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The Bases And Philosophy Of Ethics - Part 4

7- Keeping One's interests with regards to keeping others' interests

Most materialists such as Russell are of the view that man has cunningly discovered that if he behaves kindly towards others, he will be treated in the same way by others. If he steals the neighbor's cow, for instance, his cows might get stolen later; and if he tells lies, he will hear lies ten times over. Thus, in order to protect himself, man decided to do good to others and to avoid doing harmful deeds. That is why man learned to obey rules.60 Thus, the criterion for ethical acts, according to this view, is the keeping of one's interests besides the keeping of others' interests. In other words, it means to bring man's selfish desires under the control of education.61

This notion, however, entails many defects among which are the following:

a) It takes away the ethics from its innate sacredness and surrounds it with individual's interests.

But as we have seen before, the spiritual characteristics are beyond this kind of considerations.

b) According to this view, if a person had such a power as to be safe from the ethical harm of wrong–doers, there would not exist any agent to control his bad–temper and his far–reaching wisdom would not create any impediment to his bad–temper. Only when the two sides have equal power can the wisdom entice them to do good. Regarding this, Mutahhari writes, "If Nixon is sitting in front of Brezhenev, both of whom have equal powers, they could be considered ethical individuals.

One thinks why he should throw bomb on the other when the latter has got the same power. But if Nixon is confronted with Viet Kongs, who are weak and vulnerable, there will be no force to stop him from attacking them.62

c) In the present hypothesis, the eternal nature of self (soul) and the life hereafter is not included.

d) What is the criterion for the ethical act which satisfies the interests of both individual and the community? Neither is wisdom to recognize the ethical act, nor conscience can do this job.

In this view, then, the ethical act does not have any reliable criterion.

8- The philosophy of Ethics in the viewpoint of Freud:

Contrary to the belief of the Islamic and non- Islamic scholars who contend that man is born with innate capacity to evaluate good from bad and in this process the innate inspiration helps him out of hardships, Freud rejects these innate capacities believing that social environment alone is responsible for the establishments of these sensations, perceptions and human character. He writes, "The child imitates the parents' ethical criteria, such as the dichotomy of bad/ good and piety/ wrong–doing.

The superego63 is the result of this absorption.

It represents values, tribal beliefs and social ideals which the child has received from its parents. Other social factors which influence the superego include teachers, priests, police or whoever stands above the child in the society. These factors, however, influence the child much less then the parents.64

In many people, ethics might manifest itself in the form of the superego. That is to say, it might severely control the individual. But this is not the result of innate–ethical conscience.

Rather, it is the result of educational–ethical conscience, which reflects the prohibitive reactions of our great–grand fathers. This superego is greatly under the influence of one factor, which is the child's need for parental love. The child assumes that if it disobeys the parents, it will be deprived of this badly–needed affection."65

In this regard, Freud firmly states: "The ethical conscience is nothing else than a social spur. Ethical conscience does not represent an innate act of man's inner – being; rather, it is a simple introspection of social prohibition."66

In Freud's view, neither in man's history nor in the individual's history has there been the primitive concept of good or bad. These concepts stem soly from outside of man, i.e., in his social context."

The important criticism, which can be leveled at Freud's ideas, is that the good actions and noble moral traits are not based on a reliable and sacred principle. How is a child expected to do right when it is offered unfounded and improper education?

If the good and bad acts did not stem from man's spirit, how could we persuade people in the right direction and inhibit them from doing wrong?

Freud believes that this is done by man's wisdom. Since the Divine Shari’ah, in Freud's ideas, does not protect man's wisdom and since education is different in individuals and since "the superego" results from this differing education, how can man attain the supreme moral conducts and shun nasty behaviors?


60. Education in Islam, p.74.

61. The Bases of philosophy, p.377, Lectures of the philosophy of Ethics, pp.8-70.

62. Education in Islam, p.76.

63. Freud assigns three characteristics to man: "Id" which is related to organic pleasures; "Ego" which controls "Id"; and the “superego”, which is a person's ethical chastity.

64. Freud's psychology, p.46.

65. Freud's psychology, p.46.

66. Freud's Ideas.

Adapted from: "Imam 'Ali's First Treatise on The Islamic Ethics and Education" by: "Zainol Aabideen Qorbani Lahiji"