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Ethics

Ethics

Is There an Evolutionary Foundation for Human Morality?

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I am going to talk about the question of whether we can find an evolutionary basis for human morality. I am not a scientist, but a philosopher. So I am not going to try to pass judgment on the theory of evolution itself, as it applies to human beings. I do not regard philosophers as professionally competent either to pass a positive or negative judgment on the theory, except insofar as there are philosophical commitments embodied in it. However, I do regard myself as having made some progress in understanding human morality. In particular, I have been interested in and have written about the gap between the demands of morality on us and our natural capacities to meet those demands. This gap presents the problem of how we can be held accountable or responsible for a standard we are not equipped to meet either by innate capacity or natural development. So I want to ask the conditional question: if we assume that the theory of evolution as it applies to human beings is correct, does this help us answer the questions of whether we can be morally good and why we should be morally good? The first question, whether we can be morally good, is the question raised by the moral gap between the demands of morality and our natural capacities. It is only after answering this first question, “yes, we can be morally good,” that the second question arises of why we should be morally good, for we can only be held accountable or responsible for standards that we are able to reach. The burden of my presentation will be that we do not get an answer to these two questions from the theory of evolution. I am not arguing here that the theory is false, but that even if it is true, it doesn’t give us an answer. I will be looking at a number of recent attempts to provide such an answer from the theory, but I will claim that all of them fail.

Donald W. Shriver, Jr. on Silent Screams

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The agents of atrocities have a self-interest in keeping their acts invisible, buried, and publicly forgotten. The Nazis meant to plough under every death camp, and Himmler once consoled his SS cohorts that, while the German public would never know the full scope of their service to racial cleansing of the nation, they should always take pride in their work. In South African torture cells, the torturers taunted their victims with the prediction that, just as no one could hear their present screams, no one would remember them in the future either. The moral damages of amnesia are multiple: to victims, whose final indignity in survival or in death is to have their suffering forgotten; to perpetrators, whose moral health cannot be restored without confrontation of their immorality; and — not least — to a public that has every prudent self-interest in knowing enough about an evil past to be put on alert against its repetition.

An Introduction to Contemporary Metaethics

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An Introduction to Contemporary Metaethics provides a highly readable critical overview of the main arguments and themes in twentieth-century and contemporary metaethics. It traces the development of contemporary debates in metaethics from their beginnings in the work of G. E. Moore up to the most recent arguments between naturalism and non-naturalism, cognitivism and non-cognitivism. • A highly readable critical overview of the main arguments and themes in twentieth century and contemporary metaethics. • Asks: Are there moral facts? Is there such a thing as moral truth? Is moral knowledge possible? • Traces the development of contemporary debates in metaethics from their beginnings in the work of G. E. Moore up to the most recent debates between naturalism and non-naturalism, cognitivism and noncognitivism. • Provides for the first time a critical survey of famous figures in twentieth century metaethics such as Moore, Ayer and Mackie together with in-depth discussions of contemporary philosophers such as Blackburn, Gibbard, Wright, Harman, Railton, Sturgeon, McDowell and Wiggins. ~ Product Description

Philosophical Foundations for a Christian Worldview

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What is real? What is truth? What can we know? What should we believe? What should we do and why? Is there a God? Can we know him? Do Christian doctrines make sense? Can we believe in God in the face of evil? These are fundamental questions that any thinking person wants answers to. These are questions that philosophy addresses. And the answers we give to these kinds of questions serve as the foundation stones for constructing any kind of worldview. In Philosophical Foundations for a Christian Worldview, J. P. Moreland and William Lane Craig offer a comprehensive introduction to philosophy from a Christian perspective. In their broad sweep they seek to introduce readers to the principal subdisciplines of philosophy, including epistemology, metaphysics, philosophy of science, ethics and philosophy of religion. They do so with characteristic clarity and incisiveness. Arguments are clearly presented, and rival theories are presented with fairness and accuracy. Philosophy, they contend, aids Christians in the tasks of apologetics, polemics and systematic theology. It reflects our having been made in the image of God, helps us to extend biblical teaching into areas not expressly addressed in Scripture, facilitates the spiritual discipline of study, enhances the boldness and self-image of the Christian community, and is requisite to the essential task of integrating faith and learning. Here is a lively and thorough introduction to philosophy for all who want to know reality. ~ Synopsis

Donald W. Shriver, Jr. on Postmodern History

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Post-modernists know many ways to disparage and eliminate claims to truth in all of these dimensions. If history (as assessment of what actually happened) is infinitely malleable at the behest of the powerful, if moral suppositions about what histories are important to recover, are arbitrary, if personal experience has nothing to do with collective acknowledgment of truth, if human suffering is not accessible to moral judgement at the moment or post facto, and if the facts of history cannot be attributed in some tangible way to human agency, then both judicial institutions and truth commissions are philosophically illegitimate. Such illegitimacy would spell the demise of Christian ethics, of course, for the discipline, with Christian theology, has a stake in the truths of history, in vital distinctions between just and unjust suffering, and in the obligations which persons and societies owe to identify, curb, and remedy wrongs suffered by any of our neighbours.

Donald W. Shriver, Jr. on What Trials Cannot Do

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Court trials cannot: prosecute the dead, secure direct testimony from the dead, or repair damages done to the lives of the dead; truly match punishments to crimes when the crime consists of the murder of many victims; put institutions and systems on trial; within usual rules against self-incrimination and torture, compel perpetrators to confess; summon classes of offenders newly tagged as such without engaging in the ambiguities of ex post facto prosecution — an ambiguity abolishable by legislative grants of general impunity; avoid, in most societies, the skewing influence of money and power on the effectiveness of prosecution and defence; always implement distinction between retribution and vengeance, especially in response to public demand for the latter; guarantee ‘closure’ or satisfaction among victims that justice has been done once a perpetrator has been punished, a problem further exacerbated by the traditional western judicial system which largely keeps victims on the margins of the whole process; always avoid adversarial abuse of plaintiffs, defendants, and witnesses; avoid scapegoating, especially in trials of leaders who required large constituencies for carrying out their crimes; or escape from the danger, inherent in the adversarial trial system, that the courtroom will become a playing field in which the most skilled, rather than the most truthful, side will win.

Flourishing

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Toward redirecting mainstream psychology’s focus from the disease model to the higher rungs of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs that have long informed humanistic psychology, the contributors to these 13 chapters participated in the first Summit of Positive Psychology held in 1999. Keyes (sociology, Emory U.) and Haidt (social psychology, U. of Virginia) introduce the rationale for studying fulfillment, morality, and other factors that make life worthwhile. Keyes and foreword writer Martin Seligman, a former APA president, were summit co-chairs. ~ Product Description

P.M. Forni on Whining and Spreading Misery

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What concerns me here, instead, is the continuous or recurring complaining that is an unwarranted spreading of misery. It is the kind that bespeaks helplessness rather than assertiveness, it more interested in assigning blame than in finding solutions, and is rooted in the feeling that life is unfair. Now, disappointments, disheartening setbacks, and dreams that fail to become reality are an inevitable part of being alive. Every day you spend on earth, however, also gives you an abundance of reasons to be grateful. It is up to you to choose between giving in to dissatisfaction and resentment and embracing contentment and joy. My suggestion is that you make every effort to start walking toward joy today, not only for your own good but for the good of those closest to you as well.

Fiction as a Kind of Philosophy

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In this paper, I defend the importance of narrative to moral philosophy, in particular to moral realism. Moral realism, for the purposes of this essay, is the claim that there are moral truths independent of human beliefs, attitudes, desires and feelings.i Contemporary philosophers typically focus on discursive arguments and exclude narrative. But narrative is considerably more powerful than argument in effecting belief-change. I shall argue that through such belief-change one can attain to moral truth.ii This account is opposed to that of fellow narrativalist, Richard Rorty, who denies moral realism. Since I believe the clash between realists and anti-realists resolves into a clash of intuitions, I don’t propose to offer a convincing argument in favor of moral realism. Instead, like Rorty I will draw a word-picture, which stands in stark contrast to the word-picture that he draws about stories; it is my hope that the reader will find my word-picture more compelling than Rorty’s word-picture. In the final section I will offer some considerations in favor of moral realism.

Universal Human Rights in Theory and Practice

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In the third edition of his classic work, revised extensively and updated to include recent developments on the international scene, Jack Donnelly explains and defends a richly interdisciplinary account of human rights as universal rights. He shows that any conception of human rights—and the idea of human rights itself—is historically specific and contingent. Since publication of the first edition in 1989, Universal Human Rights in Theory and Practice has justified Donnelly’s claim that “conceptual clarity, the fruit of sound theory, can facilitate action. At the very least it can help to unmask the arguments of dictators and their allies.”

Atheism, Morality, and Meaning

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Despite the pluralism of contemporary American culture, the Judaeo-Christian legacy still has a great deal of influence on the popular imagination. Thus it is not surprising that in this context atheism has a slightly scandalous ring, and unbelief is often associated with the lack of morality and a meaningless existence. Distinguished philosopher and committed atheist Michael Martin sets out to refute such notions in this thorough defense of atheism as both a moral and a meaningful philosophy of life. Martin shows not only that objective morality and a purposeful life are possible without belief in God but also that the predominantly Christian worldview of American society is seriously flawed as the basis of morality and meaning. ~ Product Description

An Essay on Divine Authority

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In the first book wholly concerned with divine authority, Mark C. Murphy explores the extent of God’s rule over created rational beings. The author challenges the view-widely supported by theists and nontheists alike-that if God exists, then humans must be bound by an obligation of obedience to this being. He demonstrates that this view, the "authority thesis," cannot be sustained by any of the arguments routinely advanced on its behalf, including those drawn from perfect being theology, metaethical theory, normative principles, and even Scripture and tradition. After exposing the inadequacies of the various arguments for the authority thesis, he develops his own solution to the problem of whether, and to what extent, God is authoritative. For Murphy, divine authority is a contingent matter: while created rational beings have decisive reason to subject themselves to the divine rule, they are under divine authority only insofar as they have chosen to allow God’s decisions to take the place of their own in their practical reasoning. The author formulates and defends his arguments for this view, and notes its implications for understanding the distinctiveness of Christian ethics. ~ Product Description

James Waller on Amorality

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One of the striking things in the study of perpetrators is how they live with themselves morally. It’s not that difficult because this really isn’t a moral issue for them. They’ve removed the victims from their universe of moral obligation. What they’re doing to the victims isn’t really a moral problem because the victim’s not part of their moral universe in the way that for some of us a bug or an insect isn’t. Killing it is just not a moral problem for us because we don’t feel that moral obligation.

The Ethics of Aquinas

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In this comprehensive anthology, twenty-seven outstanding scholars from North America and Europe address every major aspect of Thomas Aquinas’s understanding of morality and comment on his remarkable legacy. The opening chapters of The Ethics of Aquinas introduce readers to the sources, methods, and major themes of Aquinas’s ethics. Part II of the book provides an extended discussion of ideas in the Second Part of the Summa Theologiae, in which contributors present cogent interpretations of the structure, major arguments, and themes of each of the treatises. The third and final part examines the legacy of Thomistic ethics for the twentieth century and today. These essays reflect a diverse group of scholars representing a variety of intellectual perspectives. Contributors span numerous fields of study, including intellectual history, medieval studies, moral philosophy, religious ethics, and moral theology. This remarkable variety underscores how interpretations of Thomas’s ethics continue to develop and evolve — and stimulate fervent discussion within the academy and the church. ~ Product Description

Finite and Infinite Goods

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Renowned scholar Robert Adams explores the relation between religion and ethics through a comprehensive philosophical account of a theistically-based framework for ethics. Adams’ framework begins with the good rather than the right, and with excellence rather than usefulness. He argues that loving the excellent, of which adoring God is a clear example, is the most fundamental aspect of a life well lived. Developing his original and detailed theory, Adams contends that devotion, the sacred, grace, martyrdom, worship, vocation, faith, and other concepts drawn from religious ethics have been sorely overlooked in moral philosophy and can enrich the texture of ethical thought. ~ Product Description

The Myth of Morality

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Richard Joyce argues in this study that moral discourse is hopelessly flawed. At the heart of ordinary moral judgments is a notion of moral inescapability, or practical authority, which, upon investigation, cannot be reasonably defended. He asserts, moreover, that natural selection is to blame, in that it has provided us with a tendency to invest the world with values that it does not contain, and demands that it does not make. This original and innovative book will appeal to readers interested in the problems of moral philosophy. ~ Product Description • "This book is an impressive and stimulating treatment of central issues in metaethics. It is extremely well-written, combining clarity and precision with an individual style that is engaging and very often witty. It presents a general commentary on the contemporary metaethical debate, on the way to defending a position in that debate — moral fictionalism — that is distinctive and worthy of reaching a wider audience. The book is full of arguments, presenting a wealth of stimulating ideas, objections, and suggestions on all the topics addressed. … A significant virtue of the book is Joyce’s success at clarifying the menu of fundamental options in the metaethical discussion. ~ Jay Wallace, UC Berkeley

Can We Be Good With God?

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Hare summarizes his talk as follows: “I have been defending a divine command theory of the right. The version I have been defending is that of Duns Scotus. In this version we distinguish between the two tables of the law, or the two great commandments Jesus gives us. The first, we say, is necessary. God has to order us towards loving God. The second is contingent, and is the route God has chosen for us to reach our final destination, which is union with God. I have then replied to two objections to this view. First, there is the objection that divine command theory makes morality arbitrary. The reply is that the route is not arbitrary because it does lead to our destination. The second objection is that divine command theory makes morality infantile. The reply is that if there is a God who knows what is good for all of creation, then it is not infantile to follow the commands of such a being, but excellent good sense.” Also see, “Can We Be Good Without God?”.

Can We Be Good Without God?

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Here is the thesis of this paper. Morality as we are familiar with it in our culture originally made sense against the background of a set of beliefs and practices in traditional theism. In elite Western culture these beliefs and practices have now been widely abandoned. The result is that morality no longer makes sense within that culture the way it once did. There are two problem areas in particular that I will stress. The first is the gap between the moral demand on us and our natural capacities to meet it. This gap produces the question: Can we be morally good? The second problem area is the source of the authority of morality. This produces the question: Why should we be morally good? The traditional answer to these questions has been that God enables us to live in the way we should, and that we should live that way because God calls us to live that way. I will be looking at various kinds of incoherence that arise when these traditional answers are no longer available. [Also see, “Can We Be Good With God?”]

The Nature of Intrinsic Value

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At the heart of ethics reside the concepts of good and bad; they are at work when we assess whether a person is virtuous or vicious, an act right or wrong, a decision defensible or indefensible, a goal desirable or undesirable. But there are many varieties of goodness and badness. At their core lie intrinsic goodness and badness, the sort of value that something has for its own sake. It is in virtue of intrinsic value that other types of value may be understood, and hence that we can begin to come to terms with questions of virtue and vice, right and wrong, and so on. This book investigates the nature of intrinsic value: just what it is for something to be valuable for its own sake, just what sort of thing can have such value, just how such a value is to be computed. In the final chapter, the fruits of this investigation are applied to a discussion of pleasure, pain, and displeasure and also of moral virtue and vice, in order to determine just what value lies within these phenomena. ~ From the Publisher

Natural Law and Practical Rationality

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According to the natural law account of practical rationality, the basic reasons for actions are basic goods that are grounded in the nature of human beings. Practical rationality aims to identify and characterize reasons for action and to explain how choice between actions worth performing can be appropriately governed by rational standards. Natural Law and Practical Rationality is a defense of a contemporary natural law theory of practical rationality, demonstrating its inherent plausibility and engaging systematically with rival egoist, consequentialist, Kantian and virtue accounts. ~ Product Description • “An impressive tour de force…Any philosopher doing work in contemporary ethics generally, as well as those doing work specifically in the areas of natural law and practical reason, will benefit enormously from grappling with the vigorous argumentation of this book.” ~ Review of Metaphysics

God’s Call

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There has been a debate between modern ethicists who see moral judgments as objectively corresponding to a moral reality independent of human opinion and those who insist that moral judgments are essentially expressions of our will. In this excellent philosophical work John Hare outlines a theory that combines the merits of both views, arguing that what makes something right is that God calls us to it.In the first chapter Hare gives a selective history of the sustained debate within Anglo-American philosophy over the last century between moral realists and moral expressivists. Best understood as a disagreement about how objectivity and subjectivity are related in value judgment, this debate is of particular interest to Christians, who necessarily feel pulled in both directions. Christians want to say that value is created by God and exists whether we recognize it or not, but they also want to say that when we value something, our hearts’ fundamental commitments are also involved. Hare suggests "prescriptive realism" as a way to bring both perspectives together. The second chapter examines the divine command theory of John Duns Scotus, looking particularly at the relationship that Scotus established between God’s commands, human nature, and human will. Hare shows that a Calvinist version of the divine command theory of obligation can be defended via Scotus against natural law theory as well as against contemporary challenges. A significant theme treated here is the view that the Fall disordered our natural inclinations, rendering them useless as an authoritative source of guidance for right living. In the last chapter Hare moves to the key philosophical juncture between the medieval period and our own time — the moral theory of Immanuel Kant in the late eighteenth century. Modern moral philosophy has largely taken Kant’s work as a refutation of divine command theory and a refocusing of the discussion on human autonomy. Hare shows that Kant was in fact not arguing against the kind of divine command theory that Hare supports. He discusses what Kant meant by saying that we should recognize our duties as God’s commands, and he defends a notion of human autonomy as appropriation. Featuring original moral theory and fresh interpretations of the thought of Duns Scotus and Kant, God’s Call is valuable both for its overview of the history of moral debate and for its construction of a sound Christian ethic for today. ~ Product Description

In Defense of Natural Law

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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

A Critique of Ethical Relativism

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To sum up our discussion to this point, unless we have an independent moral basis for law, it is hard to see why we have any general duty to obey it; and unless we recognize the priority of a universal moral law, we have no firm basis for justifying our acts of civil disobedience against “unjust laws.” Both the validity of law and morally motivated disobedience of unjust laws are annulled in favor of a power struggle.

Value and the Good Life

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For as long as humans have pondered philosophical issues, they have contemplated "the good life". Yet most suggestions about how to live a good life rest on assumptions about what the good life actually is. Thomas Carson here confronts that question from a fresh perspective. Surveying the history of philosophy, he addresses first-order questions about what is good and bad as well as metaethical questions concerning value judgments.Carson considers a number of established viewpoints concerning the good life. He offers a new critique of Mill’s and Sidgwick’s classic arguments for the hedonistic theory of value, employing thought experiments that invite us to clarify our preferences by choosing between different kinds of lives. He also assesses the desire or preference-satisfaction theory of value in detail and takes a fresh look at both Nietzsche’s Ubermensch ideal and Aristotle’s theory of the good life. In exploring foundational questions, Carson observes that many established theories reston undefended assumptions about the truth of moral realism. Arguing against this stand, he defends the view that "good" means "desirable" and presents a divine-preference version of the desire-satisfaction theory. In this he contends that, if there exists a kind and omniscient God who created the universe, then what is good or bad is determined by His preferences; if such a God does not exist, what is good or bad depends on what we as rational humans desire. Value and the Good Life is the only book that defends a divine-preference theory of value as opposed to a divine-command theory of right and wrong. It offers a masterfully constructed argument in answer to an age-old question and will stimulate all who seek to know what the good life truly is.. ~ Product Description

Go And Do Likewise

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What does Jesus have to do with ethics? There are two brief answers given by believers: "everything" and "not much." While evangelical or fundamentalist Christians would find authoritative guidance in the words and commands of Jesus as recorded in the New Testament, many mainstream Christian ethicists would say that Jesus is too concrete or narrowly particular to have any direct import for ethics.In this book, Williams Spohn takes a middle way, showing how Jesus is the "concrete universal" of Christian ethics. By forming a bridge from the lives of contemporary Christians to the words and deeds of Jesus, Jesus’ story as a whole exemplifies moral perception, motivation and Christian identity. In addition, Spohn shows how the practices of Christian spirituality — specifically prayer, service, and community — train the imagination and reorient emotions to produce a character and a way of life consonant with Christian New Testament moral teaching. ~ Product Description