On those Ethical Theories

The rather long (and rapidly becoming repetitive) discussion in the Disco Inferno post has gotten me thinking about ethical theories. The primary problem that humans have from a Christian perspective isn’t that they can’t figure out ways for themselves to behave ethically, it’s that even when they do they invariably fail to act according to the ethical standards they have arrived at by whatever means they utilize.

This is why human reason fails in this regard – it can’t overcome our sinful human nature. We know this because every person invariably acts contrary to the ethical standards they claim are the proper ones. This is why the Christian gospel is the essential foundation of all truly moral human action.

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20 Responses to On those Ethical Theories

  1. We know this because every person invariably acts contrary to the ethical standards they claim are the proper ones.

    No, you “know” that because your holy book says it. What’s more, the reason you believe people cannot overcome their sinful nature is not because they are unable faithfully follow whatever ethical theory they adopt, but because they don’t follow your morals.

    But to be clear, I’m not bothering with arguing why your reasons are invalid. I’m just pointing out that the things you believe are based upon different reasons than you mention.

  2. Justin says:

    Actually, the term hypocrite precisely defines people who don’t even follow their own morals. This clearly indicates the sinful nature of man, myself included.

  3. jackhudson says:

    History has pretty aptly demonstrated humans can’t faithfully follow their own sets of beliefs about what is right and wrong. It’s why civilizations have come and gone – it is the very reason we have government at all – because we can’t just suggest that people behave a certain way, we have to enforce laws to require them to act a certain way. It’s why we have checks and balances in our own government.

    As Madison put it in Federalist 51, “If men were angels, no government would be necessary.”

  4. I don’t think either one of you is remotely aware of all your assumptions:

    1) You’re assuming a definition of “sinful nature”.
    2) You’re using “right” and “wrong” in a sense specific to your beliefs.

    What constitutes a sinful nature and right and wrong for you comes from your religion. You do not “know” people act in these ways because they deviate from their own ethical theories. If you actually believed that, then you wouldn’t be willing to call a utilitarian sinful when he acts consistently within his nature to always save people, even when he uses others as a means. But you are willing to say that person is of a sinful nature, especially by virtue of such an act.

    Christ. Think about these things. ‘I know humans can’t overcome their sinful nature because they don’t practice what they preach’? Really? Even if someone does practice what he preaches, you’re still liable to call him sinful because his ethical system is in conflict with yours. Clearly then, moral consistency is not your basis. Your basis is that your religion tells you that humans are inherently sinful (and what a sunny disposition) and it wouldn’t matter if someone ever did practice all the things he preached. Hell, use that as a thought experiment (and try and not be so hostile towards it): If someone acted entirely in line with the ethical standards he claims are the proper ones, would you no longer say he was of a sinful nature?

  5. jackhudson says:

    No Michael, it comes from a rather simple observation of human nature, one made by our forefathers. If humans could simply adopt an ethical theory and act accordingly, there would be no need for laws or government.

  6. Justin says:

    Michael,

    What you’re saying is it is immoral to say that other people are immoral. That seems to be what your statement boils down to, and is in fact the basis for political correctness.

    Can you see the logical inconsistency there?

    Some things are really wrong and when widely abused, cause society harm.

    Housing scandal? Greed and dishonesty.

  7. No Michael, it comes from a rather simple observation of human nature, one made by our forefathers. If humans could simply adopt an ethical theory and act accordingly, there would be no need for laws or government.

    Way to avoid the thought experiment. Again, if someone did act with complete consistency of any given ethical theory, would he no longer be of a sinful nature? (I’m not asking you whether or not someone could do it. It’s an if/then scenario. If someone can act according to their beliefs in a completely consistent manner, then are they of a sinful nature?)

    Once you give me your dodgy answer where you complain about the very idea of applying a thought experiment, I’ll probably be done with you.

    No, Justin. You’re wrong. I said if Jack believed that it was inconsistent acts that indicated a sinful nature, then he would theoretically have to agree that if someone was able to act consistently within any given ethical theory, then that person was not of a sinful nature. This is a descriptive statement on my part; it’s what Jack believes and the conclusions of that belief. I did not say anything about what is moral or immoral. I have no idea how you’re as wrong as you are.

  8. jackhudson says:

    Obviously from a Christian perspective one would be sinful according to actual morals that exist. But I am not even talking about ‘sinful’ per se; I am talking about ‘environmentalists’ like Al Gore who build 10,000 sq. ft. mansions.

    Humans can’t even live up to their own ideals much less God’s standards.

    It’s why communism failed. It’s why marriages fail, it’s why politicians don’t so often fail to serve the public interest, and why people buy cheap stuff made in China while claiming they care about the economy and human rights. It’s the history of mankind. we can’t even do what’s in our own interest much less devote ourselves to the perfect standard of God. If we could come up with our own ethical standards and live successfully according to those standards, don’t you think in the thousands of years of human history we would have seen more success in this regard?

  9. I’m not disagreeing that “humans…invariably fail to act according to the ethical standards they have arrived at” because of “human nature”. That’s a trivial statement. I’m pointing out that you cited the Christian idea of a sinful nature; the reason you believe in a sinful nature has nothing to do with human inconsistencies. Indeed, your holy book-based belief is what ‘predicts’ inconsistencies in people, as ad hoc as it may be.

  10. jackhudson says:

    They aren’t mutually exclusive; I believe in sinful human nature because it’s a reality that has been revealed as truth and verified by human experience.

  11. Justin says:

    If someone were consistent with their “own” ethical system, and everyone had their “own” ethical system, then ethics would cease to be a useful thing to the extent these moral systems differ. This is essentially politically correct moral relativism, where the only immoral thing one can do is call something immoral. It’s subjective morality, and if morality is subjective, we may as well be arguing over favorite flavors of ice cream.

    I, on the other hand, believe that some things are truly wrong.

  12. They aren’t mutually exclusive; I believe in sinful human nature because it’s a reality that has been revealed as truth and verified by human experience.

    Then go to the thought experiment: if a human was entirely consistent with his own ethical system, would he no longer be of a sinful nature?

    If someone were consistent with their “own” ethical system, and everyone had their “own” ethical system, then ethics would cease to be a useful thing to the extent these moral systems differ. This is essentially politically correct moral relativism, where the only immoral thing one can do is call something immoral. It’s subjective morality, and if morality is subjective, we may as well be arguing over favorite flavors of ice cream.

    Then I guess internal consistency is not a defining feature of a sinful nature for you.

    Great point.

    And I guess you agree.

  13. jackhudson says:

    Then go to the thought experiment: if a human was entirely consistent with his own ethical system, would he no longer be of a sinful nature?

    Not neccesarily.

  14. jackhudson says:

    An ethical system doesn’t cause our nature to change, so no. I am not sure how that is relevant to mankind’s obvious inability to maintain ethical standards of any variety.

    It would be the same as if I said it was the nature of human beings to break laws; therefore they won’t keep laws even they themselves think are good. It doesn’t really matter what set of laws I think are good.

  15. An ethical system doesn’t cause our nature to change, so no.

    Okay, good. Then the reason you believe in a sinful nature is not because a sinful nature is, in part, described as belief/action inconsistency. You believe in a sinful nature because your particular holy book says we all have it.

  16. jackhudson says:

    Okay, good. Then the reason you believe in a sinful nature is not because a sinful nature is, in part, described as belief/action inconsistency. You believe in a sinful nature because your particular holy book says we all have it.

    Well I do believe in the sin nature in part because I trust Scripture – but also because it’s been proved by human history and personal observation. The fact that they all happen to agree with one another just demonstrates the reality all the more.

    Like I said, such knowledge isn’t mutually exclusive – in fact, if it’s true, you would expect it to agree.

  17. I feel I’ve made the point I was seeking. To the rest, it’s a post hoc view (which I mistakenly called “ad hoc” several posts ago).

  18. jackhudson says:

    If it was an irrelevant point you were seeking to make, then yes, you have made it.

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