The ethics of life

A message from Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Ethics) Professor Hayden Ramsay:

In my office in North Sydney, I have opposite me a copy of St Teresa’s Bookmark. I remember being given this as a paper bookmark 40 years ago. My office copy, I bought on a trip to St Teresa’s convent in the beautiful walled city of Avila in Spain.

“Let nothing trouble you, let nothing frighten you; all things pass”, begins the bookmark. At a bad moment, this can be better than a double scotch or a power nap. I’ve often thought that if we could really believe the 30 or so words of the bookmark, we would become invincible.

But of course, we do worry. Things can be frightening, and they may pass but very slowly. Part of my job is talking about ethics to different groups of staff. I said to one group this week that there is academic philosophical ethics and there is what we might call life ethics – our own individual attempts to work out what leading a good human life involves and how to do it. Everyone is engaged in this work of living and doing, while at the same time contemplating, thinking about just how we live and what it is we do. It is not easy, particularly as the worries and fears pile up.

We are all different but the nature we share means that each of us places great value in the same few things: knowledge and health, work and play, friendships and family, peace and faith. We may prioritise them differently, we may feel more invested in some than other, but at the end of the day, those are the sorts of things we care about.

The Ethics Portfolio is proud to launch the refreshed and updated version of Ethicsfinder this month. We hope that this will help people explore some of the questions thrown up by our attempts to lead a good human life. We’ve also been working for some time on a new podcast, which we are very close to launching. Life of the Mind will stand for thinking for yourself and not letting any other power or emotion push you ahead of your own mind.

St Teresa of Avila is one of the most extraordinary figures in Christian history – both doer and thinker. Her bookmark holds that the person who has God lacks nothing, and her life tells us that having God means leading a rich human life of activities and relationships. A good life doesn’t mean the worries and fears stop coming, but it does help with knowing how to understand and handle them – an insight from 500 years ago with which many a modern psychologist would agree.

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