“Ethics (also moral philosophy) is the branch of philosophy that involves systematizing, defending, and recommending concepts of right and wrong conduct.” – Wikipedia
I am writing the fourth instalment of my Swordsman’s Quick Guide series, and the topic is Ethics.
I believe that the study of ethics is at least as important to a historical swordsman at any level, as the study of mechanics or tactics. One of the larger goals of modern swordsmanship training is the development of character; through self-discipline, we become able to behave as we believe we ought, in ever more difficult circumstances.
It is easy to be good when everything is going well. But it is much much harder when the shit has hit the fan.
One important tool in the study of ethics is the question to which there is no straight answer. Geoffrey de Charny’s Book of Chivalry (of which my favourite modern edition is The Book of Chivalry of Geoffroi de Charny: Text, Context, and Translation by Richard W. Kaeuper and Elspeth Kennedy) contains perhaps the most famous set of questions in HEMA circles. The key point here is that Charny does not include the answers; they are not the point. The point is to engage with the questions, to come up with your own answers, and to then live by those answers.
The questions that are discussed in the booklet are:
1) When is it ok to stab someone in the face with a sword?
2) What is the one thing you find most useful about swordsmanship training outside the salle?
3) How important is history to you in your practise of swordsmanship?
4) Can a duel settle a matter of honour?
5) Can violence be beautiful?
6) To what extent is the practice of swordsmanship the cultivation of virtue?
7) Is the study of ethics necessary for martial artists?
You may notice that not all of them would normally be considered a matter of ethics (such as number 3), but my interest is primarily in getting people to think more widely about the martial arts we practise. I would be very interested to read your thoughts on them; if you’d like to join in the discussion, please post your answers in the comments below, or email them to me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Please also indicate whether you are willing to be quoted in the booklet, and if so, whether you’d like to be credited, or remain anonymous.
Thanks for taking part!