A planetary system of ethics is an achievement that long has been anticipated as crucial on the world scene today. Although organized religion has long been regarded as the standard bearer for the promotion of the virtuous life style, the various conflicts that afflict the major world religions today clearly expose the inherent weaknesses to such a simplistic interpretation. Ideally, a scientific foundation to such a global ethical perspective would prove beneficial towards resolving many of these difficulties. Indeed, the profound status of the scientific method effectively permeates the economic and social fabric of the global community as a whole. Here, a formal scientific tie-in with ethical principles should prove particularly effectively for removing the cultural stumbling blocks towards such a widespread global acceptance. In particular, a foundation within the scientific principles of behavioural psychology provides the most effective solution towards achieving worldwide acceptance, invoking instinctual principles shared in common as a human species (and with the rest of the animal kingdom) as a general unifying theme. When these primary behavioural principles are further extended to encompass the more advanced social levels of group and universal authority, the related relevant domain of the traditional groupings of virtues, values, and ideals rightfully enters the picture.







The remainder of the current discourse endeavors to provide the specific details for precisely such a global ethical achievement. The first part of this article endeavors to examine the entire span of human culture as a ten-level ascending hierarchy of personal, group, universal, humanitarian, and transcendental realms of authority/follower roles. Furthermore, this ascending authority hierarchy is formally based upon a foundation invoking the principles of Set Theory. Here, the basic concepts of the one, the many, and the absolute are specified in terms of the authority realms of the personal, the group, and the universal, respectively. In addition, each of these basic conceptual levels is directly associated with its own unique complement of specific motivational terms, that extend (at the uppermost levels) to the traditional listings of virtues and values relevant to a planetary system of ethics.

The final section of this article further addresses the related goal of a strict scientific founda-tion encompassing the principles of behavioural psychology; in particular, the terminology of instrumental conditioning. In terms of this purely secular (scientific) foundation, this new system of ethics fortuitously avoids offending the sensibilities of any particular world religion in the process, wherein celebrating the commonalties of all ethical traditions as a whole. Granted, the world’s religions have enjoyed considerable long-term success in the promotion of a virtuous lifestyle, with origins that considerably predate our modern technological age. Indeed, for the majority of recorded history, the existing complement of world religions have essentially co-existed in a more-or-less peaceful fashion, although some degree of fanaticism has always instigated conflict amongst cultures. With the modern advent of our age of high technology, however, it appears that mankind can no longer afford such a clash of cultures when it extends to the realm of fanatical terrorism on a global scale. It is here that the newly proposed, scientifically-based, system of planetary ethics holds the greatest degree of promise, and one with the potential to overcome the considerable threats to global peace and harmony.


The key insights towards reaching such an achievement reside in viewing the individual as the rightful product of a diverse range of social environments. In addition to the most basic one-to-one style of personal interaction, the individual is typically incorporated into a wide range of group contexts (i.e., family, work, school, etc.), as well as some all-encompassing style of spiri-tual environment. These various contexts collectively merge as a unified social hierarchy, in keeping with the theoretical principles governing the science of Set Theory. The paradigm of Set Theory is clearly in agreement with this three-way degree of specialization, the unit set, the group set, and the universal set corresponding to the personal, group, and spiritual realms, respectively. This concept of a three-level style of set hierarchy is actually nothing new, proposed centuries earlier by the great German philosopher, Emmanuel Kant. In his masterpiece Critique of Pure Reason, Kant outlines an elaborate system of conceptual categories that he considers crucial to the formation of the human intellect: the most notable being the relevant category of quantity, divided, in turn, into the notions of unity, plurality, and totality. In general terms, these concepts equate to the notions of the one, the many, and the absolute; equivalent in the human social sense to the personal, group, and spiritual levels of the power hierarchy.

This three-level style of conceptual hierarchy, although appealing in its simplicity; differs from Set Theory in that complex interactions between individuals do not exist in a vacuum, but rather are dually specialized into either authority or follower roles respectively. In the personal realm, this amounts to the personal authority and personal follower roles; extending to the group realm as the dual complement of group authority and group representative roles, followed up by the spiritual authority and spiritual disciple roles of the spiritual realm. A brief description of each of these basic styles of authority/follower interaction is definitely in order, for each collectively serves to outline the proposed grand unification of virtues and values initially proposed.


The most basic personal style of interaction refers to the one-to-one style of relationship between individuals, such as seen in one's personal friendships. This interplay is typically specialized into either authority or follower roles; exemplified in the case of the master craftsman (who critically depends upon the faithful services of his willing apprentice). A similar scenario further holds true in the case of the hero and his side-kick, or the celebrity and his straight men. Flexibility is certainly the key issue under consideration, the authority and follower roles reciprocating one another, allowing for an equitable style of shared relationship. Indeed, the authority figure de-pends upon the attentions of his follower (as much as the other way around), leading to an effective balance of power within the personal power realm.

This elementary style of personal relationship, in turn, gives way to the equally pervasive notion of group authority. As previously described, the group set surpasses the unit set in its expansion to a multitude of elements (or class members) within a group context. Personal concerns now become subordinate to this group sense of authority, with plenty of followers remaining to continue group authority regardless of whether any individual chooses to defect. In a single stroke the group authority is set well above any such personal power struggles, an innovation exploited since ancient times as the tradition of tribal-based authority.

Group authority, in turn, is susceptible to its own unique form of follower maneuver, in this case that of the group representative. Indeed, the strike potential of the group representative is most fully realized at this level, witnessed in the modern-day trend towards collective bargaining. By organizing as a union collective, the rank and file picks a shop steward to represent them in their dealings with management. The union representative, in essence, informs the group authority that the cooperation and cohesiveness of the labor pool is crucial for maintaining the group status quo. Here again, the group authority and group follower share an equal balance of power in the group power realm.

A similar scenario necessarily holds true for the next higher spiritual level of authority, although this sense of “spiritual” refers to the restricted sense of the term implicit in set theory. In-deed, this universal set surpasses the multiplicity of the group domain for the sum-totality of all such groups within its domain. This universal set is unique in representing the group of all possible group sets, a third-order style of set hierarchy (equivalent to the domain of all of mankind). Just as group authority surpassed the influence of any of its individual members, so this universal sense of spiritual authority overrules the strike power of any of its constituent groups; hence, claiming supremacy over all mankind. It is true, in practice, that each of the world’s religions competes for the preferences of the world’s faithful. In theory, however, each religion vigilantly strives to convert all others, lending credence to the ideal (universal) sense of the term. This claim to universality is traditionally made binding through an appeal to a god or a messiah figure. Indeed, this mystical style of sanction dates at least to classical times, when a king could inspire loyalty from his troops (in the name of a god of war) far in excess of what he could hope to claim as a mere mortal.

Taking this trend to the limit, even a realm as abstract as the spiritual must (by definition) be susceptible to its own unique form of follower countermaneuver; in this case, the role of the spiritual disciple. As a spokesman for the spiritual congregation, the spiritual disciple reminds the authority figure that without the blessings of the faithful, he (as spiritual authority) will have no one left to minister over. Indeed, witness the power of the apostate or the heretic for influencing such diverse historical events as the Protestant Reformation and, indeed, the very founding of Christianity itself.


This basic, three-level hierarchy of personal, group, and spiritual realms, when viewed in terms of both authority and follower roles; finally provides the fundamental conceptual framework for proposing the grand unification of virtues, values, and ideals, as schematically illustrated in Figure 1. This master diagram, tentatively termed the "ethical power hierarchy," incorporates all of the major ethical groupings described so far, plus an equivalent number of new ones, for a grand total of ten: serving as the basic foundation for the remainder of this paper. As the captions serve to indicate, the first three levels of this diagram are designated according to the personal, group, and spiritual levels of the power realm, accounting for the most basic groupings of virtues and ideals.

          Nostalgia    Guilt                               Worship      Blame

Desire Worry Approval Concern EGO STATES ALTER EGO STATES (Personal Authority) (Personal Follower) Glory Honor Prudence Justice

Dignity Integrity Temperance Fortitude PERSONAL IDEALS CARDINAL VIRTUES (Group Authority) (Group Representative) Providence Liberty Faith Hope

Civility Austerity Charity Decency CIVIL LIBERTIES THEOLOGICAL VIRTUES (Spiritual Authority) (Spiritual Disciple) Grace Free Will Beauty Truth

Magnanimity Equanimity Goodness Wisdom ECUMENICAL IDEALS CLASSICAL GREEK VALUES (Humanitarian Authority) (Humanitarian Follower) Tranquility Equality Ecstasy Bliss

Love Peace Joy Harmony HUMANISTIC VALUES MYSTICAL VALUES (Transcendental Authority) (Transcendental Follower)


This cohesive hierarchy of ethical values proves particularly comprehensive in scope accounting for virtually every major ethical term celebrated within the Western ethical tradition. These traditional, four-part ethical groupings line up perfectly within this meta-perspectival hierarchy, making it exceedingly unlikely that such an arrangement could have arisen solely by chance. The remaining lowermost two levels, however, bring to light two hitherto unmentioned categories; namely, the humanitarian and transcendental realms, respectively. Indeed, it is appro-priate to distinguish this additional complement of levels as uniquely abstract styles of power maneuvers; surpassing the strict organizational style of structure previously described. A brief description of each of these latter two levels is definitely in order, for some of the most abstract listings of virtues and values fall under these final two headings.


Although the spiritual realm is clearly the maximum level of organizational complexity (in keeping with the traditions of Set Theory), this very sense of chronological time permits the introduction of the even more advanced notion of humanitarian authority into the mix. Indeed, the great theoretical physicist, Albert Einstein defined time as the fourth dimension of the universe, making it seem only fitting that this humanitarian theme would enter into consideration precisely at this fourth-order level of the ethical hierarchy. Humanitarian authority transcends the spiritual variety by claiming to speak for all generations of mankind, not just the current one (experienced as past traditionalism and/or future potentiality). Its extreme degree of generality precludes its identification with any particular social institution; rather its themes are incorporated into the spiritual (and sometimes political) framework of society as a whole.

This extreme sense of the pure power of abstraction, when considered in its own right, serves as the basis for one final innovation in the power hierarchy; namely, the crowning transcendental power realm. Transcendental authority regains the upper hand by transcending the routine sense of concreteness shared in common by each of the lower levels, an innovation which proves essential for accounting for the most abstract listings of values in the power hierarchy. This authority perspective freely enters into the esoteric realm of pure intuition and imagination, for-saking the constraints of ordinary reality for the supreme and incontrovertible realm of pure ab-straction. Indeed, this transcendental realm (along with the humanitarian variety) is further spe-cialized into the distinctive authority and follower roles (for a grand total of four), which together with the six roles specified for the personal, group, and spiritual levels collectively comprise the master ten-level hierarchy depicted in Fig. 1.

A few general observations may be made with respect to the distinguishing features of this schematic format. First, the ten listings of virtues, values, and ideals are organized into dual descending columns of five groupings each; the left column representing the hierarchy of authority roles, whereas the right describes the corresponding follower roles. This dual style of schematic format represents the sum-totality of reciprocating interactions between the authority and fol-lower figures (when scanned in a zigzag pattern from top to bottom). The distinctive groupings of virtues and values listed for each individual level exhibit their own distinctive range of distinguishing characteristics; namely, each is represented as a quartet style of schematic format (depicted as quadrants in a pseudo-Cartesian system). Some of the more traditional groupings (such as the cardinal virtues) are already represented as four-part listings, fitting quite nicely into such a quadrant style of format. Others (such as the theological virtues) have been supplemented beyond their traditional number in order to achieve this quartet-style status. Still other groupings are entirely new to this philosophical tradition, yet these too are seen to respect this quartet-style organization of the power hierarchy.


The most basic personal level of power hierarchy is certainly the most rational jumping off point here, making it seem only fitting that the associated motivational terms would share such similar elementary characteristics. According to level one of Figure 1, these are respectively designated as the ego states of the personal authority (guilt-worry-nostalgia-desire) and the alter ego states of the personal follower (hero worship-blame-approval-concern). These groupings appear tailor-made for incorporation into the power hierarchy, gratefully adapted from the field of self-help psychology; most notably, the best seller Your Erroneous Zones (1976) by Dr. Wayne Dyer. Indeed, the intensely personal nature of this self-help field makes its associated terminology particularly effective for specifying the dynamics of the personal power realm.

These distinctive motivational terms, in turn, can be seen as grounded in the objective terminology of behavioural psychology. For instance, the desire for approval is the colloquial equivalent to the behavioural paradigm of solicitous behavior aimed towards positive reinforcement (or rewards). Similarly, the sense of worry in anticipation of concern can alternately be equated to submissive behavior anticipating negative reinforcement (or lenient treatment). When this two-stage, operant paradigm is phase-shifted one stage into the past (with reinforcement now the active principle), the remaining ego and alter ego states are further explainable in such behavioural terms. For instance, hero worship rewardingly aims to reinforce the personal authority’s past notable achievements (experienced as a poignant sense of nostalgia). Similarly, the remaining lenient sense of blame alternately gives rise to the respective submissive feelings of guilt.

Although only briefly described, these basic groupings of ego and alter ego states, in turn, serve as the elementary foundation for the remaining collective listings of virtues, values, and ideals outlined in Figure 1. The accompanying objective (behavioural) grounding to this personal foundation adds a welcome scientific validity to such a grand scale undertaking. Indeed, a basic pattern clearly emerges from this diagram; namely, the left-hand column of authority roles is characterized by what are termed the authority ideals: read downwards as the personal ideals, the civil liberties, the ecumenical ideals, and the humanistic values. The right hand column of fol-lower roles, in turn, specifies a parallel trend based in the realm of the virtues; namely, the cardinal virtues, theological virtues, the classical Greek values, and the mystical values.


This higher-order paradigm of ego/alter ego states is curiously reminiscent of the similar concept popularized in the modern-day field of Communications Theory; namely, the metaperspective format of R. D. Laing, and also P. I. Watzlawick. In Interpersonal Perception (1966) Laing and associates researched the dynamics of interpersonal communication, characterizing it as the “spiral of reciprocal perspectives.” In The Pragmatics of Human Communication (1967) Watzlawick (et. al.), in turn, examined the informational aspects of communication: exemplified as his “hierarchy of metaperspectives.” Both formulations share a common hypothesis; namely, communication between individuals is typically overlaid with abstract “meta-messages,” specifying how such a relationship is to be conducted. The “metaperspective,” from the Greek “meta” (above) represents a higher order perspective upon the viewpoint held by another, schematically defined as “this is how I see you seeing me.” Indeed, there does not appear to be any theoretical barrier limiting the degree to which reflection can serve as a basis for itself, culminating in an unprecedented 10th-order level of meta-abstraction.


Although this cohesive hierarchy of authority levels emerged as a direct outcome of Set Theory, the true elegance of this system is seen in the respective listings of motivational terms, intriguing in their formal, four-part pattern of organization. Each of these respective listings of virtues, values, and ideals shows an intimate degree of connectedness with its respective authority or follower role across the board. Of even greater significance, however, is the high degree of cohesiveness seen for hierarchically linked sequences of motivational terms themselves, such as seen in the case of the cardinal virtues, the theological virtues, and the classical Greek values. This pattern scarcely proves to be an isolated phenomenon, for it effectively repeats itself across the entire ten-level span of the power hierarchy. For instance, returning to Fig. 1, within the left de-scending column (representing the authority roles), the upper left quadrant of motivational terms (read in descending order) yields the sequence of nostalgia-glory-providence-grace-tranquility. All five terms share a positive style of past-directed focus, stressing the theme of past notable achievements. The same quadrant in the right-hand column of follower roles yields the related motivational sequence of hero/worship-prudence-faith-beauty-ecstasy; themes all appearing to reciprocate the authority role through a reinforcement of such past-directed (nostalgic) perspectives.

A parallel circumstance further holds true in the case of the adjacent (upper right-hand) quadrant of Figure 1. The respective authority roles yield the related sequence of guilt-honor-liberty-freewill-equality: themes all sharing a similar past-directed focus (although now designating a more submissive sense). The corresponding follower roles further cement this observation (e.g., blame-justice-hope-truth-bliss): a hierarchy mirroring that based upon hero worship, with the exception that negative reinforcement is now in focus. The remaining lower two quadrants of the power hierarchy are further amenable to such a systematic style of analysis, only now based on the sequences of “desire for approval” and “worry in anticipation of concern.” Indeed, it proves particularly amazing that these motivational trends should exist at all, each lining up so perfectly within its respective quadrant of the power hierarchy. This grand scale organization of the power hierarchy is certainly its major selling point, its perfect symmetry and cohesiveness far too intricate to have risen solely by accident. Such exceptional symmetry is ultimately accountable due to its elementary foundation in the most basic personal level of the power hierarchy, fully explainable in terms of the behavioural terminology of conditioning theory.


Although a preferential emphasis on the virtues is certainly understandable, the virtuous mode can scarcely be considered solely in a vacuum. The truest applications for such an ethical system derive precisely from a moral contrast with the corresponding realm of the vices (where virtue and vice typically exist in concert with one another). Indeed, for every virtue there necessarily exists a corresponding antonym (or vice): e.g., love vs. hate, peace vs. war, etc. Here, the corresponding vices of defect represent the direct emotional opposites of their respective virtuous counterparts, providing a balanced sense of symmetry across the entire unified power hierarchy. Consequently, the ten predicted categories for the vices of defect are further arrayed in a parallel ten-level hierarchy, identical in every respect to the pattern of arrangement previously described for the virtuous mode.

Laziness/Treachery .............. Negligence/Vindictiveness


Apathy/Spite ............Indifference/Malice


This innovation, in turn, allows negative transactions to be analyzed according to their potential to be converted into positive ones (and vice versa). The ten resultant listings of the vices: e.g., the ecumenical vices (wrath, tyranny, persecution, oppression), the moralistic vices (evil-cunning-ugliness-hypocrisy), and the humanistic vices (anger-hatred-prejudice-belligerence) etc. prove particularly relevant for outlining this darker realm of the vices.

As previously outlined, the virtuous realm was formally defined in terms of a behavioural terminology of operant conditioning: categorized as appetite in anticipation of rewards (positive reinforcement) or aversion in expectation of leniency (negative reinforcement). At the opposing end of the spectrum, Skinner (1971) also distinguishes a darker side to conditioning theory colloquially known as punishment. Punishment represents a complete reversal of the reinforcement format in that positive or negative reinforcement is withheld rather then bestowed, wherein discouraging behaviors judged not suitably solicitous or submissive. According to this latter punitive format, I withhold positive reinforcement because you failed to act solicitously towards me, or lenient treatment is lacking in response to a lack of submissive behavior.

These punitive consequences exhibit clear parallels to learning opportunities occurring natu-rally within the environment similar to those encountered with respect to operant conditioning. For instance a food supply may become scarce or vanish altogether. Similarly a once reliable water hole may dry-up or go sour. The survival of the organism under such variable conditions directly depends upon the acknowledgement of such punitive consequences, where previous behavior patterns are abandoned altogether in favor of discovering an alternate means for re-establishing reinforcement.


In summary, the formal addition of the parallel realm of the vices allows for an ethically complete system of planetary ethics, wherein pitting the primary domain of the virtues against the parallel realm of the vices. Furthermore, the innate instinctual foundation of both such motivational hierarchies in terms of conditioning theory imparts a universal appeal towards ultimate acceptance upon the world scene today. This systematic scientific foundation invoking behavioural principles is particularly unique in that it directly avoids any favoritism towards any given cultural identity, rather treating each with equal dignity and validity. In an additional sense, the respective traditional listings of virtues and values are similarly viewed in terms of such a strictly secular perspective, one that is formally independent of any regional cultural bias or the restric-tions of any (supernaturally revealed) scriptural foundation. This new ethical system therefore enjoys the considerable advantages of highlighting the commonalties of an overall virtuous life-style across all cultures and creeds - rather than focusing upon the distinctions therein.

A further crucial conceptual advantage invokes the increased awareness of the grounding of organized religion with the formal principles of Set Theory, as extensively outlined in the initial part of the current discourse. This enhanced innovation permits a radical reinterpretation of the modern role that religion plays in society as a whole, in particular, the disturbing ascendance of religious fanaticism. According to this interpretation, the spiritual authority perspective repre-sents just one of the basic levels within the master five-level hierarchy of the authority and fol-lower roles: defined as the personal, group, spiritual, humanitarian, and transcendental power perspectives. According to this updated interpretation, the influence of organized religion chiefly extends to a universal sphere of influence (binding over all of mankind). Most religious systems, however, are further compounded by a humanitarian range of themes (encompassing all ages and times), as well as an ultimate extension to a transcendental realm that imparts a supernatural/mystical character to the entire conceptual edifice. The destructive aspects of religious fanaticism essentially emerge from an inherent inflexible perspective that condemns all other forms of religion their innate freedom to express their own unique style of universal perspective (on their respective side of the globe). Furthermore, religious fanaticism consistently oversteps its specific relevant focus, typically attempting to influence the political (group) and even personal realms of conduct. Consequently, this disturbing political overlap generally holds out the greatest potential for severe disruptions to global peace and harmony. The timely emergence of the Set Theory in-terpretation of the proper hierarchy of authority and follower roles hopefully will point the disturbing trend towards fanaticism towards a more rational perspective (at least the moderate con-stituency): wherein promoting a greater degree of flexibility in terms of both dogma and practice.

In concert with the newly devised master hierarchy of virtues and values based upon behav-ioural principles, it further is hoped that the moral commonalties across all religious traditions will be emphasized encouraging a new era in religious tolerance. This new ethical system could eminently qualify as the long anticipated foundation for a global system of planetary ethics serving a secular constituency, where such moral issues have typically been downplayed due to well-meaning attempts to avoid religious favoritism. This same system could also serve as a valuable adjunct to the major religions of the world without favoring any one of them. Indeed, this new ethical hierarchy exhibits the potential for promoting a peaceful coexistence with many of the established world religions, particularly in that it does not preclude the existence of a top-down pattern of influence (of a supernatural nature) as well. Consequently, this overall picture potentially amounts to the best of all possible worlds: enabling an ethical revival in the secular world (which has typically been downplayed), as well as the potential for an even greater degree of spiritual cooperation and tolerance amongst all of the established religions of the world.

c. John E. LaMuth 2013

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