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The Noble Conspectus

Chapter 1: Diversity

A Choice

As travel becomes more common and communication more frequent, people of vastly different religions, and those of no religion, will find themselves interacting more and more. This is inevitable.

As this happens, pressure will continue to rise, and conflict between groups will be ever more tempting. This pressure too is inevitable.

It is time for we humans to make a choice - not only as a people but as individuals. You, the reader, must make a choice.

On the one hand we can persist in the attitude that, if everyone were just more like ourselves, the world would be fine. We can insist on showing others the light, even as they decline our offers. We can smother them in our "love" and "kindness" as we speak to them condescendingly and insult everything they hold dear.

We can insult, defame, or preach doom to those of other beliefs, driving them away or making enemies of them with our aggressive or dismissive stance. We can assault them with snide comments, roll our eyes at their words, and disparage their motives.

Once those methods fail, we can attack them politically or violently - casting them out from our realm, even as more and more of them enter.

We could choose this path. But this path leads to neither cooperation nor conversion. Eventually, no matter what corner of the world we are in today, we or our descendants will find ourselves surrounded by those who believe differently. As these pressures build, this approach can lead to only one place, and that is complete or continual destruction and suffering.

Knowing the coming pressures of our global situation, why would one choose this path? It is not rational to ever speak one word or take one action against those of another belief out of anger, disrespect, ridicule, or despise unless we are prepared to take these deeds to their logical conclusion and butcher these people ourselves with sword in hand.

If this seems extreme, consider that we ourselves may not wield the sword, but what difference does it make if we are willing to help create the sword or the environment in which it is used?

A man who wishes to advance in his career does not slap his boss in the face, and a man who wishes peaceful coexistence does not stoke disrespect and animosity with word or deed.

On the other hand, we have a second option. We needn't give up our beliefs or our rights. We needn't refrain from telling others about our views, but we can use a different approach.

Even if we think those of other beliefs are incorrect, we can view them as victims of their mistaken beliefs if we must, but have compassion for them. Consider what our words will sound like to them and do not sabotage our own efforts at communication by causing them to put up their defenses. Show them we are willing to treat them with respect and kindness.

And what if they do not return our kindness? Consider how unfortunate they are to be so locked in their views that they cannot even be reasonable or considerate. Let us not return their lack of respect with our own, for this will only cause a downward spiral. When we return disrespect with the same, we allow others to control who we are and how we behave, like a puppet. Let our actions be about who we are, not who they are.

Regardless of where we are or what our beliefs, we can choose today, right now, to commit to a new ethic - an ethic which is fully compatible with our dedication to (and expression of) our beliefs, but one which is absolutely essential for humanity.

The Diversity Ethic
The Diversity Ethic is beyond mere tolerance, but it is not capitulation or subjugation. Even if we believe that all those of other beliefs are taking a path of ignorance or doom, we can still maintain that belief, and voice it openly, as this right is included in the Diversity Ethic.
The ethic consists of eight parts and is as follows...

1) I will be honest and open about all of my beliefs, defending my rights - even if I believe others or their beliefs to be wrong and even if others could be offended by my beliefs.

2) Without sacrificing my content, I will always phrase my statements with sincere care to be sensitive to the feelings of others - not to belittle or offend for its own sake.

3) When others attempt to be respectful to me in stating their beliefs, I will refuse to take offense, no matter how these views compare to my own. I will look only at the speaker's intent to be offensive, rather than the content of the message.

4) I will be open to working and interacting with those of other beliefs in a cordial manner. I will consider them as equals and treat them humane and friendly. I will never advocate isolationism or segregation.

5) I will not only tolerate, but support the rights of others to voice their beliefs by the same standards and rules I am allowed to voice mine - promoting freedom of speech for all.

6) I will never attempt to use the power of the state to give unequal advantage to my religious institutions and beliefs (or the lack thereof).

7) I will seek out unbiased knowledge about the religious beliefs of others, and not merely learn about them through people of my own belief system. I will try to truly understand what others believe from their own words, even if I do not share those beliefs.

8) I will hold to the Diversity Ethic even when others do not. I will not take another's disregard for these principles as a pass to do the same. My civility and standards, however, will not keep me from advocating my views or defending universal rights.

Chapter 2: Spirituality

What is Spirituality?
For many, the term spirituality refers to religious and supernatural beliefs. We may each practice our own personal form of spirituality as related to our beliefs. But there is also another type of spirituality along side that - a shared spirituality open to all human beings.

The word itself hails from the Latin word spiritus, which means wind or breath - essentially the "essence" of something. Spirituality, then, need not refer only to the supernatural, but can also mean those things beyond the mundane, which have deeper and more profound meaning than our simple material needs and shallow concerns.

These deeper meaningful aspects of life include friendship, virtue, contentment, compassion, beauty, and many other notions which are certainly a part of the material world we all share.

Perhaps a foundational aspect of spirituality would be a healthy perspective of the universe, beginning with a continual quest to become knowledgeable about it. This includes the effort to become familiar with the basics of science and its method.

Also included would be learning about different understandings and opinions regarding the workings of the universe. It is not necessary to agree with every opinion about the universe in order to understand them, nor would this be logically possible, as many of them contradict one another.

But second only to learning and exploration of nature, is that we experience awe, appreciation, and humility before it. Whether we believe the universe is the product of an intelligent creator, has always existed, or was the product of natural forces, it is beneficial to have sense of wonder before its magnificence. It is possible to have a spiritual experience before the beauty of a sunset, the luminous nebulae in a telescope, the grace of a flying bird, or when communing with the ocean womb of life on a sandy beach.

The universe is a stunning marvel of complex patterns on the boundary of complete order and complete randomness. For ages, various peoples and traditions have drawn connections between the different patterns and forms in the universe. The Taoists refer to these patterns in nature as "Li". New emerging sciences of chaos and complexity are revealing the shared underlying mathematical basis between such seemingly disparate things as galaxies and sea shells, economies and ecologies. This is a sort of organic pattern that isn't perfectly sequential, but isn't random either. It has a sense of balance and form that is unpredictable yet recognizable.

Some might refer to this holistic order as God, infused throughout creation as the stoics did. Others may refer to it as some other cosmic force. Still others may simply marvel at and study its naturalistic complexity. In all of these cases, we gain insight and perspective through appreciation of the intricacy and wholeness of the universe.

This same sort of awe and reverence is expressed by scientists and the religious alike. It can inspire art, motivate learning, and encourage preservation and respect for the natural environment. This perspective on the universe is one foundational element of our shared spirituality.

Another element to our shared spirituality is a demeanor and a mind-set of contentment with life and the universe. This does not mean inaction or a lack of desire for continual improvement of the world and one's self, but it does mean a sense of calm and mature acceptance of those things which are part of the natural order and beyond our control.

We should always keep the larger picture in mind. We should try to see the span of one life in the context of the span of human history, and humanity's life span in the context of the span of the universe. We should not be petty or self consumed, or exaggerate fortunate or unfortunate events, wallowing in self pity or reveling in gluttonous pride.

Contentment means realizing that much of our lives are affected by our focus. We should realize that external conditions cannot always be controlled, but that our reaction to them can be. Therefore, we can be forward looking by choosing to focus on what can be done rather than what cannot.

Through the will of focus, one should take note of those things which he or she has and what he or she can work with. We should make an active effort every day to appreciate that which is good while it lasts. Those things which are transient are to be valued especially, for transience does not render a thing pointless or hopeless. Like a sand castle, an ice sculpture, or like even the Tibetan sand mandala, that which is transient is appreciated for the moment it exists, and not as a means to some other end. This includes relationships, wealth, health, youth, employment, and life itself.

Whether expecting a continued supernatural existence after death or not, each of us can look on death as a natural part of life. Rather than focusing on the last moment of a life (its end), we can shift our focus to the life as a whole, and appreciate what existed in that unique time. Never once did we mourn the fact that we did not exist in any of the billions of years that came before us. Why then, would we mourn the billions of years of absence which are to come after our material life? Of course, we are all human and will experience emotions of loss and sorrow, but this positive and broad perspective helps us to face life with a contented acceptance, not consumed by our passions.

While we all may receive ultimate meaning through our various beliefs, religions, or philosophies, there are concurrent sources of meaning in life which are common to all of us. There is the previously mentioned appreciation of the universe. There is also the challenge to continue learning, growing, and improving ourselves. This includes continual improvement of knowledge, wisdom, self control, and of course, virtue.

But we should also realize that a finely tuned moral agent is meaningless unless he or she is capable of spreading good in the world. We should also realize that we are happiest when doing good, helping others, and generally acting to make the world a better place. This offers great meaning in life. It is something we can all share in, and it also makes a fine compliment to the sources of meaning within our individual beliefs.

And lastly, a source of meaning lies in what we pass on to others. Regardless of whatever nonphysical components of the intellect we may or may not believe in, it is clear that the mind also resides in the neural architecture of the brain, as it has formed through life experience. To whatever degree this architecture can be thought of as "us", portions of these patterns are replicated in the brains of others when we teach, when we interact with others, and when we live by example. In the sense of the meme, we literally pass on, reproduce, or even reincarnate portions of ourselves in others. This may be taken literally or figuratively but in either sense, it can be a profound source of meaning for anyone.

These forms of perspective, contentment, and meaning easily fit within all major religious and philosophic traditions, and are born out of observations of the physical universe we all share as human beings. For this reason, these realizations form the basis of our shared spirituality.

Chapter 3: Wisdom

Ask the Question
Many of us would say that we want to be wise. Yet, before we can even begin on that path, we must first ask, "What is wisdom?" So often, the question is never even asked, yet the importance of the question is monumental. How can one pursue something if he or she doesn't know what it is?

Certainly, this does not mean merely looking up the definition in a dictionary. To know what a word linguistically means is not the same as really understanding the concept the word embodies. So, before trying to become wise, we should ask ourselves the question.

Then, we must set out on a mission to answer the question. This includes dwelling on it, considering what wisdom is and is not. But the answers cannot solely come from within our own minds. We must look outward as well and explore what others have found or believe about wisdom. We must parse it out carefully from that which is not wisdom (such as intelligence, knowledge, and so on). We must look at people who are considered wise and ask ourselves if they are indeed wise and, if so, why? Answering the question in depth and detail is a lifelong exploration, but one may find that in seeking to answer it, wisdom itself is improved.

The Open Mind
Certainly a part of wisdom is in keeping one's mind open. But what an open mind is and what it is not must be explained. An open mind is one that is always seeking Truth, without being absolutist in its claim of what that Truth is or must be beforehand. A person with an open mind does not take up a position as a banner, as though defending one's "side". His or her goal is never to win a debate, but to arrive at the Truth, regardless of whose initial position that may be.

When claims are presented, the open mind will make an active effort to consider such claims carefully. In cases where the claims seem untrue, the problems with the claims should be addressed so that those making the claims can respond. That response should also be considered. In this manner, the open mind peels away the layers of a claim, examining each foundational premise on which it is made, without being presumptive or dismissive.

There may be strong emotions which urge us to dismiss claims out of hand when they disagree with our world views, but part of the challenge of keeping an open mind is resisting this urge. We should not allow our passions to interfere with our investigation of Truth or to lure us into tests of personality or ego. Although cynics will say that such is impossible, we should attempt to see beyond our biases. While we may never be perfect at it, such is a skill and it can be improved over time - but the conscious effort is a minimum requirement.

There are also many misconceptions about the open mind. The open mind is not one which will never draw conclusions. One who keeps an open mind is not one who holds no opinions or beliefs. One with an open mind will give all information a fair hearing, allowing claims to be examined, countered, and examined further until understanding is reached. But once this is done, even those with an open mind will come to a conclusion. To not do so would be folly were it not outright impossible.

Once this conclusion is drawn it is not set in stone, but rather, it is malleable and held conditionally by an open mind. If new claims or information are presented, then these must be fairly evaluated and should be able to alter that conclusion if the new information warrants it. Furthermore, additional argument may allow even old information to be evaluated again.

But while all conclusions should be open to continual evaluation, let it not be confused that once a conclusion has been drawn (especially if drawn after considerable thought), new information and points of argument must overcome that which has already been evaluated.

And a final misconception about the open mind, is that it does not bind one to evaluating the same arguments and information over and over endlessly. If no new information is being presented, and claimants are merely repeating claims emphatically, then the open mind is free to move on until new argument or information can be evaluated. Those with whom we disagree will often confuse and open mind which has drawn a conclusion with a closed one. Agreement with any and all claims, and a reluctance to draw conclusions is not the mark of an open mind.

Reason & Knowledge
When the mind is open, new claims can be evaluated. But how are they to be evaluated? The wise person will seek to develop his or her reasoning abilities in order that claims may be evaluated.

This includes learning about the forms of logical argument, and the distinction between that which is logically valid and that which is logically true. Also included in the study of logic would be the common logical fallacies, in order that we may seek to avoid making them. A general understanding of philosophy is also helpful in reasoning skills.

Knowing how the scientific method operates is most helpful for evaluation of claims regarding the material world.

This includes a belief in an objective physical universe, which can be measured and understood through science (although the process is imperfect and not immune to error). However, it is not the current findings of science which the wise are committed to, but rather, it is the process of science in which he or she holds confidence. A dogmatic commitment to any particular finding of science would itself be unscientific since all assertions of science must remain open to continued scrutiny and possible revision in the light of new evidence. Still, this does not preclude the ability of a wise person to hold a reasonable degree of certainty toward a finding, in relation to the amount of physical evidence supporting it.

The reason for confidence in the scientific method is due to historic experience. The effectiveness of the scientific method has been displayed through its ability to make accurate prediction and empower human beings to create inventions, cures, and solutions to problems that work. If another method is one day revealed which produces the same or greater level of effectiveness, then it should also gain the confidence of wise people. Until then, it seems that science is the best tool for understanding the physical universe.

The wise person, then, will have a respect for the endeavor of science, the process of science, and the findings of science to the degree that they are supported by the consensus of the scientific community. He or she will make an active effort to gain a healthy understanding of the basics of science, as part of his or her growth and enlightenment. A wise person will not purposely believe, support, or promote antiscience, pseudoscience, or that which contradicts science when it comes to facts about the material universe.

At the same time, a wise person is humble and understands that to err is human. This applies to matters of faith, as well as matters of science. Therefore, arrogance and closed mindedness is to be avoided in both realms.

Even more broadly, the methods of skepticism are essential to good reasoning. Skepticism does not mean "doubt" but is, rather, the opposite of credulity. There is a skeptical approach to knowledge and knowing the difference between cynicism and a healthy skepticism is beneficial.

And, of course, we should seek to educate ourselves on matters of fact in a wide range of topics, and at least have a good idea of where (and where not) to find facts. Being a knowledgeable person gives us a good backdrop of facts on which to evaluate claims. Where we do not know a relevant fact, we should withhold judgment until we do.

Beyond Knowledge
Knowledge, rationality, good reasoning skills, and logic are necessary for wisdom, but they are not sufficient. A person may be highly knowledgeable, intelligent, and adept at logical argument, but be unwise at the same time. These things form only the most rudimentary backdrop for genuine wisdom.

The most difficult aspect of wisdom may be using our knowledge and rationality to grasp the broad and the subtle, turning knowledge into understanding. This entails connecting all of the information into a robust model of the world, life, and meaning. This model should offer insights into what is most effective and worthy. Wisdom is knowing what is beneficial within the big picture. The "big picture" means consideration of not only the most efficient answers, but answers which take into account what is practical and pragmatic, what is humane and compassionate, and what can realistically be achieved.

More than simple knowledge of the world, knowledge of ourselves is crucial to wisdom, if not central. This includes having a fair and objective assessment of ourselves, our emotional state, and our motivations. It also involves an accurate understanding of what we really know and what we only think. This knowledge must be matched by useful lessons and habits which allow us to have long term control over ourselves.

None of this (an open mind, knowledge, self knowledge) is possible without a dedication to seek truth above personal comfort whenever the two conflict. The baseline human tendency is to retreat to the familiar and the comfortable whenever challenged. But the wise person must transcend personal preference, fear, and ego in the pursuit of truth. Wisdom is not possible without such an effort.

Last but not least, wisdom is impossible without some attempt to appreciate and understand matters of ethics and the cultivation of virtue. A wise person will have some concept of the inherent benefit of ethical principles to both the whole and the individual. He or she will understand how and why one who is unethical is ultimately self destructive. Virtue and wisdom are so inclusive of one another, that they could almost be considered synonymous, as we will explore next.

Chapter 4: Virtue

Virtue and Ethics
A virtue refers to a general ethical principle embodied within the habits and inclinations of a person. To say someone has the "virtue of kindness", for example, is to say that this person's inner nature is one of kindness.

Ethics and moral thinking lead to general principles, which become a virtue when they are a habitual part of our psyche. But people can build habits that are virtuous, non-virtuous, or anti-virtuous. So, first, there must be a discussion of the ethical principles on which virtues are based. To discuss principles, one must discuss ethics.

The Source and Purpose of Ethics
What is ethical and what is not? These are some of the most difficult questions to answer. But first, we must look at the question of what ethics is.

Ethics are rules of behavior. They are carried throughout a culture by general consensus - sometimes as part of a religion, civic ethics, or tradition. They are enforced in several ways. For the more important and extreme cases, they may be encoded into law, but in other cases they are enforced through less direct means. Often this will include social pressures such as shunning, ridicule, avoidance, and so on.

Where do these ethical rules come from and why do they exist? Everyone has different ideas of the ultimate source of ethics, but few would argue that we ourselves must generally agree on an ethic if it is to be practiced or enforced (legally or socially). So, while the source of ethics may be many and varied, people are (at least) the most immediate source.

As far as the purpose of ethics, this is easier to answer when looking at specific ethics than ethics in general. People may have many different beliefs about the ultimate purpose of ethical rules. As far as many civic ethics go, the purpose would surely seem to include that which makes us healthy and happy as a people and as individuals.

So, regardless of other religious or traditional aspects, it is clear that the source of ethics would in part include ourselves, and the purpose of ethics would include that which is helpful to our collective and individual well being. These two realizations allow us a common ground on which to cooperate on many ethical matters, regardless of our diverse religions, cultures, beliefs, and traditions.

The Objectivity of Ethics
With the source and purpose of ethics in mind, we can begin to ask the question, "What is ethical?" Something can be measured by the degree to which it fulfills its purpose. Different ethical beliefs and practices will have an objective effect on our collective and individual well being, for better or worse.

While ethics may have additional aspects which our individual religions and philosophies touch upon, it seems inevitable that we look at the effects of our actions and ethical principles on ourselves and our society in the attempt to reach an answer as to what is ethical. Where the past is concerned, we can look back at the consequences of our individual and collective actions. When it comes to the future, we can at least try to make our best estimate of the consequences to come.

We cannot know the exact effects of past actions or the future with complete certainty, but in both of these cases, evidence may be gathered and then processed rationally. An argument can be formed in support or opposition to various behaviors and ethics, based on a rational assessment of their objective effects on our mutual well being. This means that ethics are objective, even if our knowledge of them is subjective or imperfect.

The Motivation for Virtue
Individuals may have many different religious, spiritual, cultural, and traditional foundations supporting virtues. In additional to those foundations, we also share many motivations for virtue, simply out of the nature of the universe we all inhabit.

The world of human beings happens to be such that there are several philosophic reasons to live a virtuous life. Some may believe this is due to the fact that an all-good creator crafted the world in just such a way. Others may believe in forms of Karma. Still others may see this as simply the result of evolution and social instinct. But regardless of the reason, the wisdom of virtue and its basis in the material world is apparent, right along side any immaterial basis we may individually believe.

There appear to be at least five general justifications for virtuous living: Authoritarian, Self Interest, Empathy, Well-being, and Greater Purpose. None of these, taken alone, is sufficient to fully support the argument for a virtuous life to the exclusion of all other motivations. But, taken together, they form an overall picture that provides a strong case for the wisdom of living the good life.

Each of these lines of thought are presented in the order for which most human beings will usually develop understanding. They progress from most primitive to most morally mature or enlightened. However, not everyone realizes them in the same order and there may be additional justifications beyond these, especially regarding a person's individual faith or belief system...

• Authoritarian:
The most primitive impetus for virtuous living is selfish and short sighted, although it can provide ample incentive for the most severe sort of misbehavior, or at least reduce evil behavior out of a fear of punishment. The thief who thinks he will never get caught is delusional, for eventually he or she will almost certainly make a mistake. The chances of getting away with severe offenses are so slim that this alone should be reason enough for any thinking person to conclude that serious offenses are foolish.

Authoritarian approaches to ethics can be effective for immature or psychologically damaged individuals, and are often fitting as the first form of ethical instruction for the very young. But ultimately, such an approach can only form the most simplistic of foundations for virtue. This type of motivation is essential, but not enough for true understanding.

• Self Interest:
The next justification for virtuous living is self interest. Only slightly more enlightened than authoritarianism, self interest means that, in general, people like being treated well and dislike being treated badly. Since we live in a world of people, one will get along better by earning a positive and trustworthy reputation. If one lies constantly, he or she will soon gain the reputation of a liar and will not be trusted or really liked by anyone. Others will be less likely to help him or her in the future. Meanwhile, good people will more often help one another. Simple logic suggests that your chances are better being a good person while living among people. This line of thinking, however, is still not quite enough to justify a fully robust sense of virtue.

• Empathy:
The human being is a social animal. Like the wolf or the dolphin, humans have an emotional makeup specially tuned to these social structures. In other words, our emotions are conducive to social interaction. This means that a healthy human will normally have a sense of empathy for other life, especially that of other humans.

A human's empathic emotions can be under developed or even absent in the most extreme cases. Nevertheless, most people, even those commonly thought of as evil, have at least some residual empathy, which begins building guilt in a person's mind when they harm others.

Often, unethical people can be observed leading very self destructive lives, having problems with relationships, dependency, jobs, and of course the law. This is because people, deep down, dislike evil, and evil people therefore hate even themselves subconsciously. A good person lives more closely in tune with his/her nature as social being while a person who lives unethically, ultimately harms himself or herself.

• Well-being:
Aside from the peace of mind one gets from lack of guilt and fulfilled empathy, there are also other side effects of living virtuously, such as a feeling of a healthy pride and self respect, more fulfilling relationships, and general happiness and well-being. Well-being is perhaps a cumulative effect of self interest and empathy as described above, but its effect is greater than the sum of its parts.

The sense of contentment one gets from helping others and the peace that comes from doing what is right can supersede all other hardships. Nothing in the unethical, uncaring, or cruel person's life can ever equate to this. This is because our material circumstances are ultimately not within our control. But what is within our control is our ability to make virtuous decisions. Therefore, whatever happens, a virtuous person may rest easy in the comfort that good has been chosen.

• Greater Purpose:
For those who have reached a certain level of moral maturity, one inevitably begins looking beyond one's self, toward genuine concern for others and humanity as a whole. Regardless of any additional greater purposes we may derive from individual beliefs, the lasting effect we have on the lives of others is an additional source of meaning in life. The chance to contribute to something larger than ourselves gives us added direction and purpose.

None of the above motivations alone is enough to fully justify all aspects of living virtuously. But together they give an abundance of reason why all people should find it rational to be a good person. Furthermore, some people will not be able to fully comprehend or appreciate some of these motivations until a certain level of life experience and moral maturity has been reached.

The Primary Virtues
There are many ways to organize lists of virtues, as have been provided by different traditions throughout history and throughout the world. There is no objectively "best" way to organize them, and to some extent, the ideal manner of grouping and organization will vary depending on what aspect of virtue ethics one is attempting to understand.

What is provided here is one organization designed to help remember the virtues and see them in their relationship to one another. This organization is called The Primary Virtues, named such for its analogy to the color wheel.

Where many sources provide lists of virtues, the Primary Virtues are designed to be more than an unrelated list. Instead, they are organized in a certain way for at least two reasons: one, to show the composition of the virtues, and two, to show how different virtues relate to form a system of thought and action.

Often, when one faces a moral dilemma, one will find that the source of the conflict lies in the contradiction of two or more ethical principles. Finding the solution to the dilemma will usually lie in understanding which ethics or virtues are involved, how they conflict with one another, and which should supersede which in a given situation.

In studying the ethics and virtue lists of different cultural, philosophic, and religious traditions, it becomes clear that some virtues are subsets of others. Meanwhile, some virtues are really the result of one or more other virtues mixing together. If one continues to break these categories down, it becomes apparent that there are certain primal principles upon which these virtues lie.

This is similar to the color wheel, with its primary colors which mix and blend to form secondary colors and all others. Because of this similarity, the Primary Virtues use the analogy of the color wheel. It identifies three primal virtues on which other virtues appear to be based in some degree.

More importantly, these primaries form a system of action, beginning with priority, continuing to plan, and then on to execution. The system could be thought of as an embodiment of the heart, mind, and hand.

Furthermore, the Primary Virtues are designed to be compatible with nearly any belief system, world-view, or religion. Using the Primary Virtues in one's life does not preclude or effect one's personal beliefs about the supernatural, the afterlife, or God. The Primary Virtues also do not require one to "add to" or alter their current religious beliefs. No doubt, the religious will find many references in their own belief systems as they are, which already support and promote these very virtues. Whether Christian, Muslim, Jew, Sanatana Dharma, Humanist, atheist, or any other belief, one will find that the Primary Virtues are a helpful tool for remembering virtues and approaching them in this life.

These three virtues form the complete system of action for the virtuous person - from priority, to plan, to execution. Like the primary colors, these virtues are the basis of all other virtues and are not themselves made up of any others. Secondary virtues are derived from combinations of the primaries. Shades of the primaries form sub-categories. Because virtue is synonymous with wisdom, the three primary virtues together form Wisdom.

• Compassion:
In the virtuous person, Compassion forms the basis of all moral action and there can be no higher priority. Compassion establishes ethical priorities, it is the ultimate motivation for the virtuous person, and creates the impetus for thought and action. Its shades include, but are not limited to:

• Love for self (self respect)
• Love of life (sense of wonder, adventure, and learning)
• Love for life (valuing all life in the universe)
• Love for fellow human beings (from those close, to whole human family)
• Empathy (ability to feel other's pains and joys).
• Reason:
Reason provides the basis for facts and the plan of action. It sets the procedures for realizing Compassion's priorities. While the virtuous person may frolic, he or she is not a slave to his/her passions. While it may seem strange to consider Reason a virtue, much evil is done by people with good intentions, but who act out of ignorance such that those intentions do not translate to effects which actually lead to good. Because of its importance in connecting intention to effect, the lack of Reason is considered an ethical failing. Shades if Reason include:

• Truth/Honesty
• Critical Thinking
• Knowledge
• Objectivity
• Healthy Skepticism.

• Discipline:
Discipline is putting Reason's plan to action and seeing it through. It forms the execution of the course that Compassion commands and Reason plots. It provides the control to keep the virtuous person on course, despite a wave of distracting influences and temptations. Without Discipline, a person may have a good heart and have good talk, but be helpless to actually achieve good in the world as a moral agent. Shades of Discipline include:

• Fortitude (stick-to-it-tiveness)
• Commitment/Loyalty
• Courage
• Temperance (moderation)
• Tolerance/Patience.

• Secondary Virtues:
Not named as such in order to suggest lesser importance, the Secondary Virtues are merely those which are made up mainly of combinations of the primary virtues. So, the term refers not to priority but to composition. The secondary virtues by far outnumber the primary virtues - there are as many as there are colors. They would include such virtues as the following, for example:
• Tolerance (Compassion + Reason)
• Humility (Compassion + Discipline)
• Justice (Reason + Discipline)
Many may question why so many extremely important values are relegated to secondary status. In simplifying the virtues, it was important that the primaries be so universal as to not have exceptions. Truth, for example, is crucial to moral character. Nevertheless, it has exceptions. There are times when it is necessary to forego truth (lie) in order to protect an innocent, for example. This indicates that there is a higher, overriding (and perhaps more "pure") ethic upon which this moral decision is made. Compassion has no exception, although there may be times when a greater cause of Compassion overrides another. Reason also has no exception. While it is fine to be foolish for fun, this must always be within Reason. Frolic and emotion form the spice of life but may never exceed reasonable boundaries (endangering people or causing harm or irresponsibility). Discipline also has no exception. While some instances do not call for a great degree of Discipline, there is never a case where lack of Discipline is required or considered a virtue.

Another thing to keep in mind is that the Primary Virtues are not a psychological model of human behavior. They do not attempt to outline the system of action by which human beings function. In that regard they would be incomplete. Instead, the system outlined by the Primary Virtues is a system of action we might follow if we are attempting to live and act virtuously. We can ask ourselves, "Is my motivation compassionate? Is it reasonable?" Many times we have our hearts in the right place, and our Reason is sound, but we lack the discipline to do what we know needs to be done. This is the sort of model we can refer to as a guide in such matters. There are more details that might be explored about the Primary Virtue system as well.

Chapter 5: Living

Living the Virtues
The simplest (yet crucial) aspect of a good life is in the dedication to a set of principles, summed up here in the form of the Primary Virtues. The Primary Virtues system provides a good perspective for studying the relationship of virtues to one another, and study outside this one system is encouraged as well. But what does this say about the lifestyle of a good person - the priorities by which he or she lives? At the very least, it should mean the following...

• Life: Acts with reverence for life.
• Diversity: Respects and values diversity in the world.
• Love: Acts with love and caring for fellow human beings.
• Nonviolence: Does not commit violence except in defense of the innocent.
• Empathy: Seeks to empathize with others.
• Charity: Helps those in need.
• Self Respect: Acts with self respect.

• Self Control: Is not ruled by his or her passions.
• Rationality: Seeks to think logically and rationally.
• Understanding: Seeks knowledge, without personal or ideological bias.
• Humility: Keeps an open mind, continually learning an growing.
• Honesty: Values truth and does not lie for self gain or unethical purposes.
• Integrity: Keeps all ethical promises and fulfills his or her commitments.
• Objectivity: Is objective, fair, and does not practice undue favoritism.

• Bravery: Acts with bravery and does what he or she knows to be right.
• Honor: Acts with honor, dignity, and respect for superiors and elders.
• Tolerance: Respects the rights and differences of others.
• Patience: Practices patience in life and towards others.
• Temperance: Practices moderation.
• Duty: Fulfills his or her civic and other duties, when ethical.
• Diligence: Is diligent and not lazy, negligent, or irresponsible.

It is important to note that we should not view such principles as simplistic dogma to be mindlessly and robotically applied. Nor should we view virtue principles as mere legalism, as if one can do as one pleases as long as the letter of the principle is maintained.

We should try to maintain a character that is consistent with the spirit of general principles of virtue, but also be open to reviewing and objectively considering such principles under changing circumstances and information. Our ultimate and sincere goal should be to do the right thing in a given circumstance, as best as can be determined.

Our values and perspective should show in our behavior, words, how we treat others, and even body language. Let us carry ourselves with dignity. This doesn't mean acting stodgy, superior, or smug. But it does mean that we should never be crass, self degrading, or vulgar. We should not delight in gossip, degradation, or the suffering of others, be it in person or through forms of entertainment.

We should also maintain control of our emotions, but this does not mean acting like a robot. Certainly we should express and enjoy healthy and normal emotions, but the point is that we maintain control, and are not a slave to them. We can enjoy emotions as the "spice of life" and even nurture positive emotions where they inspire virtuous acts. But a mentally disciplined person's decisions and actions are ultimately directed by his or her intellect, acting within ethical bounds as best as can be determined.

We should always try to be intellectually honest with ourselves and others when in debate or argument. We should not engage in conflict of any sort for the purpose of winning for its own sake, but rather to further truth, justice, or other ethical causes. Therefore, we should never place advocacy for a position above loyalty to truth and understanding without personal bias. If it seems likely to us that we are in error, then our goal should be to self correct and then work toward promoting the new understanding of truth, without regard for pride, ego, or status. We should never make distorted caricatures of opponents or their positions and never use distractive tactics to win arguments. We should make an active effort to truly understand positions with which we do not agree, remaining open to the possibility of error.

Let us show compassion and consideration in our words to others, even when voicing disagreement and even when only writing online to strangers. Although we should speak what we believe to be truth, we should not purposely offend others or stoke anger or hatred for its own sake - even in our enemies. We should not allow the nature of others to dictate who we are. Let us speak to others with politeness and respect. This has nothing to do with the nature of who is being spoken to - it has to do with the nature of who is speaking.

Lastly, let us display passivity in our mannerisms and actions. This passivity is not one which allows others to dominate us, but rather, it is a passivity of the self that displays our patience and timing. We should not react quickly where it is not required and never rashly. We should instead "look before leaping" and consider the proper timing of events, words, and actions without anticipation and with the contentment that what needs to be done will be done in its proper time.

This contentment comes from the lack of excessive attachment to transient things of lesser importance and to which we ultimately have no control. It also comes from an understanding of the flow of events and human nature - something no one is perfect at, but which we should try to improve on an ongoing basis, as wisdom and life experience permit.

This passivity does not mean that we do not act or speak when necessary, but that we are not anxious to act or speak before it is time and the right amount of deliberation has gone into the reaction. Some events require immediate reaction, but when possible, we should take the time to reflect and consider words and deeds carefully, keeping a calm, focused, and thoughtful demeanor under stress.


Another aspect of living this philosophy is a commitment to continually improve one's self and develop one's talents, skills, understanding, and lifestyle. There are different areas we should try to improve, which can be categorized in many different ways. For explanatory purposes, they are summarized here as follows: Mental, Physical, and Spiritual.

Mental Development
Without knowledge and good thinking skills to handle that knowledge, virtuous intent is often disrupted, impossible, or even unintentionally misdirected into evil. Therefore, it is important to always seek greater levels of understanding and reasoning.

Let us look at learning as a spiritual experience. As more of the universe is revealed through learning, more of it can be appreciated. This includes continual learning about philosophy, science, cultures, history, the arts and so on. It also includes learning about and understanding different ethical teachings and religions. There is a tendency among people to read and learn about only that which they are most comfortable with. However, we should purposely get outside our "comfort zone" and seek out subjects to understand that we do not agree with.

Thinking Skills
People can be very knowledgeable without being capable of intelligent thought. The ability to think logically and rationally is a skill which can be developed. Aside from mere raw information about the world, the wise person also seeks to hone his or her rational skills, problem solving abilities, and use of logic. This includes the structure of logical argument and the knowledge of logical fallacies. It also includes general practice at concentration, focus, and reasoning, which can be exercised through puzzles, gaming, debate, etc.

Physical Development
Good physical health is wise in general, as it improves the average length and quality of our lives. In general, it is an important ethical priority given that those of poor health or short lifespans will be less capable of living up to obligations and possibly place undue physical or financial burdens on others.

But in addition to these issues, the effort to improve our health can be helpful to our spiritual life. It helps with harmful stress and allows us to more easily maintain our mental composure. There also seems to be a link between physical discipline and mental discipline. Discipline that is physical becomes "more real" to our minds and therefore translates to greater discipline in our mental and behavioral efforts as well.

What we consume, and how much we consume is crucial to our makeup. If possible, we should not harm our bodies with excessive consumption of unhealthy foods. Different people may differ on the acceptability of moderate alcohol consumption and drugs such as caffeine, but no one should pollute his or her body with excessive or destructive drug use. Let us make active efforts to avoid addictions of all types.

We should make an active effort to maintain a regular exercise plan, especially when one's daily life would not normally include a great deal of physical activity. Exercise for the purpose of fine tuning the body, maintaining weight, and improving function is ideal. Many sports, martial arts, or other activities fill this need as well. While there is nothing wrong in exercise forms which build muscle or physique, let us not be vain or overly focused on the body for materialistic or prideful reasons. Exercise times can also make for good moments of spiritual reflection.

Spiritual Development
Certainly, this would include any religious studies and practices which are a part of our individual faiths. In addition, there are areas of Spiritual Development associated with our shared spirituality, which anyone can engage in. We should understand that without spiritual improvement of the self, one is powerless to act as a moral agent or a force for good in the world.

Virtue Improvement
Virtue improvement goes beyond mere knowledge of ethical philosophy, to application. We may use the Primary Virtues model as a general guide, and mental development includes understanding why general principles are as they are, and under what circumstances they apply in different ways. But virtue improvement involves learning to apply these realizations to our daily habits and thoughts. In this way, moral deliberation and virtuous behavior becomes more finely tuned and internalized than mere adherence to simple moral codes.

Virtue improvement involves assessing our weaknesses and shortcomings, and actively working to mold our responses to our intellectual realizations, improving in areas we fall short. This is done through objectively looking at ourselves and making a conscious effort to work on improving various habits or virtues.

This is a process where we carefully look inward for different reasons. Reflection looks on the surface like meditation, and it may include that, but it is also more. Reflection is an overall practice that involves meditation (the clearing and calming of the mind), contemplation (the highly focused concentration and active thinking about particular issues), and introspection (a careful look at ourselves in an unbiased way).

Many forms of meditation may be one way to help relieve stress, but as a means of clearing the mind meditation is also a suitable prelude to contemplation. Contemplation would then involve taking the issues of the day that confront us and spending time "computing" them in a very focused and orderly fashion.

Introspection would be another sort of reflection that could take place after focusing in meditation. Introspection, like contemplation, is also highly focused thought, but rather than thinking actively about outward issues that need to be considered, one thinks about inward issues of one's own character and behavior. This may be one component in virtue improvement as well.

This is an exercise designed to help people work on areas of virtue they may be lacking in. As with anything like this, it may work better for some than for others. The idea behind it is that, if you find yourself to be weak in a particular virtue, you fortify it by using other virtues which you are strong in. Hopefully, over time, this may nurture the weak virtue itself to become stronger.

This process can work on a general level, or it can work with respect to specific actions. It can also work on the primary virtues themselves, or on particular shades or secondary virtues. Here is an example...

John is having trouble making himself do the work he should be doing in his job. He finds it boring and would much rather goof off, but he knows he needs to do it. John's problem is not with Reason, because he knows what should be done. His problem is with Discipline (Fortitude to be more specific).

While John has a problem with Discipline in general, he feels that his Compassion and Reason are fairly strong. The Fortification exercise can help to begin to alter John's perspective and hopefully reinforce his Discipline.

First, John looks at Compassion. He makes a list on a sheet of paper of all the arguments he can think of for doing his work, which would fall under the category of Compassion. It is best that a physical list be written out, not merely thought about in one's head. It is also best that the list be written by hand and not typed. What John comes up with may look something like this...

• How would I feel if I hired someone to do a job and they were slacking off?

• How might my failures in my job effect my family?

• The customers for whom I'm working deserve a good service for what they are paying for.

And so on. Each of these are arguments or points supporting the notion that one should be a good worker at work, but they all share in the trait that they appeal to Compassion. John should list as many of these as he can think of.

Next, John repeats the process, but this time thinking of arguments that spring from Reason (since he's also well off in that virtue). John thinks of the following...

• If I goof off at work, eventually this will become known to my superiors and it will form an impression which will effect my opportunities or even my employment itself.

• If I work hard at work, I will likely feel more proud of myself and feel more free to have fun when in my off time.

• The work I am putting off will eventually have to be done. I'm only making things harder on myself later when I have to rush to get it all done.

These arguments support being a good worker but appeal to John's Reason. After John thinks of all the arguments he can springing from his stronger virtues (Compassion and Reason), he then re-reads them slowly, one at a time. He meditates on each one, thinking about its truthfulness, "taking it in" so to speak. Since these arguments appeal to virtues John is strong in, they will speak to him more directly.

This will likely inspire John to get on the ball. But to carry it further, John should start to form a list of arguments springing from Discipline itself. Over time, this may begin to increase John's awareness of Discipline and begin to internalize it as habits build. Given John's base personality, this may be something he may always have to work at, but Fortification may help in that regard.
This same process can be used on any of the virtues. Simply think about what virtue you're lacking, what virtues you are strong in, and then list and dwell on the arguments for increasing your weak virtue which spring from your strong ones. Again, this may work at different levels for different people, and it's not a fix-all. It is something one may need to continue at, and supplement other practices along side. But that's why it's called an "exercise" and not a "solution".

Existential Deliberation
Objectivity, knowledge without bias, and fairness are things that the wise person will strive for, especially where ethical issues and conflicts are involved. When the conflicts involve ourselves or those close to us, it becomes even more difficult to act without bias. Some people never even try, and are eternal advocates for themselves regardless of what may be ethical or virtuous. But let us try to overcome this inevitable human tendency as best as possible.

One mental exercise that may be helpful in this regard is existential deliberation. This is a way of thinking about conflicts in which we imagine ourselves "disembodied" from the conflict. We attempt to look at the situation from the perspective of an outside observer, without respect to which person is ourselves. This is something that works best when the intentions of the user are sincere and earnest. It also works well when there is a good degree of concentration, which means that existential deliberation may be a good exercise to undertake while in reflection (described above).

In forming a mental model of the conflict, it is important to have all the facts. This includes seeking to understand thoroughly the needs, concerns, and beliefs of the individuals involved. If we have incomplete facts, misunderstood facts, or only crude or biased characterizations others' positions, then our efforts will only result in fantasy models of the situation and any solutions we arrive at will only be effective in that fantasy setting (in other words, not at all). Therefore, forming an accurate existential perspective may not be something we can do in one sitting. We may have to gather more data first.

To do this, it is necessary to "learn without judgment". That doesn't mean that we are never judgmental. Indeed, the ability to discern between virtue and vice is essential. But for true understanding, there is a need to segment our thinking into stages. The first stage should always be to gather information. During this stage, our value judgments can cloud our ability to understand the facts. This is how people who may simply be acting as best as they know how may become demonized by us. Once we seem to have gathered a substantial understanding of everyone's position, the existential deliberation can continue.

If we can achieve an impartial perspective of the situation - a bird's eye view, the next step is to apply moral deliberation. In this we look at all of the rights and responsibilities involved, general moral principles, and extenuating circumstances. We try to come to a solution to the conflict.

Once the solution seems apparent, we can then "come back into our bodies" so to speak. At that point, our effort should be to play our part in the solution while working to promote the ethical solution to the others involved, even if this isn't necessarily the most advantageous option for us personally. All the while, we must remain open to flexibility in the plan and to rethinking our solution, especially if we later find that there are mistaken or new facts in our mental model of the situation.

It is also important to note that the solution is not necessarily to find a way that "all sides can agree". Certainly, if an equitable solution is possible then this would be best, but not at the expense of what is just and ethical. In other words, if someone has a right they should not be expected to forgo that right for the sake of compromise unless they wish to. If someone has a responsibility, they should not be relieved of that responsibility unless someone else is willing to relieve them of it. In other words, people should be expected to negotiate within what is just and ethical and not beyond.

Usually, conflicts happen between well intentioned people with different perspectives or misunderstandings. Even in cases of misbehavior, many people will rethink their actions if they are not put on guard by overt confrontation and an appeal is made to them. Often, we might vilify those on the other side of a conflict, assuming them to be "evil" because it gives us emotional satisfaction and allows us to feel good about not negotiating with them. This is usually inaccurate and unethical behavior on our part.

But In a few cases, a conflict may actually be the result of someone with mal intent. Someone who is actively acting outside of ethical bounds and is so extreme that they will not make any attempt to reconcile. In these cases, it may turn out that conflict is not only unavoidable, but ethically imperative. Nevertheless, we should try all other options before reaching this point.

Perspective Exploration
This is another mental exercise in which we seek to truly appreciate the perspective of those we might not understand, or even disagree with. It involves a bit of internal mental roleplaying and is as much an intuitive emotional exercise as it is one of logic. It is an exercise where we attempt to hone our skills at "seeing into the hearts" of men and women. This is a good practice for helping to build accurate pictures of conflict situations (a component of existential deliberation, as described above), but it is also a good practice to do in general, even when no serious conflicts exist.

Actors playing the part of a villain and writers writing the part of a villain tell us that very few villains actually conceive of themselves as evil. Most have some understanding and logic to their perspective which forms the basis of who they are and why they do what they do. Actors are trained to get inside these people's skin. In the process, they successfully play the roles of some of the planet's most despicable people. Yet, an actor does not really take to believing what the villains they play do.

In the same respect, perspective exploration allows us to take those we may not agree with (often not even "villains") and helps us to appreciate what it must be like to be them, to see things like they do, to have the same conceptions of the world that they do, and so on. We needn't believe these things ourselves to understand them.

But reaching such an understanding will help us to relate to others. It will help us to sympathize with them, to negotiate with them, and to live with them in peace. Where debates occur, it will help us to zero in on the specific points of a debate where differences lie, and not waste time on surface details of the argument.

Perspective exploration is also something that benefits from focus and concentration, and is therefore an ideal exercise to undertake while in reflection. Empathy and imagination are crucial, but it is also important that they not be used alone, for again we risk concoctions of fantasy rather than true understanding. Instead, our imaginations and empathy must be fueled by facts. To gather those facts we need earnest dialogue. We need to truly develop the ability to listen to what others are telling us, taking careful note of the phrasings and labels used as well as the inflections of the voice. We also need to imagine the perspective they have of us, and ask questions about that as well.

The End