The ETHICAL MOVEMENT, also referred to as the ETHICAL CULTURE MOVEMENT, ETHICAL HUMANISM or simply ETHICAL CULTURE, is an ethical , educational , and religious movement that is usually traced back to Felix Adler (1851–1933). Individual chapter organizations are generically referred to as " Ethical Societies", though their names may include " Ethical Society", " Ethical Culture Society", "Society for Ethical Culture", " Ethical Humanist Society", or other variations on the theme of "Ethical".
Ethical movement is an outgrowth of secular moral traditions in
the 19th century, principally in Europe and the United States. While
some in this movement went on to organise for a non-congregational
secular humanist movement , others attempted to build a secular moral
movement that was emphatically "religious" in its approach to
developing humanist ethical codes, in the sense of encouraging
congregational structures and religious rites and practices. While in
the United States, these movements formed as separate education
American Humanist Association
Ethical Culture is premised on the idea that honoring and living in accordance with ethical principles is central to what it takes to live meaningful and fulfilling lives, and to creating a world that is good for all. Practitioners of Ethical Culture focus on supporting one another in becoming better people, and on doing good in the world.
* 1 History
* 1.1 Background * 1.2 Ethical movement * 1.3 In Britain
* 2 Ethical perspective * 3 Religious aspect * 4 Key ideas * 5 Locations * 6 Structure and events * 7 Legal challenges * 8 Advocates * 9 See also * 10 References * 11 Further reading * 12 External links
Ethical movement was an outgrowth of the general loss of faith
among the intellectuals of the
Victorian era . A precursor to the
doctrines of the ethical movement can be found in the South Place
Ethical Society , founded in 1793 as the
South Place Chapel on
In the early nineteenth century, the chapel became known as "a
radical gathering-place". At that point it was a Unitarian chapel,
and that movement, like Quakers, supported female equality. Under the
leadership of Reverend
William Johnson Fox
Fellowship of the New Life was established in 1883 by the
Scottish intellectual Thomas Davidson . Fellowship members included
Edward Carpenter and John Davidson , animal rights activist
Henry Stephens Salt
Its objective was "The cultivation of a perfect character in each and all." They wanted to transform society by setting an example of clean simplified living for others to follow. Davidson was a major proponent of a structured philosophy about religion , ethics , and social reform .
At a meeting on 16 November 1883, a summary of the society’s goals was drawn up by Maurice Adams:
We, recognizing the evils and wrongs that must beset men so long as our social life is based upon selfishness, rivalry, and ignorance, and desiring above all things to supplant it by a life based upon unselfishness, love, and wisdom, unite, for the purpose of realizing the higher life among ourselves, and of inducing and enabling others to do the same.
And we now form ourselves into a Society, to be called the Guild of the New Life, to carry out this purpose.
Although the Fellowship was a short-lived organization, it spawned the Fabian Society , which split in 1884 from the Fellowship of the New Life.
Felix Adler , founder of the ethical movement.
In his youth, Felix Adler was being trained to be a rabbi like his father, Samuel Adler , the rabbi of the Reform Jewish Temple Emanu-El in New York. As part of his education, he enrolled at the University of Heidelberg , where he was influenced by neo-Kantian philosophy. He was especially drawn to the Kantian ideas that one could not prove the existence or non-existence of deities or immortality and that morality could be established independently of theology.
During this time he was also exposed to the moral problems caused by
the exploitation of women and labor. These experiences laid the
intellectual groundwork for the ethical movement. Upon his return from
Germany, in 1873, he shared his ethical vision with his father's
congregation in the form of a sermon. Due to the negative reaction he
elicited it became his first and last sermon as a rabbi in training.
Instead he took up a professorship at
Cornell University and in 1876
gave a follow up sermon that led to the 1877 founding of the NEW YORK
SOCIETY FOR ETHICAL CULTURE, which was the first of its kind. By
1886, similar societies had sprouted up in Philadelphia,
These societies all adopted the same statement of principles:
* The belief that morality is independent of theology; * The affirmation that new moral problems have arisen in modern industrial society which have not been adequately dealt with by the world's religions; * The duty to engage in philanthropy in the advancement of morality; * The belief that self-reform should go in lock step with social reform; * The establishment of republican rather than monarchical governance of Ethical societies * The agreement that educating the young is the most important aim.
In effect, the movement responded to the religious crisis of the time by replacing theology with unadulterated morality. It aimed to "disentangle moral ideas from religious doctrines , metaphysical systems, and ethical theories, and to make them an independent force in personal life and social relations." Adler was also particularly critical of the religious emphasis on creed , believing it to be the source of sectarian bigotry . He therefore attempted to provide a universal fellowship devoid of ritual and ceremony, for those who would otherwise be divided by creeds. For the same reasons the movement also adopted a neutral position on religious beliefs, advocating neither atheism nor theism , agnosticism nor deism . Ethical Culture School (red) and Ethical Culture Society (white) buildings.
The Adlerian emphasis on "deed not creed" translated into several public service projects. The year after it was founded, the New York society started a kindergarten, a district nursing service and a tenement-house building company. Later they opened the Ethical Culture School , then called the "Workingman's School," a Sunday school and a summer home for children, and other Ethical societies soon followed suit with similar projects. Unlike the philanthropic efforts of the established religious institutions of the time, the Ethical societies did not attempt to proselytize those they helped. In fact, they rarely attempted to convert anyone. New members had to be sponsored by existing members, and women were not allowed to join at all until 1893. They also resisted formalization, though nevertheless slowly adopted certain traditional practices, like Sunday meetings and life cycle ceremonies, yet did so in a modern humanistic context. In 1893, the four existing societies unified under the umbrella organization, the AMERICAN ETHICAL UNION.
After some initial success the movement stagnated until after World
War II . In 1946 efforts were made to revitalize and societies were
New Jersey and Washington D.C., along with the inauguration
Encampment for Citizenship . By 1968 there were thirty
societies with a total national membership of over 5,500. However, the
resuscitated movement differed from its predecessor in a few ways. The
newer groups were being created in suburban locales and often to
There was also a greater focus on organization and bureaucracy, along
with an inward turn emphasizing the needs of the group members over
the more general social issues that had originally concerned Adler.
The result was a transformation of American ethical societies into
something much more akin to small
Stanton Coit led the ethical movement in Britain.
In 1885 the ten-year-old American Ethical Culture movement helped to stimulate similar social activity in Great Britain, when American sociologist John Graham Brooks distributed pamphlets by Chicago ethical society leader William Salter to a group of British philosophers, including Bernard Bosanquet , John Henry Muirhead , and John Stuart MacKenzie.
One of Felix Adler's colleagues,
Stanton Coit , visited them in
Because he was firmly entrenched in British ethicism, Coit remained
During Stanton Coit's lifetime, the Ethical Church never officially affiliated with the Union of Ethical Societies, nor did South Place. In 1920 the Union of Ethical Societies changed its name to the Ethical Union. Harold Blackham , who had taken over leadership of the London Ethical Church, then promoted its merger with the Rationalist Press Association and the South Place Ethical Society, and, in 1957, a Humanist Council was set up to explore amalgamation. Although issues over charitable status prevented a full amalgamation, the Ethical Union under Blackham changed its name in 1967 to become the British Humanist Association . The BHA is thus the legal successor body to the Union of Ethical Societies.
Between 1886 and 1927 seventy-four ethical societies were started in Great Britain, although this rapid growth did not last long. The numbers declined steadily throughout the 1920s and early 30s, until there were only ten societies left in 1934. By 1954 there were only four. The situation became such that in 1971, sociologist Colin Campbell even suggested that one could say, "that when the South Place Ethical Society discussed changing its name to the South Place Humanist society in 1969, the English ethical movement ceased to exist."
While Ethical Culturists generally share common beliefs about what constitutes ethical behavior and the good , individuals are encouraged to develop their own personal understanding of these ideas. This does not mean that Ethical Culturists condone moral relativism , which would relegate ethics to mere preferences or social conventions. Ethical principles are viewed as being related to deep truths about the way the world works, and hence not arbitrary. However, it is recognized that complexities render the understanding of ethical nuances subject to continued dialogue , exploration, and learning.
While the founder of Ethical Culture, Felix Adler, was a transcendentalist , Ethical Culturists may have a variety of understandings as to the theoretical origins of ethics. Key to the founding of Ethical Culture was the observation that too often disputes over religious or philosophical doctrines have distracted people from actually living ethically and doing good. Consequently, "Deed before creed " has long been a motto of the movement.
Pews and stained glass
Functionally, Ethical Societies are similar to churches or synagogues and are headed by "leaders" as clergy . Ethical Societies typically have Sunday morning meetings, offer moral instruction for children and teens, and do charitable work and social action. They may offer a variety of educational and other programs. They conduct weddings , commitment ceremonies , baby namings, and memorial services .
Individual Ethical Society members may or may not believe in a deity or regard Ethical Culture as their religion. Felix Adler said "Ethical Culture is religious to those who are religiously minded, and merely ethical to those who are not so minded." The movement does consider itself a religion in the sense that
The Ethical Culture 2003 ethical identity statement states:
It is a chief belief of Ethical religion that if we relate to others in a way that brings out their best, we will at the same time elicit the best in ourselves. By the "best" in each person, we refer to his or her unique talents and abilities that affirm and nurture life. We use the term "spirit" to refer to a person’s unique personality and to the love, hope, and empathy that exists in human beings. When we act to elicit the best in others, we encourage the growing edge of their ethical development, their perhaps as-yet untapped but inexhaustible worth.
Since around 1950 the
Ethical Culture movement has been increasingly
identified as part of the modern Humanist movement. Specifically, in
1952, the American
Ethical Union , the national umbrella organization
Ethical Culture societies in the
* Human Worth and Uniqueness – All people are taken to have inherent worth, not dependent on the value of what they do. They are deserving of respect and dignity, and their unique gifts are to be encouraged and celebrated. * Eliciting the Best – "Always act so as to Elicit the best in others, and thereby yourself" is as close as Ethical Culture comes to having a Golden Rule . * Interrelatedness – Adler used the term The Ethical Manifold to refer to his conception of the universe as made up of myriad unique and indispensable moral agents (individual human beings), each of whom has an inestimable influence on all the others. In other words, we are all interrelated, with each person playing a role in the whole and the whole affecting each person. Our interrelatedness is at the heart of ethics.
Many Ethical Societies prominently display a sign that says "The Place Where People Meet to Seek the Highest is Holy Ground".
The largest concentration of
Ethical Societies is in the New York
metropolitan area, including Societies in New York,
Ethical Societies exist in several U.S. cities and counties,
STRUCTURE AND EVENTS
Ethical societies are typically led by "Leaders" elected from the body of society members by the same members. A board of executives handles day-to-day affairs, and committees of members focus on specific activities and involvements of the society.
Ethical societies usually hold weekly meetings on Sundays, with the main event of each meeting being the "Platform", which involves a half-hour speech by the Leader of the Ethical Society, a member of the society or by guests. Sunday school for minors is also held at most ethical societies concurrent with the Platform.
The tax status of
Ethical Societies as religious organizations has
been upheld in court cases in
Albert Einstein was a supporter of Ethical Culture. On the seventy-fifth anniversary of the New York Society for Ethical Culture he noted that the idea of Ethical Culture embodied his personal conception of what is most valuable and enduring in religious idealism. Humanity requires such a belief to survive, Einstein argued. He observed, "Without 'ethical culture' there is no salvation for humanity."
Arthur E. Briggs