Posted by: Gray | December 16, 2015

The Ways of Peace: A Philosophy of Peace as Action

Why does the concept of peace so often get defined in a logically negative way, in terms of what it is not – not war, violence, conflict . . . ?

And why can we say in English that nations are warring in the Middle East but cannot say that “Nations are peaceing in Scandanavia”?

This book provides a systematic account of how the meaning of peace has been obscured in our dominant culture — in something like the way that Heidegger argued that the meaning of Being has been obscured. And it provides a detailed account of how  practices of Quaker communal discernment, Harvard style “principled negotiation” and Gandhian satyagraha can provide paradigms for developing an alternative culture in which peace is understood in rich and practical terms as an activity we can perform to create an alternative world of peace.

Here is a link to download the book as a pdf: 00fullversionwaysofpeaceword

From the Preface:

“We can conceive of peace in many different ways, and these differences are related to a variety of assumptions and practices we can adopt in our culture. This book is about those differences.

Part I describes the ways in which we usually talk about peace. It argues that our conception is fundamentally obscure. We do not know what peace is and we do not know how to promote it. Part II develops an explanation of how peace has been obscured. It has been obscured by a network of beliefs and institutions in our culture. Part III critically evaluates some key parts of this cultural web and argues that there is an alternative cluster of assumptions and practices which we ought to adopt. It is a cluster which is intrinsically better—regardless of whatever it may imply about peace. Part IV argues that it happens to imply that we should think of peace as an activity—a practice we can cultivate at high levels of excellent performance.

This book is intended for a broad audience that includes parents, diplomats, social scientists, lawyers, labor/business mediators, social activists, philosophers, military officers, educators, theologians, and politicians. Its style is meant to provide good reading that is illustrated with meaningful examples. Its arguments aim to be intellectually compelling without being academic.”



Posted by: Gray | December 16, 2015

Reframing Ethical Theory for AI

A paper of mine just came out in the Journal of Evolution and Technology. It deals with: “Reframing Ethical Theory, Pedagogy, and Legislation to Bias Open Source AGI Towards Friendliness and Wisdom”.  You can download it at: — and perhaps figure out if it is of interest by reading the abstract here:


Hopes for biasing the odds towards the development of AGI that is human-friendly depend on finding and employing ethical theories and practices that can be incorporated successfully in the construction, programming and/or developmental growth, education and mature life world of future AGI. Mainstream ethical theories are ill-adapted for this purpose because of their mono-logical decision procedures which aim at “Golden rule” style principles and judgments which are objective in the sense of being universal and absolute. A much more helpful framework for ethics is provided by a dialogical approach using conflict resolution and negotiation methods, a “Rainbow rule” approach to diversity, and a notion of objectivity as emergent impartiality. This conflict resolution approach will also improve our chances in dealing with two other problems related to the “Friendly AI” problem, the difficulty of programming AI to be not merely smarter but genuinely wiser and the dilemmas that arise in considering whether AGIs will be Friendly to humans out of mere partisanship or out of genuine intent to promote the Good. While these issues are challenging, a strategy for pursuing and promoting research on them can be articulated and basic legislation and corporate policies can be adopted to encourage their development as part of the project of biasing the odds in favor of Friendly and Wise AGI.

Posted by: Gray | December 16, 2015

Sleep Baby, Sleep


Sleep Baby SleepIn anticipation of a new grandchild, I recorded an album of lullabies this last summer.

They are a mix of a cappella  and guitar accompanied songs — and include a lullaby version of “Breath on the Water”, an original version of the goodnight prayer, “Now I lay me down to sleep” and a song for children who are crying. 

The album is available now through Bandcamp at: Baby Sleep artist1


I hope you have a chance to enjoy it with someone else 😉



In times of busyness and frustration it is important to remember that we never know when opportunity will come, Way will Open, possibilities will unfold . . . or a Bodhistattva will arise. Call it what we will, in whatever tradition from which we come, we are led time and again by experience to see that that which reaches from the Beyond is always available to reach us here, now, in this moment . . . widening our view and enlarging our preoccupied minds through a transforming Presence . . .

Here is a song I wrote that reflects this:

“You Never Know (when a Bodhisattva will arise)”
available as a Youtube video at:

Quiet in the meadow, stretched from earth to sky

Digging down for minerals, reaching up for light.

As pistils and stamens make their statements, expressed in hopes as seeds they fertilize,

You never know . . . when a bodhisattva will arise.


Busy, busy, busy, bustling from flower to flower

Harvesting the honey, communicating pollen.

While in the tree a cocooned caterpillar, wrapped in silk suspended lies.

You never know . . . when a bodhisattva will arise.


Busy, busy, busy, going from thing to thing.

Not centering in silence, not taking time to sing.

But then an unexpected interruption, a shock, a startle, a surprise.

You never know . . . when a bodhisattva will arise.


Encountering compassion

Come in an unexpected guise

Relaxing every muscle, opening into a smile.

Inexplicable elation, breathing out a sigh

You never know . . . when a bodhisattva will arise.


Words and lyrics by Gray Cox
2014 shared under a Creative Commons License 
recorded by Josh Tohn and Max Paris at the Maximum Tohn Studio,
College of the Atlantic, 2014
(In tuning of C, C, E, G, C, D)

This is a link to a Youtube video of a live performance at College of the Atlantic by a group of students of a song I wrote this fall:

It was great fun to sing with this gang whom we dubbed “Los Huracanes” — many of whom have been very active on Climate Change in the international negotiations as well as in a wide variety of  projects at the local, regional and global levels. The lyrics for this song are given here below.

“There’s A Change That’s A’Comin!”

Words and lyrics by Gray Cox

2014 shared under a Creative Commons License


PART 1: There’s a change that’s a comin (3x) . . . soon

And it’s comin’ like a hurricane

comin’ like a drought

And it’s comin’ like a glacier melting . . . (mouth clicks as water drops)


PART 2 : Cause we know it’s gonna be, gonna be at least 2 degrees (3x) . . . soon

And they say it may be much more            (3x) . . . than 2

But we all, we all, won’t let it

Cause we all, we all, finally get it

And we all, we all, are gonna make a change!!!!


PART 3: Like the nineteenth century end of slavery

— we’ll end fossil fuel dependency!

Like the fall of the Berlin Wall — we’’ll make a change!

Like an old time spiritual revival — Or a youtube video gone viral!

With a billion of us on bicycles — make a change!

Hey! Hey! Hey! Hey!

Hey! Hey! Hey! Hey!

Cut by half our material consumption — Invest in real creative destruction!

Start a political eruption — make a change!

With piles of political donations – campaigning door to door in conversations,

We’ll take back the governments of our nations — make a change!


PART 4: Yes there’s a change that’s a comin (3x) . . . soon!

Cause we’re comin’, comin’ like a hurricane!

We’re comin’, comin’ like a hurricane!

We’re comin’, comin’ like a hurricane! Soon!!

Yes! We’re comin’, comin’ like a hurricane!

We’re comin’, comin’ like a hurricane!

We’re comin’, comin’ like a hurricane! Soon!!




PART 2 : Cause we know it’s gonna be, gonna be at least 2 degrees (3x) . . . soon

And they say it may be much more            (3x) . . . than 2

But we all, we all, won’t let it

Cause we all, we all, finally get it

And we all, we all, are gonna make a change!!!!


PART 3: Like the nineteenth century end of slavery

— we’ll end fossil fuel dependency!

Like the fall of the Berlin Wall — we’’ll be the change we want to see!

Like an old time spiritual revival — Or a youtube video gone viral!

With a billion of us on bicycles — be the change we want to see!

Hey! Hey! Hey! Hey!

Hey! Hey! Hey! Hey!

Cut by half our material consumption — Invest in real creative destruction!

Start a political eruption – make a change!

With piles of political donations – campaigning door to door in conversations,

We’ll take back the governments of our nations – and be the change we want to see!


PART 1: There’s a change that’s a comin (3x) . . . soon

And it’s comin’ like a hurricane

comin’ like a drought

And it’s comin’ like a glacier melting . . . (make mouth clicks for water drops)


PART 4: There’s a change that’s a comin (3x) . . . soon

Cause We’re comin’, comin’ like a hurricane!

We’re comin’, comin’ like a hurricane!

We’re comin’, comin’ like a hurricane! Soon!!

Yes! We’re comin’, comin’ like a hurricane!

We’re comin’, comin’ like a hurricane!

We’re comin’, comin’ like a hurricane! Soon!! Two! Three! NOW!!!!!!!!!!!


To see samples of some of the hurricane activity of folks in this chorus check out:

The website for youth action on climate change at:

Angela Valenzuela and Augustin Martz at the Climate Change COP20 in Lima as they sing “Hombre de Papel” for the Youth and Future Generations Day and then are joined by others at a civil society action at the COP:

And the song “350 to Save the Sky” at:

Recently the artist Ashley Bryan’s lifetime of extraordinary work was celebrated with the opening of a center housing his art (see ). To commemorate this, a really engaging, informative, beautiful exhibit of his work documenting it and his life was installed at the Blum Gallery at College of the Atlantic Blum. In the Human Ecology Core Course at the College in which I am one of the team teachers this fall, Ashley came and talked about his  life and his work — and inspired us all in a host of ways. I have tried to capture some of the portion of that inspiration I received in the poem presented below — along with an audio version of it shared here — hoping it will encourage anyone not yet familiar with his incredibly life affirming art and children’s books to look them up as quick as they can 😉

”When Blackbird Came to Visit”

for Ashley Bryan

by Gray Cox


Blackbird came in.

He was full of color

Like a huge bowl full of  M&Ms

Brimming over beneath a rainspout

That was catching all the brilliant candies pouring down

— pouring down in a shower of unending bounty

from the Goddess of  Joy and Delight

who was splashing rainbows of  excitement over every  single one of  us!

Blackbird  said “Repeat after me!”

And then sang out loud as could be:

“My People are a Beautiful People!”

And suddenly we were all singing:

“My People are a Beautiful People!”

And  all the colors of all our feathers

were touched and trembling with  his inky black ,

And then we all sparkled like rainbows

Carved into a wooden block by a divinely inspired hand,

And that Blackbird, he was that hand,

Swirling in a dance as he lifted up his wings, circling into the sky,

To brush the tips of his wings around the edge of the Sun

And brush the tips of his wings around  the cotton of the Clouds

And brush the tips of his wings around the edge of the Moon

— and he brushed his feathered back

all over the Night that was  coming into the Sky

And it made the Stars sparkle twinkle beam

like the Eyes of Gods piercing through sea glass on a beach

that stretched out into the endless Ocean of the Night

— that Ocean of Night that was so full of color and so full of  light

Because it was as Black and Beautiful as the Universe at its very beginning

when It was just a Baby about to Burst into Life.

And we all wanted to be born like that!

And grow up to be children just like that!

— Be Children Bursting with Life like  Blackbird!!

And all we could think was: “Slap our Bottoms and Let’s Get Going!”

Posted by: Gray | September 14, 2014

A Song: 350 to Save the Sky

Looking to going to New York City this coming weekend for the big rally, I have been working on a song — and share it here with the words as well. The ideas in it relate, among other things, to those in earlier posts concerned with reducing consumption as well as dealing with climate change. Here is the song:

and here are the words and chords, which I hope folks will enjoy:


Words and lyrics by Gray Cox

2014 shared under a Creative Commons License


Now I was born with a great desire

To set my share of the world on fire.

To set my share of the world alight

And share in the flicker of the flame at night.

But with all the candles I did burn

At both ends, I did learn,

To share in the settin’ of the world alight

And share in the flicker of the flame at night.


CHORUS: So come ye now join in with me

We’ll clap our hands, we’ll stomp our feet,

We’ll lift our voices in a cry:

Three Fifty to Save the Sky!


Now some would like the world to turn

On the energy of the coal they burn

And let the climate change go on

Till most of Bangladesh is gone

From New Orleans to New York’s Coast

Up to Alaska’s permafrost

They’d rather sell their ancient oil

Than love our land and save our soil.



We’ll buy back our ancient rights

And stop consuming day and night,

invest more and consume less

And tell our worried children yes!

Yes we love you! Yes we care!

Yes we’ll give you your fair share!

Put half our income all aside

To stop the storms and turn the tide.



We’ll store up our energy

By digesting some calories

And when it gets all dark at night

We’ll wind a crank and make some light.

And if the weather does get cold

We’ll all put on a few more clothes

And for when we would move at great speed

We’ll harvest sunlight that we’ll need.



We prefer to all invest

In things that give the earth a rest

Cut our consumption right in half

And spend our time in greater laugh – Ter

Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha, Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha

Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha, Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha



Still politicians all do seem

To be living in some false dream,

They’d rather go and pas the buck

Till someone else runs out of luck.

But we the people really care

And will not stop till they run scared.

We’ll make our leaders save the sky

And kick their asses till they cry:



Now I was born with a great desire

To set my share of the world on fire.

To set my share of the world alight

And share in the flicker of the flame at night.

But with all the candles I did burn

At both ends, I did learn,

To share in the settin’ of the world alight

And share in the flicker of the flame at night.



For love and laughter you and I!

Three fifty to save the sky!

Love our children, do or die!

Three fifty to save the sky!

Three fifty to save the sky!

Three fifty to save the sky!

Three fifty to save the sky!

D/ D G/D / A / D/ D G / D/ A D

G/ G/ D / A/ D/ D G/ D/ A D

G/ G/ D/ A/ D/ D G/ D/ A D



Posted by: Gray | September 14, 2014

Meeting for Worship for the Conduct of Research

This summer I and a team of others from the Quaker Institute for the Future (QIF) published a new short book on Quaker approaches to research that draw on Friends’  traditions of communal discernment to enrich and frame investigations — including variations of spirit-led work that involves “meeting for worship for the conduct of research”.  This work is available through mainstream online book sellers as well as through the QIF  website at


The aim of this pamphlet is to describe 1) the vision, theory, and traditions of practice inspiring a Quaker approach to research; 2) experiments with specific methods used; 3) initial results and findings; and 4) the key challenges and puzzles that remain. It further aims to explore the relevance of Quaker process when the participants are not Quaker or even religious.

Chapter I begins with a description of the vision, theory, and tradition of practices that emerged among early Quakers in the 1600s and that have been refined and extended in a variety of decision-making contexts over the last 350 years. Chapter II provides a more detailed account of the procedures and practices with which QIF has experimented in its first ten years.

Chapter III compares other traditions with these Quaker practices of communal discernment in research, policy analysis and collective decision making. There is much to be learned through dialogue with other faith-based traditions. Further, it is useful to consider how Quaker practices may be usefully modified and adapted in secular settings.

Chapter IV explores some of the philosophical issues and challenges that are raised by the very idea of having a “Quaker Epistemology” or way of knowing and the distinctive assumptions made about the process of research, the norms and criteria for knowledge, and the nature of reality. Especially challenging are the historic splits that have been framed between church and state, and between faith and reason. This chapter does not provide final resolution to the important methodological and metaphysical issues raised but try to frame them in reasonable and useful ways to facilitate ongoing dialogue amongst Quakers and others, even ardent atheists.

Chapter V closes with some reflections on the future of collaborative and communal research.

I never quite know what I may find in unusual places — including  watching TV 😉

After recently watching the Albert Schweitzer episode in THE ADVENTURES OF THE YOUNG INDIANA JONES, I was led to think about  Schweitzer’s core principle of ethics — in ways that give echo to my own sense of what is expressed in a song of mine called “We All Come From Africa”. To listen to that song, click here: 

What is “reverence for life” or what Schweitzer called “Ehrfurcht vor dem Leben”?

In English, “reverence” suggests church, it suggests being quiet, it suggest being very attentive to someone speaking from a pulpit or something being viewed in a museum or altar or judges bench by one of us congregated in the mass of the of common and mundane folk who get to view or hear the object of our reverence. And it suggests something framed not only by an altar or pulpit or exhibition proscenium but framed as well by one or more ideas – by intellectual and abstract principles or notions that we might capitalize like Beauty, Truth, Justice, God . . .

For a long time I thought of Schweitzer’s principle in this way. I admired it as a testament from someone who seemd to be an especially good man who had done heroic things with his life – risking his all (family, wealth, reputation, life . . .) to deliver desperately needed medicine to strangers in a strange and dangerous and distant land. But it seemed so abstract. And impossibly filled with contradiction – if I revere the life in the deer, how do I treat the wolf? Or the plants the deer eats?

And this came in part from the way I imagined Schweitzer coming upon the phrase and principle. He himself was a very gifted and well read intellectual and he himself spoke of a very intellectual process not that unfamiliar to me as someone who has worked multiple years on academic writings. In his autobiography “Out of My Life and Thought” he explains this process. Having described how at the beginning of the summer of 1915 he awoke from some kind of mental daze, asking himself why he was only criticizing civilization and not working on something constructive, he asked himself the question:

But what is civilization?

The essential element in civilization is the ethical perfecting of the individual as well as society. At the same time, every spiritual and every material step forward has significance for civilization. The will to civilization is, then, the universal will to progress that is conscious of the ethical as the highest value. In spite of the great importance we attach to the achievements of science and human prowess, it is obvious that only a humanity that is striving for ethical ends can benefit in full measure from material progress and can overcome the dangers that accompany it . . . The only possible way out of chaos is for us to adopt a concept of the world based on the ideal of true civilization . . . . For months on end I lived in a continual state of mental agitation. Without the least success I concentrated – even during my daily work at the hospital, – on the real nature of the affirmation of life and of ethics and on the question of what they have in common. I was wandering about in a thicket where no path was to be found. I was pushing against an iron door that would not yield.

But recently I entered into Schweitzer’s experience and thought in a different way.

I imagined him not as the German Philosopher but as the medical missionary, working out of a hut in Africa surrounded by teeming jungle and on the edge of a great flowing river. I invite you to see him this way. He is a doctor who has been saving lives, tending bones and flesh, watching it heal of itself in miraculous ways, traveling in a vast wilderland with teeming trees bushes and birds and animals, traveling along the river . . and the motor cuts out . . . the boat sits quite in the flow of the river . . . and suddenly he stops listening to his own furious intellect and openly attends to the life around him . . . he can hear the silence of it and then, the Presence of all that life around – in the water where fish are swimming with crocs and hippos, at the bank where herons wade and grasses grow, in the trees where monkeys call and the bushes where birds flit about (not like ideas read in a poem by T. S. Eliot but like real birds in the bush over here, now) and he sees the child sitting on its mother’s lap on the boat – the child whose birth he witnessed as an incredibly complex process of brains and hips and bones and muscles and lungs and contractions and shouts and spreading of one set of legs to make room for another’s and community cooperation in choosing partners and cultivating care. . .

And he sits there, in awe, as a medical person, who can appreciate how unthinkably complex this whole jungle and river of life is . . . and that it includes him – he is a vital part of it all . . .

And the phrase “Ehrfrucht vor dem Leben” comes to mind to give that sense expression.

How to express that sense in English?

It is not like the tame reverence of a docile congregant attending an object behind a frame or proscenium.

It is the awe of someone being splashed by a Niagara Falls.

It is not the reverence of a person sitting meditating on an abstract Principle or Idea.

It is the rushing sense of enthusiasm and glory of you as an adolescent running out from school on a flush spring day with sunlight zinging through all the plants and birds chirping busily to nest and bees buzzing noisily in their honey-sweet acts of pollination and then your own jumpy urge to prance and find some sweet other to dance about with in the grass . . .

Perhaps we could agree with Wikpedia suggestion that: The phrase Reverence for Life is a translation of the German phrase: “Ehrfurcht vor dem Leben” (more accurately translated as: “to be in awe of the mystery of life”). [NOTE: this misses the import of “vor” which can mean because of or from – so it is something like awe or wonder from or at or because of life”]

A better writer could surely express it with even much greater power than that phrase does or than my writing here has managed . But I think that the key is not to find a piece of writing somewhere in this text or some other that describes the feeling. The key is to have it. To go forth and feel the life pulsing in your veins and that of the others – every person, plant, beast and organism on this wondrous planet.

And when you feel that . . . then it will be time to consider how best to deal with haovc of Global Warming or grinding away at life with asphalt and cement and inorganic chemicals or the possibilities of future Silent Springs.

 This is a talk I gave recently at the Point of View Conference: “Ethics, Conflict and Resolution” at George Mason University, February 15th, 2014

Reframing Ethics Itself in a Conflict Resolution Paradigm 

             “Mainstream ethics” is nicely illustrated by one of the most popular courses taught at Harvard, Michael Sandel’s “Justice”.  Like other courses in ethics it introduces students to theories through applications to difficult cases, typically dilemmas, in which significant – often life and death – decisions must be made. The paradigm of reasoning adopted  is modeled loosely on mathematics and natural science in that it is supposed that given one or more basic axioms, like the CI or GHP, and some specific conditions of the case, a single person acting as a judge or agent can infer what the  correct choice would be.  Such an approach is “monological” precisely in the sense that it assumes that given the principles and specific conditions, one person can determine what is the ethical thing to do. No dialogue is necessary.  Unfortunately the quest for an ethical theory that can really serve this role has been profoundly frustrating to philosophers and their students who find themselves left with self-contradictory theories, conflicting intuitions, ad hoc solutions, and the increasingly desperate sense that the plague of relativism will doom all our best efforts.

A clue to an alternative way of conceptualizing ethics and its pedagogy is provided by the first episode of Sandel’s course broadcast on Youtube.   In the dilemma it presents to students, they are asked to suppose they are a doctor with six patients, five of whom are each in need of a new vital organ to survive. The sixth is a perfectly healthy patient with all five needed organs — in for a check up currently unconscious, napping in the next room. The doctor is asked to consider harvesting organs from the healthy patient to save the others. The pedagogical point here is, in part, to push students who had been favoring a strict Utilitarian ethic to consider if their intuitions would indeed lead them to promote the greatest happiness in this case by sacrificing the one for the many. Interestingly, one student proposes an alternative answer. He says he would harvest organs from one of the five patients already compromised to provide for the other four – since that victim would have died anyway, given the suppositions of the case. The flow of Sandel’s pedagogical process is briefly disrupted by the sustained applause for this suggestion. Smiling, he comments that: “That’s a pretty good idea. That’s a great idea except for the fact that you just wrecked the philosophical point.” And then he redirects the discussion.  In doing this, Sandel is, of course, following a standard approach in mainstream ethical pedagogy of pushing students to confront the hard cases through maintaining their formulations as dilemmas.

But think about this for a moment. If one of your students comes up with a way of making an ethical dilemma go away, isn’t that precisely the sort of thinking you would want to encourage?  Of course there may still be value to the study of dilemmas to hone judgment and clarify concepts BUT it would seem that the larger frame we should adopt in thinking about ethics should be the one Sandel’s student implicitly was adopting – that of negotiation, group problem solving, conflict resolution and transformation.  What  are the central features of ethics if it is reframed in that way?

1 . Instead of supposing ethics should provide a monological decision procedure for ethical judgment, we should view it as a dialogical process of negotiation, group problem solving and conflict resolution for arriving at agreements. 2.) In seeking objective values to guide our pursuit of agreements, the conception of objectivity   should not be that of  the sort sought in math and physics with its absolutist view of  truth as that which is invariant — universal, exact, and eternal. Instead we should seek truths that are objective in the sense of being more impartial and complete but which are contextualized, approximate, emergent cross-cultural and trans-historical truths. 3.) Instead of grounding ethical analysis in a “golden rule” that advocates some form of universal principle (as interpreted in either Utilitarian or Kantian ways), we should ground ethics in a principle of diversity, a kind of “rainbow rule” that advocates “doing unto others as they would have us do unto them”.  4.) The epistemological and metaphysical approach to understanding respect for persons and related values such as human rights should be interpreted in ways developed by Martin Buber and Gandhi in his practice of satyagraha – as emergent values that are demonstrated by non-violent witnessing rather than absolute values that are demonstrated by logical proofs. 5.) Limiting cases where dialogue breaks down will need to be ever watched for and struggled with, cases in which the incapacities of some participants in a situation make it impossible for them to engage effectively in dialogue and cases in which the power imbalances present enable other participants to refuse to listen. We have to be ever wary of when the moment has come to set aside conflict resolution skills for the moment and intervene on behalf of the disempowered.

 Let me elaborate on each of these five points.

First, to say this paradigm frames ethics as dialogical rather than monological is to note that the aim is to talk and interact back and forth with others until some form of shared consent is achieved. The outcome cannot be defined ahead of time by any single party to the dispute. In this way it is quite different frm the model of ethical judgment that typifies mainstream ethics in which the courtroom and, in particular, the decision of a judge, is viewed as the paradigm. Further, while the process can make use of insights from formal game theory, it can not be formulated as a decision procedure coded in an algorithm that would be calculated by one “player” or party to the dispute. This is because negotiation and conflict transformation  practices of  dealing with disputes emphasize creative initiatives in which the terms of the conflict are redefined and transformed – by revising participants understandings of what their real interests are, what options may be available, what criteria might be appropriate for assessing them, et cetera.

What notion of objectivity is appropriate for this way of framing ethics? At the very core of the concept of objectivity is the notion that there is something that is true independently of me and you and our individual or community beliefs. Mainstream ethics has sought a version of  this modeled on math and physics – objective truths that would be absolute and invariant — universal, exact, and eternal. But earth science, biology and history provide a different notion of objectivity more appropriate to ethics: the objective as the less one-sided, the more impartial, the more complete understanding of what is true, independently of our beliefs.  The shape of the earth, the evolutionary origin of humans, the  history of the modern market system – these are things which are real and objective but  not universal, absolute or eternal. Instead, as realities, they are embedded in contexts, filled with grayish border areas, and emergent. Like the knowledge of them,  knowledge of objective truths in ethics takes the form of  contextualized, approximate,  emergent cross-cultural and trans-historical truths.  One brief example of this which I hope might be suggestive is Aldo Leopold’s in “The Land Ethic” in which he argued that our understanding of who or what should count as a member of our community has changed – growing from the inner gang of  Princes like Agamenon and Odysseus in the Iliad to include the hoplite warriors of Athens to later include slaves, women, other races and even now other species and the whole of the ecological community on this planet.

Many have argued a key candidate for such an emergent objective value would be some version of the Golden Rule which is found in many cultures and which Utilitarians and Kantians have claimed as a core original insight that is best articulated by their particular theories. The traditional version can be stated as: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” This makes sense if you are dealing with your neighbors — and you and they are part of a homogeneous community.  But otherwise,  this Golden Rule would seem to invite ego-centric and ethnocentric behavior that ignores the often very legitimate values and points of view of people from other conditions in life or cultural traditions – just as so many nineteenth century missionaries seemed to have done in promulgating the Golden Rule and the Christian Faith throughout the world. Flawed as they are in their powers of  articulation and limited as we are in our powers of listening, it is still true that in general the best resource we have for figuring out what other people want is to ask them. And the best rule for taking their concerns into account in any situation is not to “Do unto others as I would have them do unto me” but, instead, to “Do unto others as they would have me do unto them.” This second rule is one that recognizes and embraces the diversity in the world.  It might be called the “Rainbow Rule”, in that sense. It is a “rule” that  is widely applied in successful ways by wise people in settings where there is considerable diversity in the interests and outlooks of people involved. . It fits us to love not only neighbors like us but enemies who are quite different.



Mainstream Ethics

Alternative  Paradigm

1. Model of reasoning:


Decision procedure


To arrive at judgment


Negotiation & problem solving process

To arrive at agreement

2. Objective truth as knowledge of a reality independent of  our belief and:

        Absolute, Invariant





          Impartial, more Complete



Cross-cultural & Trans-historical 

3. Reading of core Judeo-Christian tradition:

Golden Rule: Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.

(love of neighbors)

Rainbow Rule: Do unto others as they would have you do unto them.

(love even of enemies)

4. How the value of persons exists and is known:

Absolute reality known by

Deduction and argumentative proof


Emergent reality known by witnessing through non-violent methods such as dialogue and satyagraha (Buber and Gandhi)

5. Limiting cases for ethical relations with others:

In principle none should be allowed because the theory sought is universal.

When dialogue is not possible and another kind of intervention is called for.


            Respect for persons is a further candidate for an objective value, used to undergird our understandings of human dignity and human rights, for example.  Despite the fact that it is articulated in different nuances it seems to have a common core that is embraced across  many different cultures around the world. And yet philosophers have found it extremely difficult to provide a logical deduction of the  foundations for it.  Why?  Because, I suggest, such a value is objective in the sense of being an emergent truth which is appropriately demonstrated not by logical deductions of the Kantian kind but by the nonviolent witnessing that Buber and Gandhi practiced – engaging people in dialogue that draws them into I/thou relationships,  witnessing to our own sense of a truth that we are ready to hold fast to in a self-sacrificing “satya-graha”.  Philosophical analysis can help us understand our concepts of  human dignity – but the value of it is something that is not proven via logic but known directly by experience.

            Of course there are times when we encounter humans who are unable to engage in dialogue – or who are in positions of power that enable them to choose to not enter into I/thou relations with the people who are objects of their oppression. In such cases, the methods of dialogue and satyagraha may reach their limits – and we need to be ready to shift to other forms of advocacy and action – just as the wise teacher knows that bullying on the playground may sometimes  need to simply be interrupted and the wise divorce mediator knows there may be times when, because of power imbalances, mediation needs to stop and another kind of intervention should begin. 

            In general, I want to suggest the dialogical paradigm I have sketched here should be used to frame our teaching, research and action and that we should work to elaborate it more carefully and systematically than I have been able to here. Thanks!




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