Toward a Universal Ethic of Human Movement (Part 2)

In Part 1 of this essay, I argued that, like many other ethical precepts, the ethical precepts of human movement are scalable. They vary with respect to age, disability and circumstance. Since age is a universal phenomenon of human existence, I endeavored to scale my first two precepts of human movement for ages ranging from fourteen to over ninety. In this section, I apply a similar method to the speed with which a human should be capable of moving.

Table 6 displays 5000 meter world record times by sex and age group, and the ratio of those times to the twenty- to thirty-four-year-old age group.

Toward a Universal Ethic of Human Movement (Part 2)

Like strength, speed and endurance capacities peak in early adulthood (ages twenty to thirty-four) and decline with age. Yet as running distances increase, the drop-off in endurance becomes less steep with age. Based on the average results by age of the 2004 New York City Marathon, times improve from nineteen to twenty-seven years old and decline thereafter. However, this decline is not symmetrical. One might expect nineteen-year-olds to run about as fast as thirty-five-year-olds (eight years older than the peak age of twenty-seven). Instead, runners in their forties, fifties and early sixties were faster on average than their nineteen-year-old competitors. It was not until the age of sixty-four that average times returned to those achieved by nineteen-year-olds. Humans are capable of covering long distances on foot in a relatively short amount of time, and they maintain this ability even as they age.

Toward a Universal Ethic of Human Movement (Part 2)
Fauja Singh, the world’s oldest marathoner at 100 years old (right), with his trainer [5]

However, I consider marathon running only as a theoretical precept for human movement, whereas covering five kilometers (3.11 miles) on foot serves a more practical purpose in modern, non-persistence hunting societies. Again, since these ethical precepts point to minimum capacities for human movement, I take the larger (slower) of the two ratios for each sex in a particular age group from Table 6 and multiply by 36:00, the time in which a healthy adult  should be able to cover five kilometers on foot. The results displayed in Table 7 reflect the amount of time a human being should take to cover 5000 meters on foot over a range of ages.

Toward a Universal Ethic of Human Movement (Part 2)

Having thus scaled my three ethical precepts of human movement for age, let us now apply the notion of scalability to other ethical considerations. Human beings should be capable of certain standards of physical movement. They should also be intelligent, courageous, generous, merciful, honest, conscientious and temperate to the degree defined by a well-structured ethical theory. Furthermore, they should not murder, torture, rape or rob other human beings. Some ethicists have proposed a division or hierarchy of moral principles. Aristotle, for example, split human goods into three types: external goods (such as prosperity), goods of the soul (such as happiness) and goods of the body (such as health), and deemed goods of the soul the most complete form of good.4 The notion of scalability suggests another method of distinction.

Looking at the ethical precepts listed above, which ones admit of scalability? Human mental capabilities improve through adulthood and decline with old age. Children are not expected to demonstrate the courage of a trained soldier. The rich fall under a higher standard of generosity than do the poor. A starving man may steal a loaf of bread. It’s okay to lie to the Nazis about hiding a Jewish family in your attic. Yet actions like murder, torture and rape do not permit such easy scaling. A child who kills or tortures an animal acts wrongly even if she does not understand notions of right and wrong. Though the consequences differ from the penalties levied against an adult criminal, such actions will no doubt prompt some intervention on the part of her caretakers. Whether she knows it or not, torture is an act she must not commit.

The application of scalability thus leads to an ethical hierarchy. A respect for the inviolability of individual human beings ranks above all other ethical precepts under this view because it does not admit of scalability. One must not rape, murder or torture another human being no matter one’s own personal circumstances. Other precepts, whether physical, intellectual or social, are secondary. They are scalable according to age, capability, circumstance and psychological state. Yet scalability does not further categorize these secondary virtues. In future essays, I will explore the relationship between secondary virtues as well as their impact on the primary concern of human inviolability. For now, I simply make the following two propositions: 1) secondary virtues are complementary to one another in that strengthening one provides the capacity for strengthening others, and 2) the secondary virtues as a whole provide a foundation to support the primary precept of ethics.


  1. Values derived from “Records.” USA Track and Field. 2013. Online. 14 Oct. 2013.
  2. Values derived from “Records.” World Masters Athletics. 2013. Online. 14 Oct. 2013.
  3. McDougall, Christopher. Born to Run. New York: Vintage Books, 2011. p. 239-240.
  4. Aristotle. “The Nature of Virtue.” Ethical Theory, Ed. Russ Shafer-Landau, Malden, MA: Blackwell Publishing, 2007, p. 671.
  5. “singh-training-600.” Reuters. Image in Woolley, Drew. “World’s Oldest Marathon Runner Completes Final Race at 101.” Sports Illustrated Extra Mustard. 25 Feb. 2013. Online. 23 Oct. 2013.