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.
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
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
Are all moral truths relative or do certain moral truths hold for all cultures and people? In Moral Relativism: A Reader, this and related questions are addressed by twenty-one contemporary moral philosophers and thinkers. This engaging and nontechnical anthology, the only up-to-date collection devoted solely to the topic of moral relativism, is accessible to a wide range of readers including undergraduate students from various disciplines. The selections are organized under six main topics: (1) General Issues; (2) Relativism and Moral Diversity; (3) On the Coherence of Moral Relativism; (4) Defense and Criticism; (5) Relativism, Realism, and Rationality; and (6) Case Study on Relativism. Contributors include Ruth Benedict, Richard Brandt, Thomas L. Carson, Philippa Foot, Gordon Graham, Gilbert Harman, Loretta M. Kopelman, David Lyons, J. L. Mackie, Michele Moody-Adams, Paul K. Moser, Thomas Nagel, Martha Nussbaum, Karl Popper, Betsy Postow, James Rachels, W. D. Ross, T. M. Scanlon, William Graham Sumner, and Carl Wellman. The volume concludes with a case study on female circumcision/genital mutilation that vividly brings into focus the practical aspects and implications of moral relativism. An ideal primary text for courses in moral relativism, Moral Relativism: A Reader can also be used as a supplementary text for introductory courses in ethics and for courses in various disciplines — anthropology, sociology, theology, political science, and cultural studies — that discuss relativism. The volume’s pedagogical and research value is enhanced by a topical bibliography on moral relativism and a substantial general introduction that includes explanatory summaries of the twenty selections.
The Secular Web is currently hosting the Carrier-Roth Debate in which Jennifer Roth argues that an ethical case can be made against abortion without reference to God or any other supernatural entity. It is telling that neither disputant attempts to justify the intrinsic worth they assume for human persons. If each party just grants that humans are inherently more valuable than rocks and trees, the crucial issue has been missed: the question of what it is that makes anything valuable. William Lane Craig presses this very issue in a new article in Paper Trails, “The Indispensability of Theological Meta-ethical Foundations for Morality.” There is also philosophical confusion in the debate about what constitutes personal identity and other problems, but there are also many highlights in this exchange. Whether or not Roth is successful, it is refreshing to hear concerns about abortion outside of the religious community. Apart from condemnations of clinic violence, ethical considerations are conspicuously absent from virtually every pro-choice website, from Planned Parenthood to Protect Choice. Teenwire is about as close as you get with its swift dismissal: “Abortion is a touchy subject with a lot of people. Remember that this is your body and your decision… You have a right to end an unwanted pregnancy if you feel that it is the wisest decision for you.” Considering this, The Secular Web’s substantive discussion is especially commendable.
Frank Jackson champions the cause of conceptual analysis as central to philosophical inquiry. In recent years conceptual analysis has been undervalued and widely misunderstood, suggests Jackson. He argues that such analysis is mistakenly clouded in mystery, preventing a whole range of important questions from being productively addressed. He anchors his argument in discussions of specific philosophical issues, starting with the metaphysical doctrine of physicalism and moving on, via free will, meaning, personal identity, motion, and change, to ethics and the philosophy of color. In this way the book not only offers a methodological program for philosophy, but also casts new light on some much-debated problems and their interrelations. ~ Book Description
Four principal papers and a total of 43 peer commentaries on the evolutionary origins of morality. To what extent is human morality the outcome of a continuous development from motives, emotions and social behaviour found in nonhuman animals? Jerome Kagan, Hans Kummer, Peter Railton and others discuss the first principal paper by primatologists Jessica Flack and Frans de Waal. The second paper, by cultural anthropologist Christopher Boehm, synthesizes social science and biological evidence to support his theory of how our hominid ancestors became moral. In the third paper philosopher Elliott Sober and evolutionary biologist David Sloan Wilson argue that an evolutionary understanding of human nature allows sacrifice for others and ultimate desires for another’s good. Finally Brian Skyrms argues that game theory based on adaptive dynamics must join the social scientist’s use of rational choice and classical game theory to explain cooperation.
The logic implies that it may be only natural for robot vehicles [us] to murder, rob, rape or enslave other robots to satisfy their genetic masters. Indeed, ruthless extermination of rival genes should be nearly as powerful an imperative as propagation of one’s own. Modern Darwinism seems also to leave no basis for valuing the humane arts like poetry and music except to the extent that such things are useful in spreading the genes by (for example) building tribal solidarity. Nineteenth-century Darwinists, writing for European gentlemen who took their own social order for granted, might have been able to shrug aside such objections on the ground that science requires that we take an unsentimental view of the realities of life. Darwin himself coolly predicted in The Descent of Man that the most highly developed humans would soon exterminate the other races because that is how natural selection works. Such casual references to genocide only began to seem reprehensible after Hitler, Stalin and Mao demonstrated what they meant in practice. Nowadays even the most uncompromising Darwinists have to make some concessions to morality, even at the cost of logical contradiction.
The only boring aspect of this book is its title, which doesn’t do justice to apologist Kreeft’s intelligent, engaging dialogue between two fictional friends during a week of relaxation at Martha’s Vineyard. Kreeft, philosophy professor at Boston College and author of more than 25 books, describes the absolutist character ‘Isa as a Muslim fundamentalist from Palestine who teaches philosophy at the American University in Beirut. His interviewer and sparring partner is Libby Rawls, an African-American, liberal feminist journalist. Using a classic debate format, with impressive fairness to the opposite side, Kreeft defines relativism and its importance. Tracing relativism’s evolution and history in Western philosophy, Kreeft notes that relativism is a fairly modern perspective, originating within the last few hundred years. He outlines the philosophical distinctions between it and absolutism with clarity and an integrity that will delight both the layperson and the professional philosopher. For Kreeft, relativism has eroded a collective and individual sense of accountability and contributed to social decay, yet he can see the other side, especially with regard to cross-cultural differences. Although the purpose of the book is to uphold absolutism, Kreeft outlines the relativist perspective in an approachable, respectful manner. By giving counterarguments a fighting chance, this becomes a book that may actually persuade people, not just preach to the absolutist choir. ~ Publishers Weekly
Despite the theological and popularly conceived connections between religious devotion and moral living, the difficulties attending theological or religious ethics — the attempt to tie ethics to theology or religion in some important sense — are myriad. Thanks largely to Enlightenment thought, morality has come to be construed as independent of God so much so that the majority of moral philosophers today would without without hesitation affirm that even if God exists, morality can exist apart from God — an ontological critique — and, if the precepts or dictates of morality can be known at all, they can be known apart from religious orthodoxy or theological reflection — an epistemological critique. ¶ Since the Enlightenment, at least, and in particular since Kant’s epistemological dualism, questions of religion and “speculative metaphysics” have often been considered beyond the ken of rationality. Kant’s motivation, it has been suggested, was to spare religion from the rigorous scrutiny of the emerging science of his day; but the actual result proved to be detrimental to religious conviction, for it began to be portrayed as an inescapably subjective affair. Universal truth claims became harder to reconcile with this kind of epistemology, which is likely the inevitable while paradoxical effect of implicitly putting religion and science at odds. Religious truth claims tend to be increasingly construed as devoid of propositional content and rational evidence and are instead seen as empty faith claims rooted in a person’s imagination or a group’s collective psyche.
Dr. Budziszewski begins by turning his criticism on himself, examining the foundations of the nihilism of his early career. Describing the political effects of Original Sin, he shows how man’s suppression of his knowledge of right and wrong corrupts his conscience and accelerates social collapse. The depraved conscience grasps at the illusion of “moral neutrality,” the absurd notion that men can live together without a shared understanding of how things are. After evaluating the political devices, including the American Constitution, by which men have tried in the past to work around the effects of Original Sin, Dr. Budziszewski elucidates the pitfalls of contemporary communitarianism, liberalism, and conservatism. The revenge of conscience is horrifically manifest today in abortion, euthanasia, and suicide, evils brought about by the pollution of good impulses such as pity, prudence, honor, and love. The way out of this confusion, he concludes, is Christianity, a once-prevalent faith whose troubling memory men now suppress along with their knowledge of the natural law. The political responsibility of Christians is somehow to stir up that memory and that knowledge, a daunting task in a world of sound bites and shouting matches. ~ Product Description
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.
Sartre employs … examples like a young soldier deciding whether to go to war or to stay home and be his mother’s consolation … to show the difficulty of making certain ethical determinations, and writing like this in conjunction with the widespread use of what Christian Hoff-Sommers has called “dilemma ethics” — moral dialogue focused on trying to decide the “hard cases” — have contributed to the notion that the whole field of ethics is colored grey. The old certainties are gone; ambiguity wins the day. Everything is up for grabs when it comes to questions of morality. ¶ Despite the common nature of such views, most decisions in ethics are not fraught with ambiguity and tensions between commensurate competing commitments. As is obvious from clear examples of moral behavior, the vast majority of people’s moral intuitions remain intact and quite strong. Perhaps ethics are too often thought about in terms of the peripheral dilemmas and occasional ambiguities, overlooking and thereby skewing our perception of the vast intuitive area of agreement that actually obtains both across diverse cultures and throughout the centuries of human history. Perhaps morality has to be seen at its best, or at its worst, for it is then our intuitions are felt the strongest and distinctive features of moral facts most clearly apprehended, with no ambiguities or heart-wrenching dilemmas to cloud our vision. Eventually those dilemmas have to be accounted for as well, but the suggestion here is that they are not the proper place to begin.
Though the concept of natural law took center stage during the Middle Ages, the theological aspects of this august intellectual tradition have been largely forgotten by the modern church. In this book ethicist Jean Porter shows the continuing significance of the natural law tradition for Christian ethics. Based on a careful analysis of natural law as it emerged in the medieval period, Porter’s work explores several important scholastic theologians and canonists whose writings are not only worthy of study in their own right but also make important contributions to moral reflection today. ~ Product Description
If there were only one person on earth, there would be no occasion for morality because there wouldn’t be any interpersonal conflicts to resolve or others whose suffering he or she would have a duty to ameliorate. Subjectivism implicitly assumes something of this solipsism, an atomism in which isolated individuals make up separate universes. Subjectivism treats individuals like billiard balls on a societal pool table where they meet only in radical collision, each aimed at his or her own goal and striving to do in the others before they themselves are done in. This atomistic view of personality is belied by the facts that we develop in which we share a common language, common institutions, and similar rituals and habits, and that we often feel one another’s joys and sorrow. As John Donne wrote, “No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent.”
The Darwinian argues that morality simply does not work (from a biological perspective), unless we believe that it is objective. Darwinian theory shows that, in fact, morality is a function of (subjective) feelings; but it shows also that we have (and must have) the illusion of objectivity.
The concept of desert, which once enjoyed a central place in political and ethical theory, has been relegated to the margins of much of contemporary theory, if not excluded altogether. Recently a renewed interest in the topic has emerged, and several philosophers have argued that the notion merits a more central place in political and ethical theory. Some of these philosophers contend that justice exists to the extent that people receive exactly what they deserve, while others argue that desert should replace such considerations as rights, need, and equality as the basis for distributions. Still others argue that morality involves a fitting match between one’s moral character and a degree of happiness. All of these positions have encountered opposition from egalitarians, libertarians, and those who are skeptical about the coherence of the concept of desert. The first anthology of its kind, What Do We Deserve? is a balanced collection of readings that brings sharply opposing positions and arguments together and stimulates debate over the meaning and significance of desert in current thought. The book begins with eight classical readings on desert (by Plato, Aristotle, Hobbes, Smith, Kant, Mill, Sidgwick, and Ross), and later turns to contemporary interpretations of the issue. The selections examine the concept itself, analyze its relationship to the ideas of freedom and responsibility, engage in the debate between John Rawls and his critics on the merits of desert, and, finally, study the wider role and significance of desert in political and ethical theory. ~ Product Description
This book shows how Darwinian biology supports an Aristotelian view of ethics as rooted in human nature. Defending a conception of "Darwinian natural right" based on the claim that the good is the desirable, the author argues that there are at least twenty natural desires that are universal to all human societies because they are based in human biology. The satisfaction of these natural desires constitutes a universal standard for judging social practice as either fulfilling or frustrating human nature, although prudence is required in judging what is best for particular circumstances. The author studies the familial bonding of parents and children and the conjugal bonding of men and women as illustrating social behavior that conforms to Darwinian natural right. He also studies slavery and psychopathy as illustrating social behavior that contradicts Darwinian natural right. He argues as well that the natural moral sense does not require religious belief, although such belief can sometimes reinforce the dictates of nature.
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
Of course, the study of the moral beliefs of different cultures can be helpful in a number of ways. It can open our eyes to the fact that different groups have disagreed about moral questions — even on some of the matters that seem most self-evident to us. If nothing else, this may deepen our desire to discover to what extent our own moral views can be defended. And it may leave us more open to the possibility of deciding that it is actually some of our own moral views that are mistaken and in need of revision. Furthermore, the study of the moral beliefs of other groups can help us discover arguments for or against some position — arguments that we might otherwise have overlooked but that are worthy of careful consideration. And, of course, the study of the moral beliefs of other groups can be interesting in its own right.
The position we have arrived at is this: in defending a moral theory, we must see how well that theory fits in with a wide variety of judgments that we are inclined to make about many different matters. We have opinions about cases, about principles, about the nature of morality, about what counts as an adequate explanation, and more. Some of these opinions are fairly specific, others are more general; some are arrived at rather "intuitively" and spontaneously, others only after considerable reflection; some are extremely difficult to give up, others are more easily abandoned. We try to find the moral theory that provides the overall fit with this eclectic set of beliefs. But if — as seems overwhelmingly likely — no theory can actually accomodate all of the relevant initial beliefs, we revise the set: we alter our beliefs, and reevaluate our theories, until we arrive as best we can at a theory that seems on balance to be more plausible than any of its rivals. Ultimately, then, defending a normative theory is a matter of arguing that it provides the best overall fit with our various considered judgments.
Imagine that you have been miraculously transported to the dark kingdom of hell, and there you get a glimpse of the sufferings of the damned. What is their punishment? Well, they have eternal back itches, which ebb and flow constantly. But they cannot scratch their backs, for their arms are paralyzed in a frontal position, so they writhe with itchiness throughout eternity. But just as you are beginning to feel the itch in you own back, you are suddenly transported to heaven. What do you see in the kingdom of the blessed? Well, you see people with eternal back itches, who cannot scratch their own backs. But they are all smiling instead of writhing. Why? Because everyone has his or her arms stretched out to scratch someone else’s back, and, so arranged in one big circle, a hell is turned into a heaven of ecstasy. In our story people in heaven, but not in hell, cooperate for the amelioration of suffering and the production of pleasure. These are very primitive goods, not sufficient for a full-blown morality, but they give us a hint as to the objectivity of morality. Moral goodness has something to do with the ameliorating of suffering, the resolution of conflict and the promotion of human flourishing.
How should one live? There are few questions, I think, that are as gripping and as inescapable as this one. Unlike many of the other classical questions of philosophy, this question — the central question of moral philosophy — seems pressing and important. It matters what answers we come up with, for it matters what I do with my life. What I make of myself, how I live, what I do, what kind of person I become — these things are of vital concern to each of us, even if few of us normally reflect on them in a systematic or critical fashion.
It is important to understand that in saying that the moral status of an act is determined (at least in part) by its results, this is meant to include all af its results. It is not only the immediate, or short term, results that matter: long term results, side effects, indirect consequences — all these matter as well, and they count just as much as short term or immediate consequences. If, for example, I must choose between an act with a small immediate positive effect — but no other later effects — and an alternative act act that will have no immediate effect, but will eventually produce a lot of good, it is the second act I should perform. Similarly, if an act will have both good results and bad results, then these must all be taken into account. The question is: how good or bad will the results be overall, on balance, taking into account all of the results; and how does this compare to the overall results of the other acts available to the agent?