Moral Choices 2nd Ed : An Introduction to Ethics

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  • Edition: 2nd
  • Format: Hardcover
  • Copyright: 2000-08-01
  • Publisher: Harpercollins Christian Pub
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Moral Choices helps college students form a sound basis for making ethical decisions in today's complex postmodern culture. This book grounds students in both the theory of ethics and its application to today's pressing social issues. Avoiding undue dogmatism, Professor Scott B. Rae outlines the distinctive elements of Christian ethics. He also introduces students to various ethical systems and their key historical proponents, including Plato, Aristotle, Augustine, Aquinas, and Kant. And, after describing a seven-step procedure for tackling ethical dilemmas, he uses case studies to address the current issues listed below. Now in its second edition, Moral Choices is expanded and revised to provide the most current insights. Topics include: Abortion Reproductive Technologies Euthanasia Capital Punishment Sexual Ethics The Morality of War The Legislation of Morality New: Genetic Technologies and Human Cloning Besides the new chapter, substantial changes have been made in the chapters on euthanasia and reproductive technologies.

Table of Contents

Acknowledgments 8(1)
Publisher's Preface 9(2)
Introduction: Why Study Ethics?
Christian Ethics
Major Figures in the History of Ethics
Ethical Systems and Ways of Moral Reasoning
Making Ethical Decisions
Reproductive Technologies
Genetic Technologies and Human Cloning
Physician-Assisted Suicide and Euthanasia
Capital Punishment
Sexual Ethics
The Morality of War
Legislating Morality
General Index 271(8)
Scripture Index 279


Despite modern departures from it, the Judeo-Christian system of morality has had a profound impact on society from its inception. In this chapter we will put forth the various emphases in Christian ethics and address some of the criticisms of Christian ethics. Initially, we will establish a scriptural foundation by examining various points of ethical emphasis in both Old and New Testaments. Although both Old and New Testament ethics are vast subjects on which entire volumes have been written, a synthesis of the major emphases in biblical ethics is all that space here will allow.
Much of biblical ethics revolves around God’s specially revealed commands. For many people, therefore, the divine command theory of ethics has become synonymous with biblical ethics. Such a theory of ethics, however, raises questions about whether something is good because God commanded it or whether God commands something because it is good. This is known as the “Euthyphro dilemma,” since the question was first raised by Plato in his dialogue Euthyphro. This dilemma cannot be adequately addressed without a consideration of what is called natural law. Previously emphasized primarily by Roman Catholics and at times treated with scorn by Protestants, this concept is important for a fully developed biblical ethic. Its definition and biblical justification will be explored toward the end of this chapter.
Just as the Old Testament is not a systematic theology but a mixture of different theological emphases presented in a variety of literary styles, so too, the Old Testament is not a carefully arranged system of ethics, but a mixture of different types of moral reasoning. The Old Testament reflects great diversity in methods of moral reasoning. With the Mosaic Law providing the ethical principles by which Israel ordered its life, it is not surprising that deontology, or an appeal to principles, is strongly emphasized in the Old Testament. In their appeal to the Law as the basis of their prophetic message, the prophets depend heavily on deontology. But there is more to morality in the Old Testament than the simple appeal to principles and commands. The Wisdom Literature contains a measure of utilitarian reasoning. For example, many of the Proverbs contain explicit descriptions of the consequences of certain actions and character traits. The writers of the Proverbs appear to praise wisdom because of the good consequences it produces, while they warn against folly because of the harmful consequences that it produces. To be sure, the Wisdom Literature is ultimately grounded in the Law, and thus ultimately grounded in principles. The Wisdom Literature, then, does not attempt to use utilitarianism as a self-sufficient system for discovering morality, but the appeal to principles is supplemented by appeal to consequences, a use of both utilitarian and deontological methods.
The Old Testament also appeals to egoism and self-interest, specifically in the covenant blessings and cursings in Deuteronomy 27-30. Here God reveals to Moses that Israel’s agriculture and national security face certain consequences dependent on her obedience to the covenant. Thus her loyalty to the covenant will result in certain blessings, while her disobedience will lead to certain cursings. Accordingly, Israel would have a high degree of self-interest to obey the Law. The prophets repeatedly refer to the blessings and cursings of the covenant in their attempts to call Israel back to faithfulness to God, suggesting that the covenant cursings and blessings form a significant aspect of Old Testament ethics. Again, this is not to say that Scripture uses egoism as a self-sufficient ethical system, but rather, that the appeal to principles is supplemented by an appeal to self-interest.
Finally, the Old Testament also appeals to natural law. For example, the book of Proverbs defines right and wrong (wisdom and folly) by observations drawn from nature (Prov. 6:6-11; see also Ps. 19:1-6) and human relationships (Prov. 24:30-34). Natural law is not strictly limited to observations from nature, however. It refers to universal moral principles that are not specifically derived from special revelation. The oracles to the nations (e.g., see Isa. 13-23; Jer. 46-51; Ezek. 25-32) are good examples of biblical appeal to natural law. Unlike Israel who had the Mosaic Law, these nations lacked the Law and are still condemned for many of the same transgressions as Israel, including injustice, violence, and oppression of the poor. We can conclude, therefore, that these nations were somehow aware of their crimes, otherwise God could not be just in holding them accountable for their crimes. The means by which God made them aware of these moral obligations is general revelation, or natural law. Thus in the Old Testament natural law supplements the ethics provided by special revelation.1
The foundation of Old Testament ethics is the Law. Some scholars use the term Law more narrowly to refer to the Ten Commandments (Ex. 20:1-7; Deut. 5:1-21). We will use it more broadly to refer to the first five books of the Old Testament, the Pentateuch, but especially to the material found in Exodus 20-40, Leviticus, and Deuteronomy 5-30. The Law sets out the fundamental principles and commands for Israel and consists of three primary parts: (1) the moral law, or the Ten Commandments; (2) the civil law, which governed social relations and institutions; and (3) the ceremonial law, which governed Israel’s worship of God. When referring to Old Testament ethics, most scholars use the moral and civil law as the foundation. The ceremonial law is often considered a part of Israel’s religious ritual, and not strictly related to ethics.
Much of the remainder of the Old Testament ethics can be seen in relation to the Law. In the Poetic Literature, especially Psalms, worship is often presented as a response to the revelation of God in the Law. The Wisdom Literature attempts to take the general demands of the Law and make them persuasive to an international audience, without any of the features directly related to Israel, such as the sacrificial system, the Promised Land, the covenants, and the tabernacle or temple. The Prophets appeal to the Law as their primary point of reference in making their indictments against Israel.

Excerpted from Moral Choices 2nd Ed: An Introduction to Ethics by Scott B. Rae
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