Ethical Issues + Questions
"Back to the Fathers" in Christianity Today, interview by Christopher A. Hall (Oct 21, 2011).
I was sincerely committed to liberalized abortion legislation at the time. It was a hotly debated issue in the late sixties in Oklahoma. Abortion became a watershed issue for me when I finally recognized that huge numbers of lives were being destroyed in the interest of individual choice. In the midst of all the rhetoric about freedom came the embarrassing awareness that I was condoning a moral matrix in which innocent life was being taken. That was a shock. It still is. This realization produced a loss of confidence in a whole series of liberal programs I had struggled for. Abortion was such a fundamental moral challenge to me that I could no longer find myself easily associating with people and programs who continued to do what I had been doing for so long — that is, asserting individualistic choice when it involved the loss of life under irresponsible conditions of sexual unaccountability.
John Dickson (Zondervan: May 2011), 208 pages.
Dickson defines humility as "the noble choice to forgo your status, deploy your resources or use your influence for the good of others before yourself," such that a "humble person is marked by a willingness to hold power in service of others." (p. 24). By this definition you can see that humility starts from a position of dignity, strength, and a healthy sense of my own worth and abilities. Unlike humiliation, which can be thrust upon me by others, humility is a choice I make willingly. And humility is social, more about how I treat others than about how I think of myself. Bob Sutton has written that the best test of a person's character is how he or she treats those with less power. Dickson argues that humility is important for leadership because humility is persuasive. Humility unlocks the door to referent power. "We are more attracted to the great who are humble than to the great who know it and want everyone else to know it as well." (p. 69). He quotes Aristotle's belief that character is the controlling factor in persuasion: "We believe good-hearted people to a greater extent and more quickly than we do others on all subjects in general and completely so in cases where there is not exact knowledge but room for doubt." (p. 139). We trust the humble more than the proud to act in our best interest. Dickson also argues that humility is generative, a powerful key to learning and growth. Pride is the engine of mediocrity because the proud think they have "arrived" and have nothing left to learn, certainly not from you and me. ~ Bret L. Simmons at Amazon.com
After Virtue (University of Notre Dame Press: 1984), p. 23.
A moral philosophy ... characteristically presupposes a sociology. For every moral philosophy offers explicitly or implicitly at least a partial conceptual analysis of the relationship of an agent to his or her reasons, motives, intentions and actions, and in so doing generally presupposes some claim that these concepts are embodied or at least can be in the real social world. Even Kant, who sometimes seems to restrict moral agency to the inner realm of the noumenal, implies otherwise in his writings on law, history and politics. Thus it would generally be a decisive refutation of a moral philosophy to show that moral agency on its own account of the matter could never be socially embodied; and it also follows that we have not yet fully understood the claims of any moral philosophy until we have spelled out what its social embodiment would be.
Planned Parenthood vs. Casey, 505 U.S. 833 (1992).
Our law affords constitutional protection to personal decisions relating to marriage, procreation, contraception, family relationships, child rearing, and education. Our cases recognize "the right of the individual, married or single, to be free from unwarranted governmental intrusion into matters so fundamentally affecting a person as the decision whether to bear or beget a child." Our precedents "have respected the private realm of family life which the state cannot enter." These matters, involving the most intimate and personal choices a person may make in a lifetime, choices central to personal dignity and autonomy, are central to the liberty protected by the Fourteenth Amendment. At the heart of liberty is the right to define one's own concept of existence, of meaning, of the universe, and of the mystery of human life. Beliefs about these matters could not define the attributes of personhood were they formed under compulsion by the State.
David Boonin and Graham Oddie (Oxford University Press: February 2, 2009), 640 pages.
Is abortion morally permissible? Is it wrong to hunt animals for sport or to slaughter them for food? Should human cloning be permitted? Is torture ever justified? Now in a second edition, What's Wrong? Applied Ethicists and Their Critics presents a thorough and engaging exploration of these complex questions and twenty-four other contemporary ethical issues. Employing a unique approach to teaching argumentation, editors David Boonin and Graham Oddie open each chapter with an influential article that takes a strong stand on a particular issue; the essays that immediately follow offer objections and critical responses to the arguments put forth in the featured selection. This format helps students learn how to better engage in debates because it illustrates how philosophers argue with each other. Featuring a new section on applied ethics and ethical theory, the general introduction to this second edition also describes strategies for understanding and evaluating the different types of arguments contained in the readings. Detailed part and chapter introductions — streamlined in this edition — enable students to see precisely how the arguments presented in the various writings are related to one another. Questions for Consideration and updated and expanded Further Reading Lists are included at the end of each chapter. Featuring more than eighty readings organized into five parts — killing, sex, the family, race relations, and the state — What's Wrong? includes seminal essays by prominent philosophers alongside work by newer voices in the field. Addressing five new cutting-edge issues — overpopulation, campus hate speech codes, hate crime laws, torture, and global warming — the second edition includes fifteen new readings. Ideal for courses in applied ethics/contemporary moral problems and introduction to ethics, What's Wrong?, Second Edition, can also be used in critical thinking courses that emphasize philosophical argumentation. ~ Product Description
Barbara Herman (Harvard University Press: September 2008), 352 pages.
A distinguished moral philosopher and a leading interpreter of Kant's ethics, Barbara Herman draws on Kant to address timeless issues in ethical theory as well as ones arising from current moral problems, such as obligations to distant need, the history of slavery as it bears on affirmative action, and the moral costs of reparative justice. Challenging various Kantian orthodoxies, Herman offers a view of moral competency as a complex achievement, governed by rational norms and dependent on supportive social conditions. She argues that the objectivity of duties and obligations does not rule out the possibility of or need for moral invention. Her goal is not to revise Kant but to explore the issues and ask the questions that he did not consider. Some of the essays involve explicit interpretation of Kant, and others are prompted by ground-level questions. For example, how should we think about moral character given what we know about the fault lines in normal development? If ordinary moral life is saturated by the content of local institutions, how should our accounts of moral obligation and judgment accommodate this? ~ Product Description
J. Daryl Charles (William B. Eerdmans: April 2008), 344 pages.
Restating what all people intuit and what this means in moral, specifically bioethical, discourse is the raison d’être for this volume. J. Daryl Charles argues that a traditional metaphysics of natural law lies at the heart of the present reconstructive project, and that a revival in natural-law thinking is of the highest priority for the Christian community as we contend in, rather than abdicate, the public square. Nowhere is this more on display than in the realm of bioethics, where the most basic moral questions — human personhood, human rights versus responsibilities, the reality of moral evil, the basis of civil society — are being debated. With his timely application of natural-law thinking to the field of bioethics, Charles seeks to breathe new life back into this key debate. ~ Product Description
"A More Perfect Union", delivered in Philadelphia on March 18, 2008.
Some will see this as an attempt to justify or excuse comments that are simply inexcusable. I can assure you it is not. I suppose the politically safe thing would be to move on from this episode and just hope that it fades into the woodwork. We can dismiss Reverend Wright as a crank or a demagogue, just as some have dismissed Geraldine Ferraro, in the aftermath of her recent statements, as harboring some deep-seated racial bias. But race is an issue that I believe this nation cannot afford to ignore right now. We would be making the same mistake that Reverend Wright made in his offending sermons about America - to simplify and stereotype and amplify the negative to the point that it distorts reality.
Charles L. Griswold (Cambridge University Press: September 2007), 268 pages.
Nearly everyone has wronged another. Who among us has not longed to be forgiven? Nearly everyone has suffered the bitter injustice of wrongdoing. Who has not struggled to forgive? Charles Griswold has written the first comprehensive philosophical book on forgiveness in both its interpersonal and political contexts, as well as its relation to reconciliation. Having examined the place of forgiveness in ancient philosophy and in modern thought, he discusses what forgiveness is, what conditions the parties to it must meet, its relation to revenge and hatred, when it is permissible and whether it is obligatory, and why it is a virtue. ~ Product Description • "Rarely has a philosopher offered his fervent students and readers such depth, knowledge and sensitivity as Charles Griswold has done in this volume that deals with one of the most urgent topics facing humankind today." ~ Elie Wiesel
Dallas Willard on Adultery said...
The Divine Conspiracy (San Francisco: Harper Collins, 1998), p. 163.
Intimacy is the mutual mingling of souls who are taking each other into themselves to ever increasing depths. The truly erotic is the mingling of souls. Because we are free beings, intimacy cannot be passive or forced. And because we are extremely finite, it must be exclusive. This is the metaphysical and spiritual reality that underlies the bitter violation of self experienced by the betrayed mate. It also makes clear the scarred and shallow condition of those who betray. ¶ One of the most telling things about contemporary human beings is that they cannot find a reason for not committing adultery. Yet intimacy is a spiritual hunger of the human soul, and we cannot escape it. This has always been true and remains true today. We now keep hammering the sex button in the hope that a little intimacy might finally dribble out. In vain.
Dallas Willard on Cussing said...
The Divine Conspiracy (San Francisco: Harper Collins, 1998), p. 152.
Recently cultural observers have noted the overwhelming rise in the use of filthy language, especially among young people. Curiously, few have been able to find any grounds for condemning it other than personal taste. How strange! Can it be that they actually find contempt acceptable, or are unable to recognize it? Filthy language and name calling is always an expression of contempt. The current swarm of filthy language floats upon the sea of contempt in which our society is now adrift.
"Is the Religious Right Finished?" in Christianity Today (September 6, 1999), pg. 53
But politics cannot begin to put the conecting tissue back in society. It is ill-equipped to reconstruct traditional moral beliefs. The best policies cannot recover courtship or marriage, make fathers responsible for their children, restore shock or shame where it once existed, or recover legitimate social authority to institutions that have been hollowed out by a pervasive ideology of individual autonomy. The vast majority of moral problems that trouble us cannot be eradicated by law.
Robert P. George (Oxford University Press: April 2001), 360 pages.
In Making Men Moral, his 1995 book, Robert George questioned the central doctrines of liberal jurisprudence and political theory. In his new work he extends his critique of liberalism and goes beyond it to show how contemporary natural law theory provides a superior way of thinking about basic problems of justice and poltical morality. It is written with the same combination of stylistic elegance and analytical rigor that distinguishes his critical work. Not content merely to defend natural law against its cultural critics, he deftly turns the tables and deploys the idea to mount a stunning attack on predominant liberal beliefs about such issues as abortion, sexuality, and the place of religion in public life. Readers interested in law, political science, and philosophy will find George's arguments both challenging and compelling. ~ Product Description
"Is the Religious Right Finished?" in Christianity Today (September 6, 1999), pg. 47
Frustration at slow progress in the political arena is understandable. But my advice to my friends in the pro-family movement is this: Do not be discouraged. As Reinhold Niebuhr once observed, "The arc of history is long, but it curves towards justice." This road is often long and hard. But it has always been so. The antislavery movement began petitioning Congress in the 1830s, and did not see slavery abolished for 30 years — and that required a bloody war. The NAACP was founded in 1909, but it did not even gain support in a national party platform until 1948, and it did not pass landmark civil-rights legislation until 1964. The suffragist movement gathered at Seneca Falls in 1848, and women did not gain the right to vote nationally until 1920. The same will be true in the pro-life and pro-family movements. The gradual and incremental nature of our progress and victories is not unusual in the history of social-reform movement in the United States. It is the norm.
"Cowards" in World (March 27, 1999), pg. 7
Selected aspects of the whole scenario are then reported by a cowardly media. I say "slected aspects" because the steady media diet we're all offered conspicuously leaves out two key aspects of the story. With all the focus on the violence just outside the clinics, never is there a detailed accounting of the much more terrible violence within. And only rarely is there an accounting of the violence that happens deep in women's hearts and souls as they say a deliberate and purposeful goodbye to their own offspring. Only a cowardly media could ignore so central — and so gripping — a part of the story. Yet the most cowardly aspect of all may be the outsized disparity between the big people and the little people. The parents who concieve the babies, the abortionists who destroy them, the politicians who aid and abet, the reporters who give one-sided accounts — all these grownups conspire agianst tiny victims who typically will not be permitted even to draw their first breath of life, much less use that breath to scream their protest.
Louis P. Pojman and Francis Beckwith, eds. (Wadsworth:February 13, 1998), 468 pages.
The Abortion Controversy (second edition) is a superb anthology in which all the major viewpoints on abortion are well represented. Highlights include Michael Tooley's latest formulation of his argument against foetal personhood, Judith Jarvis Thomson's classic "A Defense of Abortion", David Boonin-Vail's brilliant 1997 defense of what he calls the "Responsibility Objection" to Thomson's argument, and Keith Pavlischek's interesting 1998 critique of Thomson and Boonin-Vail. Pavlischek essentially admits that Boonin-Vail's arguments succeed, but points out (correctly, I think) that those arguments entail that if a woman becomes pregnant to a man who wishes to play no part in the child's life, then that man, the father, is not morally obliged to pay child-support to the mother. Pavlischek thinks that many pro-choicers would find this implication unacceptable. I would add that on the other hand, many pro-choicers would regard this implication as perfectly just, so that Boonin-Vail's defense of Thomson is (for them at least) ultima facie sound. These are just some of the interesting issues covered in the book; there are many more. Since no other anthology is as wide-ranging, up-to-date and authoritative as this one, "The Abortion Controversy" is essential reading for anyone who is interested in the philosophical debate over abortion. ~ Dean Stretton at Amazon.com
David James Duncan on Drunks said...
The Brothers K (Bantam Books: July 1996), p. 22.
I'd never seen anybody drink except the bums down in Portland. But once you saw the bums you never forgot. They had eyes like mustard, mayonnaise and ketchup all stirred together; the skin of their faces was like Soap Mahoney's hands; their teeth were bashed in or caramel-colored, if they had any, and their mouths dribbled tobacco or blood at the corners; they wore pieces of dead people's old suits, wore greasy overcoats that flapped like mangled wings, wore sores instead of socks on their ankles; and after they'd drink a while they'd just sit or lie down right on the sidewalk, letting real people walk over them while they argued with people who weren't even there. Once, while we were walking over some, Peter said to Everett that the bums had to listen to a whole sermon just to get a bowl of free soup at the Harbor Light Mission. Everett spat and said no wonder they stayed drunk. Then mama scared the hell out of us, and out of some bum too, by hauling off and slapping Everet so hard he almost fell down on a fat old Indian passed out against the wall there. Yet it was Everett who instantly said, "I'm sorry." Because he knew, we all knew, that she didn't hit him for any weird religious reason, or for spitting on sidewalks, or even out of nervousness at having to step around bums. She hit him because her father was a drunk. A mean one too. Died before any of us ever met him, but Mama still has dreams about him. And even dead he was the reason why drinking terrified her.
J.P. Moreland and John Mitchell, Ethics & Medicine 11.3 (1995), pp. 50-55.
In an era where the defence of human rights is prominent, a fundamental question is who counts as a human person and, more specifically, when does human personhood begin and end? The answer to the question at both ends of the spectrum requires metaphysical reflection in three areas: 1. What is a substance and what is a property-thing?; 2. What does it mean to be a human being?; and 3. What does it mean to be a human person? In this paper, we will address these questions in order to lay a metaphysical foundation for ethical decision-making concerning human rights at the edges of life. While the implications of this analysis extend to a variety of ethical issues, we will limit our application to the ontological status of the unborn, and argue that zygotes, embryos and fetuses (hereafter referred to synonymously) are fully and equally human beings, and consequently, human persons. We shall not address the abortion question directly, though we trust the implications of the arguments presented will become obvious.
J.P. Moreland, Faith and Philosophy 12.1 (Jan 1995), 95-112.
A widely adopted approach to end-of-life ethical questions fails to make explicit certain crucial metaphysical ideas entailed by it and when those ideas are clarified, then it can be shown to be inadequate. These metaphysical themes cluster around the notions of personal identity, personhood and humanness, and the metaphysics of substance. In order to clarify and critique the approach just mentioned, I focus on the writings of Robert N. Wennberg as a paradigm case by, first, stating his views of personal identity, humanness, personhood, and the relations among them; second, offering a comparison of a view of humans as substances (understood in the classic interpretation of Aristotle and Aquinas) vs. a view of humans as property-things; third, applying the metaphysical distinctions surfaced in the second section towards a critique of Wennberg.
J.P. Moreland, "The Morality of Suicide: Issues and Options" in Bibliotecha Sacra (April/June 1991), pp214-230.
On December 2, 1982, 62-year-old Barney Clark became the first human to receive a permanent artificial heart. In addition he was given a key that could be used to turn off his compressor, if he wanted to die. One of the physicians, Dr. Willem Kolff, justified the key by stating that if Clark suffered and felt that life was not enjoyable or worth enduring anymore, he had the right to end his life. Clark never used the key. He died 15 weeks after the operation. This case illustrates the growing importance of ethical reflection regarding suicide. Today it is the 10th leading cause of death in the general population, and the suicide rate is on the rise in groups ranging from teenagers to the elderly. The purpose of this article is to clarify important issues and options involved in the ethical aspects of suicide. It is crucial that pastors and other Christian leaders understand how these issues are being argued, apart from reference to the biblical text. This will enable the Christian community to argue in a pluralistic culture for positions consistent with the Bible and to understand how others are framing the debate. This article focuses on three issues: the definition of suicide, the moral justifiability of suicide, and moral problems involved in paternalist state intervention to prevent people coercively from committing suicide.