Very good question, Gary.Gary Childress wrote:When you say "it is subject/relative to historical, cultural and familial particlars" is that to say that one set of morals practiced by one historial, cultural or familial group is just as good as any other? Or that there is/can be no universal morality (or "code of conduct" as you phrase it)?
You've given us a few really good pieces of the "Ethics" puzzle. Namely, that whatever it is, it's got to:
1. Be between a plurality of persons or agents, and hence, not a merely solipsistic concern.
2. Be able to adjudicate between cultures or ideologies that value different things.
To which we might add,
3. It's redundant if it only involves rationalizing what we do already, rather than what we "ought" to do instead.
Now, of course people can always argue about what that "ought" might be, but absent ANY "oughtness," we have, perhaps, sociological description but no prescription, and hence, no field of study anyone can reasonably call Ethics. So some kind of "oughtness," that is, a stipulation to act in a way different from mere personal inclination, is essential as well.
To illustrate, there has never been a commandment or Ethics precept that goes, "Thou shalt collect thy winnings from gambling." The reason for that is probably twofold: firstly, if you don't do it, you're the only one who will suffer, and secondly, everybody is strongly inclined to do it anyway. So that precept is Ethically unnecessary.
In contrast, the reason we have a precept like "Thou shalt not kill" is precisely because although it is not an attractive act, there are plenty of circumstances under which people have been inclined to do it.
In short, we need no Ethics for things we already naturally want to do; we need it only for things that are not (in some yet-to-be-defined sense) "good," but that (some) people still want to do (like murder or theft) -- or, on the other hand, for things they are inclined NOT to do, but which we believe they ought to do anyway (say, charity or longsuffering).