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Ethics

Shelly Kagan on Deriving a Moral System

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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.

God and the Grounding of Morality

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These essays make a single central claim: that human beings can still make sense of their lives and still have a humane morality, even if their worldview is utterly secular and even if they have lost the last vestige of belief in God. “Even in a self-consciously Godless world life can be fully meaningful,” Nielsen contends. “What surely is most needed in order to make men clear sighted in confronting the official abuse of power, is that they should preserve the sense that the certification of something as legally valid is not conclusive of the question of obedience, and that, however great the aura of majesty or authority which the official system may have, its demands must in the end be submitted to a moral scrutiny.‎” (p.82)

Moral Knowledge and Ethical Character

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This book offers a unified collection of published and unpublished papers by Robert Audi, a renowned defender of the rationalist position in ethics. Taken together, the essays present a vigorous, broadly-based argument in moral epistemology and a related account of reasons for action and their bearing on moral justification and moral character. Part I details Audi’s compelling moral epistemology while Part II offers a unique vision of ethical concepts and an account of moral explanation, as well as a powerful model of moral realism. Part III extends this account of moral explanation to moral responsibility for both actions and character and to the relation between virtue and the actions that express it. Part IV elaborates a theory of reasons for action that locates them in relation to three of their traditionally major sources: desire, moral judgment, and value. Clear and illuminating, Audi’s introduction outlines and interconnects the self-contained but cumulatively arranged essays. It also places them in relation to classical and contemporary literature, and directs readers to large segments of thematically connected material spread throughout the book. Audi ends with a powerfully synthetic final essay. ~ Product Description

Inherit the Wind

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People who only want unbiased, honest science education that sticks to the evidence are bewildered by the reception they get when they try to make their case. Their specific points are brushed aside, and they are dismissed out of hand as religious fanatics. The newspapers report that “creationists” are once again trying to censor science education because it offends their religious beliefs. Why is it so hard for reasoned criticism of biased teaching to get a hearing? The answer to that question begins with a Jerome Lawrence and Robert E. Lee play called Inherit the Wind, which was made into a movie in 1960 starring Spencer Tracy, Gene Kelly and Frederic March. You can rent the movie at any video store with a “classics” section, and I urge you to do so and watch it carefully… The play is a fictionalized treatment of the “Scopes Trial” of 1925, the legendary courtroom confrontation in Tennessee over the teaching of evolution. Inherit the Wind is a masterpiece of propaganda, promoting a stereotype of the public debate about creation and evolution that gives all virtue and intelligence to the Darwinists. The play did not create the stereotype, but it presented it in the form of a powerful story that sticks in the minds of journalists, scientists and intellectuals generally…

Written on the Heart

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Since the great works of classic Greek philosophy are seldom taught either at the high school or college level, the author gives a brief but convincing grounding in Aristotle. Proceeding through other great thinkers like Thomas Aquinas, he relentlessly shows the universal applicability of moral principles. The book is a very effective foil for those post-modern thinkers who believe (without proof) that mankind has moved beyond the natural law, or that there is no such thing. The book is written at a very readable level. ~ W. Patrick Cunningham

Thomas Nagel on Truth and Relativism

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Many forms of relativism and subjectivism collapse into either self-contradiction or vacuity — self-contradiction because they end up claiming that nothing is the case, or vacuity because they boil down to the assertion that anything we say or believe is something we say or believe. I think that all general and most restricted forms of subjectivism that do not fail in either of these ways are pretty clearly false. It is usually a good strategy to ask whether a general claim about truth or meaning applies to itself. Many theories, like logical positivism, can be eliminated immediately by this test. The familiar point that relativism is self-refuting remains valid in spite of its familiarity: We cannot criticize some of our own claims of reason without employing reason at some other point to formulate and support those criticisms.

Thomas Nagel on Ethics

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[J]ust as there was no guarantee at the beginning of cosmological and scientific speculation that we humans had the capacity to arrive at objective truth beyond the deliverances of sense-perception — that in pursing it we were doing anything more than spinning collective fantasies — so there can be no decision in advance as to whether we are or are not talking about a subject when we reflect and argue about morality. The answer must come from the results themselves. Only the effort to reason about morality can show us whether it is possible, whether, in thinking about what to do and how to live, we can find methods, reasons, and principles whose validity does not have to be subjectively or relativistically qualified.

The Indispensability of Theological Meta-ethical Foundations for Morality

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William Lane Craig argues first that objective morality is indefensible apart from the existence of God, and second, therefore, that the evident fact of objective morality is evidence for the existence of God. If not A (no God) then not B (no objective morality), then conversely, B therefore A. Craig justifies his thesis by noting the inability of atheism to account for moral evaluation, moral responsibility, and moral accountability. He is careful to stipulate that he is not arguing that belief in God is required for moral action and character, as the argument is sometimes misconstrued. Rather, "that if God exists, then the objectivity of moral values, moral duties, and moral accountability is secured, but that in the absence of God, that is, if God does not exist, then morality is just a human convention, that is to say, morality is wholly subjective and non-binding." ~ Afterall

The Moral Vision of the New Testamant

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This is an amazing book — solid scholarship and well thought-out interpretation delivered with a sense of urgency and sincerity. If you are at all interested in Ethics or the state of New Testament scholarship, this book is an absolute necessity. Hays sees distinct (though overlapping) tasks in the process of “doing ethics” and is able to explain and apply them clearly. His emphasis on seeing ethical questions through the “focal lenses” of Cross, Community and New Creation is a wonderful guidepost for anyone concerned with faithful, Spirit-driven scholarship. He stresses that an “integrative act of the imagination” is required to be able to apply the Scripture to our world and suggests methods for achieving it. Hays analyzes five theologian/ethicists in light of his approach (including Barth, Hauerwas, and Schussler-Fiorenza) and, in doing so, further clarifies how his approach can be used by others. The final section of the book applies Hays’ approach to contemporary issues. Partly because of his obvious authority in Greek and New Testament scholarship, and partly because of his honest, passionate approach, his conclusions are bold and very persuasive.

John Stott on the Unborn Child

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The popular euphemisms make it easier for us to conceal the truth from ourselves. The occupant of the mother’s womb is not a ‘product of conception’ or ‘gametic material’, but an unborn child. Even ‘pregnancy’ tells us not more than that a woman has been ‘impregnated’, whereas the truth in old-fashioned language is that she is ‘with child’. How can we speak of the ‘termination of a pregnancy’ when what is terminated is not just the mother’s pregnancy but the child’s life? And how can we describe the average abortion today as ‘therapeutic’ (a word originally used only when the mother’s life was at stake), when pregnancy is not a disease needing therapy, and what abortion effects nowadays is not a cure but a killing? And how can people think of abortion as no more than a kind of contraceptive, when what it does is not prevent conception but destroy the conceptus? We need to have the courage to use accurate language. Induced abortion is feticide, the deliberate destruction of an unborn child, the shedding of innocent blood.

John Stott on the Fetus and Mother as Two Human Beings

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Since the life of the human fetus is a human life, with the potential of becoming a mature human being, we have to learn to think of mother and unborn child as two human beings at different stages of development. Doctors and nurses have to consider that they have two patients, not one, and must seek the well-being of both. Lawyers and politicians need to think similarly. As the United Nations’ ‘Declaration of the Rights of the Child’ (1959) put it, the child ‘needs special safeguards and care, including appropriate legal protection, before as well as after birth’. Christians would wish to add ‘extra care before birth’. For the Bible has much to say about God’s concern for the defenceless, and the most defenceless of all people are unborn children. They are speechless to plead their own cause and helpless to protect their own life. So it is our responsibility to do for them what they cannot do for themselves.

Do the Right Thing

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Offering an outstanding balance of rigor and accessibility, Do The Right Thing, 2nd Edition provides accessible, impartial introductions to an excellent collection of readings in contemporary social issues. Provocative study questions urge readers to get to the heart of the debates. Newly designed for this edition, Do The Right Thing is organized into three sections. Part 1 introduces the reader to the leading ethical theories, while Parts 2 and 3 present the current issues including landmark court cases as well as differing viewpoints by not only leading philosophers, but also economists, legal scholars, and scientists. Centering on contemporary moral debates, this collection features the work of philosophers, legal scholars, political scientists, doctors, and judges. It first outlines major moral theories, then presents conflicting perspectives on current controversies and landmark court cases. Among the controversies discussed are abortion, euthanasia, the death penalty, affirmative action, censorship, and homosexuality. Religious and legal perspectives are foregrounded.

The Sources of Normativity

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Ethical concepts are, or purport to be, normative. They make claims on us: they command, oblige, recommend, or guide. But where does their authority over us come from? Christine Korsgaard identifies and examines four accounts of the source of normativity that have been advocated by modern moral philosophers — voluntarism, realism, reflective endorsement, and the appeal to autonomy — and shows how Kant’s autonomy-based account emerges as a synthesis of the other three. Her discussion is followed by commentary from G.A. Cohen, Raymond Geuss, Thomas Nagel, and Bernard Williams, and a reply by Korsgaard. ~ Product Description

The Ethical Inadequacy of Naturalism

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Denying the existence and emergence of morality and ethics, Naturalism, a growing worldview, proves inadequate in explaining human nature and its qualities. Having examined the myth of evolution and scientism in Part 1, Moreland explores the jeopardy of the absence of ethics in this second part of a four-part series.

Robin Le Poidevin on Ethics

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If God is the basis of moral values, then such values must be objective, and we are, therefore, faced with the following questions: (1) How do we come to be aware of these moral values, if they exist entirely independently of us? (2) Why do moral facts supervene on natural facts? (3) How can the existence of objective moral values be reconciled with the existence of different conceptions of what is right. These difficulties are not faced by the atheist.

Is the Human Person a Substance or a Property-thing?

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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.

Aquinas versus Locke and Descartes on the Human Person and End-of-Life Ethics

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During the last decade or so, there has been a growing body of literature about various topics in end-of-life ethics. And while there is no clear agreement about a number of issues in this literature, nevertheless, there is something of a consensus that has emerged, perhaps unconsciously and implicitly at times, regarding how to view a cluster of crucial metaphysical themes relevant to the ethical issues just mentioned — the nature of personhood, humanness, and personal identity. In our view, this consensus approach to these three themes is Cartesian and Lockean in spirit. Often conspicuous by its absence, especially outside Catholic circles, is any discussion of Thomistic insights into these metaphysical desiderata, much less an acceptance of them. This tendency is egregious and contributes to a way of framing certain ethical issues that determines their resolution from the beginning.

Humanness, Personhood, and The Right to Die

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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.

King Arthur on Objective Moral Laws

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You know the law we live by. And where is it written beyond Camelot live lesser people, people too weak to protect themselves, let them die? Malagant: Other people live by other laws, Arthur. Or is the law of Camelot to rule the entire world. King Arthur: There are laws that enslave men, and laws that set them free. Either what we hold to be right and good and true is right and good and true for all mankind, under God, or we’re just another robber tribe. Malagant: Your words are talking you out of peace and into war. King Arthur: There’s a peace you only find after war. If that battle must come. I will fight it!

Natural Law Theory: Contemporary Essays

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Natural law theory is enjoying a revival of interest in a variety of scholarly disciplines including law, philosophy, political science, and theology and religious studies. This volume presents twelve original essays by leading natural law theorists and their critics. The contributors discuss natural law theories of morality, law and legal reasoning, politics, and the rule of law. Readers get a clear sense of the wide diversity of viewpoints represented among contemporary theorists, and an opportunity to evaluate the arguments and counterarguments exchanged in the current debates between natural law theorists and their critics. Contributors include Hadley Arkes, Joseph M. Boyle, Jr., John Finnis, Robert P. George, Russell Hittinger, Neil MacCormick, Michael Moore, Jeffrey Stout, Joseph Raz, Jeremy Waldron, Lloyd Weinreb, and Ernest Weinrib. ~ Product Description

The Euthanasia Debate: Assessing the Options

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In Part One of this series I examined two central aspects of the euthanasia debate. First, several important background concepts in ethical theory were explained. Second, the main features of the libertarian and traditional views of euthanasia were set forth. The libertarian view, advocated by philosopher James Rachels, states that there is no morally relevant difference between active and passive euthanasia. Moreover, Rachels says, it is biographical life (which includes a person’s aspirations, human relationships, and interests), not biological life (being a human being), that is important from a moral point of view (see Part One, p. 13). And if passive euthanasia is morally justifiable in a given case, then so is active euthanasia, since there is no relevant distinction between them.

Utilitarianism and the Moral Life

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The Goal Of Normative ethics is to develop a comprehensive, coherent system of morality that answers difficult questions. For advocates of biblical Christianity, whatever system we embrace should square with our considered, commonsense moral intuitions derived from natural law, and it should he consistent with, shed light upon, and help extend the morality contained in Scripture. Currently, there are three competing normative systems. Virtue ethics does not focus primarily on moral rules (e.g., "don’t steal") or moral actions but on describing the good person or community and the features present in a virtuous character. Deontological ethics (from deon meaning binding duty") focuses on moral rules and actions and emphasizes duty done for duty’s sake. Certain moral rules are intrinsically correct and should be followed simply because they are right. Virtue and deontological ethics are easily harmonized. But that is not the case with a third normative theory: utilitarianism.

The Euthanasia Debate: Understanding the Issues

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In June of 1990, Dr. Jack Kevorkian, a 63-year-old retired pathologist, was charged with first-degree murder after he helped an Oregon woman with Alzheimer’s disease commit suicide in June 1990. The charge was dismissed in December 1990. (Michigan has no law against suicide.) In October of 1991, Marjorie Wantz used a suicide machine devised by Kevorkian to take her own life. Kevorkian also assisted Sherry Miller in an act of suicide by pulling a mask over her face so she would inhale carbon monoxide from a tank. Miller’s veins were too delicate for a needle involved in Kevorkian’s suicide machine. The police found both bodies in a cabin 40 miles north of Detroit. Miller was incapacitated by multiple sclerosis and Wantz suffered from a painful pelvic condition. Neither condition was life threatening.

Peter Kreeft on our Ancestors’ Morality

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True, we are less courageous, less honest with ourselves, less self-disciplined, cruel, intolerant, snobbish, and inhumane than they were. They were better at the hard virtues; we are better at the soft virtues. The balance is fairly even, I think… When we act morally, we are better than our philosophy. Our ancestors were worse than theirs.