When someone in the Judeo-Christian tradition writes on ethics, they often begin by defining what is moral or immoral. To put it differently, the ethicist begins by outlining what the central focus of integrity ought to be. Now the Judeo-Christian ethicist is one who desires to be consistent with the canonical Scriptures.
It is especially significant to understand that the prophets, as the spokespeople for the Lord, often addressed ethics. A statement from the prophet Micah comes to mind,
He has told you, O man, what is good;
and what does the Lord require of you
but to do justice, and to love kindness,[a]
and to walk humbly with your God? (6:8 ESV)
The Central Question
As I noted in the last entry here, Moore and Bruder contend the central inquiry of all philosophy focuses on this question, “What does it mean to do good?” Even the definition of a word like good is difficult to pin down. The thesaurus says that good can be replaced by decent. A Google search for the definition of good gets us this on this site
that which is morally right; righteousness.
|virtue, righteousness, virtuousness, goodness, morality, ethicalness, uprightness, upstandingness, integrity, principle, dignity, rectitude, rightness; honesty, truth, truthfulness, honor, incorruptibility, probity, propriety, worthiness, worth, merit; irreproachableness, blamelessness, purity, pureness, lack of corruption, justice, justness, fairness|
The Prophet Micah
Since ethics is the study (or perhaps better, the pursuit) of what is good when speaking of the actions of a human being, we do well to ponder what the prophet Micah has laid out for us. Do Justice. Love Kindness. Walk Humbly With Your God. OK, so that sums it up.
Greek and Jewish Ideas
The issues immediately begin to pop up, however, because already in ancient Greece, there was no common understanding of what justice means. As Plato considered what would make an ideal state, he rejected the usual answers which said that justice is giving another what they have coming to them. If we look again at the series of synonyms above, we see that they imply that in our relations with others, we are giving others their due.
When I read some Jewish writers as they describe what justice is, they are careful to differentiate it from charity. Giving people their due sounds like it is an action of grace on our part. Realizing that justice is a duty recognized and so pursued is a different idea. Deuteronomy 16 has this, “Justice, and only justice, you shall follow, that you may live and inherit the land that the Lord your God is giving you.”
Til next time
When we pick this up again, we will need to dig a little more into the Scriptural concept of justice so that we may gain understanding of what it is God has shown us in the good.