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Juxtapositions of Ethics and Morality by Ancient Philosophers and Their Implications for the Humanities Field

Juxtapositions of Ethics and Morality by Ancient Philosophers and Their Implications for the Humanities Field

We’re excited that you’ve joined the conversation! At HMU, we want to continue the great authors’ conversations in a contemporary context, and this blog will help us do that. We look back to Aristotle and the early philosophers who used reason and discourse to gain wisdom and now we endeavor to do the same every day.


October 9, 2020

Thanks to Taiwo Olanrewaju-Lasisi, a 2020 HMU Fellow in Ideas, for today’s post.

Ancient philosophies and concepts in humanities, especially regarding ethical values and moral principles, have served as a primitive herald and landmark on which many ethics in the field are built upon. Justice, fairness, integrity, honesty, individual freedom and liberty, civic rights and universal suffrage, are some of the ethical values. The ancient philosophers have similar, as well as diverse ideologies on what ethics and morality means to them and how it should be discharged to the individuals in the society. Some disparities range from amongst them to the way it is viewed and practiced in the world today, with respect to new ideologies, theories and concepts as well as the changing arrangements and schemes of government and its public agencies and parastatals. In this piece, Micah’s philosophy and its implications for modern day humanities and government is the onus of discussion.

Micah (737 to 696 BC): Morality and ‘Loving Mercy’
Micah was a religious philosopher, whose ideologies were based on honesty, peace, morality, integrity, justice, and truthfulness. His beliefs were especially focused on the rebuke of ‘corruption and dishonesty’ in cities of Jerusalem and Samaria. According to him, the cities at that time were doomed because their beautifications were financed by corrupt business practices, which impoverished the citizens (Micah 1-2). Micah also reprimanded Israel because of its dishonesty in the market place and corruption in its government. He warned the people of the pending destruction of God if their hearts and ways were not changed. He told them what the Lord required of them, saying, “He hath shewed thee, O man, what is good; and what the Lord require of thee, but to do justly, and to ‘love mercy’ and to walk humbly with thy God?” (Micah 6:8).

These ideologies and thoughts of Micah on ethics and morality were quite comparable to that of al-Farabi. Al-Farabi was a prominent Greek philosopher and jurist, who lived from 870 – 950 AD and was born in Faryab in Khorasan, which is the modern Afghanistan. He was regarded widely as one of the founders of philosophy. Amongst other numerous fields, al-Farabi wrote vastly in the fields of political philosophy, ethics, and metaphysics. Part of his major contributions was that of a “virtuous society,” which he characterized to be one where justice, fairness and “true happiness” exist (Black, Leaman, & Nasr, 2001). This is similar to Micah’s ideology as both focused on ensuring justice, fairness and collective happiness and satisfaction amongst the citizens. Other philosophers such as Socrates, Plato, and Ezekiel’s ideologies on what a society should look like, are equally in support of a society where justice, fairness and liberty prevail.

Micah’s Beliefs and Present day Humanities
The ideologies of Micah emphatically fit into the ethical beliefs of an ideal government in democratic administration theory. However, these ethical beliefs are adopted by the government from more of a moral perspective than from a religious one, as in the case of Micah. The field of humanities typically involves the study of these several aspects of human society, which include religion, government, culture, philosophy, history, and human geography, with the aim of upholding and strengthening its humane nature. Governments, their trajectory, and attitudinal dispositions in this regard fall under the aspects of society studied in the humanities field.

Government itself is created for the making, implementation and adjudication of policies, and more broadly for the welfare of its citizens, as well as the maintenance of law and order. Many governments view ethics and moral standards such as integrity, justice, mercy/compassion and fairness as important factors in the implementation of policies in societies that preach democracy. Hence, regarding the importance of integrity in humanities, the question of integrity in public duty is less severe because administrators are aware of the moral standards entrenched in bureaucratic policies. Studies have shown for instance that once they accept to carry out responsibilities and obligations, it gives them automatic moral standing for the discharge of official duties. There is hence ‘moral continuity’ which is required in the discharge of administrative duties.

However, Micah’s beliefs to ‘love mercy’ in order to uphold justice, honesty and integrity (Micah 6:8) has been a topic of debate in the field of public administration. The problem hinges on how bureaucracy is expected to effectively deliver sympathy and compassion in the administrative implementation of policies when it is designed to be rigid, impersonal and calculating. Subsequently, it has been recommended that the humanities bear this responsibility because it is a more humane field wired to address public needs. This is a better solution than forcing governmental agencies into the hypocrisy of walking both lines.

The humanities field promotes moral standards of government administration by suggesting that the bureaucrats become not only responsible for but “responsive” to the citizens’ welfare, and accountable to them respectively. The point of integration here is the importance of an increased governmental adoption of the humane approach, where, bureaucrats and other government officials would not only answer, and respond to the citizens while it is convenient, but use their discretion to do the same even when it is inconvenient. It also requires the capacity of administrative officials to not only answer to, but to be “listening bureaucrats”. In this case, they pay special attention to individuals and communities’ plight, and make positive efforts to attend to and alleviate them as necessary. They should also ensure that nationally accepted ethical and moral values are upheld, and entrenched in a fair, just and empathetic way both in the making and implementation of policies.

Delving more into the current praxis of Micah’s philosophy of morality, fairness, and liberty, some of the evident accomplishments many democratic administrations like that of the United States have nonetheless attained is the development of a minimal intervention with the citizens, in terms of intervening in their personal, and individual lives. This is done in order to promote individual rights and freedom to private life, and enhance the integrity that hinges on individual earned and rightful ownerships. In essence, citizens are, for instance, allowed freedom to own private properties, right to vote, and lead their personal lives with very little intervention. This mirrors the opinion of Waldo Dwight, on democratic administration theory, which explains a system of government that “promotes ethical and moral values such as, fairness, justice, liberty, civil rights, universal suffrage, equality before the law” in the discharge of their administrative responsibilities.

The democratic administrative theory, championed by Waldo, becomes important because it connotes the rule of the citizens through a representative government and, a responsible and responsive bureaucracy. In this regard, the government should continually uphold individual liberty, morality and fairness and all representatives should be committed to attend to and care for the citizens with an informed sense of humanity placed over governmental calculation, red-tapism, and formalism. Moreso, bureaucrats in the local and state governments for instance, ought to be given more authority to use their discretion in case of emergencies or special needs that require immediate actions instead of choosing to follow “due processes,” even when they are aware of the adverse consequences it might produce. With these in place, the advancement of “moral continuity” will truly and increasingly have its free course in present day governments and their administrations.

Black, D., Leaman, O, & Nasr, H. (2001). History of Islamic Philosophy. London:Routledge. p178.
Micah 2:1–2; “Micah, Book of”, The Anchor Bible Dictionary. Volume 4. Bantan Doubleday Dell Publishing Group, 1992. p. 807–810.
Micah 3:5–6; “Micah”, New Bible Dictionary, Second Edition, Tyndale Press, 1987 p. 772.
Powell, M. A. (2011). Book of Micah. HarperCollins Bible Dictionary – Revised & Updated. HarperCollins. p. PT995. ISBN 0062078593. Retrieved 24 June 2013.
Waldo, D. (1952). “Development of Theory of Democratic Administration.” The American Political Science Review, 46(1), 81-103.

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