BW: Having said that, there's nothing more to add and the chapter could end. If there's nothing objectively true or proper about any ethical assertion, then it's all subjective, variable, whimsical, social norms ... without regard to any consideration of evidence, logic or merit. But, you proceed to argue in favor of certain objective ethical principles. Strange.
TSW: "Ethics are guides to the relations between people and groups of people; they continually change as the relationships between people change."
BW: This is baffling. The relationships between people change every second, but that has no bearing on what is considered proper behavior in those interactions. Ethics is about beliefs, not relationships:
2a. a set of moral principles : a theory or system of moral values
2b. the principles of conduct governing an individual or a group
[GB: The quote is true and is only common sense. Your statement that “the relationships between people” have “no bearing on what is considered proper behavior” is definitely not true. Do you think that ethics just pop up out of nowhere? All the beliefs associated with ethics are products of those relationships. Without people, no relationships, no ethics.]
BW: Perhaps, but "status quo" isn't a discipline, principle, or theory of ethics. Most conservatives hate the status-quo; they want to restore the ethics their parents taught them. Progressives (relativists) don't believe in any universal criteria for good or bad acts: behavioral norms are purely a matter of collective (social) whim.
TSW: "... rapid technological change has required dramatic modifications in ethics during the last few centuries."
BW: I don't see anything dramatic. Murdering people has been unethical conduct for millennia. Stealing has always been considered bad. Whether I steal a goat or an iPad has no relevance to ethics.
TSW: "Puritans need not fear the release of the untrammeled human spirit, just as libertarians need not fear the permanent stifling of their desires."
BW: I don't understand the point. You seem to be saying that ethics change, but not much, so don't worry about it. You haven't even attempted to explain why puritans or libertarians are right or wrong about any of their ethical beliefs. Your characterizations are extremely vague: Puritans want a "trammeled human spirit"? Libertarians want no constraints on their desires? I don't think either assertion is true.
BTW: I consider myself a libertarian, which is a philosophy of political ethics, advocating individual liberty. It doesn't advocate unlimited freedom, much less libertinism: the unfettered pursuit of physical pleasure.
TSW: "... morals develop exclusively in the social context."
BW: Of course they develop among humans. I haven't noticed any monkeys debating the proper philosophical guidelines for monkey behavior. However, there are many individual ethical rules that have nothing to do with social interaction. Puritans consider masturbation to be unethical conduct (sin), which isn't normally a social event.
BW: It is true that incoherent ethics are useless (always love parents and hate thieves), but that's just an argument that at least one of those principles is logically flawed. It isn't a matter of "context", social or otherwise, but a matter of the rational consistency of those beliefs.
BW: Contradictions abound in ethical standards that are contradictory, usually because they're taken on faith, independent of evidence or logic. Or, they're simply imposed by authoritarian power (Earthly or Heavenly) that isn't obliged to offer any evidence, argument, or justification for their rules. Judicia ex cathedra; L'etat c'est moi.
TSW: "... ethics reflect the power relationships in society."
BW: There's a difference between political rules and ethics. Ethics are philosophical beliefs about what is good or bad, whereas "political power grows out of the barrel of a gun," (Mao) whether the acts of the state are good or bad. The only "guideline" is to do what you're told or die. Strictly speaking, ethics is not about the power to *enforce* any arbitrary rules, but rather the *justification* for believing particular human acts are good or bad. It isn't sufficient to simply assert that ethics are ethical if they're effectively enforced.
BW: So, in a sense, I agree with Hegel (zounds!) that "Coercion and enforcement belong to the world of nature, not to the world of freedom, which is the world of morality." Most religions only consider acts virtuous or evil when they are freely chosen, rather than coerced.