Ethics is the field of study about what is right or wrong to desire, will and enact, as humans. What is righteousness? This is the question. Or in other words, ethics is the study of what outward and inward behavior corresponds to righteousness such that inward and outward behavior is righteous. This sensible idea of righteousness and definition of ethics is from virtue ethics. According to virtue ethics, a person is righteous and virtuous when they act according to the excellence of their own nature.
Relevance For Studying Ethics
1 Ethics connects to the quality of life regardless of social status or social esteem. You have to live with yourself, and you can’t have a healthy life without a healthy conscience. You can’t have a healthy conscience without a sufficient basis in ethics. If you have no concept of virtue, ethics and ‘what is righteous’ or ‘being righteous’ has no clear meaning.
2 Ethics is a vital inquiry, needed for every adult to understand and apply to their life.
Parents, role models, and every person who influences others i.e. everyone, needs to understand the relevance of ethics because ethics is bound up with the relevance of excelling in life generally.
3 Ethics and human health are inextricably connected. Your psychological and spiritual health significantly determines your capacity to enjoy your life and conduct yourself with purpose in good conscience. Ethics vitally permeates human thoughts, action and pleasure. If you have no reason to believe you are pursuing righteous and virtuous goals, then you have no reason to think you have a life of righteous and virtuous purpose. A person that provides an ethics definition without including purpose vital to righteousness is a person who provides an intolerable ethics definition disconnected from human life. But with virtue, ethics is alive and connected to life, and an ethics definition that acknowledges human nature as being ‘created Image-bearers of God’, this then connects deeply to the robust idea of human health.
Popular Nonsense That Needs Addressing
These statements are false statements that I argue against:
1 False: Ethics is not objective.
The simple fact that ethics is hard to argue about, and that many people have various beliefs about the matter, does not itself demonstrate that the ground of ethics is subjective and non-objective. Humanity debates everything they think is important. Ethics is important, hence the debate. But debate is not evidence of non-objectivity.
Is there any righteous ethics definition available that would permit a person to enjoy the pain of another innocent human being? I can’t imagine the answer being yes. Can you? Is there any good person, in any culture, that answers in the affirmative? Of course not, that is because righteousness is an objective matter. We all have a duty to be virtuous.
2 False: Ethics is different in every culture.
Human nature exists in every culture. Ethical reality relies on the good nature of the moral agent. Cultural heritage simply provides the symbols for the initial activity of the agent in the world. Symbols of right or wrong action may be different in different cultures, but the ideas that motivate and correspond to personal character are the same insofar as the people in question are human. Just as different languages have different symbols for common objects in the human experience, so also, the symbols of right behavior may be superficially different, though nevertheless the differing symbols may be fundamentally rooted in the same reality that determines right and wrong i.e. human nature. Different languages may have different words for the tree in front of them, but each word is about that tree. The reality of the tree grounds the symbol of the tree. Therefore, there may be different symbols from different languages, though these various and different symbols correspond to the same objects, and this says nothing at all about supporting cultural or ethical relativism in any fundamental sense.
Any ethics definition that uses relativism as an absolute foundation fails to understand virtue ethics, and further, fails to account for the possibility of human activity in the context of virtue ethics.
3 False: Ethics is a field of inquiry wholly unrelated to religion.
If religious doctrine corresponds to objective reality, and this objective reality answers accurately to the description in religious doctrine, then religion and ethics are inseparable. Because human nature is what determines right and wrong, and this is part of this objective reality. If the Christian cosmology is an accurate description of reality, then religion and ethics are inseparable insofar as the Christian universe is the real universe.
You must presuppose that Christianity is false to adopt the complete separation of religion from ethics. One may bracket off ethics from religion insofar as you can discuss ethics without using the word ‘religion’, however, whether or not religion is ethically relevant depends on the anthropological doctrine of the religion. Christian doctrine states that God made man in His Image. Therefore, human nature is such that ethics is inextricably bound to religion. If ethics stems from an ethical nature, then the source of the ethical nature is essential to the discussion on ethics.
So, what is righteousness? What actions and thoughts are righteous? And what does being an Image-bearer of God have to do with virtue ethics and a definition of ethics? …
This a very brief primer, to be expanded and refined later. The concepts of righteousness and what desires and goals are righteous, are not merely academic questions for philosophers. If humans have purpose, then virtue ethics is vital for our excelling in life. We must constantly refine our own personal understanding and ethics definition throughout our life. Why? Because we have a duty to be virtuous: we have a duty to be as close to the purpose set-forth for us, as Image-bearers of God, as possible.
Highly Recommended Lectures of Peter Kreeft:
A Refutation of Moral Relativism — Not just a strong case against it, but a refutation of the philosophy that no society has ever survived
Christ’s Concept of Happiness vs The World’s — What is the meaning of happiness? How do you get it?
Moral Theology and Homosexuality — Traditional moral wisdom for modern moral confusion
The Good, True and Beautiful — C.S. Lewis on three great transcendentals.
Here is an introductory video to ethics. It is just an introduction. I don’t agree categorically with everything he says, but it is a good, free primer to start thinking about ethics. I am on the lookout for some free videos about Christian ethics and virtue ethics until I make some of my own. Enjoy.
This is a more advance ethical discussion from Alasdair MacIntyre.
On Having Survived Academic Moral Philosophy (1 of 4):
Alasdair MacIntyre: On Having Survived Academic Moral Philosophy (2 of 4):
Alasdair MacIntyre: On Having Survived Academic Moral Philosophy (3 of 4):
Alasdair MacIntyre: On Having Survived Academic Moral Philosophy (4 of 4):
Have any great resources or links to add here? Please copy my email here or post a comment.