How Shall We Then Live?

by Greg Leitschuh

Good Values Guide

I recently read an article on the so-called "good values guide" that appeared in one of Britain's newspapers. The article focused on a statement published by the government's curriculum advisers aimed at strengthening the provision for spiritual, moral and social education in schools through defining a code of values. The four main areas outlined were society, relationships, self and the environment. In each of these areas, a statement of values is accompanied by a number of "principles for action". Among the forum of people who were involved in putting together the statements, views were expected to differ as to what gave the statements their moral authority and how they should be interpreted in practice. This begs the question as to what is the basis of morality, truth and justice and where it originates. I would like us to look at this age old question of where we get our laws and ethical values or codes of practice from and what gives them meaning.


Most would agree that there is widespread lawlessness and disregard for authority these days. One of the main thrusts in the aforementioned guide is an attempt to restore a sense of respect for the law, authority and each other through educating young people on how they ought to live and act. Most felt that with the increasing rise of violence and indiscipline in schools, clear moral and spiritual guide-lines needed to be taught. Many differed as to the approach on how to administer moral education and also felt that moral values needed to be "caught" as well as taught. It should be noted that the people involved in the forum were of varying faiths and some with none. Although they agreed on the principles, there was some differing of opinions as to what gave these statements their moral authority.

A Normal Moral Code

We all would probably agree as to what constitutes a normal moral code i.e. it is wrong to kill, it is honourable to be courageous and self-sacrificing, to show love is the greatest thing that we can do, hatred being one of the worst and so on. It appears that these human attributes are a major part of what separates us from animals. This inner sense of right and wrong and the feeling that "I ought" seem to have been with us for centuries throughout all the races. From the most primitive tribe to the most advanced nation, there has always been either a written or innate moral code of how people should live and act. It is interesting to see that with all our technological advancements and widespread education, this century has produced the worst wars known to man as well as well as a growth rate of violence that seems to be out of control. We should be asking ourselves what has happened to this inner sense of "I ought" that we seemed to regard so highly in our parents' and forefathers' generations.

Moral Instruction

For us as a race to continue when all around us violence and lawlessness seem to reign, we need to go further than attempting to strengthen moral instruction in our schools. If our laws our only based on men's opinion of what is right and wrong, we will never have a sure foundation of what is true reality and truth. One philosopher put it this way when he said, "Every finite reference point must have an infinite reference point for there to be meaning in life." One of the statements mentioned in the area pertaining to self was "try to discover meaning and purpose in life and how life ought to be lived." It's as if we don't know who we are or where we are going. We're not one hundred percent sure what truth is or where reality lies. We all know there is something intrinsically wrong with society but we are unable to change it even if we knew how and worst of all we find we are unable to change ourselves.

We need to be truly honest with ourselves by asking the question, "Where does this sense of 'I ought' come from and why do I find that I am unable to live up to the highest that I know?" I hope to try and shed some more light on this in the next issue and have us look at the possibility that this "conscience" within all of us is more than just a result of education.

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