesting that every person has an ethical obligation to try to prevent any and all “harm” (whatever the heck “harm” may mean, and yes, I have graduate degrees in law and theology, so you need to define your terms), if they have any chance of doing so?


Here is a dilemma. It is a classic one when dealing with this kind of thinking.

There are 6 patients in a hospital. 5 are in urgent need of 5 different organs, one each. Without them, they will all surely die very shortly, but if they got the organs they would be fine and fully recover. The last patient is there for a tonsillectomy. Supposing there was sufficient secrecy, could the surgeon remove these organs from the healthy patient to save the 5 others, certainly killing him?

Is this a circumstance that “forces” one to do harm? Why or why not? How does that follow directly from the first two principles enumerated which are now in direct contradiction to each other?


No, you don’t get to disregard answering the question with a slur at people who have asked YOU to define what YOU said. You want a real discussion, engage in it.


I am very serious. There are at least three problems with your post. One, it is premature to talk about the specifics before the general principle is agreed upon. Two, it is an error to separate the acts from the circumstances and consequences. And three, that you confuse “arbitrary” with “relative”.

Harm is something that is detrimental to a living organism. But the act cannot be evaluated on its own, ALL the circumstances must be considered.

If so, why is there “confusion” about the meaning of harm?

Oh, well. **Harm can be physical or mental damage or injury - either directly or indirectly. ** It is a biological and/or sociological term.

No, not “any and all” harm. Only the ones which they can prevent without putting themselves into undue danger or burden. No one should be required to throw themselves on a grenade in order to save others. But everyone should be required to grab a child if it would fall into a crevasse.

Of course there is an even simpler way to present these principles: “Live and let live” or use the several versions of the “golden rule” - especially the negative one: “Do not do unto others, what you do not want others do unto you”.

If we can agree on this very simple principle, then we can start to explore the specific examples. Even though the principle is simple, the application of it might be quite complicated. I urge you to take one of two different approaches. One, say that you accept the principle, and present a specific problem about its application. Or two, question the validity of the principle, and offer your alternative.



There seems to be an issue in that this ethical system seems inherently materialistic, at least if you want the results I assume you do. It has no way to deal with the sacred and on man’s relationship with God, which we hold is the ultimate end. Harming that relationship is the worst thing a person could do. The system seems equipped to only deal with physical harm, and probably assumes that the mental and emotional boil down to the physical. I highly doubt you would consider spiritual harm to be an issue. And then there’s questions on what exactly is human dignity, what rights people have over their own body, and the issue of self-harm.

To be frank, if we take a person’s relationship with God as their highest end, even above biological life itself, and if we take that spiritual harm is real harm, and if we take that, while a person does have many rights over his or her body, he or she does not have total rights over it, then even applying the principles you’ve laid out here we wind up with very Christian/Catholic results.

The differences we get in how to apply this ethical system isn’t in these points at all, but in other conclusions we make prior to even considering these points you’ve laid out.


Vera’s principles should refer to “net harm”, rather than simply “harm”. His approach is perfectly ok with doing actual harm - when it is done as a means to avoid a greater perceived harm.


I accept this analysis as an accurate summary of my views. Two remarks:

  1. If you would insist on including God and our alleged relationship with God, then you MUST PROVE beyond ANY DOUBT (not just beyond reasonable doubt) that God actually exists, and what you say about God is accurate.

  2. Even if one disregards the idea of God and our alleged relationship with God, the proposed ethical system is far superior to anything else. Even if you consider interpersonal relationships of lesser importance, they are NOT irrelevant. If one respects others; does not wish to do harm to others, and tries to protect others from harm - the result would be a world which is much better than the existing one. And it does not need a supernatural foundation, it is fully rational.

Well said, even though it is a trivial observation. Nothing happens in a vacuum, and one must consider the acts, the intentions, the outcome and the auxiliary circumstances.


In principle, I should imagine Vera is ok with sacrificing the one to save the five. Of course, before arriving at that decision he will assess the value of each of the six to see that their fate does not upset the anticipated balance of consequences. The cure for cancer might be on the operating table (a source of organs) and a future hitler on the other table (in need of a heart transplant). The family of the killed man might be aggrieved to the point of doing a heinous act directed at the hospital. Probabilities will be weighed and a decision made, based on all these unknowables. And if it turns out poorly, “Ahh well, I made the best choices I could with facts I had”. :shrug:


And can you prove your metaphysical beliefs true beyond a reasonable doubt, Vera? Can you even say that this ethical system is superior (to anything) without committing to self-refuting positions?

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