Ethical Thinking

Three Types of Ethical Thinking

When one is faced with the task of making decisions, it is important to have some grasp of the basis for making that decision. In the tradition of ethical thinking, there are several main approaches to this question.  The three most prominent have been deontological theories of ethics, teleological theories of ethics, and virtue based theories of ethics.

My ethical checklist

  Deontological Ethics

Deontological theories begin with the idea that there is a law-giver to whose will we as individuals must conform if we are to live justly. “When God speaks, people are to listen” is one way we could over-simplify this position. Therefore, the basis for living the life that is ethically good is the laws and duties which are laid out in God’s revealed will. There follows from this that justice is when we live according to the mandates of God in our relationships with other people and the world which God created. In this model, I teach and train a youth to discern God’s will and to follow that in making decisions.

Teleological Ethics

What will my decision result in?

Teleological theories ask us to look at the consequences of an action we are about to undertake.  If I am to live justly, I need to be aware of the effects of my decision making on the future.  A common form of this appears in any story which features time-travel. If I were to go back in time, I should not interfere in what is going to happen in the future.  It follows that I could mess up the trajectory of history by doing the wrong thing when visiting the past. 

The Back to the Future movie is a good example of how delicate is the trajectory of history and how my decisions always affect what is going to happen in the future. Teleological theories of ethics require that I think of the ultimate trajectory of history that will result from my actions today. In this model, youths are trained to think of what is going to happen if you do this or that. “If you can’t do the time, don’t do the crime!”

Virtue Ethics

A mishmash of virtues which form the basis for ethical decisions

Virtue ethics are based on the idea of a person pursuing  what is virtuous in one’s decision-making. For example, the decision maker is to pursue being kind and compassionate and consciously avoid being mean and greedy. Therefore, my ethical choices focus on being a good and virtuous person. It is up to the community in which we find ourselves to educate and train a youth in the pursuit of virtue, which includes, of course, deciding what is virtuous for this society.

My Starting Point

As we continue to ponder these types of ethical thinking, I will be focusing on the deontological type.  I believe that God has spoken.  Therefore, I am to carefully consider  my decisions based on his will. 

I will conclude with this excerpt from a website that is based at Brown University. It is from the school of science and technology. Take a look:

The Divine Command Approach
As its name suggests, this approach sees what is right as the same as what God commands, and ethical standards are the creation of God’s will. Following God’s will is seen as the very definition what is ethical. Because God is seen as omnipotent and possessed of free will, God could change what is now considered ethical, and God is not bound by any standard of right or wrong short of logical contradiction. The Medieval Christian philosopher William of Ockham (1285-1349) was one of the most influential thinkers in this tradition, and his writings served as a guide for Protestant Reformers like Martin Luther (1483-1546) and Jean Calvin (1509-1564). The Danish philosopher Søren Kierkegaard (1813-1855), in praising the biblical Patriarch Abraham’s willingness to kill his son Isaac at God’s command, claimed that truly right action must ultimately go beyond everyday morality to what he called the “teleological suspension of the ethical,” ……

Hmm. The teleological suspension of the ethical. We will need to be thinking further on this.

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