What is right and wrong?
• A 12-year-old girl was taken in marriage in the
village of Lohutok, S. Sudan. Is that good or bad?
• Should the death penalty apply for a man or woman
engaged in consensual homosexual acts?
• Is it good for a husband to donate his sperm to his
infertile wife, so that she can be artificially
inseminated and perhaps bear their child?
• Founded upon revelation
• Concerned with morals
– Morals are absolute.
– Have to do with person- to-
• Concerned with
• Miracles are a part
• Goal is to find God
• Arthur A. Custance, Noah’s
Three Sons, p. 29.
• Founded upon reason
• Concerned with ethics
– Ethics are relative. (School of
– Are person-to-person
• Not concerned with nature,
but with ―metanature‖
(science concerned with
• Miracles are irrelevant
• Goal is to find truth
Ethics (Moral Philosophy) Defined
• It concerns the nature of the right [deontology] and
the nature of the good [utility].
• Theories of the good are of two basic types:
– Theistic ( based upon the assumption of a God)
– Philosophical/anthropological (based upon reason)
• Monotheistic (believing in one god) religions, such
as Judaism, Christianity and Islam, believe that one
God exists, can be accessed, and is in control of
– Their holy books provide detailed guidance as to what God
considers to be right and good.
– This guidance is taken as absolute, and may be in the form of
Absolute and Relative Theistic Ethics
• Some theists believe in moral absolutes—that
certain acts, thoughts and failures to act are always
wrong. Absolutes are contained in books believed
to have been transmitted from God.
• Other theists consider ―absolutes‖ more as
guidelines and would consider absolutists as
presumptuous or even arrogant.
Indo-European Origins of Philosophy
• Indo-European tribes conquered India from the
northwest from about 1800-1500 BC. They
produced the Vedas (―knowledge‖) which are the
oldest of Hindu sacred books. (Noss & Noss, p. 73-74).
– The Greeks are another branch of these tribes. (Noss, p. 73).
– ―Only Indo-Europeans have continually returned to the fundamental
problems of metaphysics, the Aryans in India (giving rise to Hindu
Philosophy), the Greeks in Greece….‖ Arthur A. Custance, Noah’s
Three Sons, Zondervan, 1975, p. 31.
• ―The gods of the early Indo-Europeans were gods
of light, but this light was not moral light but rather
the illumination of the mind or understanding.‖
• Philosophy can be defined as ―strictly rational
speculation, concerned with the ultimate nature and
meaning of reality, apart from revelation, to satisfy
a purely intellectual need…‖ Custance, p. 30.
3 Stages in the History of Ethics
• First stage: moral authority shifted from above
humans (the divine), to humans.
• Second stage: extending the belief that humans are
responsible only to humans
– Rise of nihilism and relativism
• Third stage: focus shifting from individual to public
– Applied ethics is popular
– Virtue ethics is gaining ground
• From J. B. Schneewind, ―Modern moral philosophy,‖ ch. 12 in A
Companion to Ethics, Peter Singer, ed. ISBN: 0631187855
• Assumes that humans are basically good, and can
be more ethical.
• Reason is a sufficient basis for developing ethics.
• Humans are accountable only to other humans.
• Carl F.H. Henry noted these assumptions:
1. ―nature is the ultimate reality‖
2. Humans are essentially animals.
3. ―truth and right are intrinsically time-bound and
Carl F. H. Henry, Christian Personal Ethics, 1957, p. 23
Locating Ethics Within Philosophy
―What is goodness?‖
How are good and bad
―What should we do?‖
Adapted from “Metaethics”
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/MetaEthics accessed 3/3/10
What is right and
wrong in specific
Kingdom Divine Kingdom is
Political, social Balancing between
human & spirits
God Is sovereign We are the gods God is gone
Power Is God’s &
Is ours, by reason,
Belongs to the
Goal Please God Please people or self Please spirits
People Sinful (Islam--less
Accountable To God To people To spirits
Moral Facts [Truth]
• Ethicial philosophers can be classified in one of two
– (1 those who believe that moral facts exist, and
– (2 those who either deny that moral facts exist, or, if they exist, deny
that they can be known.
Schools of Those Who Accept Moral
• A further division--for those who have come so far
as to believe that moral good exists--is among
those who emphasize
– what is right (deontologists)
– what is good (utilitarians or consequentialists)
– virtue or character as the basis for ethics.
Theories of Moral Truth
Moral Truth Exists: Moral Truth Doesn’t Exist:
Cognitivism (―moral facts‖ can be
discovered by reason
Non-cognitivism (―Moral facts‖ are just
expressions of desire.)
Descriptivism (―Moral judgments can
be true or false.‖)
Non-descriptivism (Moral judgments are
neither true or false.)
Sources in , A
Intuitionism (We know right and
wrong innately—‖moral sense theory.‖)
Projectivism (We project our values upon a
world that has none.)
David Wong, pp.
Naturalism (Moral facts are found in
nature and are scientific or social
Nihilism (Moral facts don’t exist and morality
Michael Smith, p
Prescriptivist) (There is one truth--
two sides can’t be right.)
Relativism (Morality is a function of culture
and history—it isn’t absolute.)
Moral Realism (moral facts validated
by the consensus of behavior and
Irrealism (There are no moral facts.)
by R.M. Hare,
Consequentialism (Try to find the
most good for the most people.)
Error theory (―denies that moral sentences
express propositions‖) Wikipedia ―Ethical
Theories that “right” exists
(of the “Right”)
(of the “Good”)
Basis: Absolutes Consequence Character
Activity: Obeying Weighing Being
Natural law Egoism
Arguments against absolutes: Diversity
– Because moral standards differ so much among cultures, morality
derives from local ethics, not from innate moral absolutes
– But diversity can say nothing about what is right and wrong, only
about what is.
– Diversity does not rule out absolutes. One system can still be right.
– An overall pattern or morality is there, despite differences in details.
Generally, stealing and murder within the in-group and adultery are
wrong, while penalties differ. (Ethics: Approaching moral decisions.
Arthur F. Holmes. 2nd ed., 2007, ISBN: 978-0-8308-2803-6, p. 136)
Arguments against absolutes: Diversity
– Local moral standards have been transformed by Christian teaching,
reducing diversity. Examples are slavery and cannibalism. (Holmes,
citing William Frankena, p. 20)
• Other examples are killing twins and albinos in Africa, and burning
– "[T]he relativist cannot consistently reject all intolerance. In tolerating
other moralities than his own, he must tolerate their
intolerance....Further, at least one virtue, tolerance, is then not
entirely relative; and at least one moral belief, the belief that we
ought to be tolerant, is taken to be true." (Holmes, p. 23)
Argument against absolutes:
• Humans are socialized into accepting moral/ethical
practices, which they must accept.
– People cannot believe otherwise—beliefs are determined by
– If so, how do non-conformists, reformers and prophets arise?
– Determinism is not a view that can be chosen, since those who
believe it have no choice but to believe it. If so, the determinist
cannot say that this view is independently better than another.
(Holmes, p. 139)
Argument against absolutes: Dependency
• The Holy Spirit, by the power and grace of God,
can overcome any environmental upbringing and
social norms, as well as ethics generated by sin.
Lack of consensus among philosophers
• Moral philosophers tend to pull down one another's
theories, while confidently highlighting their own.
You find that few agree as to what moral facts there
may be, and some cannot even agree that moral
facts are possible. Even if such facts could
somehow be discovered by reason alone, ethicists
would probably not rally around them. They have
been trying for at least 2500 years, but have
reached no consensus.
Human value in Hinduism
• Hinduism: everything is one (monism), so humans
have no special value.
– One creation account reads: ―In the beginning this [universe] was the
Self alone—in the likeness of a man.‖ ―He was afraid,‖ and lonely, so
he created a woman. Self split into man and woman and then had
intercourse, creating human beings. Further relations produced the
animals. ―He knew that he was [the whole of] creation, for he had
brought it all forth. Hence he became [all] creation.‖ Brihadaranyaka
Upanishad I, iv:1-5
Human value in Buddhism
• The first step on the Eightfold Path is ―anatta‖—
there is no ―self‖ or ―atman.‖
– The corollary is that all is an illusion--―maya.‖
– Individuality is ignorance. Bentley-Taylor, p. 172-173
• However, since Buddha claimed no special
revelation, he went on to propose an extremely
difficult ethic, based upon his reasoning. E.A. Burtt,
– How can one follow step two, renouncing lust and ill-will, if the self is
Human value in Islam
• Individual value seems to be based upon
performance and obedience to Allah.
– Allah loves those who do right, but does not love the transgressor or
prodigals (Surah 2:195, 222; 5:87). Human worth is conditional, not
based upon God’s grace.
• If the material universe is the product of nothing,
plus time, plus chance, or if matter itself is eternal,
there is no necessary value to that universe, or
anything in it.
– Ethics becomes a matter of personal choice, plus culture, plus a
point on the time spectrum.
– Right and wrong are defined by the majority and enforced by
Valentine (March 2010)
• He is a physics student in a European university.
– He accepts no absolutes, not wanting anyone to tell him what to do.
Religion is used to control people, he believes.
– He repeated several times that he didn’t know the difference
between right and wrong, and used those terms as if they had
definable content. I suggested that he would not want me to steal his
wallet or to abduct his sister, with whom he was traveling. He thought
that in some circumstances taking his money would be justified
[situation ethics], but did not respond to the abduction statement.
– Individuals had value because they formed communities. He seemed
to be concerned for minorities. A weakness of utilitarian ethics is that
minorities are not protected, if good is defined by doing the most
good for the greatest number.
• He claimed that the UN hurt developing peoples by
providing free commodities, hurting businesses
providing these items, revealing concerned for
small business people.
• He advocates going to a tribe or people to help
them to clarify their own values, for each individual
to determine what is right and wrong.
– How each person formulating his own ethical system would foster
community he did not say. This seems instead to be the worst
possible foundation for community.
– The person has no intrinsic worth.
• So is the terrible task of defining good and evil for
one’s self, with its inevitable inconsistencies. END 28