29 March 2007

Ethics follow-up

Dear students & other blog readers:

Thank you for your comments on the previous post about ethics. Now I have a few questions to focus our conversation a bit more. Several of you talked about how most people—Christians, members of other religions, athiests—all have some kind of morality, and that the morals of most ordinary people are remarkably similar. Now I would like to ask you: Where does this come from, this general sense that there is good and bad and what they are?

Darlin, Where do you think moral ideas originated?
Amber<3, where do you think logic and reason come from in the first place? How do you know they are valid?
QT Patutee (nice sobriquet): What about people who don’t acknowledge God? How are they supposed to follow Him? How can they even know what He requires, if they don’t know Him or believe He exists?
Andrew (R): Where does the government get its ideas of right and wrong that it then translates into laws?
Andrew (M): Good for you, bringing in Reformed Theology. Please explain the doctrine of Common Grace for those who might not be familiar with it.

Now, for all of you who had these similar comments, here’s
Where does God get His ideas of morality? Are they arbitrary? If God decided that murder and lying were good, would they be? Could He decide that? Why has He set down the laws He has? Does He have appeal to some higher standard (the way the gods in Plato have appeal to The Form of the Good)?

RawkChick: Would you explain how Neo’s choice was a moral one? I see how it was difficult and took courage, so in that case perhaps it required strength of character, but how would it have been evil for him to take the easy way out and forget the whole episode?

Anonymous: I was confused by your comments. They seemed a bit contradictory. Can you clarify?

Rosie & QT & Sem & everyone: how can it be that sometimes it’s OK to sin in order to prevent some worse evil? Think about Rahab, who lied to save lives and usher in a theocracy. How can you decide when to compromise your convictions for a “greater” cause?

Thank you! Epistemology posting coming soon.

By the way, here is a totally cool site on the philiosophy of The Matrix. Enjoy!


Darlin' said...

Hey Mrs. H!

Well to answer the first question directed towards me…I believe that all moral ideas originated from God. (In the Garden of Eden.) That was when “good/bad” was first established. And ideas on that topic have just evolved since then and differed with new people, times and circumstances.
Also, I have been thinking. (Sort of in circles thanks to you!) I think that sometimes “wrong/ right” does change with circumstances. Just like with the Rahab example. I say this because another example that I though of was when the Nazi were killing the Jews. What about the people who hid Jews in their homes? And lied to the Nazi’s and said they weren’t there? I believe they did they right thing by lying to save so many innocent lives. Even though they lied.
I think that sometimes motive is what makes the particular action right or wrong. But then again that leads to the question… “How do you know if your motive is right or wrong?” I live by faith, so I pray and look to the Bible to set my standards to please Christ. I don’t think I could argue from a non-Christian point of view. I just don’t know how. I wouldn’t know how a non-Christian could decide what exactly is right or wrong. I don’t see how they could decide with out looking to something else.
I also can’t help but to think that there has to be some sort of an ultimate standard of good and bad. I set my standards and thinking on the Bible. And I try my best to do exactly what God says and to live my life according to His word.
My conclusion to everything is… that some questions just don’t have answers that we alone…or rather that we on earth may find. Only the ultimate creator can know the absolute truth.

RawkChick said...

ok-my om and i were having a little philosiphical (is that even a word? haha) and we came up with the following:

-if Neo chose the blue pill, and he went back to his normal life, forgetting everything, it would have thwarted the plan of redemption and he would not have saved Morpheus

-sort of like Jesus in the Garden of Gesthemene-"not my will, but your will"

-free will-does he really have free will to choose anyway?

-but, if God is soveirgn over the plan of redemption, then it would have happened somehow anyway

-Neo submitted to a higher will (big jump?) although it may not have been conciously

i hope this answered the question

Poi said...

Hello all. I came across this blog by chance, and thought I may stop a moment and share my thoughts.

"Where does this come from, this general sense that there is good and bad and what they are?"

I think the basis of all morality comes from the introspection that arises from our experiences. When we hear of someone getting murdered, we, as human beings, can't help but relate the situation to ourselves. What if I had been murdered? What if I had been the murderer? Realizing that neither situation seems to be a "positive" experience, namely it would result in death. This kind of reasoning helps to build a universal moral code. Now take the example of the German hiding the Jew. For the German, hiding the Jew is positive, as he/she is promoting human life. We sympathize with the situation and have no problems saying that it is morally right.

"Where does God get His ideas of morality?"

"God" is a construct of the human mind. The idea was presented in a book written by humans, who share share the same psychology as us. Therefore my rationale for morality as stated above applies here as well. I would like to take the time here to say that I also agree with a previous poster who incorporated logic into the discussion. "What is the right thing to do logically?" is an interesting question to ask as our logical reasoning for what is "right," can be just as inexplicable as our moral reasoning for what is "right." But just as our instinctual psychology can define our sense of morality, I feel it can also define our sense of moral logic.

Comments are appreciated.

Rosie Perera said...

I've recently read an article on Bonhoeffer's ethics (as expounded in several of his books, most notably Letters and Papers from Prison and the unfinished Ethics). Bonhoeffer is an interesting theologian to consider on this subject, because he decided to participate in what he believed was a lesser evil (assisting in an attempt to kill Hitler) in order to prevent a greater evil (the deaths of millions more innocent victims). He was ultimately executed for his role in that failed plot, and yet he is revered as one of the greatest Christian martyrs of the 20th century. What gives?

Bonhoeffer lived by his own ethics, which were shaped by the circumstances he lived in. We, his descendants in the faith, still remember those horrible times he lived through (most of us, fortunately, at second hand). The events of that period have shaped our ability to see some grey in the interpretation of "thou shalt not kill."

Here are some key excerpts from the article, "Suffering with the World: The Continuing Relevance of Dietrich Bonhoeffer's Theology" by Jens Zimmerman (Crux, Vol 42, No. 3 (Fall 2006)):

"The context in which Bonhoeffer develops God's relation to the world and the nature of Christian faith is the foundational question of any Ethics: what is the Good?

"In establishing an answer to this question, Bonhoeffer seeks to avoid two classic philosophical dilemmas: traditionally, the good is either located within history (empiricism), or the good is a transcendent reality outside of history to be grasped with the mind as inner reality (idealism). Both options suffer from incurable problems. Locating the good in the empirical or immanent makes it subject to the continual change and becoming of history and so effectively wipes out its universal normative quality. On the other hand, locating the good entirely beyond time and history shelters it from change but also robs it of its ontological, historical dimension. To put it crudely, the good then is squeezed out of history and has trouble entering the world of real human existence....Moreover, the notion of the good as fixed ideal or principle...often fails in extreme situations of decision making.

"Bonhoeffer cuts the Gordian knot of this transcendence-immanence dualism by centering reality in Christ. In the incarnation, the highest transcendent Good, God himself, enters fully into being, into ontology and history, so that the reality of the highest good is now both outside and fully inside of ontology, time and history. 'The beginning of Christian ethics,' Bonhoeffer concludes, 'is therefore neither the reality of myself...nor the reality of norms and values, but the reality of God in his self-revelation Jesus Christ.'"


"Ethics, for Bonhoeffer, is Christ-formation, the becoming cruciform in the world. The church is the communal, institutional center of this formative ethics....

"Christian ethics is not ideology. After all, God incarnated himself neither as an idea, social program, ethical principle nor moral imperative, but God became human. Consequently a Christian ethic is not abstract, but in each case is a concrete response to the Christ-reality."


"The only realistic response of the Christian to the incarnation is what Bonhoeffer calls realistic responsibility, that is, to respond to the formation of Christ's image within, with both eyes wide open to one's cultural and political surroundings. The Christian life is to be formed in the image of Christ in the midst of real life. This is an excruciatingly interpretive process. Neither set programs, nor a stereotypial view of humanity, nor inflexible principles will do....Simply 'doing what Jesus did' in a template fashion is dumb imitation--any monkey can do that.

"If Christ and his reconciling work is indeed the very structure of ultimate reality, then conformity to reality or responsible living means to take on responsibility for my neighbour. In this case, 'the measure for my action is no longer a general ethical principle, but the concrete person next to me as given by God; the decision is no longer between a clearly perceived good and an equally distinctive bad situation, but action is risked in faith in the midst of reconciled good or evil...."


"Bonhoeffer realizes that acting in realistic responsibility requires one 'to step into the realm of relativity, into the twilight which envelops good and evil in historical situations.' In such situations, the so-called absolute Good can occasion greater evil than choosing what seems much less noble....Bonhoeffer knows all too well that since reality will not conform to them, absolute ethical principles tend either to tyranny or escapism. Grandiose utopian visions of implementing God's reign on earth tend to become idols to whom we sacrifice others. Conversely, despair over the world's unwillingness to embrace their moral code causes many Christians to retreat from the world. Bonhoeffer is much more realistic: We are not called to implement the kingdom of God on earth but to realize Christ's affirmation, judgment and ultimate reconciliation of us and the world in concrete, problem solving steps within the structures of our social and political reality."


"Bonhoeffer...recognizes the messiness of real life in which stubborn adherence to ethical principles can do more harm than good. He also uncovers the root of such harm by pointing to our desire to look noble and morally squeaky-clean. The realistic Christian, he argues to the contrary, knows that such moral certitude is not given to finite creatures like us. We should not seek after absolute measures but recognize the futility of this endeavour: we have to do good without knowing in advance what the good is."