Various ethics terms
Various ethics terms
Image by Mary Pahlke from Pixabay

Introduction

In the previous post, I argued that there is another explanation for the ground of core morals, such as justice and love are good, and murder and rape are wrong: they are grounded in God. However, there are a couple serious objections that I will address here, and then I will summarize several of my findings.

Euthyphro Dilemma

“Euthyphro” poses a dilemma: are morals good because God commands them, or does God command them because they are good? If the former, it seems God’s will alone is the ground of morals. But, it seems God could will whatever God wanted, and it…


Various ethics terms
Various ethics terms
Image by Mary Pahlke from Pixabay

Summary of the Survey

We have surveyed major ethical options for what our core morals are, including:

• Are they how we happen to talk?

• Are they physical things? Perhaps evolutionary products?

• Are they ways of behaving or moving our bodies?

• Are they results of a utilitarian calculus?

• Are they emotive utterances?

• Are they particulars? (nominalism)

But, at least since Hobbes, I’ve argued that none of the views can preserve our core morals of murder and rape being wrong, and love and justice being good.

What Are These Core Morals?

For one, they seem to be objectively real. They seem to exist independently of…


Introduction

In the Middle Ages, the Scholastics’ Aristotelianism stressed metaphysics, especially real, immaterial, and universal qualities. This applied not only to human nature, but also to virtues and moral principles. As universals, many particular, individual humans can exemplify the very same quality (a one-in-many).

The Shift

With this stress upon universals and their essential natures, Aristotelianism lent itself to a more a priori (in-principle), deductive approach to science. But, this position started to shift with William of Ockham (d. 1347). Ockham rejected universals, and in its place embraced nominalism. Unlike universals, nominalism maintains that everything is particular. For instance, while we may speak…


Various ethics terms
Various ethics terms
Image by Mary Pahlke from Pixabay

Some Contributions

What should we make of MacIntyre’s proposals? His ethics focuses on the importance of good character by embodying moral virtues and being authentic. He also draws attention to the importance of community. And, he emphasizes the need for living out the virtues, and not merely engaging in abstract theorizing.

Broad Concerns

As we have seen, MacIntyre and other authors writing in the light of the postmodern turn embrace nominalism. Yet, we have seen its disastrous effects, leaving us without any qualities whatsoever. So, there are no people, no morals (not even our core ones), no world, etc. …


Various ethics terms
Various ethics terms
Image by Mary Pahlke from Pixabay

MacIntyre’s Diagnosis

MacIntyre (b. 1929) observes people seem to speak from different moral standpoints, or languages. Some talk as though they are emotivists, while others are Kantians, utilitarians, relativists, Aristotelians, etc. But, it seems we no longer have a way to dialogue morally and come to agreements. These different ways of morally talking seem to presuppose objective standards to evaluate them. However, he claims that fails because they presuppose different evaluative concepts and frameworks.

This situation leads to shouting matches. This happened, he thinks, because the Enlightenment “project” dropped the idea of a moral telos (goal, end) from Aristotle and Aquinas. Without…


Various ethics terms
Various ethics terms
Image by Mary Pahlke from Pixabay

Introduction to Postmodernism

Postmodernism is the last major kind of ethical views I will survey. Since it is post-modern, we will need to survey the modern era’s traits to which postmoderns are responding. In this essay, I will explore some of the historical and sociological factors leading to postmodernity, along with some key philosophical positions, too.

Historical, Sociological Influences

People date modernity’s beginning differently, but we can point to the rise of the Scientific Revolution with Gassendi’s and Hobbes’s influences in the 16th century, and the related scientific shifts then and in the 17th century. As a first trait, modernity was marked by a tendency to…


Various ethics terms
Various ethics terms
Image by Mary Pahlke from Pixabay

What then should we think of critical theory (CT) and its shaping influences in these other views? I’ll consider some strengths and weaknesses.

Strengths

First, proponents rightly point out many injustices that should be addressed. They are right that too often, people in power abuse it to oppress people, which is wrong. Second, they rightly note that (for example) racial injustices can be embedded in systems, even if there are no individuals’ racist intentions. Third, reasoning morally in abstract ways can blind us to oppression and harms. We need to attend to peoples’ particular, embodied, social-historical factors in our policies, for…


Various ethics terms
Various ethics terms
Image by Mary Pahlke from Pixabay

Introduction

In this essay, I will survey key points of three theories that have been deeply shaped by critical theory (CT). I will try to draw out their ethical implications. In the next essay, I will assess CT.

Liberation Theology

The first is liberation theology. We will explore it through the teachings of the Catholic theologian Gustavo Gutiérrez (b. 1928). His ideas have been widely influential in Latin America and the west.

For him, the purpose of liberation is achieve freedom from anything that hinders humans’ fulfillment and communion with God and one another. Economic oppression is a key, but not the only…


Various ethics terms
Various ethics terms
Image by Mary Pahlke from Pixabay

Introduction

Naturalistic ethics remains a dominant moral approach in the west. But there are at least two other contemporary kinds of ethics. They are critical theory and its particular versions, as well as postmodernism. I will start with critical theory (CT), with a focus today on social justice.

Overview of Critical Theory

Social justice has a long and venerable history, including efforts such as abolishing British and American slavery; caring for the vulnerable, such as the poor, widows, orphans, and minorities; and caring for the sick, such as through building hospitals. Today, however, there seems to be a “new kind” of social justice that focuses…


Various ethics terms
Various ethics terms
Image by Mary Pahlke from Pixabay

Introduction

Previously, I explored issues with Armstrong’s naturalistic kind of properties and how we cannot have knowledge on them. Now I will look at nominalism, which seems to be the most likely naturalistic view of properties. As Wilfrid Sellars (d. 1989) remarked, “A naturalist ontology must be a nominalistic ontology” (109). Yet, I will argue that nominalism undermines knowledge, and it will do so for naturalism, too, including in ethics. Yet that undercuts our clear knowledge of our core morals.

Nominalism

Unlike realists, who affirm the reality of universals, nominalists think that everything is particular. Literally, there are no identical qualities shared…

R Scott Smith, PhD

Professor of ethics, philosophy of religion @ Biola's MA Christian Apologetics. Interests: ethics, knowledge, nominalism, & how Christians have been naturalized

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