Consider all. Test All. Hold on to the good.

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Ethics

Sources of the Self

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The sources to which Taylor refers are the moral ideals, ideas, and understandings that have dominated in various historical eras. Taylor’s basic premise is rather simple, “we are only our selves insofar as we move in a certain space of questions, as we seek and find an orientation to the good (p. 34).” His purpose is not to specify the good, that is, he does not seek to set normative definitions or qualifications. His purpose is to show that self-definition requires a framework in which to be understood. The historical course of his narrative begins with the classical perspective. In this view, self was dependent on a vision of the True or the Ideal. The hierarchical nature of reality presupposed in classical thought meant that self-definition was subservient to the whole. Traditional Christian thought embraced the classical perspective and the preference for self-definition by externals. Obviously, this short sketch of classical thought seems to be absurdly irrelevant in our contemporary world. Self is definitely not defined in relation to externals, but by an extreme interiority, complete rejection of hierarchical schemes, and the assumption that reality is defined empirically rather than conceptually. This book traces the transformation of the classical perspective through history in each of these areas: the movement toward inwardness, the affirmation of ordinary life, and the voice of nature. ~ Peter A. Kindle at Amazon.com

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.

The Morality of Suicide: Issues and Options

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On December 2, 1982, 62-year-old Barney Clark became the first human to receive a permanent artificial heart. In addition he was given a key that could be used to turn off his compressor, if he wanted to die. One of the physicians, Dr. Willem Kolff, justified the key by stating that if Clark suffered and felt that life was not enjoyable or worth enduring anymore, he had the right to end his life. Clark never used the key. He died 15 weeks after the operation. This case illustrates the growing importance of ethical reflection regarding suicide. Today it is the 10th leading cause of death in the general population, and the suicide rate is on the rise in groups ranging from teenagers to the elderly. The purpose of this article is to clarify important issues and options involved in the ethical aspects of suicide. It is crucial that pastors and other Christian leaders understand how these issues are being argued, apart from reference to the biblical text. This will enable the Christian community to argue in a pluralistic culture for positions consistent with the Bible and to understand how others are framing the debate. This article focuses on three issues: the definition of suicide, the moral justifiability of suicide, and moral problems involved in paternalist state intervention to prevent people coercively from committing suicide.

The Life and Death Debate

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This work is an introductory treatment of issues and options in social and bioethics which center on the end of life. Moreland and Geisler have attempted to simplify and summarize various end-of-life topics without being simplistic or caricaturing different viewpoints, even though the authors’ own viewpoints are made perfectly clear. A comprehensive bibliography, glossary, and subject and author index make this a valuable textbook as well as a resource for further study. The major purpose of this book is to make the reader think more clearly and deeply about the important issues discussed between its covers. Beginning the work is an essay that introduces the dilemma of ethical decisions. The following chapters separately discuss the situations of abortion, infanticide, euthanasia, suicide, capital punishment, and war. The discussion concludes with a chapter of practical and theoretical guidance for making ethical decisions. A glossary, subject index, author index, and selected bibliography for each chapter make this a valuable text. This important work will not only appeal to experienced philosophers, but also to students of moral philosophy, theology, and ethics. ~ Synopsis

Created from Animals

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A remarkably clear, straightforward, and brief (211-page) discussion, from a Univ. of Alabama philosophy professor, of the implications of Darwinism for animal rights. Most of Rachels’ book is a review of
Darwin’s work and of the responses and relevant ideas of biologists, philosophers, and others – both Darwin’s contemporaries who rejected his theories for their assault on religion and human dignity, and other thinkers who have argued that humanity’s creation in the image of God or, later, human speech, intellect, and/or moral sense make human specialness compatible with evolution. Rachels then puts forth his own argument for "moral individualism," based on his belief that evolution precludes the concept of human specialness and forces a reconsideration of our treatment of animals. In the end, he restores a sort of relativist respect for human claims in his distinction between "biological" and "biographical" life, but this same distinction supports his assertion that a rhesus monkey might have a higher claim to consideration than a severely brain-damaged human. But such a summary ignores the specific topics of debate, as well as the arguments of philosophers from Kant to sociobiologists and animal-rights advocates, that Rachels characterizes so neatly and accessibly – and that, along with his own provocative argument, should earn the book serious attention. ~ Kirkus Reviews

Ted Bundy, via Harry V. Jaffa, on Relativism to Nihilism

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Then I learned that all moral judgments are “value judgments,” that all value judgments are subjective, and that none can be proved to be either “right” or “wrong.” I even read somewhere that the Chief justice of the United States had written that the American Constitution expressed nothing more than collective value judgments. Believe it or not, I figured out for myself what apparently the Chief Justice couldn’t figure out for himself: that if the rationality of one value judgment was zero, multiplying it by millions would not make it one whit more rational. Nor is there any “reason” to obey the law for anyone, like myself, who has the boldness and daring — the strength of character — to throw off its shackles. I discovered that to become truly free, truly unfettered, I had to become truly uninhibited. And I quickly discovered that the greatest obstacle to my freedom, the greatest block and limitation to it, consists in the insupportable “value judgment” that I was bound to respect the rights of others. I asked myself, who were these “others”? Other human beings, with human rights? Why is it more wrong to kill a human animal than any other animal, a pig or a sheep or a steer? Is your life more to you than a hog’s life to a hog? Why should I be willing to sacrifice my pleasure more for the one than for the other? Surely, you would not, in this age of scientific enlightenment, declare that God or nature has marked some pleasures as “moral” or “good” and others as “immoral” or “bad”? In any case, let me assure you, my dear young lady, that there is absolutely no comparison between the pleasure I might take in eating ham and the pleasure I anticipate in raping and murdering you. That is the honest conclusion to which my education has led me after the most conscientious examination of my spontaneous and uninhibited self.

Rawls and the Kantian Interpretation

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But apart from a pure interest in scholarship, why should Evangelicals care whether or not Rawls was Kantian? In recent years, there has been tremendous growth in the number of Bioethics Committees in acute and long term health care facilities. Since these committees are interdisciplinary, their membership is open to lawyers, nurses, social workers, doctors, clergy, and laymen, and others who are not trained in moral philosophy. There is a danger in this. Some of the literature on bioethics which is used to train people to serve on Bioethics Committees blurs or minimizes the distinction between deontological and utilitarian normative theories because both theories (especially the rule varieties of each) often imply the same moral decision. One example of this minimization of the distinction between deontological and utilitarian theories is Rawls. He is often listed as an example of a deontological theory, but I hope to show that he is closer to utilitarianism. ~ An Excerpt

Christian Ethics: Options and Issues

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An introductory presentation of Christian ethics, where the Bible is taken as the authoritative text for discussing issues such as homosexuality, abortion, war/civil disobedience, and other similar ethical issues. "This book is the most current of Geisler’s books on ethics and incorporates many of the points of previous works such as Ethics: Alternatives & Issues, Options in Contemporary Christian Ethics, and The Christian Ethic of Love. The book is, as the title suggests, a presentation of Christian ethics, so the Bible is taken as the standard text for discussing certain issues such as homosexuality, abortion, war/civil disobedience, and other similar ethical issues. But scientific and rational arguments are also used in addition to Biblical exposition to reach conclusions." ~ Cameron B. Clark @ Amazon.com

Why Be Moral?

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Noted philosopher Kai Nielsen offers an answer to this fundamental question – a question that reaches in to grasp at the very heart of ethics itself. Essentially, this innocent inquiry masks a confusion that so many of us get caught in as we think about moral issues. We fail to realise that there is a difference between judging human behaviour within an ethical context, or set of moral principles, and justifying the principles themselves. According to Nielsen, it is precisely this basic muddle that has spawned all sorts of challenges to morality, from relativism and institutionism to egoism and scepticism.Nielsen first argues the case for these challenges in the strongest possible terms; then he shows that their failure to establish themselves demonstrates a fundamental flaw – an inability to understand what it means to have good reasons for the moral claims we make. In his search for "good reasons" Nielsen must face the innocent question "Why be moral?" He tries to show us that skirmishes among supporters of specific moral principles require a different sort of resolution than those that occur between groups of ethical principles. Justifying an action within a moral point of view is quite different from making the case for having a moral point of view in the first place. ~ Product Description

Moral Realism and the Foundations of Ethics

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This is an important book in contemporary meta-ethics since it is the first and only book-length treatise on so-called "Cornell Realism." What is perhaps most distinctive of the Cornell Realists is that they draw on work in recent philosophy of science to argue that we have good reason to believe that moral inquiry is objective in much the same way that scientific inquiry is objective. They also adhere to a battery of views on specific meta-ethical issues, and this helps to distinguish them from other thinkers. At the center of their metaphysics of morality is the view that moral facts and properties are natural, though they cannot be reduced to the properties of physics, biology, chemistry, or any other discipline in the natural sciences. 
"David Brink’s book is the best development, synthesis, and defense now available of a naturalistic moral realism." ~ Ethics

Michael Ruse on Morality as a Biological Adaptation

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The position of the modern evolutionist, therefore, is that humans have an awareness of morality – a sense of right and wrong and a feeling of obligation to be thus governed because such an awareness is of biological worth. Morality is a biological adaptation no less than are hands and feet and teeth (Mackie 1978, Murphy 1982, Ruse and Wilson 1985).

Essays on Moral Realism

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To the best of my knowledge, this is the best single volume on the realism/anti-realism dispute in contemporary meta-ethics. Basically, what is at issue between realists and anti-realists is the objectivity of ethics. According to Sayre-McCord, the central issue is the existence of moral facts. Realists claim that such facts exist; anti-realists deny their existence. There is more to the debate than this, however. The following is a list of claims that most realists will make about morality: (i) there are moral facts (or moral truths), and these facts (or truths) are mind-independent in some important way; (ii) cognitivism about moral discourse is true: that is, moral moral claims purport to describe moral facts (or moral truths), and (at least some of) these claims successfully do so; and (iii) moral knowledge is possible, and we have some of it. ~ ctdreyer

The Argument from Conscience

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The argument from conscience is one of the only two arguments for the existence of God alluded to in Scripture, the other being the argument from design (both in Romans). Both arguments are essentially simple natural intuitions. Only when complex, artificial objections are made do these arguments begin to take on a complex appearance. The simple, intuitive point of the argument from conscience is that everyone in the world knows, deep down, that he is absolutely obligated to be and do good, and this absolute obligation could come only from God. Thus everyone knows God, however obscurely, by this moral intuition, which we usually call conscience. Conscience is the voice of God in the soul.

Miracles and Justified Belief: Further Clarification

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In an ongoing dialogue in this journal (Sophia), Robert Larmer and I have been discussing whether the undisputed occurrence of certain conceivable events — for instance, astonishing healings — could require all honest, thoughtful individuals to acknowledge that God has supernaturally intervened in earthly affairs. I have not denied that a theist (or nontheist) could justifiably consider the occurrence of certain possible (or even actual) events to be strong evidence for theism — for the existence of a God who benevolently intervenes in earthly affairs. But nontheists, I have argued, can justifiably maintain that evil — that the amount and nature of human pain and suffering — stands as strong evidence against God’s existence. Furthermore, I have argued, nontheists can justifiably maintain that the evidence against God’s existence generated by evil would outweigh any amount of evidence for theism that might be produced by any conceivable set of events. And for this reason I have continued to deny that there exists any conceivable context in which a person who did not acknowledge that God has intervened in earthly affairs could justifiably be accused of having conducted herself in a nonrational manner.

Miracles and Natural Explanations

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In response to Robert A. Larmer, Basinger argues: “There is little basis upon which to claim that all proponents of solely natural causation are guilty of dogmatic, uncritical, question-begging reasoning. To claim emphatically that there is in fact no God (and thus no divine causal intervention) may be an unwarranted metaphysical contention. But the nontheist need not be making any such ontological claim. She can simply be saying that, while this epistemological contention is debatable, its affirmation is not necessarily any more dogmatic or question begging than the belief that the ‘total’ evidence makes theistic belief (and thus the possibility of divine intervention) most reasonable.”

The Virtue of Faith

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Robert Merrihew Adams has been a leader in renewing philosophical respect for the idea that moral obligation may be founded on the commands of God. This collection of Adams’ essays, two of which are previously unpublished, draws from his extensive writings on philosophical theology that discuss metaphysical, epistemological, and ethical issues surrounding the concept of God — whether God exists or not, what God is or would be like, and how we ought to relate ourselves to such a being. Adams studies the relation between religion and ethics, delving into an analysis of moral arguments for theistic belief. In several essays, he applies contemporary studies in the metaphysics of individuality, possibility and necessity, and counterfactual conditionals to issues surrounding the existence of God and problems of evil. ~ Product Description

Alan Bloom on Relativism and Education

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There is only one thing a professor can be absolutely certain of: almost every student entering the university believes, or says he believes, that truth is relative. If this belief is put to the test, one can count on the student’s reaction: they will be uncomprehending. That anyone should regard the proposition as not self-evident astonishes them, as though he were calling into question 2+2=4. These are things you don’t think about… That it is a moral issue for students is revealed by the character of their response when challenged — a combination of disbelief and indignation: “Are you an absolutist?,” the only alternative they know, uttered in the same tone as… “Do you really believe in witches?” This latter leads into the indignation, for someone who believes in witches might well be a witch-hunter or a Salem judge. The danger they have been taught to fear from absolutism is not error but intolerance. Relativism is necessary to openness; and this is the virtue, the only virtue, which all primary education for more than fifty years has dedicated itself to inculcating. Openness — and the relativism that makes it the only plausible stance in the face of various claims to truth and various ways of life and kinds of human beings — is the great insight of our times… The study of history and of culture teaches that all the world was mad in the past; men always thought they were right, and that led to wars, persecutions, slavery, xenophobia, racism, and chauvinism. The point is not to correct the mistakes and really be right; rather it is not to think you are right at all.

Ethics and the Limits of Philosophy

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Ethics and the Limits of Philosophy is widely acknowledged to be Bernard Williams’ most important book and a contemporary classic of moral philosophy. Delivering a sustained critique of moral theory from Kant onward, Williams reorients ethical theory towards "truth, truthfulness and the meaning of an individual life." He explores and reflects on the thorniest problems in contemporary philosophy and offers new ideas about central issues such as relativism, objectivity and the possibility of ethical knowledge. This edition includes a new commentary on the text by A.W. Moore, St.Hugh’s College, Oxford. By the time of his death in 2003, Bernard Williams was one of the greatest philosophers of his generation. He taught at the Universities of Cambridge, Berkeley and Oxford. He is the author of Morality; Utilitarianism: For and Against; Descartes: The Project of Pure Enquiry and Truth and Truthfulness.

Morality, Religious and Secular

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In Morality, Religious and Secular: The Dilemma of the Traditional Conscience, Basil Mitchell wrestles with the relationship between morality and theism. Through a critical examination of three wholly secular moral theories — rational/scientific humanism, romantic humanism and liberal humanism — he concludes that non-religious moralities, though simpler in some ways, fail to meet the demands of the ‘traditional conscience’. He argues that morals are essentially a matter of necessity, a product of human needs, undergirded by accepted conceptions of personhood and relationality. As the Western moral tradition has been most profoundly shaped by the teachings of Christianity, Mitchell questions whether or not this morality can be maintained in a wholly secular climate. ~ Brannon Hancock

Alasdair MacIntyre on Social Ethics or None at All

Go A moral philosophy ... characteristically presupposes a sociology. For every moral philosophy offers explicitly or implicitly at least a partial conceptual analysis of the relationship of an agent to his or her reasons, motives, intentions and actions, and in so doing generally presupposes some claim that these concepts are embodied or at least can be in the real social world. Even Kant, who sometimes seems to restrict moral agency to the inner realm of the noumenal, implies otherwise in his writings on law, history and politics. Thus it would generally be a decisive refutation of a moral philosophy to show that moral agency on its own account of the matter could never be socially embodied; and it also follows that we have not yet fully understood the claims of any moral philosophy until we have spelled out what its social embodiment would be.

J.L. Mackie on Moral Properties

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Moral properties constitute so odd a cluster of properties and relations that they are most unlikely to have arisen in the ordinary course of events without an all-powerful god to create them.

After Virtue

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When “After Virtue” first appeared in 1981, it was recognized as a significant and potentially controversial critique of contemporary moral philosophy. Newsweek called it “a stunning new study of ethics by one of the foremost moral philosophers in the English-speaking world.” Since that time, the book has been translated into more than fifteen foreign languages and has sold over one hundred thousand copies. Now, twenty-five years later, the University of Notre Dame Press is pleased to release the third edition of “After Virtue”, which includes a new prologue “After Virtue after a Quarter of a Century.” In this classic work, Alasdair MacIntyre examines the historical and conceptual roots of the idea of virtue, diagnoses the reasons for its absence in personal and public life, and offers a tentative proposal for its recovery. While the individual chapters are wide-ranging, once pieced together they comprise a penetrating and focused argument about the price of modernity. In the Third Edition prologue, MacIntyre revisits the central theses of the book and concludes that although he has learned a great deal and has supplemented and refined his theses and arguments in other works, he has “as yet found no reason for abandoning the major contentions” of this book. While he recognizes that his conception of human beings as virtuous or vicious needed not only a metaphysical but also a biological grounding, ultimately he remains “committed to the thesis that it is only from the standpoint of a very different tradition, one whose beliefs and presuppositions were articulated in their classical form by Aristotle, that we can understand both the genesis and the predicament of moral modernity.” ~ Product Description

Kai Nielsen and the Nature of Theistic Ethic

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Theists frequently argue that nontheists must affirm the following: (1) If there is no God, each person must define “good” and “evil” for herself. (2) If each person must define “good” and “evil” for herself, there can be no objective moral standard. (3) God does not exist. (4) Therefore there can be no objective moral standard (i.e., all moral principles are relative). Some nontheists agree (e.g., Sartre) and attempt to live with the implications of (4). Others deny (2), claiming that the existence of an objective moral standard is not dependent on religious commitment. Kai Nielsen is one of the best known and most outspoken members of this group. Nielsen argued that “the nonexistence of God does not preclude the possibility of there being an objective standard on which to base [moral] judgments.”

Rev. Jesse Jackson on Abortion

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There are those who argue that the right to privacy is of [a] higher order than the right to life … that was the premise of slavery. You could not protest the existence or treatment of slaves on the plantation because that was private and therefore outside your right to be concerned. ¶ …In the abortion debate, one of the crucial questions is when does life begin. Anything growing is living. Therefore human life begins when the sperm and egg join… and the pulsation of life takes place. From that point, life may be described differently (as an egg, embryo, fetus, baby, child, teen-ager, adult), but the essence is the same. ¶ …What happens to the mind of a person, and the moral fabric of a nation, that accepts the aborting of the life of a baby without a pang of conscience? What kind of a person and what kind of a society will we have 20 years hence if life can be taken so casually? It is that question, the question of our attitude, our value system, and our mind-set with regard to the nature and worth of life itself that is the central question confronting mankind. Failure to answer that question affirmatively may leave us with a hell right here on earth.

Michael Tooley on Infantacide and Taboos

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Aside from the light it may shed on the abortion question, the issue of infantacide is both interesting and important in its own right. The theoretical interest has been mentioned: it forces one to face up to the question of what makes something a person. The practical imprtance need not be labored. Most people would prefer to raise children who do not suffer from gross deformities or from severe physical, emotional, or intellectual handicaps. If it could be shown that there is no moral objection to infanticide the happiness of society could be significantly and justifably increased. Infanticide is also of interest because of the strong emotions it arouses. The typical reaction to infanticide is like the reaction to incest or cannibalism, or the reaction of previous generations to masturbation or oral sex. The response, rather than appealing to carefully formulated moral principles, is primarily visceral. When philosophers themselves respond in this way, offering no arguments, and dismissing infanticide out of hand, it is reasonable to suspect that one is dealing with a taboo rather than with a rational prohibition.