I generated this image to illustrate some important points regarding ethics and ethical/moral reasoning.

The title, “Ethics = empathy x respect squared” is not meant to be taken as a genuine algebraic formula, it is merely a play on Einstein’s formula for energy, E=mc^2. It expresses the idea that two very key elements to an ethical character are a) that a person is capable of empathy for others, and b) that they are prepared acknowledge the right of others to be treated with respect. By making reference to Einstein’s famous equation, which has had a significant impact on our understanding of the universe, I’m attempting to illustrate how ethical reasoning is of fundamental importance to our functioning as a social entity.

The sagital section of the brain, is arbitrarily delineated into four sectors. Each of these represent four qualities that I’ve held for a long time to be essential to being a good human being, virtue (ie engaging in prosocial behaviour and thought while refraining from antisocial behaviour and thought), compassion (the product of empathy), understanding (ie making the effort to use reasoning and evidence in making ethical decisions while refraining from ignorant thought processes such as stereotyping, bigotry etc), and finally tranquility (if a person has a calm mind then they are more able to reason clearly, perceive evidence, and less likely to react in emotive and antisocial ways).

In the lower right area of the work is listed what developmental psychologists recognise as the universal and sequential levels of cognitive development in the human species. These are the levels identified by the researcher Nancy Eisenberg. You will note that I have labelled the first three levels as being religious levels (with the label placed over the basal ganglia to represent that these are very basal modes of ethical reasoning). If you examine the moral instruction given by major religions you will realise that the forms of reasoning they use fit into these low level categories. Studies have indicated that religion in fact retards the development of ethical cognition, with followers often not rising above the sterotypical level. This is defined as representing a 7 to 12 year old level of reasoning. The majority of people tend to only reach the empathic level of moral reasoning, with only a small number developing partially internalised principles and strongly internalised principles. People tend to switch between different styles of reasoning depending on the circumstances. The reason few people obtain the higher levels of ethical reasoning is that little to no emphasis is placed upon the development of these skills in our education systems. Even the use of an already available curriculum such as P4C, Philosophy for Children, would be enough to help rectify this situation, leading to a more prosocial school environment and society.

Finally, in the lower left area I have simply listed the three major principles of ethical reasoning used in ethical philosophy and applied ethics. Individuals who reach the sixth level of moral reasoning often discover these themselves. It is my contention that the aim of each individual and the aim of education should be to raise everyone’s consciousness to the highest level of moral reasoning that they are capable of.