How do Codes Relate to Societies

We are now halfway through this course (eesh, that's a scary thought). So far, we have discussed various aspects of following a code—any code. From here on, we are going to make a switch in focus. I will be presenting you with many different codes from different place to go along with each lecture. At the end of this class, you will be expanding on your own personal code. As we go through these, please jot down any ideas that you like that you may decide to include as a part of your own code.

I have mentioned how codes can be applied at the individual level and at the group level. In this lecture, I want to talk about how codes can be applied to entire societies. This has been done several times throughout our history. I am going to briefly touch on one of those: Chivalry.

The Age of Chivalry is one of gallant knights, jousting tournaments, a maiden’s favors, and, of course, a code of honor, duty, courtliness, and bravery. Chivalry can be defined as being the sworn ethical code of conduct that was followed by the knights during the Middle Ages. During this time, Christianity became a unifying force of culture, tying together its economic, political, and military groups. Chivalry represents every part of that union.

Chivalry was, for the most part, a child of the upper classes. The people of the Middle Ages were tied to the level of society in which they were born. For example, a child born to peasant parents could never hope to be anything but a peasant. Those who became knights were not nobles or lords, but not peasants either. They were landholders and associated themselves with those in the upper classes. This was due to the fact that the chivalric code declared them as individuals above the norm. Their life was dedicated to serving and protecting at the expense of their personal safety. Their conduct was exemplary and their motives were pure.

Unlike the Jedi Code, an authentic Code of Chivalry was never written down. It was simply a set of ideals and duties that changed throughout the Middle Ages to meet the realities of the time. The following Code is actually a modern code based on the ideals of the “old code” found in writing of the time:

Prowess: To seek excellence in all endeavors expected of a knight, martial and otherwise, seeking strength to be used in the service of justice, rather than in personal aggrandizement.

Justice: Seek always the path of 'right', unencumbered by bias or personal interest. Recognize that the sword of justice can be a terrible thing, so it must be tempered by humanity and mercy. If the 'right' you see rings agrees with others, and you seek it out without bending to the temptation for expediency, then you will earn renown beyond measure.

Loyalty: Be known for unwavering commitment to the people and ideals you choose to live by. There are many places where compromise is expected; loyalty is not amongst them.

Defense: The ideal knight was sworn by oath to defend his liege lord and those who depended upon him. Seek always to defend your nation, your family, and those to whom you believe worthy of loyalty.

Courage: Being a knight often means choosing the more difficult path, the personally expensive one. Be prepared to make personal sacrifices in service of the precepts and people you value. At the same time, a knight should seek wisdom to see that stupidity and courage are cousins. Courage also means taking the side of truth in all matters, rather than seeking the expedient lie. Seek the truth whenever possible, but remember to temper justice with mercy, or the pure truth can bring grief.

Faith: A knight must have faith in his beliefs, for faith roots him and gives hope against the despair that human failings create.

Humility: Value first the contributions of others; do not boast of your own accomplishments, let others do this for you. Tell the deeds of others before your own, according them the renown rightfully earned through virtuous deeds. In this way the office of knighthood is well done and glorified, helping not only the gentle spoken of but also all who call themselves knights.

Largesse: Be generous in so far as your resources allow; largesse used in this way counters gluttony. It also makes the path of mercy easier to discern when a difficult decision of justice is required.

Nobility: Seek great stature of character by holding to the virtues and duties of a knight, realizing that though the ideals cannot be reached, the quality of striving towards them ennobles the spirit, growing the character from dust towards the heavens. Nobility also has the tendency to influence others, offering a compelling example of what can be done in the service of rightness.

Franchise: Seek to emulate everything I have spoken of as sincerely as possible, not for the reason of personal gain but because it is right. Do not restrict your exploration to a small world, but seek to infuse every aspect of your life with these qualities. Should you succeed in even a tiny measure then you will be well remembered for your quality and virtue.


For the lecture, please pull out a few of the lines from the Chivalric Code and post them here. Why do they stand out in your mind? How might you incorporate these into your own code?

Homework: In your journals, please write an essay about how a society, any society, can be influence by a single code such as that of Chivalry. Think of another society from history that revolved around a code. How did this affect their beliefs?