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“Signs of His Presence” A Sermon by Dennis Kinlaw

“Signs of His Presence”  is a sermon by Dennis Kinlaw. Dr. Kinlaw was president and chancellor of Asbury College; he also taught Old Testament. He is also the author of many books, including This Day with the Master, Let’s Start with Jesus, Preaching in the Spirit, The Mind of Christ, We Live as Christ, and Malchus’ Ear and Other Sermons.

In this sermon, Kinlaw explains how human relationships image the kind of love that God has for humanity. The best of human love points beyond ourselves and to the ultimate ground of love and goodness in God.  “The end is going to be family in the full sense of the term.”

Signs of His Presence

Image: Return of the Prodigal  By Axel Kulle 1846-1908 – www.auktionsverket.se, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=10248000

Mailbag: The Science of Morality?

Question

Hello professor, I hope you are doing well. I have been looking at some of your work and I think you could answer a question I have in regards to ethics. If you have time that is. If you don’t have the time you can just ignore my email. My question has to do with an article I have been reading recently that is titled the science of morality. In the article the author states that morally good is identical with flourishing well being and the morally bad is identical with misery. I read some reviews of the articles and other scholars state that the author was just redefining moral goodness with well being and argument was circular. But why believe that objective goodness cannot be identical with flourishing of human well being? What makes the argument invalid?

Thank you for your time,

Bill

Answer

Hi Bill,

This is a deceptively hard question! The topic of goodness is quite complicated. Usually when we say that someone is morally good, we’re talking about traits of character and various virtues the person shows. Somehow the goodness inheres in the person. We speak secondarily of various states of affairs being good, but it’s almost a misnomer to call a state of affairs morally good. This is why Kant was of the view that the only truly good thing is a good will–an attribute of a person.

We might come across an awful state of affairs, but what’s morally bad is, most likely, the person or persons (if there is such a person or are such persons) culpably responsible for bringing it about. To say a hurricane is bad is not to say it’s morally bad. It just is what it is. Calling it morally bad is anthropomorphism. Of course it’s nonmorally bad, in that it produces, potentially, a range of undesirable consequences, but you asked about moral goodness in particular. Often when goodness gets contrasted with bad, the focus is on nonmoral considerations that pertain to things like pleasure and pain; but when good gets contrasted with evil, the distinctively moral features come into view.

So flourishing is a perfect example of something that’s nonmorally good. But it doesn’t get us to the heart of moral goodness. The effort to define moral goodness by appeal to human flourishing is a rookie mistake. It’s a deflationary attempt by folks who want to domesticate the concept to reduce moral goodness to something other than itself. It’s thus an attempt to define moral goodness in terms that aren’t moral at all. But moral goodness can’t be reduced or explained away in such a manner. The effort falls prey to the naturalistic fallacy, for one thing. For another, it just leaves too much out.

Suppose you are asked a question and risk being shot to tell the right answer. The morally good thing to do, you’re convinced, is to tell the truth. But still, you tell the truth and immediately get shot. How on earth can an appeal to human flourishing be adequate to account for the moral goodness of your choice in such a situation? Rather than conducing to survival and flourishing, it ensured your immediate death.

Now, just because there’s not an analytic reduction of “moral goodness” into “human flourishing” doesn’t mean there’s no connection between them. To the contrary, I think there’s an airtight (synthetic) connection between the two, but that’s quite different from saying moral goodness just is human flourishing. Ultimately, on a Christian worldview, moral goodness comes about by way of right relation with and transformation by God entirely into the image of Christ–a righteous and holy life–and with such a life will come complete fulfillment and satisfaction. But that doesn’t mean morality and happiness are the same thing; they’re not. But a good God can and will ensure their ultimate correspondence.

Best,

djb

“Consumed by Christ” A Sermon by Dennis Kinlaw

“Consumed by Christ” is a sermon by Dennis Kinlaw. Dr. Kinlaw was president and chancellor of Asbury College; he also taught Old Testament. He is also the author of many books, including This Day with the Master, Let’s Start with Jesus, Preaching in the Spirit, The Mind of Christ, We Live as Christ, and Malchus’ Ear and Other Sermons.

In this sermon, Dr. Kinlaw explains what it means to be “consumed by Christ.” Kinlaw offers worthwhile insight into why a person would want to follow Jesus when he demands so much. First, Christ has given all of himself as the Lamb and so he does not ask for something he has not also provided. Second, though his way may seem hard, in the end, it will be the only thing that can truly satisfy the human soul.

Download “Consumed by Christ”

 


What Women Want

By Tom Thomas 

King Arthur’s Queen Guinevere baffles him.  Like Arthur every other man is perplexed too.  We don’t know what makes her tick or what she wants.  In the Broadway play ‘Camelot’ King Arthur muses to himself.  He cannot figure Guinevere out.   I so identify with him.  King Arthur remembers Merlin the Magician teaching him about the animals.  Merlin turned him into a beaver to teach him about beavers.  Arthur says, ‘I should have had the whirl to change into a girl to learn the way the creatures think’.  ‘How to handle a woman?’  he wonders.  ‘Ah, yes’ he remembers.  Merlin said, ‘The way to handle a woman is to love her, love her, merely love her…’

The prolific crime and mystery novelist Ruth Rendell knew what woman want.  The hero in her novels is Chief Inspector Reginald Wexford.  Chief Inspector Reginald Wexford exemplifies what woman want in man.  She used to get tons of female fans telling her they wanted to marry Chief Inspector Wexford.   Ruth knows the reason: Chief Inspector Wexford answers what woman want (1) he makes them laugh (2) he ‘likes women very much and always has time for them’. (W Post, Obituaries, May 3, 2015)

Jesus fulfills a woman’s deep want and need more than any man.  Why have so many women over history followed Him?   He did what Ruth Rendell said:  he shows he likes women.  A revolution occurred because He dignifies them.  He accepts women as having standing.  As men, Jesus gives women access to Himself.  He always has time for them.  He pays them attention.  I want to try to show how the account of Martha, Mary and Jesus makes this clear.   How their want of Him made Him the one thing necessary in their lives.

Jesus entered Martha and Mary’s village of Bethany.  Bethany is just over the crest of the Mt. of Olives.  Martha ‘welcomed’ Jesus into her home.  Martha is the only woman I can think of who invited Jesus into her home.  Taking the initiative to do so took self- confidence.  It tells us she was friendly toward Jesus and his ministry.  Jesus did not decline Martha because she was a woman.  Perhaps Martha could do it because her home was large enough to accommodate Jesus and his disciples.

Martha’s sister Mary was also there.  When Jesus entered, Mary followed the Lord.  She took her place at His feet.  She begins listening to what he was saying.  This is radical.  Jewish teachers were generally opposed to women learning.  Jesus not only lets her sit at his feet. As we shall see, he expects her, a woman, to listen and learn.  This is still controversial in 2017.  The Taliban says the Moslem Quran does not allow women to be educated.  If Jesus entered your house, would you be sitting there with him?  Where was Martha?

Martha was ‘distracted.  She is overburdened by the various tasks of hosting guests.  She is anxious to provide a fine dinner and comfortable hospitality for her special guests.  Every host knows the tension between being with your company and attending to the ongoing preparation for dinner.  Guest’s hands and feet need washing; heads need oil; towels for drying;  fire for cooking tended; meat prepared and cooked; the vegetables, the bread, the deserts, and water drawn.  The tables have to be set with your best utensils and crockery/china.  The candles filled with oil and lit.  Flowers put in vases.

Our first Thanksgiving dinner as newlyweds Pam and I hosted my parents.  It was nerve-wracking for Pam.  Pam had never prepared a turkey in her life.  This was her first dinner for the in-laws.  She knew none of the recipes my parents enjoyed.  She baked a cake from scratch.  It was three layers.  When I cut the cake, it crumbled into bread crumbs.  She had iced the outside, but forgot to ice between the layers!

After all, Martha is entertaining Jesus!  The Prophet who taken the world by storm!  Martha is just plain stressed out.  She wants to give him an impressive dinner.  But she is feeling put upon.  With all that needs to be done, her sister is sitting there with Jesus.   Martha leaves her preparations and makes her way to Jesus.  If she appeals to Jesus, Jesus will tell Mary to help.  Mary will listen to the Master.  The Holy One will enlighten Mary to her injustice and selfishness. ‘Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to do all the work by myself?’ Tell her then to help me’.  ‘Tell her to do her share.’  Tell her to pitch in.  ‘Many hands make work light’ my mother would say.

But the Lord answered her, ‘Martha, Martha’.  Saying her name twice shows his strong interest in her.  There are many people around him but He considers her.  ‘Martha, Martha, you’re worried and distracted about much.’  You’ve been thrown into undue disorder and trouble.  These ‘worldly’ matters are too much oppressing you.  Things have gotten out of perspective.   You’re in overload.  For a lot of people, life moves at a chaotic clip.  It’s an all too typical woman’s – yes, man’s too – but particularly a woman’s concern today.  She is working a stressful job; she’s trying to be a good mother/wife. Women typically bear the brunt of the responsibilities of family and home.  Maybe she is also taking a night class to work on her degree.  I heard of a single woman holding two jobs; her father had Alzheimer’s in a care facility; her mother who lives with her has a health issue; and she is raising children.  ‘Martha, Martha’.

Was Martha ‘multi-tasking’?  She was trying to juggle multiple tasks.  ‘Multitasking’ is our word for today for juggling the overload of many duties.  ‘Multitasking’ is doing two or more cognitively complex things at the same time.  Dr. Frances E. Jensen, a U of Penn neuroscientist, says ‘multitasking’ is a myth.  Yes, you can chew gum and watch the baby at the same time.  That’s not multitasking.  But you cannot make cordon Bleu and solve a problem with your boss on the phone at the same time. If you try to do them at the same time your brain has to switch back and forth constantly.  You do neither well.  Focusing on more than one complex task is virtually impossible.  If you’re a teen – or Tom Thomas – it is impossible!

‘Martha, Martha, you’re worried and distracted about much.’  Are you too? Jesus continued. ‘But one is necessary’; ‘there is one need; ‘there is need of only one thing’.  Simplify.  ‘Mary has chosen the good portion’.  The word ‘portion’ connotes ‘food’.  Jesus puns, ‘Mary has chosen the better food.’    What food did Mary choose?  Jesus…the bread of life.  She chose to sit with and listen to Him.  What food did Martha choose?  The bread…of the kitchen.  Given the choice between life’s duties, responsibilities, vocations, and avocations and Jesus, Jesus  ranks above them all.  Which are you choosing?  Which is your practice?  Which is your first priority?   Is everything else second to Him?    What if Martha had done that? Driven, Type A people are asking who would have provided the beautiful arrangements of food and drink?  Better to have Jesus and a peanut butter and jelly sandwich than a Better Homes and Garden banquet without him.   Jesus consistently messages this: to the rich young ruler: sell everything, give to the poor, then come and follow me; to the man who wanted to bury his father before following Jesus.  Jesus said, ‘Let the dead bury the dead, follow me.’ Martha doesn’t realize who is in her midst.  Few people do.  In him is ‘the fullness of deity dwelling bodily’…the One who is before all things… ‘the one who is to have first place in everything’ .

Here is the man women want – the man women need; a man who likes women; loves women; wants them to learn from Him, to be with Him and He with them.  He would rather have Martha than a well- appointed home; He would rather have Martha than appetizing cuisine; He would rather have her than fine hospitality.  He wants Martha for herself; not for anything she can give him.  Where have you heard of such a man? Where have you heard of such a holy man, or spiritual leader?  Take the holy one the Buddha as an example.  The Buddha said to his disciple Ananda: ‘Women are stupid, Ananda; that is the reason, Ananda…why women have no place in public assemblies…’

Jesus shows as much interest in her as a man.  He invests in her worth: invites her to join his circle; wills her to be his disciple; believes she is just responsible as a man to God; just as capable of hearing, understanding and learning as a man.  This is a watershed for woman in history.

Women respond to Jesus.  He’s what they want.  He’s what they need.  They’ve heeded his word to Martha.  They have made Jesus their first portion –the one thing necessary.  He has fulfilled their deep want and need.  Probably in greater numbers in church history than men…in different ways: as wives…as mothers…a martyrs…as activists…as writers…as teachers…as evangelists…in mission…to great effect.  Perpetua was a 22 year old new mother.  She was imprisoned by the Romans with her infant for declaring she followed Christ.  The proconsul told her he would release her if she said, ‘Caesar is lord’.  Her father begged her to lie. She would not.  She said, ‘Jesus is Lord’.  She so wanted Jesus, when made to decide, she chose him above her father, her child, and her own life. Her witness lives on today.

Mademoiselle De La Mothe, better known as Madam Guyon, was a teenage girl in Paris.  She was smart and beautiful.  She was tall and well built.  She had a Grecian countenance, high forehead and brilliant eyes, and a noble sweetness.   She thought a lot of herself.  She spent a good part of the day in front of the mirror.  At 17, she fell deathly sick.  She was not expected to live.  As she languished, her sins haunted her.  She realized her self had been her religion.  She knew she was out of favor with God.  She recovered.  See sought God.  The only way she knew to try to get God’s acceptance was earn it:  she began to do good works.  It didn’t take away her sorrow for her sin.  Then she came to understand loving Jesus Christ is a matter of the heart.  Then she came to know personally Jesus Christ not by doing righteous works, but by faith.  Now, she said, ‘For I had now no sight but of Jesus Christ’ .  She was sorrowful of her wasted past.   Why was she so late in finding Jesus?  ‘Why’ she wondered, ‘have I known thee so late?  Alas, I sought you where you were not, and did not seek you where you were!’  She wrote the name of her Saviour in large characters and attached it to her person.  She wanted to be reminded continually of Him. She wrote poems and letters for Christ.  She influenced circles of Christians and mystic theologians like Francis Fenelon.

What do women want?  What do you want?  They want the One who accepts and honors them; the One who wants to be with them; who wants them to be in his company and they in his;  the One who loves them – they want Jesus Christ!  He is the one thing necessary.  Is He for you the One necessity?

 

 
Image by Georg Friedrich Stettner († 1639) – Van Ham Kunstauktionen, Public Domain, Link

Seven Reasons Why Moral Apologetics Points to Christianity

 

By David Baggett

Various moral arguments for God’s existence are usually deployed for the purpose of arguing for the truth of God’s existence per se, but they strongly hint at a more specific conclusion. Namely, they are plausibly taken to be evidence that Christianity in particular is true. The claim isn’t that by moral apologetics alone one can somehow deduce all the aspects of special revelation contained in Christianity, but rather this: in light of Christianity having been revealed, moral arguments for God’s existence point quite naturally in its direction. The following list is far from exhaustive, but offers a few reasons to think this is so.

First, one of the great virtues of moral arguments for God’s existence is that they point not just to the existence of God, but to a God of a particular nature: a God who is morally perfect. A. C. Ewing once said that the source of the moral law is morally perfect. Such a notion is described in various ways: omnibenevolent, impeccable, essentially good, and the like. What does it look like when omnibenevolence takes on human form? Jesus is a powerful answer. Moral apologetics works best when it’s Christological.

Second, to conceive of God as essentially and perfectly loving requires some sort of account. The right account, again, isn’t the sort of idea that we’re able to generate on our own; we depend on special revelation to tell us what it is. But Christianity has provided us with an account of the divine nature that’s Trinitarian in nature. C. S. Lewis wrote in Mere Christianity, “All sorts of people are fond of repeating the Christian statement that ‘God is love’. But they seem not to notice that the words ‘God is love’ have no real meaning unless God contains at least two Persons. Love is something that one person has for another person. If God was a single person, then before the world was made, He was not love.” Moral apologetics works best when it’s Trinitarian.

Third, Christianity has a demonstrated track record historically in reaching people of every race and ethnicity, and every socioeconomic background, and radically transforming their lives. In a book chronicling the spiritual lives of various Christian saints called They Found the Secret can be found this description: “Out of discouragement and defeat they have come into victory. Out of weakness and weariness they have been made strong. Out of ineffectiveness and apparent uselessness they have become efficient and enthusiastic. The pattern seems to be self-centeredness, self-effort, increasing inner dissatisfaction and outer discouragement, a temptation to give it all up because there is no better way, and then finding the Spirit of God to be their strength, their guide, their confidence and companion—in a word, their life.” Moral apologetics works best when it’s individually transformational.

Fourth, Paul Copan speaks of an historical aspect of moral apologetics: the historical role played by Christ and his devoted followers to promote social justice. Morality demands deep cultural transformation too. Copan cites specific cultural developments that can be shown to have flowed from the Jewish-Christian worldview, leading to societies that are “progress-prone rather than progress-resistant,” including such signs of progress as the founding of modern science, poverty-diminishing free markets, equal rights for all before the law, religious liberty, women’s suffrage, human rights initiatives, and the abolition of slavery, widow-burning, and foot-binding.

Jürgen Habermas, who isn’t a Christian himself, writes the following: “Christianity has functioned for the normative self-understanding of modernity as more than just a precursor or a catalyst. Egalitarian universalism, from which sprang the ideas of freedom and a social solidarity, of an autonomous conduct of life and emancipation, the individual morality of conscience, human rights, and democracy, is the direct heir to the Judaic ethic of justice and the Christian ethic of love. This legacy, substantially unchanged, has been the object of continual critical appropriation and reinterpretation. To this day, there is no alternative to it. And in light of current challenges of a postnational constellation, we continue to draw on the substance of this heritage. Everything else is just idle postmodern talk.” Moral apologetics works best when it’s culturally transformative.

Fifth, Christianity holds out the hope for total moral transformation. Morality upholds a standard that all of us fall short of all the time, yet there’s nothing about morality that hints at accommodation or compromise. The right ultimate explanation of morality should be able to make sense of our aspirations for radical moral transformation, and even perfection as something more than a Pollyannaish pipedream. Christianity offers, by God’s grace through faith, moral hope instead of moral despair, forgiveness and liberation from guilt, and the prospect to be totally conformed to the image of Christ, in whom there’s no shadow of turning. The resurrection offers the prescription from both death and sin: abundant and everlasting life. Moral apologetics works best when it is soteriological (offering both forgiveness and transformation, both justification and sanctification).

Sixth, Christianity offers principled reason to think that the glory to come will not just outweigh, but definitely defeat, the worst evils of this world. Christian philosopher Marilyn Adams writes, “If Divine Goodness is infinite, if intimate relation to It is thus incommensurably good for created persons, then we have identified a good big enough to defeat horrors in every case.” Moral apologetics works best when it’s eschatological.

Seventh, Christianity gives compelling reasons to think that every person possesses infinite dignity and value. To be loved by God, the very archetype of all goodness—each of us differently, but all of us infinitely—and to have been made a person in his image is to possess greater worth than we can begin to imagine. And humanity isn’t just valuable in the aggregate, according to Christianity. Rather, each person is unique, each is loved by God, each is someone for whom Jesus suffered and died. And in the book of Revelation, for everyone who accepts God’s overtures of love, a white stone will reveal a unique name for each one of them—marking their distinctive relationship with God and vocation in him. Moral apologetics works best when it’s universal.

The way a labyrinthine maze of jumbled metal filings suddenly stands in symmetrical formation in response to the pull of a magnet, likewise the right organizing story—classical theism and orthodox Christianity—pulls all the moral pieces of evidence into alignment and allows a striking pattern to emerge.

 

 

God and Cosmos, Chapter 4, Part II (Moral Value)

summary by Frederick Choo

Baggett and Walls next consider a more Platonic effort to account for intrinsic human value. Such a view is advanced by those like David Enoch and Erik Wielenberg. They focus on Wielenberg’s book, Robust Ethics: The Metaphysics and Epistemology of Godless Normative Realism. Wielenberg’s view (known as robust normative realism) is that there are response-independent, non-natural, irreducibly normative truths, objective ones, that when successful in our normative inquiries we discover rather than create or construct. He thinks moral properties supervene on nonmoral properties. Because of issues over supervenience, he distinguishes three types of supervenience.

Let M stand for a moral property. The first variant of supervenience he calls R-supervenience (R for reductive). The way M supervenes on the base properties here is by being reduced to them. Here, M is identical or entirely constituted by the base properties. The second form is A-supervenience (A for Adams). The instantiation of M might be entailed by the instantiation of the base properties together with the instantiation of certain non-base but necessarily instantiated properties. This comes from Robert Adams’ view of finite goodness. His view is that the property of being finitely good is the property of faithfully resembling God’s nature. The third variety is called D-supervenience (D for DePaul). M is not identical, or reducible to, or entirely constituted by the base properties, on this view. Rather, the instantiation of the base properties makes (or explains) the instantiation of M. He thinks the most plausible of these is D-supervenience.

He offers a few ways of construing such a making relation. The first is a grounding relation. Morality on this view concerns a sui generis domain (its own unique domain) that can be reduced to, or consist in, facts that might be formulated in other terms. Wielenberg worries that there isn’t a well-understood and useful grounding relation that is distinct from other metaphysical relations like identity and constitution.

The second way, which Wielenberg favors, is construing making as causation. He acknowledges various worries. One concern is that causation requires the existence of laws of nature connecting causes and effects, but it seems implausible to suppose there are laws of nature that connect nonmoral and moral properties. Another concern is that causal connections are usually thought to be contingent, but Wielenberg posits a necessary casual connection. Lastly, it is sometimes thought that causes must precede their effects. Wielenberg thinks the answer to these objections is by understanding causation in a particularly robust fashion, the same causal relation many theists take to hold between a state of affairs being divinely willed and the obtaining of that state of affairs. So, when asked why does being an instance of torturing someone just for fun entail moral wrongness, he says it is because being an instance of torturing someone just for fun makes an act wrong. He thinks no further explanation is available (since all explanations must stop somewhere).

Frank Jackson objects that there is always a purely descriptive claim that is necessarily coextensive with an ethical predicate, so there are no sui generis ethical properties. Using his making relation, Wielenberg argues that moral properties have a feature natural properties lack, namely, the former are resultant. Tristram McPherson objects to Wielenberg’s account by saying that commitment to brute necessary connections between discontinuous properties counts significantly against a view. Wielenberg admits there is some intuitive force to this objection, but argues that such a principle is self-undermining. Lastly, Wielenberg shows that both theists and his own view are committed to metaphysically necessary brute facts. They come from nowhere and nothing external to them grounds their existence. He thinks ethical facts are such facts.

9780199931194What about the narrower issue of the intrinsic value of human beings? Wielenberg thinks that his account better explains such value than at least certain theistic explanations. He insists that makes something good must lie entirely within its own nature. It is good in and of itself. He strikes off Mark Murphy’s, Adams’, Linda Zagzebski’s, and Mark Linville’s accounts because he thinks that human value is extrinsic on such views. Baggett and Walls will address such concerns in a later chapter.

They now turn their attention to reservations they have about Wielenberg’s account. First, Wielenberg thinks human dignity and worth D-supervene on the property of being human (or some specific features of being human). Baggett and Walls think that such a making relation underdetermines why this causation relation holds. Second, it is question-begging to assume that this supervenience story is consistent with secularism because, if humans are created in the image of God, then being human would have for one of its essential features a relational property of which God is a part. Third, Wielenberg is committed to the causal closure of the physical. This limits him to material and efficient causes, leaving little to no room for formal or final causes. The first person needs to be left out in any final theory. There is no room for mental causation in the context of casual closure. This arguably eliminates the means of treating persons as ends-in-themselves because the attitude of respect for a person presupposes mental causation. Fourth, there is a huge qualitative gap between natural and non-natural, between fact and value, between value and disvalue. Fifth, Wielenberg seems to dismiss the historical relevance of theism to the conviction about intrinsic human value, yet it is not clear that his worldview has the metaphysical resources to ground such truths. Sixth, it is not obvious that his explanatory stopping point is a good one. It is not clear what explanatory work is done by saying that an act of deliberate cruelty simply makes something wrong. He seems to be simply stating a moral fact that is in need of explanation. His explanatory stopping point amounts more to an assertion than argument. So, with these worries, Baggett and Walls do not think that Wielenberg’s account sufficiently accounts for intrinsic human dignity and value.

 

 

Summary of Chapter 4 of God and Cosmos: “Moral Value,” Part I

Summary by Frederick Choo

Part 1

In chapter 4, Baggett and Walls focus specifically on intrinsic human value. Historically, religious perspectives played a role in forming convictions about human rights. On the Judeo-Christian view, human beings are not only creatures of God, but are made in the image of God. Nicholas Wolterstorff claims that there is no plausible alternative to this religious framework to ground natural human rights. For example, some ground human rights in capacities like the power of reason, but this ends up excluding infants and those with mental disabilities who are often thought of as also having the same rights. Baggett and Walls do not want to say that respect-for-persons is supportable only on religious grounds. They make a more modest claim that respect-for-persons is best explained by theism compared to competing theories.

9780199931194First they consider egoism. Kai Nielsen’s proposal is that a respect-for-persons may be derivable from egoism (the view that one ought to act in one’s own self-interest). Based on this, he thinks that one ought to treat others well in order to be treated well himself. The first problem is that this fails to account for the moral standing of others; it is just a strategy to be treated well. As Baggett and Walls put it, “What does my acting in my interest have to do with you possessing intrinsic worth?” A second problem is that this fails to account for cases where not respecting others does not affect one’s self-interests. For example, one may be powerful and need not fear repercussions for treating people poorly. This results in having no reason for respecting others since it does not affect one’s self-interests. Hence egoism by itself cannot account for intrinsic human value.

Next, they consider utilitarianism/consequentialism. On this view, one ought to maximize utility. For example, some utilitarians say that one ought to maximize pleasure and minimize pain. Jeremy Bentham, a proponent of utilitarianism, infamously said that the notion of intrinsic natural rights is nonsensical. Rights exist based on what is advantageous to society. Whether rights are protected or not is determined by social utility.

John Stuart Mill, another proponent of utilitarianism, likewise thinks that the sole reason for according rights to people is based on social utility. As Mark Linville notes, there is no necessary connection between an action’s maximizing utility and its being fair or just. On utilitarianism, in a case where someone is raped, the wrongness of rape is not because their right is violated, but is because of the generally injurious consequences for the community. So utilitarianism fails to safeguard individual human dignity and worth.

Utilitarians offer many responses. One reply is that we tend to be unreliable calculators of consequences, so it is better to always safeguard individual rights than not to. Still, the problem persists that no individual’s rights or dignity is beyond sacrificing if, by doing so, utility is maximized. A rule-utilitarian may say that one should follow the rules which maximizes utility. But still, this is far from saying that certain acts are categorically wrong. All that can be said regarding an act is that it is at most merely consequentially wrong. Angus Menuge has said that on utilitarianism, if a tyrant was more effective in brainwashing people or slaughtering those who disagreed, genocide would have been right. Hence utilitarianism has problems accounting for human value.

Next, Baggett and Walls consider Philippa Foot’s virtue ethics that is based on a natural law theory. Foot’s book called Natural Goodness is an account of virtues based on how human beings are normatively structured, how we typically behave when it comes to those teleological aspects of our human functioning. Her book has three distinct parts. First is her argument against non-cognitivism (the view that moral statements do not express propositions that can be true or false). Second is her defense of naturalistic moral objectivity. Last, she handles objections from utilitarians and from Nietzschian nihilists.

Baggett and Walls focus on the second section. Foot argues that we make judgments of goodness and defect of living things by reference to a teleological account of the life form based on its species. Her account covers evaluative judgments of the characteristics and operations of other living things. What an animal should do depends on the kind of animal it is. Likewise, what we (humans) should do depends on our being humans. This means that moral defect is really just a form of natural defect. Vice is a form of natural defect while virtue is a form of natural goodness, rooted in patterns of natural normativity. Based on the kind of species one is, some behaviors simply conduce better to one’s flourishing than others.

Take for example the virtue of promise keeping. In giving a promise one makes use of a special kind of tool invented by humans for the better conduct of their lives, creating an obligation that contains in its nature a prescription that harmlessness in neglecting does not annul. Some accuse her account of being utilitarian. She however says that utilitarianism (and other forms of consequentialism) has its foundation in a proposition linking goodness of action to the goodness of state of affairs. Her theory of natural normativity has no such foundational proposition.

While Baggett and Walls agree with many aspects of Foot’s work, such as moral cognitivism and moral realism, they have some significant reservations with her main account. The most significant is that her account does not answer whether human flourishing is of intrinsic value. While she affirms it, her account does not provide a foundation for it. First, Foot has to account for differences between pestilential creatures, animals, and human beings. If she wants to say that biologically adaptive patterns of behavior in cancer cells or tigers do not entail objective moral facts, then how does she go from natural normativity to objective morality in the case of human beings?

Second, there is a problem of smart free riders. Why should one keep their promise if no damage is done? Foot says that there is still a moral duty to keep it to cultivate the sort of character of being trustworthy. But her reply still cannot account for a really smart promise breaker who is able and willing to get over her aversion to breaking promises when doing so is unlikely to detract from optimal species-flourishing.

Third is the problem of a deflationary analysis. Foot’s account is characterized as neo-Aristotelian, but Aristotle’s worldview was far from naturalistic. While Aristotle placed great emphasize on being human, his view wasn’t content with our being merely human.

Fourth is a transition problem. While she affirms good and noble human characteristics, she departs from a naturalistic, biologically grounded account of moral virtues. Furthermore, by limiting her resources to human flourishing, it seems unlikely she will have enough for the sort of thick account that virtue approaches to ethics tend to have as their distinctive strength.

Fifth, Baggett and Walls raise a normativity challenge. While they agree she is right, in one sense, to say that morality depends on our natures, this still leaves out an analysis of what that nature is exactly. Talk of telos (purpose) and human nature in a Godless world is difficult to sustain. Foot thinks that the designs of a Divine Mind are irrelevant to the natural-teleological descriptions of human beings. But if we have been created by God in His image, with his intentions in mind, then this is a relevant consideration.

Sixth is an epistemic challenge. Foot’s work does not address the contemporary challenge (in regards to moral knowledge) posed by evolutionary moral psychology.

 

 

Attending to the Least of These in the Age of Trump

 

Editor’s Note: This essay was originally posted at Christ and Pop Culture

by Marybeth Davis Baggett

“Even if you have this baby, I’m not going to love you.”

Nearly twenty-four years later, despite my having faced and overcome many challenges since that time and finally feeling secure in God’s faithfulness and his plan for me, memory of these words can still easily unsettle me. The cold indifference with which they were spoken, how they foretold the lonely and grueling road ahead, the grievous recognition that I had cast my pearls before this swine who was content to leave them in the mud—all of these hard truths surface in this short statement.

I was twenty, living recklessly and trying desperately to make up for what my childhood had lacked—some affirmation that I was important, a little appreciation for my unique gifts and talents, even just a bit of recognition that I existed.

It’s natural to feel invisible in dysfunctional environments like the one in which I grew up.

So on the precipice of adulthood, quite unconsciously I’m sure, I was determined to get what I had been denied: self-actualization, consideration, admiration. But when you have no internal gauge for authenticity in these matters, anything bearing a superficial resemblance will do, even the paltriest of substitutes—like the attentions of my manager at the restaurant where I worked.

Although it’s difficult now for me to stand in the shoes of that fragile girl, I do remember how flattering it was to garner the interest of someone with a modicum of authority in a position of respectability. In retrospect his flirting sickens me, knowing the self-centered callousness behind it, but at the time it thrilled me to think that I might be special enough to merit his devotion, or at least what I mistook for devotion.

The ironic but simple truth is that those growing up without having their most basic emotional needs met will often debase themselves in their desperate attempts to meet them. So it was with me.

Another simple truth is that many will use their power to exploit these vulnerabilities. This dynamic has been on full display in recent weeks with the latest scandal in Donald Trump’s bid for the presidency. The most visceral reactions have been directed toward the leaked audio, and I have to admit, listening to Trump’s boasts gives me vivid flashbacks to the early days of my unmarried pregnancy.

To hear a rich and famous man speak with such casual pride on the license his power gives him to have his way with women—married or not—sparks shame deep within me. Shame because I know he’s right.

My story attests to this reality. Trump’s voice on that tape brings me face to face with the fact that the crisis point of my life, even the conception of my precious son, could so heartlessly be reduced to an emotionally stunted adolescent talking point.

What has been equally troubling is the political aftermath of the Trump tape, the way it has rallied his defenders and accusers alike. His advocates try threading the needle to denounce Trump’s past while embracing his future (Supreme Court in the balance, after all); others emphasize that these were words not deeds (though that’s become a vexed question) and establish a hierarchy of depravity with Trump on the acceptable side of the line. Still more adduce the philandering of Bill Clinton and Hillary’s enabling diatribes against his accusers.
Grievously silent have been Christian voices calling on men and women alike to reject societal and legal allowances to exert illegitimate control over another.

Trump’s critics ostensibly inhabit the moral high ground. They rightly call Trump out for degrading women; they recognize the hostility and abuse of power. While some detractors, such as Beth Moore, predicate their critique on Christian conviction for the dignity and worth of all people and a concern for the vulnerable, others have leveraged their criticism to score political points. Because the tape discloses repulsive statements and attitudes about women, some seize the opportunity to offer Clinton’s platform as a corrective: complete with expansion of abortion access and an unseemly and sanguine acceptance of the practice as normative.

Michelle Obama’s moving speech delivered last week powerfully embodies the attractiveness of embracing a platform like this, one that is supposed to empower women. As many have reported, in that poignant speech Obama articulates the fear countless women have that they matter only as sexual objects and declares—with justification—that Trump’s nomination by a major political party has breathed new life into those fears, even inflamed them.

I hear her words and watch her passion, and they resonate, but I can join in Obama’s refrain for only so long. Her righteous indignation rings hollow in light of the suffocating internal and external pressure I felt to abort my child—pregnant, scared, and little-more-than-child myself.

The hideous refrain, “Even if you have this baby, I’m not going to love you,” echoes loudly in my ears these days.

This cruel declaration invokes my longing to be known and loved, reminding me how that deepest of human needs was wielded as a weapon. It crystallizes for me the enormous power men have when abortion becomes quotidian, effectively disempowering the women it purports to protect.

“My body, my choice” ultimately entailed that the child I was carrying was fully my responsibility. In the moment of this distancing and dispassionate declaration, I knew that—with conscience intact—my son’s father intended to leave me to bear the consequences alone.

This is the hard truth of our age. A people who pride themselves on “equality for all” has accepted unchecked power as a matter of course—wrongful dominion of men over women, of women over babies. A code of law crafted to defend the defenseless, in reality sacrifices the weakest of us all. And we turn a blind eye to exploited women who refuse the moral calculation of abortion that offers escape through passing on one’s victimhood to another.

Even now, those speaking loudest about the Trump tapes seem to overlook the exploited. They excuse, forgive, and change the subject. Or they condemn, scheme, and flaunt their moral superiority. Few have acknowledged the individual lives at stake. Grievously silent have been Christian voices calling on men and women alike to reject societal and legal allowances to exert illegitimate control over another.

For someone like me, the casualty of another’s entitlement, this silence is deafening.

God is good, and in recounting my experience, I don’t mean to imply that this desolate chapter is the end of my story. I have been blessed beyond measure, and God has indeed shown in and through me his delight in making beauty from ashes. I am no longer that abandoned, desperately needy new mother unprepared for what lay ahead. I am amazed, humbled, and overwhelmed by how far God has brought me, how he redeemed this turning point by transforming me and making me wiser and stronger.

Over the past week, with the two partisan camps warring over Trump’s latest scandal, I can’t help but think of my former self, ill-equipped for the crisis she faced. She would be able to find no refuge in either faction. And I can’t help but look at my female students at the university where I teach and wonder if any of them wrestle with the same inner and outer demons I faced at their age.

It’s to and for them I speak now. I want desperately for them to know that—no matter who has failed them, no matter what they have done, no matter who speaks lies to and about them—they are loved abundantly. They are created for a purpose they will find only in their Maker; they are unique and wonderful and valuable beyond measure. Exploitation of them is an offense to the God who formed us all.

And to men who might be listening in, mistreatment of women degrades you as well. To quote James Baldwin, “It is a terrible, an inexorable law that one cannot deny the humanity of another without diminishing one’s own.” You are called to something higher, to reject the pervasive cultural message that permits casual objectification and consumption of another.

A corollary with that truth is this one: good and right will prevail; evil begets evil and, left unredeemed, will never participate in good. While we live in a world fraught with sin and temptation, counterfeit satisfactions and fear will lure us to abandon God’s wisdom for our own, to rationalize our rejection of his law, and to enact justice injudiciously. Through abortion and more, our culture offers encouragement and approval for such blameworthy self-reliance. Only a resolute trust in God’s abiding faithfulness delivers us from evil, both inward and outward. Such is the way of hope.

Hope rejects voices that justify, minimize, or turn away from abuses of power. Even still, hope recognizes that abuse of power is not a zero-sum game and that such abuse, if left unchecked by grace, can quickly turn victim into perpetrator, all in the name of empowerment. Faustian bargains net no profit, no matter whose dignity is used as collateral.

Hope speaks truth about injustice, holds the wicked to account, but resists the creed that all’s fair play for the wronged. Hope, instead, knows you can entrust yourself to the one who judges justly. Through Christ’s life, death, and resurrection, hope proves that it need neither compromise nor collude with corruption to effect victory.

Do not be fooled by rhetoric that claims accumulation of power is our purpose, no matter the source of those claims. Embrace instead Christ’s heart for the “least of these,” even if you find yourself in that category.

Our fallen state may be homo incurvatus in se, humanity curved in on itself, but hope releases us from bondage to self-gratification and self-centeredness. Through hope, we can and should live differently. My life and the life of my son testify to this possibility and to this hope.

Image: “Good Samaritan”  by David Teniers the Younger. Wiki Commons. 

How Kantian Ethics Helps to Demonstrate the Attractiveness of Biblical Ethics: Part I

by Zach Breitenbach

INTRODUCTION

Few ethical systems have been as influential or as hotly debated in Western philosophy as the one proposed by Immanuel Kant. Kant, living when reason was king in eighteenth-century Enlightenment Europe, proposed what he considered to be the one true ethical system—a system rooted in pure reason, without recourse to grounding morality in God, that sought to explain universal moral truth.[1] This paper will argue that Kant’s ethical system, despite grounding morality purely in reason and in light of its own philosophical failures, contains significant insights that serve to illuminate the philosophical attractiveness of key biblical ethical principles.

To accomplish this, I will highlight three important objectives of Kant’s ethical view and compare them to three critical principles of a biblical ethic. Kant emphasizes (1) the existence of objective and universally-binding moral values and duties that require an intrinsic “Good” to ground objective morality; (2) the principle of “moral worth” that incorporates insightful appeal to the role of motive in ethics; and (3) the belief that humans have inherent value. Kant’s justification for these three contentions will be juxtaposed with the rationale for the biblical ethical principles that (1) God Himself is the intrinsic “Good” that grounds objective morality; (2) moral worth is found in honoring God by willing and acting in accordance with God’s will; and (3) God provides a superior basis for ascribing value and respect to human beings.

After briefly explaining Kant’s ethic, I will first show how Kant, in spite of his exclusion of God from morality’s foundation, offers several key insights that help to establish the tenability and attractiveness of these biblical principles. Then, I will demonstrate how Kant’s ethic fails to accomplish his own desired objectives and how a biblical ethic succeeds. Note that, for the purposes of this paper, a “biblical ethic” refers to a general Christian ethical approach that draws upon the Bible and minimally includes the three biblical principles identified above. Certainly there are a variety of nuanced positions that a Christian ethicist might hold, but this paper will defend these three particular ethical principles that are widely recognized as biblical.

 

KANT’S ETHICS

Kant was born in 1724 in Königsberg, Germany, and he lived there until his death in 1804. A crucial influence on Kant that was especially formative to his ethical thought is the Enlightenment thinking that was occurring in Europe. The Enlightenment, at its height in Europe during Kant’s lifetime, led to an explosion of scientific progress that brought about a wave of confidence in human reason, and this spilled over into philosophy. Kant was a staunch defender of the Enlightenment ideal of human autonomy and the lofty capabilities of human reason.[2] He viewed the Enlightenment as “man’s emergence from his self-incurred tutelage.” By “tutelage,” Kant means “man’s inability to make use of his understanding without direction from another.”[3] He encouraged people to stop blindly following the traditions of others and claimed that the “motto of enlightenment” is: “Have courage to use your own reason!”[4] Indeed, as we will see, autonomous human reason (i.e., our ability on our own to use the mind’s conceptual schemes to generate knowledge) is the very foundation of Kant’s ethical theory.

For Kant, reason exists in the human mind prior to and independent of experience, and it ultimately produces the basis for objective moral truth. Kant spurned the idea put forth by empiricists like David Hume that all synthetic knowledge is a posteriori. While empiricists were arguing that morality is a human construction based entirely upon human experiences, feelings, and desires, Kant was insisting that “there really exist pure moral laws which entirely a priori (without regard to empirical motives, that is, happiness) determine the use of the freedom of any rational being, both with regard to what has to be done and what has not to be done.”[5] These “pure moral laws” that reason produces are “imperative” and “in every respect necessary” because they are rooted in reason and not contingent upon human experience.[6]

But how does pure reason produce “necessary” moral laws that are objective and universally binding? Kant’s answer is that reason alone produces an intrinsic “good” that serves to ground objective morality—the “good will,” which is the rational faculty that recognizes moral duty. This “good will” is not an instrumental good that merely produces other goods; rather, “it is good only because of its willing, i.e., it is good of itself.” Even if circumstances should not allow the good will to be put to use, it would still be intrinsically good and would “sparkle like a jewel in its own right, as something that had its full worth in itself.”[7] The good will is the only good “which could be called good without qualification.” As such, the good will is able to discern what Kant considers to be the “supreme principle of morality”[8] that serves to generate our moral duties—the categorical imperative (CI).

Although Kant considers the CI to be one cohesive principle, it comprises three formulations. The first formulation is the Principle of Universal Law. It states: “I should never act in such a way that I could not also will that my maxim should be a universal law.”[9] If reason dictates that we could will that a maxim should be applied universally, then it becomes our moral duty to act on that maxim; conversely, if we could not rationally will to universalize a maxim, then it is our duty not to act on it.

It is important to see that Kant’s CI is intended to generate duties that are morally obligatory and not optional or contingent upon the desires of any person. Kant contrasts the idea of a “hypothetical” imperative with his concept of a “categorical” imperative. A hypothetical imperative “says only that an action is good for some purpose,” but the CI “declares the action to be of itself objectively necessary without making any reference to a purpose.”[10] Kant provides a number of examples to illustrate how the Principle of Universal Law reveals to us our moral duties independent of desire. In one example, Kant describes a man who needs to borrow money but does not have the means to repay what he needs to borrow. The man is considering accepting the following maxim: “When I believe myself to be in need of money, I will borrow money and promise to repay it, although I know I shall never do so.” Kant argues that when the man applies the Principle of Universal Law to this maxim, the man will discover that the maxim cannot be universalized and is, therefore, morally wrong. It cannot be universalized, Kant says, because that would make “the promise itself and the end to be accomplished by it impossible; no one would believe what was promised to him but would only laugh at any such assertion as vain pretense.”[11] Thus, regardless of what the man wants to do, reason dictates that his objective moral duty is to reject that maxim and not make the lying promise. If everyone in such a situation made a lying promise then a contradiction would result because the man’s goal of obtaining a loan would not be possible. Kant wants to say that it is this contradiction and not the consequences of undermining loans that makes reason demand the rejection of this maxim.

The second formulation of the CI is called the Principle of Ends. It states: “Act so that you treat humanity, whether in your own person or in that of another, always as an end and never as a means only.” Kant upholds the inherent value of humans on the same basis that he argues for objective morality—pure reason. Kant argues that humans, as “rational beings,” are by nature “ends in themselves” and “objects of respect.”[12] This is because every person “necessarily” thinks of himself as a valuable end in himself because he has a “rational nature” that grounds value—nothing can be valued without rational beings to do the valuing.[13] This argument of Kant is sometimes called the “regress” argument because “by regressing on the condition of value, it is possible to derive the intrinsic value of rational nature itself.”[14] The second formulation of the CI ensures that no maxim that devalues a rational person can be acceptably universalized.

The third formulation of the CI is the Principle of Autonomy. It states: “Never choose except in such a way that the maxims of the choice are comprehended in the same volition as a universal law.”[15] Given the first two formulations, it is clear that Kant’s theory has no need for a transcendent being to generate moral law for humanity. In this final formulation, Kant emphasizes that the good will of a rational being is sufficient for determining absolute moral law. Humans have the autonomous ability to legislate moral values and duties. In fact, Kant holds that God Himself, along with all rational beings, can only be good by adhering to the CI. He declares, “Even the Holy One of the Gospel must be compared with our ideal of moral perfection before He is recognized as such.… But whence do we have the concept of God as the highest good?  Solely from the idea of moral perfection which reason formulates a priori.”[16]

Another concept that is especially critical to Kantian ethics is “moral worth.” For Kant, “moral worth” means moral praiseworthiness. An agent’s action has moral worth if it is in accordance with duty and the agent is motivated to do the action out of duty. This means that the motivation of an agent is critical, and Kant even asserts that an action done out of duty that is contrary to one’s natural inclination results in the “highest”[17] moral worth of all. Kant regards it as unthinkable that subjective feelings could have any bearing on moral motivation. While Kant thinks God, who lives up to the moral law perfectly, gives us hope that the moral law can be perfectly fulfilled, he at the same time does not allow such hope to be our motivation for being moral. Rational duty must be our motivation in order for our action to have moral worth.[18]

Having briefly surveyed the core points of Kant’s ethic, we will now examine how the three key principles of a biblical ethic identified previously are plausible by comparing them to Kant’s ethic. We begin by seeing how Kant’s ethic offers positive insights that support the tenability and attractiveness of these biblical ethical principles.

INSIGHTS OF KANT’S ETHICS

Kant’s ethical system offers a number of insights that help to reveal the soundness of a biblical ethic. Consider the first biblical principle that objective and universal moral values and duties exist, and that God is the intrinsic good that grounds their existence. This traditional view sees God as the basis of objective morality such that the truths of morality are found in God and are fully independent of all human opinions and beliefs. The Bible portrays God as the very foundation and standard for universally-binding morality. Support for this concept can be gleaned from numerous biblical passages. We are commanded to be holy because of God’s holy character (Lev 19:1-2). God is maximally holy (threefold repetition of “holy”) and exposes our sinfulness (Is 6:1-5). Jesus states that “no one is good—except God alone” (Mark 10:18). God alone is the standard. Although Kant rejects the idea that God grounds morality, he does correctly recognize the reality of objective morality and the need for an intrinsic “good” that must provide some ontological basis for it.

There is great wisdom in Kant’s passionate rejection of all ethical systems that cast morality as a human construct that is relative to the desires of individuals or the whims of culture. Morality must be objective and universal to be truly normative, and normativity is a seemingly necessary feature of any adequate ethical system. Moral relativism, if true, would make moral criticism impossible such that morality would fall apart. Kant recognizes this and harshly condemns ethical relativism for making morality out to be a “bastard patched up from limbs of very different parentage, which looks like anything one wishes to see in it.”[19]

Kant appears to be correct that objective morality must be grounded in an intrinsic “good” that has “its full worth in itself.”[20] He saw that if there is no objective good that serves as the incorruptible standard of moral perfection, then the subjectivity that unacceptably destroys the prescriptivity of morality cannot be avoided. As C. S. Lewis rightly argues, “The moment you say that one set of moral ideas can be better than another, you are, in fact, measuring them both by a standard…. You are, in fact, comparing them both with some Real Morality.”[21] Plato recognized this as well when he postulated the idea of a “Good” form that serves as the objective basis by which anything can be called good. Plato saw that the “Good” must exist independent of all appearances and human conventions. Recounting the words of Socrates in Plato’s cave allegory, Plato writes of this “Good” as that which is the ultimate “cause of all that is right and beautiful,” even though we often see it in only a distorted way in this world.[22] As long as morality is truly an objective reality, as it apparently must be, then both Kantian and biblical ethics are correct in affirming an intrinsically good moral standard as a foundation.

Kant also provides perspicacity concerning the second principle of biblical ethics by affirming that moral worth depends on our motives and not just our actions. As discussed previously, Kant only allows for an agent’s action to have moral worth if the action is in accordance with moral duty and the agent is motivated to do the action out of moral duty. Similarly, the Bible indicates that God is concerned not only with our actions but also our motivations and our will. God does not merely base the moral worth of a person’s action on whether the act itself is in accordance with His commands; rather, the motivation of the agent to act in a God-honoring way is also critical. For example, the Apostle Paul writes that God wants us to “will and to act according to his good purpose” (Phil. 2:13). The scribes and Pharisees “do all their deeds to be noticed by men,” and Jesus condemns this motivation (Mt 23:1-12). Even good works, such as prayer, must not be done with a wrong motive (Mt 6:1-6). All food is acceptable to eat, but if one is convinced that eating a certain food is wrong and does it anyway, he is morally guilty (Rom 14:14, 23). So, in Scripture, the action done by a person is not the only thing that is significant in terms of moral praiseworthiness; one’s motivations and reasons for acting matter greatly.

Louis Pojman rightly points out that the benefit of an ethical system that accounts for motive is that “two acts may appear identical on the surface, but one may be judged morally blameworthy and the other excusable” depending on the motive of the agents carrying out the acts.[23] Kant captures this truth, and he realizes that one’s commitment to his moral duty will sometimes require him to contradict his natural inclinations. For example, Kant’s contention that “love as an inclination cannot be commanded” is theologically insightful and attractive.[24] While some critics find such dutiful love to be cold and uncaring, Kant is surely correct that love for others must be more than a feeling that we are either inclined or disinclined to have if love is truly a moral duty.[25] In the same way, biblical ethics involves the command to love others—even one’s enemy—regardless of inclination (Matt. 5:44).

Finally, Kant’s agreement with the third biblical principle that humans are inherently valuable and deserve respect is also intuitively attractive. Although the next section will explore the difficulties Kant has in justifying the value of humans independently from God, Kantian and biblical ethics share the advantage of being in accord with the nearly universal sense most people have that human life is valuable. As Burton F. Porter notes, it is “difficult, if not impossible,” to deny our moral sense that there is something valuable about human life, and denying that human value is an objective reality “runs counter to our most basic feelings.”[26] While this widely-held moral sense that humans have value does not prove that humans really are valuable, any ethical theory that is in accord with such a prominent aspect of our moral experience is to be preferred. With these insights of Kant in mind, let us now examine how the shortfalls of Kant’s ethic highlight the greater tenability of the three specified biblical principles of ethics.

 

Notes: 

  1. John E. Hare, The Moral Gap: Kantian Ethics, Human Limits, and God’s Assistance, (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1996). Though it is not clear, Hare thinks Kant might have believed traditional Christian doctrines (see pp. 38, 48). God is important to Kantian ethics in that He ensures that virtue and happiness align and that the moral law can be perfectly fulfilled; however, for Kant, we will see that moral law springs from reason. God is not its source.
  2. R. Scott Smith, In Search of Moral Knowledge: Overcoming the Fact-Value Dichotomy, (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2014), 94.
  1. Immanuel Kant, “What is Enlightenment?,” in Foundations of the Metaphysics of Morals and What is Enlightenment?, trans. Lewis White Beck (Indianapolis, IN: Bobbs-Merrill, 1959), 85.
  1. Ibid.
  2. Immanuel Kant, Critique of Pure Reason, in Immanuel Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason: In Commemoration of the Centenary of its First Publication, 2nd ed., trans. F. Max Müller (London: Macmillan, 1907), 647.
  1. Kant, Critique of Pure Reason, 647.
  1. Immanuel Kant, Foundations of the Metaphysics of Morals, in Foundations of the Metaphysics of Morals and What is Enlightenment?, trans. Lewis White Beck (Indianapolis, IN: Bobbs-Merrill, 1959), 10.
  1. Ibid., 8-9.
  1. Kant, Foundations, 18.
  1. Ibid., 31-32.
  1. Ibid., 40
  1. Kant, Foundations, 46-47.
  1. Ibid., 47.
  1. Evan Tiffany, “How Kantian Must Kantian Constructivists Be?,” Inquiry: An Interdisciplinary Journal of Philosophy 49, no. 6 (December 2006): 540.
  1. Kant, Foundations, 59.
  1. Kant, Foundations, 25. Kant sees the “highest good” as the conjunction of virtue and happiness. Notably, he thinks only God can bring about such a condition; however, God is only good by perfectly living up to the CI as demanded by reason.
  1. Ibid., 15.
  1. David Baggett and Jerry L. Walls, God and Cosmos: Moral Truth and Human Meaning (Oxford: University Press, 2016), 265-266.
  2. Kant, Foundations, 44.
  1. Ibid., 10.
  1. C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity (San Francisco, CA: HarperCollins, 2001), 13.
  1. Plato, Plato’s Republic, trans. George Maximilian Anthony Grube and C. D. C. Reeve (Indianapolis, IN: Hackett Publishing Company, 1992), 189.
  2. Louis Pojman, Ethics: Discovering Right and Wrong, 6th ed. (Belmont, CA: Wadsworth, 2009), 11. For example, it seems that a man who helps an elderly lady across the street to impress his friends should be judged as less morally praiseworthy than a man who does this same action out of a sense of moral responsibility.
  1. Kant, Foundations, 16.
  1. Julia Driver, Ethics: The Fundamentals (Oxford: Blackwell, 2007), 86.
  1. Burton Frederick Porter, The Good Life: Alternatives in Ethics, 3rd ed. (Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, 2001), 85.