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As important as we all agree morality to be, it is striking that schools do not consider ethics courses an option worth offering. In Chapter 2 we distinguished between socialization, training, and indoctrination on the one hand,and education on the other. Socialzation, we suggested, is the uncritical initiation of students into a tradition, a way of thinking and acting. Education, by contrast, requires critical distance from tradition, exposure to alternatives, informed and reflective deliberation about how to think and live.

Not all, but much character education might better be called character training or socialization , for the point is not so much to teach virtue and values by way of critical reflection on contending points of view, but to structure the moral ethos of schooling to nurturing the development of those moral habits and virtues that we agree to be good and important, that are part of our moral consensus. This is not a criticism of character education. Children must be morally trained. Character education does appeal, as the Manifesto makes clear, to a heritage of stories, literature, art, and biography to inform and deepen students' understanding of, and appreciation for, moral virtue.

Often such literature will reveal the moral ambiguities of life, and discussion of it will encourage critical reflection on what is right and wrong. But if the literature is chosen to nurture the development of the right virtues and values, it may not be well suited to nurture an appreciation of moral ambiguity or informed and critical thinking about contending values and ways of thinking and living. Of course, character education programs often nurture the virtues of tolerance, respect, and civility that play major roles in enabling educational discussion of controversial issues.

One of the supposed virtues of the values clarification movement, by contrast, was its use of moral dilemmas and divisive issues; moreover, in asking students to consider the consequences of their actions, it required them to think critically about them. But the values clarification movement never required students to develop an educated understanding of moral frameworks of thought that could inform their thinking and provide them with critical distance on their personal desires and moral intuitions; it left them to their own inner resources which might be meager.

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Let us put it this way. Of course, one of these issues is the nature of morality itself; after all, we disagree about how to justify and ground those values and virtues that the character education movement nurtures. If students are to be morally educated—and educated about morality—they must have some understanding of the moral frameworks civilization provides for making sense of the moral dimension of life. After all, morality is not intellectually free-floating, a matter of arbitrary choices and merely personal values. Morality is bound up with our place in a community or tradition, our understanding of nature and human nature, our convictions about the afterlife, our experiences of the sacred, our assumptions about what the mind can know, and our understanding of what makes life meaningful.

We make sense of what we ought to do, of what kind of a person we should be, in light of all of these aspects of life—at least if we are reflective. We have space here to offer only the briefest sketch of a theory of moral education. For any society or school to exist, its members students, teachers, and administrators must share a number of moral virtues : they must be honest, responsible, and respectful of one another's well-being.

We agree about this. Public schools have a vital role to play in nurturing these consensus virtues and values, as the character education movement rightly emphasizes; indeed, a major purpose of schooling is to help develop good persons. If we are to live together peacefully in a pluralistic society, we must also nurture those civic virtues and values that are part of our constitutional tradition: we must acknowledge responsibility for protecting one another's rights; we must debate our differences in a civil manner; we must keep informed.

A major purpose of schooling is to nurture good citizenship. But when we disagree about important moral and civic issues, including the nature of morality itself, then, for both the civic and educational reasons we discussed in Chapter 2, students must learn about the alternatives, and teachers and schools should not take official positions on where the truth lies. The purpose of a liberal education should be to nurture an informed and reflective understanding of the conflicts. What shape moral education should take depends on the maturity of students.

We might think of a K—12 continuum in which character education begins immediately with the socialization of children into those consensus values and virtues that sustain our communities. As children grow older and more mature they should gradually be initiated into a liberal education in which they are taught to think in informed and reflective ways about important, but controversial, moral issues.

Character education and liberal education cannot be isolated in single courses but should be integrated into the curriculum as a whole. We also believe, however, that the curriculum should include room for a moral capstone course that high school seniors might take, in which they learn about the most important moral frameworks of thought—secular and religious, historical and contemporary—and how such frameworks might shape their thinking about the most urgent moral controversies they face.

This is, of course, the inevitable question: If we are going to teach values, whose values are we going to teach? The answer is simple, at least in principle: We teach everyone's values. When we agree with each other we teach the importance and rightness of those consensus values. When we disagree, we teach about the alternatives and withhold judgment.

For example, we agree about democracy; it is proper, indeed important, to convey to students the value of democracy and the democratic virtues. We disagree deeply about the values of the Republican and Democratic parties, however. We can't leave politics out of the curriculum simply because it is controversial.

If students are to be educated , if they are to make informed political decisions, they must learn something about the values and policies of the two parties. In public schools, teachers and texts should not take sides when the public is deeply divided; there should be no established political party. Schools should teach students about the alternatives fairly. And so it should be with every other major moral or civic issue that divides us—including religion.

A good liberal education will provide students with a basic cultural literacy about those aspects of the human condition sufficiently important to warrant a place in the curriculum. We have argued in earlier chapters that a major purpose for studying history and literature is the understanding and insight they provide into the human condition. History is a record of social, political, moral, and religious experiments; it provides interpretations of the suffering and flourishing of humankind. The study of literature gives students imaginative insights into how people have thought and felt about the world in different times and places.

History and literature provide students with a multitude of vicarious experiences so that they are not at the mercy of their limited and inevitably inadequate personal insights and experiences. So, for example, it is impossible to understand matters of racial justice and so specific a policy issue as affirmative action without understanding a good deal of history, and the insights gained from imaginative literature art, drama, and film will be immensely valuable in making that history come alive.

Indeed, one major criterion for choosing the history and literature we teach should be its relevance to deepening students' understanding of what is central to the suffering and flourishing of humankind. As we suggested in Chapter 2, a liberal education has both conservative and liberating aspects. A good liberal education will initiate students into cultural traditions, shaping their moral identities in the process.

We are not social atoms, but inheritors of languages, cultures, institutions, and moral traditions. From the beginning it has been a purpose of public education to make students into good citizens, good Americans. In teaching history we provide students with a past, a sense of identity, a role in developing stories, a set of obligations. But a good liberal education will also teach students that disagreements among us run deep: we often disagree deeply about the meaning and lessons of history—as the debate over identity and multiculturalism makes clear.

We often disagree about the justice and goodness of different cultures and subcultures. We disagree about how to make sense of the world, about how to interpret it.


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Indeed, we often disagree about what the relevant facts are—or, even more basically, what counts as a fact, as evidence, as a good argument. We have quite different worldviews. A good liberal education will initiate students into a discussion of the major ways civilization has devised for talking about morality and the human condition. Most proposals for moral education are alike in employing vocabularies sterilized of religious language.

The net effect, yet again, is the marginalization of religion. The implicit message is that religion is irrelevant to the development of virtue, moral judgment, and the search for moral truth. But if students are to be liberally educated and not just trained or socialized, if schools are not to disenfranchise religious subcultures, and if they are to be neutral in matters of religion, then we must include religious voices in the discussion. The character education movement is grounded in the conviction that there are consensus virtues and values.

The consensus must be local, but it may also be broader; indeed, its advocates sometimes claim rightly that virtues such as honesty and integrity are universal and are found in all the world's religions. Nonetheless, because religion can't be practiced in public schools and because it is often controversial, the character education movement avoids it. Clearly the moral ethos of public schools must be secular rather than religious; character education cannot use religious exercises to nurture the development of character. But character education cannot implicitly convey the idea that religion is irrelevant to morality.

We have noted that character education employs literature and history to convey moral messages. Some of those stories and some of that history should make clear that people's moral convictions are often grounded in religious traditions. When teachers and students in the higher grades discuss controversial moral issues—abortion, sexuality, and social justice, for example—they must include religious perspectives on them in the discussion.

For constitutional reasons those religious interpretations cannot be disparaged or advocated. As we've noted many times, one reason we disagree in our moral judgments is that we are committed to strikingly different worldviews. Some of us ground our moral judgments in Scripture, others in cost-benefit analyses, yet others in conscience and there are many other alternatives. Even when we agree—about honesty, for example—we may disagree about why we should be honest.

Virtue ethics

Long-term self-interest and love of humanity may both prescribe honesty as the best policy—though one's attitude and motivation, the kind of person one is, may be quite different; and, of course, there will be occasions when the requirements of love and even long-term self-interest will diverge. Just as in math, it is not enough that we agree about the right answer but we must get it in the right way , so in any domain of the curriculum a good education requires more than a shallow agreement about conclusions.

To be educated requires an understanding of the deep reasons for belief and values. Historically, religions have provided the categories, the narratives, the worldviews, that provided the deep justifications for morality. From within almost any religious worldview, conservative or liberal, people must set themselves right with God, reconciling themselves to the basic moral structure of reality. They are to act in love and justice and community, being mindful of those less fortunate than themselves.

The conventional wisdom now, however, is that we can teach morality without reference to religion. Indeed, the deep justifications have changed and often become more shallow in the process. Health and home economics texts often ground their account of values in Abraham Maslow's humanistic psychology, whereas the economics standards and texts appeal to neoclassical economic theory and modern social science. Modern science at least implicitly teaches students there is no moral structure to nature. Our whole moral vocabulary has changed: like modern culture generally, modern education often emphasizes rights over duties, individualism over community, autonomy over authority, happiness over salvation, self-esteem over self-sacrifice, and cost-benefit analysis over conscience.

Indeed, students may learn that there are no right or wrong answers when moral judgments are the issue. The problem is not just that educators ignore religious accounts of morality; it is that the secular worldview that pervades modern education renders religion suspect. How do we make sense of religious accounts of morality? A yearlong course in religious studies will help more. We also find merit in the idea of a senior capstone course in ethics in which students would study various secular and religious ways of understanding morality and several of the most pressing moral problems of our time.

Conservative religious parents sometimes ask that Bible courses be offered in public schools as a way of addressing the moral development of children. As we have seen, the courts have made it clear that public schools cannot teach students that the Bible is true, or that children should act in accord with Biblical morality. Nonetheless, there is a constitutional way in which study of the Bible is relevant to moral education.

By studying the Bible or any religious text , students will encounter a vocabulary and framework for thinking about morality and the human condition that will quite properly provide them with critical distance on the secular ideas and ideals they acquire from elsewhere in the curriculum—and from popular culture. Morality is at the heart of all religion, and, as we've argued, one important reason for studying religion is to acquire some sense of the answers that have been given to the fundamental existential questions of life. Teachers and texts can't endorse religious answers to those questions, but they can and should expose students to them fairly as part of a good liberal—and moral—education.

Students may find those answers compelling even if their teachers and texts don't require them to. It may be helpful to sketch the relevance of religion to one particularly troublesome part of the curriculum: sex education. It is important for students at some age to understand the biology of sexuality; but, of course, the purpose of sex education has always been something more than simple science education. Its primary purpose has been to guide students' behavior, addressing major social problems such as unwanted pregnancies and the spread of sexually transmitted diseases STDs.

One way to address these problems is to teach students sexual abstinence. Another is to provide them with a little technological know-how regarding birth control and condoms. Whichever position we take requires that we give students reasons for using condoms or foregoing the pleasures of sexuality. Three kinds of answers are common.

First, it can be argued that either approach is in one's long-term self-interest, and much sex education focuses on the unhappy consequences of unplanned pregnancies and STDs.

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Some students will recognize the risks and alter their behavior accordingly—though adolescents are not typically strong on long-term self-interest and deferred gratification. Perhaps more important, if it is to be truly educational , sex education must make students aware of the fact that sexual behavior is universally held to be subject to moral as well as prudential judgments. To be ignorant of this is to be uneducated. So, how do we introduce morality into sex education? A second approach—that taken in each of the four high school health texts we reviewed—is a variation on values clarification.

Students should act responsibly: they should survey their options, consider the consequences on themselves and on others , and then act in a way that maximizes whatever it is that they value most. Each of the health texts concludes that responsible individuals will practice abstinence. The problem, of course, is that this conclusion requires a considerable act of faith, for what students value most is up to them. The books offer no grounds for assessing the values of students as morally right or wrong; values are ultimately personal.

Health, home economics, and sex education texts and materials often use the language of values rather than that of morality. But, of course, this is an extraordinarily narrow view of morality. We suspect that the deeper problem is that much ocial science can't make sense of morality and so must translate it into talk of choices and personal values.

Virtually all the health and home economics texts we reviewed start from the position of humanistic psychology. But if the authors can't cast their conceptual nets wider than this, it is not surprising that they don't catch morality in them. One irony in all of this is that virtually everyone still believes that some actions are morally right and other actions are morally wrong.

Pedophilia is morally wrong. Not telling the person with whom one proposes to have sex that he or she has an STD is morally wrong. Honesty isn't just a matter of cost-benefit analysis and personal values; it is morally binding. If people don't understand this, they are ignorant, and if we don't teach students this, we are irresponsible. As we have argued, the character education movement has been a widely accepted and much needed antidote to the relativistic tendencies of values clarification, and it offers another approach to sex education.

Sexual relationships, like all relationships, should be characterized by honesty, loyalty, and respect for the feelings, privacy, and well-being of others—and broad consensus supports this. Prudence, self-control, and a willingness to defer gratification are virtues of unquestionable importance in all aspects of life, but particularly in matters of sexuality.

Whereas the values clarification approach typically highlights dilemmas and choices, character education emphasizes habit; self-control can't just be the result of decisions made as we go along. We agree that it is wrong for children to have sexual relationships. We might even agree that sexual modesty in dress and demeanor is an important virtue, at least for children. The moral consensus on sexuality is, no doubt, limited and fragile. Still, because there is a consensus, schools should constantly emphasize these moral virtues and principles by means of their ethos, dress codes, stories told and read, and, of course, in health, home economics, and sex education courses.

Sex education must also be moral education. We have argued that character education cannot implicitly give the impression that religion is irrelevant to morality. Children's stories about love and romance and marriage and the family should include religious literature.

Character education builds on moral consensus, but obviously there is also a good deal of often strong disagreement on matters relating to sexuality—abstinence and birth control, abortion and homosexuality, for example. Not surprisingly, we also disagree about what to teach students about these things; indeed, we often disagree about whether to teach about such things.

Our claim is this: if we are to include controversial issues in the sex education curriculum, then, as always, students must hear the different voices—secular and religious, conservative and liberal—that are part of our cultural conversation. Given the importance of religion in our culture, to remain ignorant of religious ways of thinking about sexuality is to remain uneducated.

Older students should learn about religious as well as secular arguments for abstinence, and they should learn how different religious traditions regard birth control. Although all of the health books we reviewed discussed condoms, none mentioned that Roman Catholic teaching forbids artificial birth control. Indeed, they should learn something about the relevant Scriptural sources in different traditions for sexual morality, marriage, and the family. They should understand the policy positions on controversial sexual issues taken by contemporary religious organizations and theologians.

Or consider abortion. For many religious people, abortion is the most important moral issue of our time; for them, it is the most important consequence of unwanted pregnancies and sexual promiscuity. Yet most sex education ignores abortion. Of the health texts we reviewed only one mentioned it—devoting a single paragraph to explaining that it is a medically safe alternative to adoption. Well, yes. We suggest that to be an educated human being in the United States at the end of the 20th century one must understand the abortion controversy; indeed, its relevance to sex education is immediate and tremendously important.

As Wayne contemplates his dilemma with the car, he wonders if there is any simple rule or command that can help him decide the right thing to do. One starting point is obvious enough — do the laws of the land provide a clear answer? What is the law? Wayne knows that the Consumer Guarantees Act of New Zealand gives customers six guarantees about a vehicle they purchase. The critical one is that it must be of acceptable quality. The vehicle must be:. A period as long as twelve months, however, is unlikely to be upheld if it were ever tested in a court of law.

Wayne asks the customer how many kilometers he has driven in the car over the twelve months. The answer is 22, km. This suggests to Wayne that he has no legal obligation to repair the fault. Even though Wayne is satisfied he is under no legal obligation to pay for the repair, that is not the end of the matter as far as he is concerned.

Legality and morality, he knows, are not the same things. Wayne remembers an incident that a friend told him about recently. The Board of Directors of a particular company was discussing a business proposition. Initial comments were about the legality of the proposal, and it soon became clear that the scheme was well within the law.

But is it right?

Even before we had time to discuss why. Wayne knows that what the law says is clearly not enough. However, thinking beyond legal minimum standards is not always easy. What higher standards should a company follow? There was a time in western society when Christian ethical principles provided a higher standard that was widely — if not universally — accepted. In America, the J. Undoubtedly something similar applied or still applies in societies strongly identified with a single religion or philosophy.

But as western societies have become secularized, religious considerations have become unacceptable as a basis for corporate ethics. However, no other generally accepted source of ethical guidance has taken the place that biblical ethics formerly held. This generally means that there is no source of ethical guidance beyond merely keeping the law. This is a problem for many business schools when they seek to discuss ethics. Concerned to assert their secular status and to show themselves free from partiality or religious interference, they often end up largely ignoring morality and values.

The result is an arid focus around what is legal. The discussion among the company directors above demonstrates the inadequacy of this attitude. They all knew something was wrong, but they had no way to talk about it. Despite these difficulties, a Christian approach to ethics looks for some command from God that will name clearly what is right and wrong. In others, it can be very difficult to identify, understand or apply biblical verses properly. How do we know which rules and principles apply in which situations?

There are lots of different systems for applying the Bible. In desperation, Wayne goes searching for help on his bookshelf. Wayne scans through the pages. He simply lists Bible verses he thinks are relevant to each situation, without any explanation or commentary. The implication is that they apply directly and are self-explanatory. On closer inspection, Wayne finds that such random Bible verses give him little help.

Luke is about enemies, not customers. The risk is that we simply take what fits into our pre-formatted scheme and ignore everything else, rather than letting the Bible speak for itself and allowing the consistent themes and messages to make themselves evident in the reading and re-reading of the text. Luke is quoting the words of Jesus to his followers, telling them what they should do when they are arrested and persecuted for their faith!

The verse has been taken out of context, as have many others in the sections Wayne looks at. Such an exercise can easily descend into a kind of reductionism and legalism. We only have to look at the scribes and the Pharisees to see what this might look like. If this sounds like a severe criticism of the scribes and Pharisees, let us just note briefly here that what they were attempting to do was admirable. They were some of the few people who seriously sought to apply faith to the whole of life, including business. They were trying to define what it meant to be godly in every aspect of life.

The trouble is, the only way they knew to go about this was by trying to define a rule for every occasion. And this led to an explosion of rules that went way beyond what Scripture actually said, yet still failed to cover every situation. For example, take their desire to fulfill the commandment about keeping the Sabbath. In seeking to nail down how this might look in practice, they completely missed the point of the exercise, even berating Jesus for having the audacity to heal on the Sabbath!

So attempting to formulate a complete book of rules based on Scripture that will speak to every conceivable ethical dilemma we face in our work contexts, is a hopeless and pointless quest. Not only does the Bible fail to account for the thousands of situations that arise in business, but in trying to make it do so we risk forcing it to say something it was never intended to mean…or even worse, trivializing Scripture and missing the point altogether.

Not every situation we face at work is complex. If Scripture tells us e. If it warns us against laziness and not taking responsibility for earning our keep e. When it tells us not to steal and not to slander people, we should adhere rigorously to those commands. Murdock uses the NIV in each of these verses. Disappointed, Wayne puts the book back on the shelf. So he begins to read. These are not rules found in the Bible, but are principles that Larry Burkett believes can be directly deduced from the rules in the Bible. The intent is that they will cover more of the actual situations that arise in the workplace because they are not so narrow as specific rules.

This is a common problem with command-based methods. If the set of commands is specific, it will not cover the huge range of situations that occur in the world. If it is general, it will not provide actual solutions to the problems it covers. However, the book does offer the suggestion of talking with friends about what they think might be fair in this situation. This, Wayne decides, would be a useful thing to do.

He likes the idea of developing a more communal environment to help him gain perspective on his dilemma. Doing this works against some of the intense individualism we all battle with, and it also recognizes that many ethical challenges are complex and need insightful others to give perspective and support. Wayne is less enthralled by what he considers to be a quite prescriptive approach to using the Bible. Wayne is still struggling with his dilemma. He returns to his bookshelf to see what else might be of assistance. John Maxwell thinks we have made Christian decision-making far too complex.

However, he acknowledges that it requires a number of other principles to explain what it involves, including:. It is therefore a principle that can be commended to Christians and non-Christians alike. Given that we are often guilty of evading Jesus and his ethics, this is refreshing.

The Golden Rule is certainly a very useful clarifying principle for Wayne. The simplicity of elevating the significance of one principle is attractive, and it is obviously helpful in some ways. However, it may also prove far too simplistic and quite deceptive in other ways. There is no convincing evidence that this is the case. It assumes that there are only two players involved in the decision the person making the choice and the person being affected by it.

As long as it works to the advantage of these two people, according to the Golden Rule it is the best thing. For example, not so long ago Wayne sold a large four-wheel drive vehicle. He felt he did apply the Golden Rule to the customer treating her with respect, giving her the best deal he possibly could, disclosing all relevant information, etc. Craig Keener suggests that John Wesley may have been the first to call it this, in a sermon he gave in See Craig S. Amar Bhide and Howard H. Reprinted with permission by Rae and Wong in Beyond Integrity , Wayne is fast running out of books!

His central point is that Christian ethics in business should be built not on rules, but rather on the changeless character of God. Few of us would argue with that, but the big question is…so what is God like? Pursuing holiness involves single-mindedness, making God our highest priority. Which means considering all other concerns of lesser importance — concerns such as material goods, career goals and even personal relationships. Pursuing holiness includes zeal, purity, accountability and humility. The duties or responsibilities which are really the flip side of the justice coin require that we treat others in ways that offer them these rights.

The rights and duties exist in tension, providing a necessary counterbalance to each other. And it also requires the worker to work faithfully for his or her pay. Justice cuts both ways. Hill acknowledges that love is generally viewed as the pre-eminent virtue. Its primary contribution to the holiness-justice-love mix is its emphasis on relationships, through empathy, mercy and self-sacrifice. Love creates bonds between people, and conversely, the breaching of these bonds causes pain.

In fact, they are completely intertwined with each other. The image Hill uses to express this is that of a three-legged stool. If we are to operate biblically in business, all three aspects legs need to be taken into account consistently; otherwise, we will have a badly imbalanced stool.


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For example, if holiness is overemphasized to the exclusion of love and justice, then the result will be legalism, self-righteous judgmentalism and withdrawal from society. If justice dominates, then harsh results, emotional coldness and condemnation are the likely outcome. When love is the only major measure, things can easily lapse into permissiveness and favoritism, because there are no other moral compass points to direct us to the limits that love requires.

Alexander Hill condemns any attempt to reduce Scripture to a book of rules that can be applied to specific situations. This is something that Wayne appreciates! Wayne struggles to get his head around exactly what holiness looks like in his situation, but he finds the balancing principles of justice and love quite useful. What particular rights and duties exist in his seller-customer relationship? Wayne resolves that he may have a duty to contribute to the repair — though he thinks that the customer also has a responsibility to contribute.

Justice cuts both ways — being fair to both customer and seller. Given that Wayne gave the customer a very cheap price on the car in the first place — with little profit margin — he feels it would be unfair to be expected to pay for the entire repair. What impact will a sizeable repair bill have on this particular customer? The holiness-justice-love stool is more carefully balanced than the single principle of the Golden Rule, and infinitely less cumbersome than the multi-rule approaches we looked at previously.

And what do you do when justice, say, conflicts with love? Which gets priority? Clearly, whatever approach to ethics we adopt, discerning and balancing the relevant rules and principles is an important part. But in addition, we must also try to calculate the consequences of different courses of action to see which decisions produce the most loving and just and holy results. See page In other words, if Wayne examined the potential consequences of each response and compared the likely results, he might be able to decide based on the ideal outcome. In this approach, Wayne would stop looking for rules to tell him what to do at every step, but would instead simply do whatever it takes to achieve the proper outcome.

Because so many people think of the Bible as a rule book, and of ethics in terms of the Ten Commandments, it is perhaps surprising to discover how often the Scriptures themselves encourage readers to consider the consequences of their actions and let this influence their decision making. The book of Proverbs does this repeatedly. It is full of warnings and promises, in pithy little sayings that spell out the likely outcomes of certain actions.

Jesus too warns his listeners to weigh carefully the consequences of their decisions. The same applies to much of the rest of the Sermon on the Mount, such as:. Matthew Considering the consequences should play an important role in our decision-making. However, as Wayne will discover, consequentialism raises four curly questions. They are:. Our definition of what is good is critical. The best-known form of consequentialist thinking defines happiness or pleasure as the highest good. This particular version of consequentialist ethics is called "Utilitarianism.

Happiness is viewed as the primary goal of life and with it goes the implication that pain should in all circumstances be minimized or avoided. However, in the Bible happiness is not considered the ultimate good. For example, Jesus turns our thinking upside down in his Beatitudes. He claims that the situations we might feel aggrieved or sad about can be the very ones to make us blessed or happy!

So how might we define good biblically? In the Bible, what is considered good? And elements of this state are described in many biblical passages, including these:. People do work that is enjoyable and provides the necessities of life for everyone. Genesis People have equal standing in society without discrimination by race, economic disparity or sex. Galatians It is to make us whole, as we were originally created to be. The New Testament is clear that embracing suffering and pain is often the road to wholeness — whether for us, or for those whom our suffering helps.

The choice Jesus made to submit to the way of the Cross is our model. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it. There are those who use self-interest as the measuring stick. This school of thought is known as ethical egoism. Self-interest does not always mean operating from a totally selfish perspective. So what might seem from the outside as a selfless response can often be driven by self-interest.

And this is not always bad or wrong. It often has positive outcomes. By pursuing his own interest, he frequently promotes that of society more effectively than when he really intends to promote it. I have never known much good done by those who affected to trade for the public good. Even the most capitalist of nations have added countless laws to protect customers and consumers. A course of action is not good if it makes a few people very happy but does nothing — or makes things worse — for a large number of people.

Conversely, an act can be good if it makes many people happy at the expense of a few. But we must be wary of making decisions based on the good of the majority when they have potentially negative or disastrous consequences for the minority — particularly if that minority is a marginalized and largely powerless group.


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There are hard choices to be made, where no alternative is thoroughly good or right. In such cases, the decision-makers are left with a choice between relative degrees of evil. However unavoidable that suffering may be, the choice must be made with genuine compassion and humility. Attempting to consider the consequences of his decision is actually a lot simpler for Wayne in this particular situation than in many cases. This is because, as Wayne sees it, there are really only two parties who might be affected by his decision — he and the customer.

Unlike many of the other decisions he faces as a car dealer which involve indefinable consequences relating to their impact on environmental, social and community issues, this choice is rather more simple. What good will result from a decision to pay for, or at least contribute to the repair? The answer is that he will have a satisfied customer and one who may be saved from unnecessary financial hardship.

The irony of the statement is not lost on the writer of John, nor on his readers! It is also the kind of dilemma that Dietrich Bonhoeffer faced in his agony over what to do about the evil Nazi regime. Consequences can be hard to measure and quantify; sometimes impossibly so. In some cases we know the consequences, but lack a way to measure them. Will you be happier if you get a job you enjoy or a job that makes you a lot of money? In other cases, we may not even recognize all the consequences of our decisions.

There are often people and environments affected that we have not taken into account. Sometimes there is no way even to know about them in advance. At a number of points, the Bible helps us recognize our own finiteness and severely limited perspective. In contrast, God is all-knowing and all-wise. While humans are responsible for their actions and expected to consider carefully the consequences, humility is required, and with it a dependence on the only One who knows all things.

Frequently we have no real way of knowing what consequences will result from our actions, or indeed how to rate or measure the good. On these counts alone, while a consideration of the consequences is often a valuable component of our decision-making, it is not sufficient as the only ethical approach. At the very least, both commands and consequences need to be taken into account. Commands often serve to guide us towards actions that can reasonably be expected to lead to good outcomes, in addition to being inherently good in themselves.

At the same time, paying attention to the consequences often helps us determine which rules apply in which circumstances. Context is ethically important. Sometimes this is because actions mean different things among people of different cultures. Paul is deciding on the rightness or wisdom of the action according to the consequences in this particular context.

Recognizing that Christian values need to be translated contextually, because what is good in one situation may not be good in another, is very different to the full blown relativism that is such a feature of our culture, where there are no absolute standards of truth or morality. For example, the command not to lie is an absolute standard. Increasingly, the society we live in is becoming more and more multicultural. We can expect to face a number of situations where the context challenges us to change our practices. Or suppose you are a tent manufacturer and you decide to get your tents made in a much poorer part of the world because of much cheaper costs.

How do you decide what is appropriate payment for your employees? The issue of context goes beyond cross-cultural matters. For example, a doctor might use graduated fees for patients based on their income. When Wayne begins thinking about ways that these particular circumstances are influencing possible courses of action, he finds himself trying to understand and anticipate a number of things.

If Wayne refuses to pay for the repair, or only contributes partially, what impact financially is that likely have on the customer and his family? Is it likely to create stress? Wayne thinks that this is worth taking into consideration. In fact, for him it is part of the wider question of love and justice. What if Wayne is aware that the customer is generous and liberal with his own time and money — serving others and genuinely seeking to make a difference in the world?

If this is the case, Wayne may feel it is extra fitting to extend generosity towards him. At the same time, Wayne is aware of also considering what he can afford, and the implications for him and his family if he ends up making little or no profit on this sale. Should Wayne think carefully about the sort of precedent he is setting? If he takes a soft line, will other customers also come running for assistance? Wayne smiles ruefully at the possibility. But for him personally, this is not a major issue. The other factors he has sifted through are, as far as he is concerned, of much greater importance.

It also recognizes a flaw in the process that all of us are only too aware of. This is because it takes character to do the right thing. The aim was to see how we might use those characteristics as a grid through which to determine right decisions. In the character approach, we ask how our actions will form or shape our characters. As Christians, our aim is to become more holy, just and loving people, so that these characteristics becoming ingrained in us as default settings. To repeat, this is not just about the character of God anymore. Firstly, the way we have been talking about ethical dilemmas so far suggests a rather idealized decision making process, where we have both the time and the ability to reason our way through complex issues towards our decision.

But most of our decisions are made in a split second while we are on the run. How we respond to a complaint from our boss, or sort out a misunderstanding with a customer, or advise an inexperienced shopper, or motivate an underperforming team — these steps are often taken without much thinking at all. It would be much more effective if we could depend on ingrained character traits or virtues to lead us instinctively to right decisions and actions. In other words, our characters automatically shape much of what we decide to do. Even when we do have time to think through a decision carefully, our decisions tend to be strongly influenced by our habits and characters, for better or worse.

Thirdly, the character-based approach makes it easier to take into account the role of the community in ethical formation and decisions. Although we often perceive ourselves as individuals freely making personal decisions, our decisions can be shaped significantly by our communities. As we shall see, the character-based approach is often more effective at making use of the ethical resources our communities can offer.

For these reasons, some people believe that rather than focusing on good decision-making, we would do better to concentrate on developing good character. They claim that when virtue and goodness are grown in our lives, good decisions will automatically follow. If developing character and virtue are so important, then there are several key questions we have to grapple with. The first of these questions is probably the easiest to answer. In their context they are considered virtuous.

Over the years, many philosophers, theologians and thinkers have attempted to list and define virtues. For example, Aristotle emphasized the classical Greek virtues of justice, fortitude, prudence and temperance. So what does this mean for those of us who follow Jesus? Who or what should determine for us what is virtuous?

Clearly the Bible is the answer to this, and within the Scriptures, we suggest that the focal point for determining Christian virtues should be the life and teachings of Jesus. So if we want to know what virtues to develop, observing the qualities Jesus modeled and talked about is our best starting point.

We agree with Stassen and Gushee who note that:. This is a good place to start if we are seeking to consider what specific virtues followers of Jesus should aspire to. Repeatedly in the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus links our actions directly to our character — to our core attitudes and motives.

Other comments by Jesus throughout the Gospels reinforce this connection. The early church was quick to pick up on the importance of imitating Jesus. Take the writings of Paul, where we find a significant emphasis on character development. Christ then is our example and model. It is his character that we are called to develop. The Romans during the early, formative years of their nation needed to survive in a world of invading conquerors. So virtue to those early Romans was manliness and the willingness to defend their families and homes.

All this talk about virtues has got Wayne a little confused. In fact, true character is probably more accurately measured by the observation of others than from our own analysis. Wayne genuinely wants to respond in a way that expresses care and concern. In fact, looking back over the slow but real development of Christian character through his lifetime, he especially recognizes and values a growth in compassion, kindness and generosity.

It seems that his default setting has already been defined by values that are shaping his character. We all know people whose lives exude character. The way they work in the marketplace seems to have integrity or consistency with the rest of their lives. But just exactly how have they become people of such character? However, while these elements are clearly important, and the Holy Spirit certainly does transform us in deeply personal ways, such change rarely occurs outside of a wider context.

Both MacIntyre and Hauerwas two recent advocates of virtue ethics emphasize the huge role that community plays in shaping and embodying the virtuous life. Stories engage our imaginations and get us involved in ways that are often self-revealing. They have power to help develop both character and community. For example, the dominant story in American culture for many years has been the self-directed individual who breaks free from the oppression of social conformity.

Clearly, for Christians the Bible provides our primary narrative. It is also a story of the triumph of an individual — Jesus — over the oppression of society. But Jesus repeatedly denies being self-directed. Instead he says his direction comes from outside, namely from God e. And we are to become like Jesus 1 John For Hauerwas, Stassen and Gushee, the specific story most critical to Christians is the story of Jesus, whose character and virtues are what we are called to emulate.

But the gospel narrative does not reach us in sharp focus. Despite ourselves, we absorb it through a filter — the filter of our culture and of our faith community. The way we retell this story — what virtues we emphasize, what failures we highlight, and how we encourage one another to nurture the habits and practices it describes — all of these have a significant impact on how we grow in virtue.

In fact, we need to be acutely aware of the tendency of all faith communities to reframe Jesus in ways that are less challenging to their own lifestyle and worldview. Making Jesus into our own image is a temptation we all face. Western churches of today live in a society where wealth and affluence are widespread, and where the story of self-directed triumph is accepted to a degree unknown ever before in history.

When that happens, as it sadly often does, all we are left with in our faith-community narratives is a Jesus who limits himself to addressing a small range of personal moral issues. This is not the Jesus of the Gospels. For Jesus models and teaches a consistent ethic of life, not one severely truncated and restricted to issues of sexual conduct and personal honesty — however important those might be. The ethics of Jesus encompass so much more. So godly character does not just occur as a result of individual transformation.

It is in the context of community that such character is primarily nurtured and developed.

Moral Education

And that community must find ways to expose the inevitable blind spots of its take on Jesus. The New Testament, in concert with the Hebrew Bible, emphasizes the indispensable context of the believing community, which, in this instance, is the church, the ekklesia. It is within this nurturing context of faith, hope and love that the Christian life, as a process, unfolds. Such communities must find ways of discovering a clearer picture of the character of Jesus, of asking the hard and uncomfortable questions that help us confront our limited view of the virtuous life.

When this happens, we are less likely to duplicate the many sad examples of Christians doing business in a thoroughly sub-Christian manner. Otherwise, keep reading below. Commands, Consequences and Character — three different approaches to making ethical decisions. And, as we have seen, there are plenty of variations within these streams. The truth is that in real everyday situations most people use a combination of approaches. So when it comes to making moral decisions, we find ourselves involved in an ethical dance that is an interplay between these different approaches. Which of these approaches do you favor in your own decision-making?

Frequently, it depends on the nature of the situation you find yourself in. For example, are you trying to solve a major moral dilemma … or is this an everyday moral choice? Sometimes major moral dilemmas require and allow for careful consideration over an extended period of time.

In such cases, one way of going about this decision-making process is to: [29]. As you can see, setting a course when faced with a major moral decision calls for a lot of blood, sweat and tears! Especially for an organization. However, when it comes to dealing with everyday problems that we meet as individuals, the pace of life is likely to make us more streamlined.

We have already suggested that most ethical decisions in our daily lives and work are made instantly, often under pressure and without much room for forethought. They are instinctive, being the product of habits of a lifetime, as well as shaped by the culture of the places we work and by the peer groups and faith communities we belong to. Such decisions are influenced by the extent to which Christian virtues and character have been molded into the core of our being.

Within the virtuous life there is still a place for understanding rules and calculating consequences — but here the rules and consequences are subordinated to the virtues. For example, even a person with the virtue of honesty has to understand and obey the rules of Generally Accepted Accounting Principles International Financial Reporting Standards, outside the USA in order to produce accurate financial statements.

But an honest person always uses the rules to increase the overall accuracy of the financial statement, never to find a way to obscure the truth without breaking any laws. This emphasis on virtues does not eliminate moral dilemmas. In fact, competing virtues are also capable of pulling us in different directions. Examples of this are the tensions that sometimes exist between justice and peace, or loyalty and truth, or courage and prudence.

Making good moral decisions in these cases is less about seeing one right answer because there probably is not just one and more about striving for a balanced Christian response that recognizes all the competing priorities. We are not just left striving earnestly all the time to discern and enact the perfect Christian response. In fact, recognizing that we live in a fallen world means realizing that often there is no perfect Christian response — that sometimes all courses of action include negative consequences. Every resource on our site was made possible through the financial support of people like you.

Revised Dec. Based on a work at www. The approaches are: Command — What do the rules say is the right way to act? Consequences — What actions are most likely to bring about the best outcome? Pastoral Ethics. Oxford: Lynx, Burkett, Larry. Business by the Book. Nashville: Thomas Nelson, Cook, David. London: SPCK, Gardner, E. Biblical Faith and Social Ethics. New York: Harper and Rowe, Grenz, Stanley J. The Moral Quest. Vision and Virtue. Higginson, Richard. Called to Account. Guildford: Eagle, Questions of Business Life.

UK: Spring Harvest, Just Decisions. McLemore, Clinton W. Street Smart Ethics. Maxwell, John C. USA: Warner Books, Murdock, Mike. Tulsa: Honor Books, Nash, Laura. Believers in Business , Nashville: Thomas Nelson, Stassen, Glen H. Kingdom Ethics. Downers Grove: IVP, Zigarelli, Michael. Management by Proverbs. Chicago: Moody Press, Gordon Preece. Stanley J. The most moral course of action may be decided by: What will result in the greatest good? For example, the system known as Ethical Egoism [10] assumes that the most likely way to achieve what is in the best interests of all people is for each person to pursue their own best interest, within certain limits.

This approach can focus on subordinate goals, e. In the case of complicated circumstances, this approach tries to calculate which actions will maximize the balance of good over evil. But how do these three different approaches apply to Christian ethics? Back to Table of Contents Christians from most church traditions are agreed that the Bible plays an essential role in determining our understanding of such commands and principles.