Christian Ethics

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Excursus: What is “good” according to the Roman Catholic Tradition? (Ref. Gula, Richard. 1989. Faith Informed By Reason)

The nature of the concept good is the full realization of any beings’ potential, or to achieve perfection.

The innate tendency within the human person to seek perfection is the ontological basis for the fundamental moral obligation – to realize one’s potential, or to be all I can be.

Actions are moral when it arise from this innate tendency and contribute to the full actualization of human potential.

The Christian sees God as the fullness of being and sees God’s actions as good because they flow from the divine nature – which is love.

The Christian convictions about the good are governed by the religious beliefs expressed in the stories of the Bible especially in Jesus, and further expounded in the theological tradition of the church.


1.Consequentialist Theory / Consequentialism

An act-based theory
Judges actions as right / morally good or wrong depending on the over-all consequences of the action. •Supporting this maxim is the famous: “the end justifies the means” •A prominent form of Consequentialism is “utilitarianism”. •Defining characteristic – principle of utility = the moral end to be sought is attained with the greatest possible balance of good over evil ( or the least possible balance of evil over the good) in the world as a whole. •The classic figures of Utilitarianism

1.Jeremy Bentham (1748-1832)
2.John Stuart Mill (1806-1873)

Any argument whether moral, political, economic or social that rest on the position that a certain act is appropriate because it produces the “greatest good for the greatest number of people” is utilitarian, thus consequentialist.

Utilitarianism can either be egoistic or altruistic.

3.Deontological / Duty-based Ethics

Also act-centered
The rightness or wrongness of the act is based either on a) the nature of the act itself (some acts can never be justified) or b) the act in relation to a universal principle (e.g. killing is always wrong)

Immanuel Kant (1742-1804) – a prominent figure of duty-based ethics; so mush so that it is identified with him. It is also known as Kantian Ethics.

Kant’s supreme principle of morality: “Act as though the maxim of your action were by your will to become a universal law.”

In other words, in order for your act to be moral, you must be able to universalize the principle you acted upon. So, if it is right for you, it would be right for everyone to act the same.

The practical imperative according to Kant: “Act so that you treat humanity, whether in your own person or that of another, always as an end and never as a means.” Any act in which a person uses another simply for his own pleasure or gain is immoral.


Liberalism rests on the notion that persons have rights, and these rights, the legitimate moral claims of persons are the primary categories for moral reflection / actions.

It is a moral position expressed in political, economic, social ideals, defending individual freedom and autonomy. Such theories, according too Ronald Dworkin “presuppose and protect the value of individual thoughts and choices”. Rights are the moral protection individuals have against the government and other member of society.

Liberalism defends the individual, and in its best forms, defends all individuals. A consistent liberalism seeks to defend and promote not only the rights recognized by law in particular societies, but human rights as well. Human rights are moral claims all persons have simply because they are humans. The United Nations after WW II drew up a comprehensive list of human rights which the Catholic Church also recognizes.

Classic proponent of liberalism – John Locke (1632-1704)
Contemporary Right Theorists – Ronald Dworkin, Allan Gewirth.

5.Virtue Ethics

Virtue Ethics is an agent-centered rather than...
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