Introduction to Section II
The second section discusses the theoretical and philosophical background of Ethical Culture. While we hold that deed is far more important than creed, Ethical Culture is very much a product of the intellectual life of America during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The ideas floating around academic circles during this time influenced Adler and later Leaders of Ethical Culture when they were formulating the specific stance of our religion. Knowledge of the intellectual world in which Ethical Culture was born will greatly enhance the reader’s understanding of it.
Ethical Culture starts with individual human experience. When asked for an Ethical Humanist metaphysics, I often say that the first three of the Eight Commitments encapsulate our understanding of the nature of reality. Rather than connecting to some eternal truth or understanding, we start with what we know, which is individual, subjective experience. We hold that human relationships constitute the basis of ethical experience.
Each human being arrives into an objective natural existence, but within that objective natural existence there exists a subjective realm of interpersonal relationships. Even in existential loneliness we take our whole relational histories with us, since it is poor quality or nonexistence of our relationships that causes this psychological pain and sense of disconnection to begin with.
In every human relationship, each person must decide for herself what she will bring to the table, and this is the source of ethical experience; the experience of choosing how to treat others. Life is a journey of personal creation and an inter-relational journey of world creation. While each person has a genetic predisposition to certain personality characteristics, that is only the beginning; we are shaped by our interactions with others, as are they. Every human relationship involves mutual influencing and the further development of one’s character.
To summarize, we start our understanding of life by situating ourselves in a relational process that is both personal, insofar as every relationship involves the feelings of the constituent members, and objective, because these relationships occur in an objective natural milieu.