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Natural Law, Virtue and Situation Ethics ~ Review and Summary
(Over two lessons…)
To define the three terms and review their content.
To compare and contrast the three terms.
To apply them to the ethical issue of abortion.
Natural Law I’m Roman philosopher, Cicero. (c.106-43BC) I was the first person to touch upon the idea of Natural Law. I said, “True law is right reason in agreement with nature . It is applied universally and is unchanging and everlasting… one eternal and unchangeable law willl be valid for all nations and all times, and there will be one master and rule, that is God.” NB Cicero was a Roman. He WAS NOT a Christian as he lived before the time of Jesus, but his beliefs were extended upon by Christians. Cicero talked about a concept of God rather than a Judeo Christian God I am saint Paul. In Romans 1-3, I claim that the moral law of God is evident from the nature of man. In Romans 15:14, I tell the people of rome to, “be full of goodness, complete in knowledge and competent to instruct each other.” This knowledge is the reason that I believe we were given my god. However, my primary concern is with Jesus and the redemption he gave us when he died on the cross.
I’m Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274) I believed that all people naturally follow a moral code. That moral code was identified as the natural law. Most human beings successfully follow this code.
Christians like me are distingushable from non Christians because Christians live their lives in the knowledge that they will go to heaven.
I identified four types of law:
The eternal law (God’s will and wisdom)
The divine law (In the Bible, God reveals a special law to guide us to our supernatural end of eternal happiness with Him.)
3. Natural law (This is the part of the eternal law that applies to human choices and can be known by our natural reason.)
4. Human law (We create our own laws, in order to apply the natural law to the specific circumstances of our society.)
I have defined the purpose of life. It is… “ to live, reproduce, learn, worship God and order society.” If humans aim to live their lives in accordance with these rules, and in combination with their God given reason, they will make good ethical decisions… EVEN IF THEY’RE NOT CHRISTIANS! But good humans beings should want to get closer to God, through becoming more like him (more perfect) and communicating with him. Any action that takes you away from God is bad. … so your better off if you’re a Christian anyway!
Pros and Cons of Natural Law In what places would an advocate of the Natural Law look to explain a response to the moral issue of euthanasia? Remember Aquinas’ four types of natural law. Pros Cons Simple, clear way of defining ethics. A universal guide for judging the actions of others. The purposes of life defined by Aquinas apply to most humans. Aquinas assumes everyone wants to worship. Ignores homosexuality and celibacy (and yet homosexuality would not necessarily be against divine law) Does every act need to have a conclusion for it to be right? Aquinas makes no account for situation. Human nature is nor unchanging as Aquinas suggests. He has based his theory on man at the time of creation.
Virtue Ethics Traditionally, Virtue Ethics is considered to be the most ancient of the ethical theories. The idea of virtue is repeatedly referred to in Homer’s, ‘The odyssey c800bc. Homer views virtue as the great ethical act of achieving one’s potential as a human being. Think of three character traits that you think Aristotle would see as vice and three that he would think of as virtue. My name is Aristotle (384-322bc), the key person in the world of virtue ethics. I was a Greek philosopher and the most systematic version of virtue ethics appeared in book 2 of my Nichomachean Ethics. In this book I explained that to be moral was to develop positive traits to ones characters, or ‘virtues.’ The opposite of virtue is vice and the development of vices makes people bad.
The Mean The Virtue Aristotle believed that Virtue came in reacting to situations in the middle, reasonable or proper way ~ ie, not in being deficient or in excess Someone beats up your brother for no reason. Deficient reaction (vice) Mean reaction (virtue) Excessive reaction (vice) Cowardice (Not doing anything / Not getting involved.) Excessive reaction (vice) Courage (Helping your brother and standing up for him) Rashness (Beating up the person and being excessively angry.)
Cardinal Virtues Prudence ~ being able to work out what is good and bad about one’s practical affairs. Practical wisdom / Common sense! Justice ~ The ability to judge situations and others and oneself and to relate to them. Courage ~ To be able to keep the mean between cowardice and recklessness. Temperance ~ Self control and awareness. To know that you are neither insensitive nor self indulgent.
Pros and Cons of Virtue Ethics “ Virtue is about being not doing.” What do you think this means? Apply to these people… Pros Cons Makes people consider basic virtues. Creates a culture of mediorcrity (could be a con.) Does not put enough emphasis on the consequence of situations. Ignores situation. Too optimistic / idealistic Are vices not sometimes necessary?
Situation Ethics I an Joseph Fletcher, (1905-1991 ) an American philosopher who pioneered the idea of situation ethics in my 1966 book, ‘situation ethics.’ I was a strong Christian and a member of the Episcopalian Church of the USA. I felt disheartened by what appeared to be a failing legal system based on ethical systems that were imposed upon the people. Although I wanted to change the way we looked at ethics, I did not want to do away with laws all together. Key word: antinomianism ~a total abandonment of all rules and principals. Love is the single principle of situation ethics. Fletcher argues that by going into every situation armed with your own experiences and beliefs, one could still make mistakes. But if you go into every situation prepared to cast aside your experiences and beliefs for the outcome of love, you will make the right decision.
Situation ethics is based on Jesus’ teachings… Greater lov has no man than this. That a man lay down his life for his friend (John 15:13) And this his comanment, that we shoule believe in the name of his son Jesus Christ, and love one another just as he has commanded ys to. (1John 3:22) You shall love the lord your god with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength and your mind; and your neighbour as yourself (Luke 10:27)
Love: The principle of utility Flecther maintained that love was the theory of utility because it could be applied to all situations and will always enable us to achieve the greatest good. He proposed four presumptions of situation ethics which are… Pragmatism ~ that the proposed course of action should work and that it’s success or failure is judged according to the principle. Relativism ~ rejects absolutes such as ‘never’, and ‘always.’ Positivism ~ recognises that love is the most important criteria of all. Personalism ~ demands that people should be put first.
Pros and Cons of Situation Ethics Pros Cons Individual cases are judged on their own merits, irrespective of what has been done in similar situations in the past. Individuals are not bound by rules. Nothing is intrinsically wrong and only love is intrinsically right. It is modelled on Jesus and is a Christian ethic. Love seeks the well being of others. To say no rules and then that the only rule is love is a contradiction. Most ethical dilemas have an obvious course of action without having to use situation ethics. It is impossible to make a certain decision about the consequence of an action. The theory justifies terrible things on the basis of love. Can love be evil? Optimistic / idealistic. Do humans need rules and guidelines? Law and love are not mutually exclusive.
Apply each of the Natural Law, Virtue Ethics and Situation ethics to this situation… Anna’s married to Dave, They’ve been married 6 months. Until recently, you believed they were very much in love. Anna is an old friend from school. Dave has recently been diagnosed with pneumonia. He will recover but it may take a year or so. Three weeks ago, you introduced Anna to a very good, but recent work friend called Laura. Laura was really kind to you when you started your job and you see her as a very close friend. You have just found out that Anna and Laura are conducting an affair and that Anna is the happiest she has ever been. She wants to tell Dave but feels she should wait until he is better. Compare and contrast the three outcomes. Which do you think is better and why?
Abortion Natural Law Virtue ethics Situation ethics