Category Archives: Good people disagree

The Big Question: Who ought I be?

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I introduced the idea of “Big Picture” meta-ethics in an earlier post. In Western philosophy, the Greek philosopher Aristotle (approx. 384–322 BCE) is usually seen as the first to go down this route (or the earliest whose ideas survive). Rather than seeing morality as being about a bunch of rules or propositions, he suggested that it is more about the “Big… Read more »

“Big picture” ethics

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The prior post in this series about “empathy-based ethics” confronted its “fatal flaw” in standing alone as a way to deal with moral dilemmas. The reality is that we can’t save every person who needs our help. And so, at some point, even the most empathetic among us have to start thinking in terms of the “bigger picture.” I can’t… Read more »

When you can’t save them all

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Earlier posts in this series have looked at two indications that the first two “vectors” of ethical models presented (both deontology and teleology), are insufficient in themselves for creating a realistic and robust system of ethics, despite having many strong advocates and long-winded defenses over many centuries, religions and cultures. On the other hand, empathy-based and relationship-based ethical models in… Read more »

John Rawls and justice ethics

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In my continuing series of posts on ethical systems and their relation to how our brain makes decisions, I have shifted to the vector of models that I call “empathy-based ethics.” The ethical ideal of justice as articulated by the late John Rawls fits well into this vector. Rawls, who died in 2002, was honored in 1999 by President Bill… Read more »

Who is my neighbor?

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In the preface to Luke’s parable of the “Good Samaritan” [1], Jesus is challenged by the crowd, during a discussion of the deontological Jewish Law, to answer the question, “Who is my neighbor?” His answer was that the stranger who responded with compassion to the injured man lying alongside the road was his “neighbor,” even though the benefactor’s ethnicity was despised. [2]… Read more »

Ends, means and the banality of evil

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For each of the different types of ethical/moral systems that this blog has been exploring lately, I have been asking the question, “Is this ethical system sufficient for making moral judgements and ethical decisions?” This post looks at the “end-based” models of recent discussion, such as teleology and consequentialism. Two of the “fatal flaws” that render these moral systems as… Read more »

Monday morning quarterbacking and unintended consequences

“Life can only be understood backwards; but it must be lived forwards.” – Søren Kierkegaard (1813–1855) A major flaw in the “teleological” (end-based) ethical models I have been presenting in recent posts is that how you intend for the ethical dilemma to turn out, and how it actually does turn out, may well be two different things. In my earlier… Read more »

Iowa, abortion and ethical nuance

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With the signing of a draconian, and likely unconstitutional, anti-abortion law by Iowa Governor Kim Reynolds, I want to share the view of a different group of women on the subject. In an earlier post, I mentioned getting to know, as a non-Catholic, a group of anti-war nuns while doing graduate study in ethics during the first Gulf War in… Read more »

Telos: Seeking the “good end”

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“But seek ye first the Kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you. Take therefore no thought for the morrow: for the morrow shall take thought for the things of itself.” (Matthew 6:33-34 KJV) While many strains of philosophical and theological ethical thought lie roughly down a vector of deontology’s focus on rules… Read more »