Monday, October 17, 2005

Critique of Contemporary Ethics and Politics

Lecture 7 questions. I have to say that I like where we're going, but I sure had to hoof a bit this weekend to catch up. I'll pay more attention for the next series of lessons. However, it also got me back into the swing of grad school. I'm hoping I can get back to my prior reading speed of 45 pages per hour. I'm at around 25 pages now.

Is an action morally good because authority commands it, or should authority command something because it is morally good?

The answer depends upon the nature of the authority. If the authority is temporal, then the only way to provide a stable system of morality is upon a foundation that is stable, and that requires some higher authority to which the temporal authority can refer. Otherwise, any ethical system asserted by that authority will be arbitrary. So in this case, authority would need to command something because it is morally good. However, if the authority is ultimate, perfect, all knowing, and all powerful, its very nature is the greatest good, so anything commanded would be morally good in its source. The question then becomes whether this authority is truly the highest and most perfect.

That said, our assessment of the moral good must be based upon our understanding. For us to make good moral decisions, we must have a clear and adequate understanding of the factors, including the nature of authorities dictating a behavior. We must base our decisions upon our rightly informed understanding of what is morally good, not merely upon the dictates of a self-proclaimed authority.

Why do we need not only a "decision-making ethics" but a "virtue ethics?"

"Decision-making" ethics tend to do what is most expedient or what is of benefit to the most parties involved (or at least those parties that have a vested and accepted interest). However, virtue ethics brings in the concepts of justice, temperance, and courage, which ensures that even means that are not popular are considered and given fair hearing. What is just and temperate is frequently not what is popular. Without a virtue-based ethic, justice and temperance would rarely get a hearing. Recognition for the need for these virtues in making ethical choices arises from another virtue, wisdom or prudence.

Why did John Paul II condemn "teleologism" or proportionalism in the encyclical "The Splendor of Truth" (Veritatis Splendor) ?

Proportionalism denies that objects can be intrinsically evil. They posit that objects have premoral good and bad values apart from circumstances and the intentions of the agent. So an object whose premoral values come out to be mostly good depend upon the circumstance and agent intent for their moral acceptability. The problem is that we can easily posit objects that have no premoral good values by all reasonable standards (rape, murder of innocents). Anything good in such acts would have to be as the end result rather than in the means themselves, so there could be no premoral good in them to justify the means. An object that has no premoral good is intrinsically evil. One instance of an object that has no premoral good undermines the entire premise.

Why must there be authority and obedience to just decisions by authority in any human community if it is to function well and survive?

Human society is based upon an implicit agreement that activities will be undertaken to benefit all parties involved. The sinful nature of man being a factor, there must be an authority to whom grievances can be addressed. If that authority undermines the implicit social agreement, it threatens both its own authority and the stability of society. If individuals refuse to acknowledge decisions simply because they do not find them of benefit personally, they too undermine the very assumption upon which society is based.

What is the argument for a "republic" as ordinarily the best practical form of government?

A republic is more likley to be able to represent the widest number of relevant perspectives in the determination of just law. It has a single ruler, but it also has a body of elected officials who are responsible for determining which laws will be enacted. Depending on the form of republic, the body of officials can counterbalance the power to the ruler by refusing what it sees as unjust legislation. Likewise, the ruler can often halt the enacting of laws passed by the representative group that it sees as counter to its interests. This division and balance of power tends to create dialogue and cooperation.

Republican forms of government, when properly employed, ensure that the populace has some means of altering the balance of power. Such forms guarantee that a single individual cannot wantonly impose his or her will without, at least, the consent of a representative body.
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