categoryEthics

Is there an ought? And how might we know what we ought to do?

Virtue as the Mean Between Two Extreme States

Go Actions, then, are called just and temperate when they are such as the just or the temperate man would do; but it is not the man who does these that is just and temperate, but the man who also does them as just and temperate men do them.

Existentialism Is a Humanism

Go My purpose here is to offer a defence of existentialism against several reproaches that have been laid against it. ... Many may be surprised at the mention of humanism in this connection, but we shall try to see in what sense we understand it. In any case, we can begin by saying that existentialism, in our sense of the word, is a doctrine that does render human life possible; a doctrine, also, which affirms that every truth and every action imply both an environment and a human subjectivity.

God and Cosmos

Go

Naturalistic ethics is the reigning paradigm among contemporary ethicists; in God and Cosmos, David Baggett and Jerry L. Walls argue that this approach is seriously flawed. This book canvasses a broad array of secular and naturalistic ethical theories in an effort to test their adequacy in accounting for moral duties, intrinsic human value, moral knowledge, prospects for radical moral transformation, and the rationality of morality. In each case, the authors argue, although various secular accounts provide real insights and indeed share common ground with theistic ethics, the resources of classical theism and orthodox Christianity provide the better explanation of the moral realities under consideration. Among such realities is the fundamental insight behind the problem of evil, namely, that the world is not as it should be. Baggett and Walls argue that God and the world, taken together, exhibit superior explanatory scope and power for morality classically construed, without the need to water down the categories of morality, the import of human value, the prescriptive strength of moral obligations, or the deliverances of the logic, language, and phenomenology of moral experience. This book thus provides a cogent moral argument for God’s existence, one that is abductive, teleological, and cumulative.

David Brooks on Eulogy Virtues

Go

It occurred to me that there were two sets of virtues, the résumé virtues and the eulogy virtues. The résumé virtues are the skills you bring to the marketplace. The eulogy virtues are the ones that are talked about at your funeral — whether you were kind, brave, honest or faithful. Were you capable of deep love? … But if you live for external achievement, years pass and the deepest parts of you go unexplored and unstructured. You lack a moral vocabulary. It is easy to slip into a self-satisfied moral mediocrity. You grade yourself on a forgiving curve. You figure as long as you are not obviously hurting anybody and people seem to like you, you must be O.K. But you live with an unconscious boredom, separated from the deepest meaning of life and the highest moral joys. Gradually, a humiliating gap opens between your actual self and your desired self, between you and those incandescent souls you sometimes meet.

Alana Newman on Transferring or Delaying Suffering

Go

We … need to learn how to grieve, and remind people we can’t infringe upon others’ rights when we attempt to alleviate our own suffering. ¶ One round of IVF can cost $8-10,000. One surrogate + egg donor pregnancy can cost up to $300,000. We have the resources, the will and the intelligence to actually cure or prevent many forms of infertility. But we have to reject treating people like products. … On a forum I was reading several years ago there was a single mom by choice who had given birth to a son with severe learning disabilities. She asked, “Does anyone know if I can get a refund?” ¶ Even though these processes create new life, please understand that they are not pro life. ¶ Even though you hear again and again that these processes work to “make people happy”, please understand that they do not in fact make people happy. They only delay or transfer pain.

Aaron Kheriaty on Sex and Sadomasochism

Go

Before making decisions about our sexual behaviors, we need to ask ourselves some questions about what we want to be doing to our brain and our body — what kind of neural tracks and networks do we want to be reinforcing through these behaviors? Do we want to be fusing sex and love? Sex and security? Sex and attachment or commitment? Sex and fidelity? Sex and trust? Sex and unselfishness? Or do we want to be fusing in our brain and in our experiences sex and violence? Sex and dominance? Sex and submission? Sex and control? We shape our brain by our choices. And we develop increasingly automatic and ingrained habits by our repeated choices. But the initial choice of which path we embark upon is up to us.

In Search of Moral Knowledge

Go

Scott Smith, carefully and consciously, with philosophical rigor and clarity of word, offers a defense of moral knowledge that is tightly tethered to more ancient, and Christian, understandings of the good, the true and the beautiful. The result is a compelling case for why philosophical naturalism, including its cousin, nominalism, must be rejected by anyone who sincerely seeks after moral knowledge. Smith’s greatest accomplishment in this book, however, is the way in which he interacts, at a high level, with contemporary philosophical schools of thought and ancient traditions in a way fully accessible to the educated layman and college student. ~ Francis J. Beckwith

Kim R. Holmes on Manufacturing Human Rights

Go

Yet this principle of inalienable natural rights — fundamental rights that government neither creates nor can take away — isn’t the same as the thoroughly modern idea of “human rights.” ¶ Although both are universal, natural rights most emphatically do not come from government. Government only secures these rights, that is, creates the political conditions that allow one to exercise them. Human rights, as popularly understood, are bestowed by the state or governing body. In addition, natural rights, being natural, do not change over time. All men, at all times, have had the same right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Human rights, on the other hand, constantly change. A whole cottage industry has sprung up to advance a bevy of new “economic and social rights” conceived of, defined by, and promoted by activists, governments, and international bureaucrats. ¶ Many Americans are unaware that these manufactured rights are not the same as the natural rights endowed by God or nature. What are often called “human rights” today are social constructs. They either sound like high-minded aspirations — equal rights for women and minorities — or like trivial and harmless concepts such as the “right to leisure.” ¶ These concepts are in fact neither high-minded nor harmless: they are fundamentally incompatible with the Founders’ understanding of natural rights.

Mordecai Roshwald on Being Laudably Judgmental

Go

I have been consistently judgmental — a pejorative characteristic these days, but a laudable trait in my opinion. For, to put it bluntly, just as humanity must distinguish between what is true and what is false, so it must discriminate between what is right and what is wrong. ¶ Good and Evil are not merely subjective perspectives of various civilizations. They are basic notions of humanity, even if often erring. They have to be decided by thoughtful exploration and not by public opinion poll. Just as the belief that the world is flat is mistaken, even if at one time most people thought it to be true, so to kill a person who is blameless is wicked, even if in some cultures it may be justified.

A Shared Morality

Go

Morality based on natural law has a long tradition, and has proven to be quite resilient in the face of numerous attacks and challenges over the years. Those challenges are no less serious today, which leads one to ask if natural law is still a viable foundation for ethics. Craig Boyd provides a contemporary defense of natural law theory against modern challenges from the arenas of science, religion, culture, and philosophy. In his analysis, he defends many of the classical elements of natural law, but also takes into account the contributions of scientific discoveries about human nature. He concludes that natural law is a necessary but not sufficient basis for ethics that must be accompanied by a theory of virtue.

Scott Sauls on the Core Issue in Abortion

Go

I believe that the core issue in the pro-life vs. pro-choice debate is whose rights matter most. Is it the rights of the mother or the rights of the infant in her womb? I believe that the answer is yes. … Pro-life advocates allege that pro-choice is not an accurate term, because only one person in the equation gets to choose the destiny of all people in the equation, namely the mother. She has one hundred percent of the decision making power and the infant inside of her has no decision making power, no voice, and no ability to defend her/himself. The idea that a woman should have jurisdiction over her own body also breaks down, because roughly fifty percent of infants in utero are female who have no choice over what happens to their bodies. ¶ Pro-choice advocates allege that pro-life is not an accurate term. This is precisely the concern that an abortion provider voiced to me just one week ago. He said, “As I see it, the so-called pro-life position only applies to one kind of life. After the infant is born, pro-life people tend to disappear from the picture.” He went on to say that over sixty percent of women who come in for an abortion are alone and live below the poverty line. Rarely has this doctor seen or heard a “pro-life” person express any concern whatsoever for her life. … If we don’t show deep concern for both mother and child, … then our religion is lopsided. Until we become both/and on this issue, our religion is not true.

Emily Gould on How To Be Not Evil

Go

The good news is that “Big Bang Theory” is just bad, not evil. Aside from Penny’s unintelligence being played for “laughs,” the show is relatively progressive in its treatment of gender. In one of the episodes I saw, Penny and Amy and Bernadette are involved in a subplot where Amy, in an attempt to scientifically study something about friendships, tries to pit the friends against each other. In the course of this plot they have several conversations about work, thereby ensuring that the show passes the “Bechdel test” (female characters must talk, to each other, about something other than men). ¶ There aren’t any hot wife/schlub husband jokes, both men and women are seen to be nerds, and there isn’t anything overtly horribly racist going on, except the show’s mostly-whiteness and Raj’s “funny” accent. And the theme song, by the Barenaked Ladies, provides a brief history that begins with the titular “Big Bang” and goes on to cover concepts like Neanderthals using tools; it would not be compatible with a theory of the universe that takes the Bible literally. So that’s something, at least.  There’s hope for America yet.

Jean-Jacques Rouseau on the Golden Rule

Go

Even the precept of doing unto others as we would have them do unto us has no true foundation other than conscience and sentiment; for where is the precise reason for me, being myself, to act as if I were another, especially when I am morally certain of never finding myself in the same situation? And who will guarantee me that in very faithfully following this maxim I will get others to follow it similarly with me? The wicked man gets advantage from the just man’s probity and his own injustice. He is delighted that everyone, with the exception of himself, be just. This agreement, whatever may be said about it, is not very advantageous for good men. When the strength of an expansive soul makes me identify myself with my fellow, and I feel that I am, so to speak, in him, it is in order not to suffer that I do not want him to suffer. I am interested in him for love of myself, and the reason for the precept is in nature itself, which inspires in me the desire of my well-being in whatever place I feel my existence. From this I conclude that it is not true that the precepts of natural law are founded on reason alone. They have a base more solid and sure. Love of men derived from love of self is the principle of the human justice. The summation of all morality is given by the Gospel in its summation of the law.

Paul Stark on the Humanity of the Unborn

Go

Before deciding how we ought to treat the unborn — a moral question — we must first be clear about what the unborn is. This is a scientific question, and it is answered with clarity by the science of human embryology. ¶ The facts of reproduction are straightforward. Upon completion of the fertilization process, sperm and egg have ceased to exist (this is why “fertilized egg” is an inaccurate term); what exists is a single cell with 46 chromosomes (23 from each parent) that is called a zygote. The coming into existence of the zygote is the point of conception—the beginning of the life of a new human organism. The terms zygote, embryo and fetus all refer to developmental stages in the life of a human being.

Tom Gilson on the Ethics of the Latest Today

Go

Modernity is good. Tradition is bad. Who knew it was so simple? ¶ But when did modernity begin, and what gave it such ethical primacy? What is the message here? Is [it] that later is better, and older is worse? That’s an argument that’s far too easily made today. It can’t be disproved! What I mean by that is that there is nothing later than today, nothing more modern to judge today, nothing to prove today wrong, as long as the standard is that newer is better. ¶ The problem with that, of course, is that there were other todays before today’s today. Some of them were quite modern todays. The eugenics movement of the early 20th century was all about progress and modernity, and during the todays of that era, progress and modernity carried the same ethical force they carry for [some] today. Hitler’s Germany was about progress and modernity in its own “today.” So were the killing regimes of Stalin and Mao.

Victor Hugo on Deep Waters, Dark Shadows, and the Hiddenness of God

Go Night falls; he has been swimming for hours, his strength almost gone; the ship, a distant far-off thing, where there were men, is gone; he is alone in the terrible gloom of the abyss; he sinks, he strains, he struggles, feels beneath himself invisible shadowy monsters; he screams. ¶ Men are gone. Where is God? ¶ He screams. Help! Someone! Help! He screams over and over. ¶ Nothing on the horizon. Nothing in the sky. ¶ He implores the lofty sky, the endless waves, the reefs; all are deaf. He begs the storms; but impassive, they obey only the infinite. ¶ Around him, darkness, storm, solitude, wild, unconscious tumult, the ceaseless churning of fierce waters. Within him, horror and exhaustion. Beneath him the devouring abyss. No resting place. He thinks of the shadowy adventures of his limp body in the limitless gloom. The biting cold paralyzes him. His hands cramp shut and grasp at ... nothing.

Arthur Koestler on War

Go

Even a cursory glance at history should convince one that individual crimes committed for selfish motives play a quite insignificant part in the human tragedy, compared to the numbers massacred in unselfish loyalty to one’s tribe, nation, dynasty, church, or political ideology, ad majorem gloriam dei. The emphasis is on unselfish. Excepting a small minority of mercenary or sadistic disposition, wars are not fought for personal gain, but out of loyalty and devotion to king, country or cause. Homicide committed for personal reasons is a statistical rarity in all cultures, including our own. Homicide for unselfish reasons, at the risk of one’s own life, is the dominant phenomenon of history.

The Wisdom of the Christian Faith

Go

Although typically separated, philosophy and New Testament theology are mutually beneficial for the understanding of the distinctive wisdom that guides Christian thought and life. The Wisdom of the Christian Faith fills a major gap in the literature on the philosophy of religion. It is the first book on the philosophy of religion to be authored entirely by philosophers while directly engaging themes of wisdom in the Christian tradition. The book consists of all new essays, with contributions from John Cottingham, Paul Gooch, Gordon Graham, John Hare, Michael T. McFall, Paul K. Moser, Andrew Pinsent, Robert Roberts, Charles Taliaferro, William Wainwright, Jerry Walls, Sylvia Walsh, Paul Weithman, and Merold Westphal.

Thomas Oden on Abortion and Individualism

Go

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.

The Adjustment Bureau

Go

Into the ever-expanding catalog1 of films predicated on our anxiety about the extent of our free will, enter The Adjustment Bureau, perhaps the most cerebral and ambivalent of the lot. The film envisions a world in which human action is directed, though not quite determined, by a confluence of chance, free will, and the nearly ubiquitous superintendency of “The Chairman”, a quasi-religious, mysterious power that influences human actions through the intervention of a minion of “clerks” who alter circumstances (and occasionally thought patterns) in order to keep the course of human events in line with “The Plan”. This is not, as some have supposed, a film about human pawns and a grandmaster who determines their fate. Rather, The Adjustment Bureau explores how the course of human events might be guided or “nudged” by such a master when the chess pieces themselves are free agents pursuing their own ends. As it turns out, this decidedly more difficult endeavor requires constant “caretaking” or “meddling”. The film itself remains surprisingly ambivalent toward this state of affairs and offers a provocative and nuanced picture of human agency, of our wills as simultaneously malleable and free. Indeed, the various kinds of interventions in The Adjustment Bureau provide a backdrop for considering just what should and should not be considered a violation of the will. Finally, though it wisely avoids any explicit religious references, the film portrays a world that bears a striking resemblance to a particular theological proposal regarding the relationship between God’s sovereignty and human free will, namely open theism.

Good God

Go

This book aims to reinvigorate discussions of moral arguments for God’s existence. To open this debate, Baggett and Walls argue that God’s love and moral goodness are perfect, without defect, necessary, and recognizable. After integrating insights from the literature of both moral apologetics and theistic ethics, they defend theistic ethics against a variety of objections and, in so doing, bolster the case for the moral argument for God’s existence. It is the intention of the authors to see this aspect of natural theology resume its rightful place of prominence, by showing how a worldview predicated on the God of both classical theism and historical Christian orthodoxy has more than adequate resources to answer the Euthyphro Dilemma, speak to the problem of evil, illumine natural law, and highlight the moral significance of the incarnation and resurrection of Christ. Ultimately, the authors argue, there is principled reason to believe that morality itself provides excellent reasons to look for a transcendent source of its authority and reality, and a source that is more than an abstract principle. ~ Book Description

What We Can’t Not Know: A Guide

Go

In this new revised edition of his groundbreaking work, Professor J. Budziszewski questions the modern assumption that moral truths are unknowable. With clear and logical arguments he rehabilitates the natural law tradition and restores confidence in a moral code based upon human nature. What We Can’t Not Know explains the rational foundation of what we all really know to be right and wrong and shows how that foundation has been kicked out from under western society. Having gone through stages of atheism and nihilism in his own search for truth, Budziszewski understands the philosophical and personal roots of moral relativism. With wisdom born of both experience and rigorous intellectual inquiry, he offers a firm foothold to those who are attempting either to understand or to defend the reasonableness of traditional morality. While natural law bridges the chasms that can be caused by religious and philosophical differences, Budziszewski believes that natural law theory has entered a new phase, in which theology will again have pride of place. While religious belief might appear to hamper the search for common ground, Budziszewski demonstrates that it is not an obstacle, but a pathway to apprehending universal norms of behavior. ~ Publisher’s Description