Three Ethical Schools

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An introduction to the three schools of ethics are examined for their fundamentals. Problems and pluses of each are discussed together with how they fit with a Biblical worldview.

An introduction to the three schools of ethics are examined for their fundamentals. Problems and pluses of each are discussed together with how they fit with a Biblical worldview.

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  • 1. A Critique of Three Ethical Schools Jim Sutherland, PhD 1
  • 2. Elements of Three Ethical Schools • Three main ethical schools are (1 the utilitarian (consequentialist) (2 deontological and (3 virtue theory. • "(H)uman conduct is subject to a threefold evaluation from a moral point of view. First, the end the agent seeks to realize must be good, intrinsically worthy of human pursuit. Second, the motive of the agent must also be good, so that the end is sought because it is worthwhile, the mark of a good character. Third, the means to the end must be good, conforming to the standard of what is right, since neither a good end nor a good motive is compatible with a bad means. For conduct to be morally praiseworthy it must be good in all three respects, not least because end, motive and means are not finally separable." David Clyde Jones, Biblical Christian Ethics, ISBN: 0801052289, p. 11. 2
  • 3. Different Emphases of the Schools • ―[A] consequentialist may argue that lying is wrong because of the negative consequences produced by lying--though a consequentialist may allow that certain foreseeable consequences may make lying acceptable. A deontologist might argue that lying is always wrong, regardless of any potential 'good' that might come from lying. A virtue ethicist, however, would focus less on lying in any particular instance and instead consider what a decision to tell a lie or not tell a lie said about one's character and moral behavior.‖ Wikipedia "Consequentialism" accessed 3/4/10 3
  • 4. Elements of Ethical Theories • These schools incorporate elements have within them some principles found in the Scriptures. A major difference is that Christianity is more comprehensive and internally consistent. • John Dancy notes that a moral theory should have ethical principles, reasons for these, useable ways to apply these principles and inner consistency. John Dancy, ―An ethic of prima facie duties,‖ A Companion to Ethics, Peter Singer, ed., ISBN: 0631187855, p. 219 – Christian ethics has all these elements. Principles derive from a good, loving, all-knowing Father God. They are for the good of His creation and for His glory. The principle of love facilitates wide- ranging moral decisions. 4
  • 6. Utilitarian/Consequentialist Ethics • This school is most concerned about the greatest good for the greatest number of individuals. • "Consequentialism is usually understood as distinct from deontology, in that deontology derives the rightness or wrongness of an act from the character of the act itself rather than the outcomes of the action, and from virtue ethics, which focuses on the character of the agent rather than on the nature or consequences of the action itself." Wikipedia "Consequentialism" 6
  • 7. Consequences • They try to determine the best course of action by asking in advance the consequence of that action. Among variations are those who opt for the greatest good for the greatest number, but the "good" cannot be agreed upon. Others propose asking what an impartial moral agent would do. Questions arise as to whether immediate good or longer- term good is the better measurement, and still others try to balance the greatest good with the rights of the minority. The individual has no intrinsic value. Yet others measure the greatest good to be that for the individual, not of the group or society--and this is aptly called "egoism." 7
  • 8. Early Utilitarians • Jeremy Bentham (1748-1832) considered happiness to be minimizing pain and maximizing pleasure—essentially hedonism. He was confident that the amount of pleasure could be carefully calculated and the best decision made. Holmes, p. 45 • John Stuart Mill (1806-1873) had ―happiness‖ for his ―good‖. His and Bentham‘s ethics are ―eudaimonic‖—a full life being the goal. Holmes, p. 29 8
  • 9. Bernard Madoff • Hedonistic egoism is concerned only about what is best for self. Utilitarianism is concerned about maximizing the good for the greatest number. Holmes, p 34 – American Bernard Madoff swindled people out of perhaps 20 billion dollars. He had many homes, boats, jewelry and an international lifestyle. His only apparent concern was for himself and his family. He was ordered to pay restitution and was given a sentence of 150 years in jail. • Jean Paul Sartre advocated the construction of individual ethical systems. There is no God and no moral absolutes. Holmes, p. 73 9
  • 10. Later Utilitarians • "Other utilitarian-type views include the claims that the end of action is survival and growth, as in evolutionary ethics (the 19th-century English philosopher Herbert Spencer); the experience of power, as in despotism (the 16th-century Italian political philosopher Niccolo Machiavelli and the 19th -century German Friedrich Nietzsche); satisfaction and adjustment, as in pragmatism (20th-century American philosophers Ralph Barton Perry and John Dewey); and freedom, as in existentialism (the 20th-century French philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre)." ―Consequentialism,‖ Wikipedia 10
  • 11. Calculating Consequences • An ―ideal observer‖ or impartial observer is needed to determine the consequences, so that personal bias and prejudices don‘t interfere. – This person would have to know all the consequences of a particular decision. Finding such a person may be impossible. Wikipedia – It would be ideal to have someone who was good and who knows everything to show what is right. It be even better if that ideal observer would also enable the one seeking the good to have the power to do the good? God is therefore the ideal moral agent to decide the best consequences. 11
  • 12. Problems with Utilitarian Ethics • Consequentialism concerns humans only--it is completely horizontal, not vertical. Man is the measure of all, and the more that are satisfied, the better the rule or principle. • All these discussions presume there are no absolutes. Good is located in outcomes, or in the doer or in the act itself. • Is the good that which brings good consequences? How long must we wait to determine if the consequences are good, and for whom? How do we determine what is good, by which to evaluate the act? 12
  • 13. Difficulties with Utilitarianism • Holmes noted that the fundamental problem with this school is that is gives value to individuals. Why should the greatest number be satisfied? Why do people have value? • Another major problem concerns the treatment of the minority, if the goal is to please the majority. – For example, many treaties with the American Indians were broken for the benefit of the white majority. Australian aborigines were shot for sport. 13
  • 14. Knowing and Doing • Even if we knew what is best, we may not have the will to do it. – Rom. 7:18b-19 For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out.19 For what I do is not the good I want to do; no, the evil I do not want to do-- this I keep on doing. – Aristotle and Augustine and David Hume (1711-1776) argued that passions and the will, not just reason, enter into ethical decisions. Holmes, p. 138 14
  • 15. Consequential Elements in Christianity • Christians are concerned about the consequences of decisions, particularly regarding God‘s name. – 1 Peter 4:11 If anyone speaks, he should do it as one speaking the very words of God. If anyone serves, he should do it with the strength God provides, so that in all things God may be praised through Jesus Christ. – 1 Corinthians 10:31 So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God. – Matthew 5:16 In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven. 15
  • 16. From ―Is‖ to ―Ought‖ • As Elizabeth Anscombe has revealed, utilitarianism cannot connect what is good with what we ought to do. It lacks the value structure. Holmes, p. 72 – If the greatest good for a village is to dig a well to obtain clean water, utilitarianism can offer no compelling reason why we ought to dig the well. – Christians have ample reasons to dig the well. What are some of them? 16
  • 18. Deontology Defined • This is rule-based ethics. We act according to certain principles that are considered right. The selection of rules is arbitrary. • These rules are more or less absolute. 18
  • 19. Rules From Nature • Some look to natural law for ethical principles. • Deriving principles from nature has produced Taoism, whose doctrines are esoteric. – "The...Tao is that underlying force that flows through nature and that guides and moves every object in the way that is natural to it. – ―[T]he way in which the Tao flows always leads toward harmony, health and peace (Lewis and Travis, 297). By aligning ourselves with that underlying flow, we will experience such things in our lives." The Compact Guide to World Religions, Dean C, Halverson, ed., p. 220, ISBN: 1556617046 – Immortality (longest life) has been a goal of Taoism. 19
  • 20. Laws from Nature • It‘s difficult to extract rules from nature. – Early Greeks felt that nature taught that the goal of life is happiness and pleasure, perhaps because we all naturally want to be happy. Or, because Greek philosophers did not have to struggle as much as the common person. • However, life is difficult, and pleasures fleeting, especially for the poorest of the people. – Survival of the fittest seems to be a principle in nature. This can lead to a power ethic, whereby we try to control as much of our environment as possible, to survive and thrive. 20
  • 21. Innate Moral Principles • ―Moral intuitionism,‖ or living according to principles natural to most persons, seems to come closest to a correct deduction of principles from ―nature‖. – In fact, the biblical concept of ―common grace‖ encompasses the fact that most people agree that murder and adultery and stealing within an in-group is wrong. This is God‘s grace to keep societies from collapsing, and for life to go on. – However, as Holmes notes, moral intuitionism has limits. "Right and wrong" change according to a given moment in a culture (and across cultures). Morality by majority differs according to the majorities in question. And they also lack universal application due to the differences among the majorities. And they do not cover all situations or new situations. Holmes, pp. 64-70 21
  • 22. Limits of Moral Intuition – For example, is borrowing from another person good, and if so, under what circumstances? – What powers should government have? – What does nature say about whether a dowry should be paid to marry? Or what does nature say about who pays the dowry--the husband (Africa), or the wife (India)? – Attitudes toward homosexuality have changed in America, so that now several states allow homosexual marriage. Morals change in a culture, usually from higher standards (biblically), to lower standards. 22
  • 23. Kant’s ―Universal Prescriptivism‖ • Emmanuel Kant maintained that there are no moral absolutes. – He proposed acting in such a way that anyone in that situation acting in that way would do well. This guards against self-interest. • So ―autonomous will‖ and reason became the highest authority. One should act regardless of personal feelings. Holmes, p. 49, 73 – However, he felt that these universal prescriptions could change with time. Virtues were ―considered, firm and continuously purified principles.‖ Holmes, p. 138 • But how can a principle be both firm and continuously changed? 23
  • 24. Kant and Moral Absolutes • Kant in effect wanted to make us like God, not only knowing good and evil, but deciding what good and evil are. – "[T]here is a difference between deontological ethics and moral absolutism.[5] Deontologists who are also moral absolutists believe that some actions are wrong no matter what consequences follow from them. Immanuel Kant, for example, argued that the only absolutely good thing is a good will, and so the single determining factor of whether an action is morally right is the will, or motive of the person doing it. If they are acting on a bad maxim, e.g. "I will lie", then their action is wrong, even if some good consequences come of it. Non-absolutist deontologists, such as W. D. Ross, hold that the consequences of an action such as lying may sometimes make lying the right thing to do." 24
  • 25. Deontology and Absolutes • A particular deontological ethic may or may not allow ethical absolutes--principles true in themselves for all time. Because various principles are offered, they are in reality sub-absolutes. One says that we should treat animals as well as we treat humans--that this is good and right. Everyone gets to pick the sub-absolute. • Christians should believe in absolute truths--principles that are always right. Many professing Christians do not. We may not agree upon their application, but in basic form, Bible-believing Christians believe that God has given moral absolutes to us. 25
  • 26. Biblical Deontology • God provided approximately 612-613 laws in the Old Testament. Reformed theologians usefully categorize them as ceremonial, civil and moral laws. – Knowing the OT law enabled Jews to understand what was superior (essentially, to be morally mature, Rom. 2:17-20). – Wisdom literature (Psalms, Proverbs, Job, Ecclesiastes, Song of Solomon—Protestant classification) contains principles applicable today. • The New Covenant (Testament) is normative for Christians, of course. Wholehearted love to God and to other people is the operative principle. Christ also gave at least 22 commands to be taught to His disciples. 26
  • 27. Absolutes Mediated by the Spirit • 2 Corinthians 3:6 He has made us competent as ministers of a new covenant-- not of the letter but of the Spirit; for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life. – Christians aren‘t to rigidly and legalistically apply biblical absolutes. Christ didn‘t give the woman caught in adultery the death penalty, as prescribed by the Law, but told her to go and sin no more (John 8:3-11). – Legalism is frequently found in younger church movements and congregations that try to be orthodox, but which go too far in prescribing behavior. Some standards are extra-biblical. These may include prohibiting drinking alcohol even if not being controlled by alcohol. 27
  • 28. Keeping the Principles • Montaigne (1533-92) said that people aren't able to live up to the morality of "classical antiquity" nor of Christian standards. The alternative--obey the state and find your own morality. J.B. Schneewind. "Modern moral philosophy―, p. 148, ch. 12 in A Companion to Ethics, Peter Singer, ed. ISBN: 0631187855 – He was right, a Christian cannot keep biblical morality in his/her own strength. Obeying the teachings of the Sermon on the Mount is impossible apart from God‘s enablement. • We have hope, however, that by God‘s power we can at least approach Christian maturity and perfection (Col. 4:12; 2 Cor. 13:9) • Galatians 5:16-18 So I say, live by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the sinful nature. 17 For the sinful nature desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the sinful nature. They are in conflict with each other, so that you do not do what you want. 18 But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under law. 28
  • 29. Who is Accountable? • If someone rejects what the Bible says about what is right and wrong, is that person still going to be judged by biblical standards? – Jesus says that "anyone" who calls a brother a fool is in danger of hell. Matt. 12:36--men will have to give account on Judgment day for "every careless word they have spoken." – Romans 2:6 God "will give to each person according to what he has done." Whether or not people believe in Him, He will judge them. 29
  • 30. Rules Without Goals? • "Morality, [Alasdair MacIntyre] complained, has been reduced to following an array of rules without any overall goal for one's life.― Holmes, 127 – MacIntyre is right. We need much more than rules to follow, which quickly become tiresome. As noted elsewhere, the organizing principle around which rules guide us is to love God and people. Loving God, we should want to bring glory to God (1 Cor. 10:30), by becoming more and more like Him. This means being conformed to Christ‘s character, who is one with the Father (John 14:7-9). Christ is our standard of perfection (Eph. 4:13). 30
  • 32. Importance of Character • "It is a deep fault of non-virtue theories that they pay little or no attention to the areas of life which form character." Greg Pence, ―Virtue Theory,‖ ch. 21 in Singer. – An excellent point—dispassionate, rational and neutral moral positions are prized in utilitarianism. But how can a character be shaped unless we know what qualities are desired? 32
  • 33. Virtue Theory Defined • This ethical school holds that a person‘s character—or essential moral identity--is the chief ethical issue. This outweighs reasoning ability and determining the best ends (utilitarianism), or finding the best set of ethical principles absolutes, or sub-absolutes (deontology). What a person is, is more important than what that person does or believes. – Giving an offering in church on Sunday could be motivated by desiring more comfortable pews, by wanting a reputation as a generous person, by obeying the principle that the one who is taught should support the teacher, or by really trying to practice the virtue of generosity. 33
  • 34. Which Virtues? • Greek philosophers tended to focus upon character traits in their ethics. – Plato believed that virtue preceded the ability to know what is good. He favored these virtues: justice, wisdom, self-control and courage, to which Aquinas added faith, hope and love. Holmes, p. 132 – Aristotle believed virtue to lie in between excesses. • Courage comes between cowardice and foolhardiness, generosity lies between stinginess and being wasteful, etc. Holmes, p. 136 • Greeks hoped that virtue led to happiness, but as Socrates illustrates, this was unsure. Wikipedia, sv. ―Virtue Ethics‖ 34
  • 35. Other Virtues • For Kant the greatest virtue seems to have been good will. • For Machiavelli, exercising power seemed to define virtue— whatever the prince did was right. • The American Benjamin Franklin tried daily to practice 13 virtues. He picked one to focus upon each week. – They are temperance, order, resolution, frugality, moderation, industry, cleanliness, tranquility, silence, sincerity, justice, chastity and humility. 35
  • 36. Buddhist Virtues and Lists Generally • Perhaps the most difficult list of virtues is the Buddhist 8- fold path, requiring perhaps thousands of lives to somehow attain. These are essentially life-denying in their full meaning. – Right views, right intention, right speech, right action, right livelihood, right effort, right mindfulness and right concentration. • The main problem with this and every list is in finding the power to live them. Where is it? • Another difficulty is in determining the best virtues. Which list is best? Is there a principle? 36
  • 37. Shift Toward Virtue • ―The word ‗aretaic‘ is derived from the ancient Greek word arete, meaning excellence or ‗virtue.‘ The aretaic turn is a movement in contemporary moral philosophy and ethics to emphasize character and human excellence or virtue, as opposed to moral rules or consequences.‖ Wikipedia, sv. ―aretaic turn‖ 37
  • 38. The Heart • The "heart" is the source of our behavior. – Proverbs 4:23 Above all else, guard your heart, for it is the wellspring of life. • It is the source of speech, Matt. 12:34, and if our speech is perfect, so is our heart, Jam. 3:2. • It's the source of good and evil. – Luke 6:45 The good man brings good things out of the good stored up in his heart, and the evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in his heart. For out of the overflow of his heart his mouth speaks. 38
  • 39. Love as the Greatest Virtue • Why is love the greatest virtue? God defines what is good, as He has the omniscience to make that decision. Serious moral philosophers have failed to agree over a period of two thousand years that there even are right and wrong behaviors, let alone what these might be. • God is our standard of good. He is love (1 John 4:8, 16). God said that the greatest virtue and behavior is love (1 Cor. 13:13; John 13:34, Matt. 22:35-40). Love existed among the Trinity before humans existed (John 17:24). Jesus gave a "new commandment"--that of love, John 13:34. Among communicable attributes of God is love. • In lists of virtues found in the Bible, love is shown to be the culmination at 2 Pet. 1:5-8. It is listed first among virtues at Rom. 12:9-21. 39
  • 40. Power Behind Virtue • Romans 5:3-5 And not only this, but we also exult in our tribulations, knowing that tribulation brings about perseverance; 4 and perseverance, proven character; and proven character, hope; 5 and hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us. • Philippians 1:9-11 9 And this is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, 10 so that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless until the day of Christ, 11 filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ-- to the glory and praise of God. – Love may come as a result of prayer. 40
  • 41. Discernment in Love • Knowing what is best in a given situation depends upon understanding what love means in a situation, with the insight given by God. Knowledge assists us in knowing the shape of love in a given situation. 41
  • 42. Discernment in Love – An Example – A man had been out of work 2.5 years. He admitted that he'd turned down 3 jobs during that time. I gave him counsel by email several times, but the man basically derided the counsel. He seemed to want to meet, but I told him that I'd have to talk with his brother—his only relative, to gain insight into how best to help him. – He refused to allow me to talk with his brother. He wanted a "comfortable" place to stay and a good-running car for free. He wanted a contact at a university where he graduated from, since he had a master's degree in counseling, so I provided access to the head of Human Resources, who was a friend. – All he was asked to do was to apply for a specific job posted online at the university's website. – He didn't do that, but gave general qualifications and mentioned his need that a car be provided for him for any job offered. 42
  • 43. Jesus and Virtue Ethics • Virtue is encompassed in the person of Jesus Christ, who in turn is in nature God, Phil. 2:6. So Christian virtue is a recovery of the imago dei, which was corrupted by the sin of Eve and Adam. Today becoming like Christ is the standard for Christian maturity, Eph. 4:11-13, since He is by nature, God. Maturity means that we can discern good from evil. – Hebrews 5:14 But solid food is for the mature, who by constant use have trained themselves to distinguish good from evil. 43
  • 44. Can’t Clean a Fish That Isn’t Caught • It is impossible to become like Christ without being first born again. – We must have the supernatural power of God to overcome the sin principle within us, both from original and from personal sin (Jer. 17:9; Rom. 7:18-20). – Good fruit can only be faked for so long, then it begins to spoil. By fruit is a Christian known. Christian ethics are impossible for the unregenerate person to understand, truly desire, or attain. Why?-- because it is the work of the Holy Spirit (2 Cor. 3:18), who conforms us by degrees into Christ's image. Having the Spirit is a sign of the new birth. (Romans 8:9 You, however, are controlled not by the sinful nature but by the Spirit, if the Spirit of God lives in you. And if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Christ.) Trying to live without a regenerate heart is like trying to drive a truck with a bad engine. Knowing what is good, and being good, are distinct. 44
  • 45. Elements of the 3 Schools are in Christianity • Christians believe in infallible, not majority-determined moral absolutes (deontology), and in virtue ethics--the character and motive of the doer is very important (acting through love). Christians also value the outcome--doing all to the glory of God. – Christianity demonstrates the truths of each school, while avoiding their inherent weaknesses. End 45