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It is doubtful that anyone would contest that the most important aspect of Gorean philosophy is ethics, how one should live a proper life. This is strongly implied by the use of the term lifestyle that is used by some to reflect their Gorean beliefs. Ethics is also the key theme of many websites and message boards that discuss Gorean philosophy and lifestyle though it is rarely labeled as ethics or morality. In addition, these sites and boards more often than not deal with very specific issues rather than Gorean ethics in general. They most often provide pieces of an ethical system without providing an entire framework for Gorean ethics. Some even feel that a synthesis of an entire ethical system may be impossible to create.
But, if Gorean ethics is so significant to the philosophy, so vital, then it is especially crucial that we best understand the entirety of the ethical system of Gor. It is insufficient to understand the pieces without seeing the completed puzzle. Only the completed puzzle can provide the deep comprehension that people generally seek. One major issue that may deter full comprehension is that the ethical system of Gor is far different than what we are used to. We are not treading on familiar ground but are rather blazing across an ancient path, a dusty road that is often forgotten by modern man. So we need to learn about this ancient path and not simply rely on what we have been taught and exposed to all these years. We need to open ourselves to a new paradigm.
Let us first consider some of the ethical dilemmas of our world, major issues such as abortion, cloning, capital punishment, animal experimentation and illegal drug use. There is often heated debate on these controversial matters with some individuals in support of these issues and some individuals in opposition. These individuals either consider these issues to be good or bad acts, or even evil acts. In support of their position, their arguments may ultimately be based on the support of the Ten Commandments or Kants Categorical Imperative. They might also be based on Jewish law, Islamic law, Benthams utilitarianism or some other philosophical school. No matter what their position, there will nearly always be some type of underlying basis for their ethical stance.
Though all of these foundations are considered to be different ethical systems, they also all share a significant commonality. All of these moral systems are concerned with duty, moral obligation and rights. They all assess a persons actions and then determine whether such actions are good or evil, right or wrong. The action is the essential key. Each such ethical system could easily provide a list of actions that were approved or disapproved by their strictures. If you followed their approved rules, you would be considered a good person. The paramount rule in all of these ethical systems is that one performs the right actions.
This would seem to be an easy arrangement for any ethical system, standardized rules to judge how one is to act. You clearly know what is expected of you, though there may be some differences over interpretation or ambiguities of certain mandates. These types of philosophical systems are referred to as action-centered moralities because they are concerned with right and wrong actions. Action-centered moralities are by far the most common type of morality found in the modern world. They have been the most common for hundreds of years. It is highly probable that nearly all of us were raised to understand and follow some type of action-centered morality. The United States, as is most countries, is a nation of rights, duties and laws. Its entire foundation is based upon action-centered morality. Most religions rely on action-centered morality. Yet, action-centered moralities are not the only option available, though many people are unaware of that fact. There are few modern role-models though for alternative ethical systems, few places one can go to be educated concerning them. So yet again, we must delve into our ancient past in search of possible answers.
The earliest Greek philosophers were more akin to scientists than what we consider as philosophers because they were primarily concerned with trying to explain natural phenomena. They devised elaborate theories concerning the nature of the universe, often trying to determine the primary element of the universe, such as fire or water. Socrates is probably the first Greek philosopher who broke from these others, preferring to center his philosophy on a more personal level. He wanted to investigate how people should live, how a man should be moral. These were matters of little concern to most prior philosophers. Socrates spent his entire life investigating moral issues, often by questioning others who claimed to be wise in such matters. Defining moral terms was an important aspect of his questioning. Socrates students, and other later philosophers, followed in his footsteps and continued to examine morality. Thus, ethics has become a major component of philosophy.
Zeus, Hera, Apollo, Posiedon, Dionysus. These are but a few of the myriad gods of ancient Greece yet despite their great numbers they made few moral demands upon the Greeks. The Greek gods did not provide their worshippers with anything parallel to the Ten Commandments or Islamic law. They did not provide an itemized list of which activities were approved. At best, there were some strictures on certain religious matters but these did not encompass a complete ethical system. The strictures were essentially guidelines on worship and sacrifice. Thus, the Greeks were far less concerned with evaluating the morality of specific actions. They lacked the necessary foundation to support such an evaluation. Instead, what was of primary concern to them was an individuals character, his inner nature. They felt that a man of good character, of good virtue, would only commit acts that were also good. This concept is radically different from modern day moralities.
The Greek ethical system is considered to be an agent-centered morality because it centers on the individual, the agent, rather than his actions. And for most Greeks, their agent-centered morality was essentially a form of virtue ethics. Virtue ethics entails that there are certain virtues that are considered most conducive to a proper life. A person works on perfecting those virtues, making himself a better and more fulfilled individual. A person who possesses these virtues will not commit acts that others would consider bad or evil. He will lead a moral life that will positively contribute to society. He takes personal responsibility for himself, trying to avoid all that will injure his character. He possesses self-mastery to control his baser desires, his irrational aspect.
Though most Greeks shared an acceptance of virtue ethics, they also differed in their approach toward such a system. There were numerous variations such as in which virtues were considered most important or how one should obtain these virtues. Platonic virtue ethics varied from Aristotelian virtue ethics which also differed from Stoic virtue ethics. Of all of these systems, more people are probably familiar with the virtue ethics of Aristotle and his Doctrine of the Mean. In addition, most modern day philosophers seeking a return to virtue ethics base their systems on Aristotle.
Aristotle believed that it was the rational control of our irrational nature that led to virtue. He did not believe you could construct inflexible rules of ethical action because a single response was not fitting for all situations. A person needed to use their rational mind to assess the proper response in each and every moral situation. Aristotle felt that if we permitted our irrational side, our emotional side, our desires, to control us then we would tend toward the extremes of a virtue. And too much or too little of a virtue was considered wrong, harmful to the individual. For example, accompanying the virtue of courage are the extremes of cowardice (too little) and rashness (too much). Aristotle believed that a man should seek the mean of a virtue, the middle ground between the two extremes. Aristotle acknowledged numerous virtues and felt that the mean should be sought in all of them. For Aristotle, the supreme good was eudaimonia which is more literally translated as favored by the gods but is more commonly translated as happiness. But, eudaimonia has a far more encompassing meaning than what we know as happiness. Its core is what makes a life valuable, what makes a life fulfilled. And it is the proper application of the virtues that leads to eudaimonia.
But, as was mentioned in my previous essay on Platos The Republic, many Greeks commonly considered there only to be four cardinal virtues: wisdom, courage, self-control and justice. They accepted numerous other virtues as being valuable and desirable but most considered the four cardinal virtues to be the most important. A person who possessed these virtues was seen as possessing arÍte, which though is often translated as virtue is more adequately translated as excellence. Such excellence can range from moral excellence to excellence in a trade or art. Its original meaning, from the time of Homer, was of military excellence, of skill in battle. A man possessing arÍte was highly regarded by the ancient Greeks.
There is also another major difference between the ethical system of the ancient Greeks and modern day moralities. Modern day moralities commonly have a firm conception of good and evil. But, the conception of evil is generally based on a theological foundation, and most often in western civilization on a Judeo-Christian framework. Nietzsche often talked about this very issue, calling for a redefinition of morality as he opposed theologically based moralities. He did not accept the term evil as a valid term of moral evaluation. Nietzsche was enamored of Greek philosophy, preferring their type of moral evaluation. The Greeks did not possess such a conception of evil. Their gods did not provide a sufficient theological foundation upon which to conceive of evil. For the Greeks, their primary opposing moral evaluations were good (agathon) and bad (kakon). The Greek definitions of these terms varies greatly from what we might commonly understand. For example, agathon encompassed such matters as noble birth, valor in battle, and excellence in a craft or skill.
Though the differences between bad and evil may seem slight, they are actually fairly significant though possibly more subtle. The concept of evil is charged with great emotion and symbolism. It most often implies a specific intent, an intention to commit something that a person knows to be wrong. A person who accidentally kills someone is not called evil. A person who intentionally kills someone, for no valid reason and fully aware of the consequences, is thought to be evil. In the Greek conception of bad, some said that a person committed a bad act only out of a lack of knowledge, out of ignorance. It was thought that any rational person would not intentionally commit a bad act. Bad acts occurred because we allowed our irrational aspect to guide our actions. There was far more sympathy for the person who committed a bad act, a desire to help set that person on the proper path.
There is actually a growing number of modern day philosophers who are once again turning toward the morality of the ancient Greeks because they are dissatisfied with the current action-centered moralities. They are not satisfied with how action-centered moralities have affected people and the world. Thus, they are seeking alternatives, something to be more positive and effective. They may alter some aspects of Greek ethical systems but they are trying to remain true to an agent-centered morality. Yet this is a matter that the common man often ignores. He rarely takes the time to examine his own morality system, to compare it with some alternative. He does not understand the differences between an action-centered and agent-centered morality. Yet, if he contemplates adopting a new philosophical system, it would behoove him to better comprehend different ethical systems. Proper knowledge and education is always important in significant life changes.
So, what does any of this have to do with Gor? There are a number of significant questions we can address concerning Gorean philosophy that relates directly to this topic. What type of ethical system does the Gorean philosophy possess? Is it an action-centered or agent-centered morality? Where does Gorean morality get its inspiration? Does the worship of the Priest-Kings provide a theological basis for the morality of Gor? Does Gor have a concept of good and evil? What is the place of the Caste Codes in Gorean morality? Do the Caste Codes create an action-centered morality? Since the Castes Codes are different for each Caste, does that mean there are multiple moralities on Gor?
The test of a society is perhaps not its conformance or nonconformance to principles but the nature and human prosperity of its members. Let each look about himself and judge for himself the success of his own society. Man lives confused in the ruins of ideologies. Perhaps he will someday emerge from the caves and pens of his past. That would be a beautiful day to see. There would be a sunlit world waiting for him
(Slave Girl of Gor, p.212)
Earlier in this essay, we discussed agent vs action-centered moralities and the nature of virtue ethics. That section then ended with a series of questions, questions centering this discussion on Gorean philosophy. Ethics are very important in many philosophies and Gorean philosophy is not an exception. Yet, it is a matter that is not largely addressed as such online. There are rarely discussions on the overall ethics of Gor. If anything, there are discussions on specific ethical aspects but rarely the entirety. Yet to understand the specifics, it is beneficial to see the whole. So, let us explore the whole, seeking the foundation for Gorean ethics.
The first and most obvious place to start is the religion of Gor. Religion is often the basis for morality, especially modern day moralities on Earth. So, can we find a theological basis for the morality of Gor? Does the theology of Gorean religion provide a concept of good and evil? The primary religion on Gor involves the worship of the Priest-Kings, the mysterious gods of Gor. This religion is presided over by the Initiate Caste, the highest Caste, and they help to ensure that the Priest-Kings receive their due worship. There are some other religions on Gor, but they are generally limited to specific cultures on Gor, commonly the barbarian cultures of Gor. For example, the Wagon Peoples worship the Spirit of the Sky and Torvaldslanders worship gods such as Odin and Thor. But, even these cultures generally accept the existence of the Priest-Kings though they do not show them worship.
If we examine what is known of the religion of the Priest-Kings, we do not see much of a base for morality. The religion seems most concerned with following certain rituals and basic worship. We speak not to mans heart, said Om, but only to his fear. We do not speak of love and courage, and loyalty and nobilitybut of practice and observance, and the punishment of the Priest-Kings (Priest-Kings of Gor, p.300) There is nothing similar to the Christian Ten Commandments. The Priest-Kings have not given Goreans a list of how they should and should not act. Essentially the only important prohibition promulgated by the Priest-Kings is the Technology and Weapon Laws. These laws simply restrict the available technology on Gor. The punishment for a violation of this prohibition is the Flame Death. The religion of the Priest Kings does not include an afterlife and immortality can only be achieved by members of the Initiate Caste. Thus, a person who violates the rules of the Priest-Kings will not go to any place like a Hell. We can also see that there is not a concept of good and evil embodied by the Priest-Kings. We see only a desire for obedience to their few rules. The religion of Gor is more similar to the religion of the ancient Greeks. Thus, it does not form an adequate basis for a foundation of morality so we must seek elsewhere for the ethics of Gor.
We do not have to seek too far to find an important lead to the ethics of Gor. The ethical teachings of Gor, which are independent of the claims and propositions of the Initiates, amount to little more than the Caste Codes--- collections of sayings whose origins are lost in antiquity. (Tarnsman of Gor, p.40-1) Is this the key to the ethics of Gor? If so, do the Caste Codes create an action-centered morality? Since the Castes Codes are different for each Caste, does that mean there are multiple moralities on Gor? As Castes do not exist on Earth, is it thus impossible to follow the ethics of Gor? To discern the answers to these questions, we should examine the Caste Codes of Gor.
Unfortunately, there is little specific information on the Caste Codes of Gor within the Gorean books. The books contain mainly information regarding the Warrior Caste Code and nearly nothing on the specific Code provisions of any other Caste. At best, there might be an indication of one or two provisions of the Caste Codes of these other Castes. And even in the case of the Warrior Caste, the known Code provisions number only a few dozen. As one of these Code provisions is described as the 97th Aphorism then we can be sure that there are many omitted Code provisions. Thus, the evidence we can examine is limited.
But, if we do analyze the known Code provisions, we can form a tentative conclusion that in general these provisions form a professional code of ethics more than a general code of ethics. By this, I mean that the ethics are tied to the specific Castes performance of their professional duties. This would be similar to the ethical codes of attorneys and physicians on Earth. Such ethical codes are intended to apply primarily to the operation of ones profession rather than ones day to day living. The Caste Codes of Gor commonly tell one how to perform their job properly. For example, one of the known provisions of the Merchants Code is that they must always be paid for their products or services. They must not provide such matters for free. The Warrior Caste Code states specifics such as the battle of sword right, the details of being a Ubar, and what happens when a woman submits to a Warrior. We really see little of general ethical strictures within the Caste Codes. Thus, the Caste Codes simply form many different professional codes of ethics, each Code intrinsically linked to its specific profession.
So, is Gorean morality then tied to the Caste Codes? Is professional ethics the only type of ethical system on Gor? If this were true, then it would be impossible to follow Gorean ethics. First, Earth does not have a Caste system like Gor and it would be near impossible to create such a system on Earth. Second, the specific Caste Codes of Gor are almost nonexistent. Though you could try to create your own Code provisions, there would be no guarantee that they would be Gorean. Even the Warrior Caste Code is largely incomplete. Thankfully, the Caste Codes are not the only source for the ethics of Gor though the existence and nature of the Caste system is an excellent indicator of the source of the underlying ethics of Gorean philosophy.
In a previous essay, we discussed the correlation of the Gorean Caste system to the system proposed by Plato in The Republic for his ideal city. We showed how the system of the High and Low Castes emulated the divisions within Platos ideal city. In addition, we showed that Platos divisions were intended to reflect the four cardinal virtues of Greek morality: wisdom, courage, self-control and justice. Now, if Gor is truly reflective of Platos ideas in The Republic would it also reflect the virtue ethics of it as well? Would Gor thus reflect an agent-centered morality? A careful examination of the Gorean books would seem to indicate that Gorean morality does indeed reflect the virtue ethics of ancient Greece.
We must first accept the basic premise that there is an overriding general morality of Gor, independent of the Caste system. This would be a commonality that binds all Goreans, of whatever Caste. And this premise should be easy to accept. It seems quite obvious from a reading of the books that some general ethical mandates are followed by the vast majority of Goreans. Now, we have seen that there is not a theological base for Gorean morality. We have also seen that the Caste Codes generally provide only a professional ethical code and not a common morality. As the Codes vary from Caste to Caste, there is no reason to see them as forming a common foundation for Gorean morality. These two matters would thus lead to the conclusion that Gor does not possess an action-centered morality as there is not a proper foundation for determining which acts are and are not ethical. And if it is not action-centered, then it is most likely agent-centered.
Of the agent-centered moralities, virtue ethics is the most common. And as Gor was largely influenced by ancient Greece and Rome, it seems appropriate that their moralities would be similar. This is heavily supported by the significant influence of Platos The Republic on Gor. And much within the Gorean books does support the concept of virtue ethics. Gor would seem to rely on the four cardinal virtues and in addition consider certain other virtues to also be of importance. Plato himself accepted the validity of other virtues besides the four cardinal ones. It is simply the four cardinal ones which are the most significant in ones life.
The four cardinal virtues include wisdom, courage, self-control and justice. These four virtues would form the inner core, the essential elements of Gorean morality. Other virtues, such as honor and honesty, though important, are secondary to this inner core. Someone possessing the four core virtues would be most likely to possess these secondary virtues as well. Though that would not necessarily work in reverse. For example, you could have an honest coward. A man of courage though would tend not to lie as he would not fear the consequences of the truth. Honor is a derivative virtue, valuable because of the individual virtues that comprise the whole.
Thus, those who wish to follow a Gorean philosophy need to cultivate the four cardinal virtues. These virtues are not limited to Caste, city or status. They are meant to apply to all people, all Goreans. Cultivating such virtues are not generally considered a part of modern Earth moralities. Modern Earth moralities are more intended to dictate ones behavior, to indicate which actions are permissible and desirable. Thus, trying to emulate Gorean virtue ethics runs contrary to ordinary societal conditioning. It is the adoption of a radically different ethical stance, one requiring a substantial change of view. It is the cultivation of the self, rather than the blind adherence to a set of rules and regulations.
Aristotle stated that the goal of the cultivation of virtues is eudaimonia, which is often translated as happiness. But, that is not a fully adequate translation as such happiness is not what we would commonly definite it as. It is much closer to a life of fulfillment or a worthy life. And this theme of fulfillment runs throughout the Gor novels, further supporting that Gorean ethics is based on virtue ethics. Civilization may be predicated upon the denial of human nature; it may also be predicated upon its fulfillment. (Explorers of Gor, p.37) Will you spend you life living in denial or will you cultivate the primary virtues and seek a life of fulfillment?
On Earth men have succeeded in building a complicated trap from which they may perhaps be unable to escape. Perhaps they can shatter its bars. Perhaps, in the cage they themselves have built, they will merely languish and die.
(Tribesman of Gor, p.318)
From the Gorean Voice, June and July 2002