Ethical Egoism Part 1

Ethical Egoism Part 2

Ethical Egoism Part 3

(Videos 4-6 in Ethics Video Series)

Ethical Egoism is the Ethical theory which basically states, what’s good for me is good, and what’s bad for me is bad.  Self interest and selfishness are seen as synonyms and are the highest forms of good.  This theory will be presented as objectively as possible, followed by a critique of it’s pros and cons and finally in part 3 I will share my personal opinion.


Ethics Introduction

(Video 1 in Ethics Video Series)

This is a brief introduction to my series of Ethics videos I did for one of my online classes.  I numbered them so you can watch them in order.  The videos start with an overview of Ethical theories and how they are evaluated in Timmon’s book, “Conduct and Character.”  Then I cover nine different Ethical theories and finish with a brief talk on Christian Ethics.  Each ethical theory is first explained as objectively possible as I am able.  I simply state what it is, it’s major themes and how it works.  Then I critique each theory, giving a list of pros and cons.  Finally I give my personal opinion of each theory.  Each theory takes between two to six ten minute clips to cover.  I hope you find them helpful.

Why Did God Place the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil in the Garden if He Knew Humans Would Eat of it?

adam and eve and the forbidden fruit

I try to avoid speculative theology, but perhaps what we have observed regarding the nature of Good and Evil may give us some idea as to why God would have placed the access to such knowledge within the reach of man, but then prohibited man from reaching out and acquiring it.  Mankind in its ignorance and innocence thought that it could acquire the knowledge of God on its own terms and through its own will.  Mankind took through disobedience that which one day, God would freely offer through His own Son and Spirit.  God allowed humans to exercise their free will and in doing so made them culpable for their own choices and acts of disobedience.  Mankind had tried to elevate itself to godhood through its own decisions and choices even at the expense of disobeying the Creator Himself.  This disobedience robbed mankind of its innocence and made it morally culpable. Humans were created a little lower than the angels, but now instead of the knowledge of good and evil elevating us beyond the heavenly host, our moral failings would debase us below the realm of the beasts.  God in His wisdom and foreknowledge was not surprised or taken aback from the foolishness of man; rather He had already provided a way of redemption and reconciliation before the foundation of the world.  [cite this] God’s glory would be magnified through mans’ disobedience and the almighty would be exalted through mans’ fall.

In many ways it seems like humans without the knowledge of good and evil would have been much more like pets than autonomous moral free agents.  You can teach a pet tricks and obedience through punishment and rewards, they may even show loyalty or affection, but in the end they are still pets, some well behaved and some not.  With the acquisition of the knowledge of good and evil, humans are no longer content with punishments and rewards.  We have lost the innocence and childhood of our race.  Yes it is true that humans are full of self will, rebellion and all manner of disobedience, but we also ponder, question, judge and evaluate.  We look for underlying motivations and seek first principles and causes.  We evaluate and judge, others and ourselves.  We create and destroy, love and hate, show justice and mercy, cruelty and compassion, we are jealous and competitive; we are truly made in the image of God.   We are so much like God, in fact, that we have chosen are own values, standards, judgments and will, over that of the Almighty Himself.  We have gone far beyond a simple act of disobedience, we have now made ourselves gods in our own eyes, some have gone as far as to deny any other God altogether and would prefer to invoke time and chance for our existence rather than being the creatures of a Creator.

The knowledge of good and evil did make us much more like God than we were before, and I would postulate that God fully knew that we would disobey Him and claim this knowledge for ourselves.  God also knew the outcome of this choice and the horrific consequences it would bring on the human race, creation and even upon Himself.  Yet, God in His wisdom and sovereignty allowed this human passion play to unfold.  God created humans in innocence and perfection, humans chose to disobey God and take that which was not meet for them.  The result was a loss of innocence, relationship and life, both physical and spiritual.  Man in his fallen state was still in the image of God, but now armed with the knowledge of good and evil, and a radical free will, his thoughts and imaginings would bring about such wickedness and violence, that God would eventually wipe clean the creation itself, with the exception of those who were preserved in the ark.

Man’s initial act of rebellion would be the seedbed of all manner of evil in the world, both in the natural world and in the souls of man.  Physical as well as spiritual sickness would abound, selfishness and pride, would replace submission and obedience, and man would seek his own betterment and perfection through his own efforts, rather than submit to the authority of the One who made him.  God communicated His Holy standards through the Law and the Prophets, yet the prophets were despised and the law was neglected or perverted.  God’s revealed standards were beyond the attainment of mortal men, and His expectations were crushing and unlivable.  Man rebelled again, and set up his own standards of right and wrong, the good, better and best, pitting his own knowledge of good and evil against those of the One who created the very concept of good and evil to begin with.

How often have you heard people accuse God of moral failure, and judge the almighty because of the state of the world?  How could a loving God send people to hell? If God exists, and evil exists, then God must be all good, but not all powerful, or all powerful, but not all good.  If God is loving, merciful and compassionate, why do the innocent suffer?  Why are there birth defects and debilitating diseases?  Why do people kill and commit all manner of atrocities in God’s name?  Why did God allow slavery and the subjugation of women?  Why does God command genocide and the slaughter of children in the Bible?  Why do the wicked prosper and the righteous suffer?  All of these are examples of man using his knowledge of good and evil to judge God based off of human understanding.  From a human perspective and our limited base of knowledge, these are fair complaints and accusations.  Yet, this is exactly the problem! We are making moral judgments in regards to good and evil based on human understanding.  It is precisely, because we do not have the mind or knowledge of God, that our judgments will fall short, and come to the wrong conclusions.

There is a whole branch of philosophy/theology called theodicy.  It is the exercise of providing a defense for the ways of God.  It is an interesting study, and answers have been provided for all the above accusations and more.  Yet whether one is attacking God or defending Him, it is still being done through human understanding, reason and experience.  The theodicist is just as much relying on his own understanding of good and evil as the accuser.  God rarely gives reasons for His actions, and in the few recorded instances of God responding to charges of inequity, He doesn’t explain why His actions are good or evil, but rather He proclaims who He is.  The greatest example of God responding to accusations of injustice and unfairness can be found towards the end of the book of Job.  Job was a righteous man who feared God.  As the story goes, one day God was boasting to Satan about His servant Job.  Satan quickly retorted that anyone would be a good and faithful servant if they were protected and blessed the way Job was.  According to the Biblical account, God removed His protection from Job, save for his life, and allowed Satan to bring all manner of calamity upon him.  After Job had lost all his family, except for his wife, and his great possessions, wealth and health, he is first comforted, and then accused by his closest friends.  Based on human reason and understanding, Job’s friends surmised that Job must have committed some secret sin, for they were under the presupposition that the righteous prosper and the wicked suffer.  Since Job was suffering, he obviously was wicked.  Job based on his personal experience, knew he wasn’t wicked, and had no hidden sins, but could not explain why God’s blessing had been removed and his life was one of abject desolation.  Job argued with his friends, but his real complaint was against God.  Based on Job’s knowledge of good and evil, what had happened to him was unjust and unfair.  Job wanted an audience with God where he could voice his complaints.  It is in this context that God appears to confront Job.  The encounter of God with Job is recorded in the 38th through 42nd chapters of the book of Job and I would encourage you to read it in its entirety, but I will give you the highlights.

Job 38:1-5 KJV

Then the Lord answered Job out of the whirlwind, and said,

Who is this that darkeneth counsel by words without knowledge?

Gird up now thy loins like a man; for I will demand of thee, and answer thou me.

Where wast thou when I laid the foundations of the earth? declare, if thou hast understanding.

Who hath laid the measures thereof, if thou knowest? or who hath stretched the line upon it? 15. (

God goes on to ask Job a series of questions Job could not possibly know the answer to. This series of questions continues all the way to Job chapter 40.

Job 40:1-8 KJV

Moreover the Lord answered Job, and said,

Shall he that contendeth with the Almighty instruct him? he that reproveth God, let him answer it.

Then Job answered the Lord, and said,

Behold, I am vile; what shall I answer thee? I will lay mine hand upon my mouth.

Once have I spoken; but I will not answer: yea, twice; but I will proceed no further.

Then answered the Lord unto Job out of the whirlwind, and said,

Gird up thy loins now like a man: I will demand of thee, and declare thou unto me.

Wilt thou also disannul my judgment? wilt thou condemn me, that thou mayest be righteous?

16. (

Job admits his mistake when realizes that his judgments are vial and have no merit when compared to the judgments, power and authority of God.  God, however, is not finished, and pronounces the whole issue with precision and clarity.  “Will you condemn me, so you can be righteous?”  This is the entire history of human morality and railings against the creator, from Eden until now.  We the creature, want to accuse the creator, based on our understanding of good and evil, so that God will be condemned and we will be justified.  God at this point is not satisfied with Job’s contrition and gives him another two chapters of questions that Job can’t answer, and demonstrations of His power, which help Job truly understand his place in relation to the creator of the universe.

Job 42:1-6 KJV

Then Job answered the Lord, and said,

I know that thou canst do every thing, and that no thought can be withholden from thee.

Who is he that hideth counsel without knowledge? therefore have I uttered that I understood not; things too wonderful for me, which I knew not.

Hear, I beseech thee, and I will speak: I will demand of thee, and declare thou unto me.

I have heard of thee by the hearing of the ear: but now mine eye seeth thee.

Wherefore I abhor myself, and repent in dust and ashes.


Job acknowledges his ignorance, and declares God’s righteousness, based on the character, nature and power of God.  Job abases himself and exalts the Creator, repenting in dust and ashes.  At this point God restores Job, along with his wealth, health and new children, but as far as we know, God never gives Job a reason for the trials and suffering that came his way.  God did not tell Job I was trying to prove a point to Satan, or I’m going to use your life as an object lesson to teach others about my greatness or glory, or I’m doing this to show that sometimes the righteous suffer, but God is still in control.  God didn’t tell Job any of these things, rather He basically said, I’m God and you’re not.

After looking at this account of Job, you may be thinking to yourself, this is the most horrific, immoral story I have ever heard.  Because of God’s ego and boasting, Job ends up suffering and being tormented.  When Job wants to know why all this is happening to him, God berates and belittles him instead of giving him comfort.  The lessons of this story seem to be more along the lines of do not be over righteous or God might bet on you, or that God is a cosmic tyrant that does what He wants when He wants, and do not dare question His intentions, method or authority.  Once again, from a human perspective, these are completely valid conclusions to the story of Job, but once again, this is precisely the problem.  We, like Job, are using our internal moral compass and template of good and evil, to judge the One who is beyond good and evil.  [explain this?]  The whole point of the book of Job is that God is God and we are not.  We cannot even begin to think that our limited knowledge and wisdom can allow us to judge a Being whose knowledge and wisdom is infinite, absolute, and perfect.  Until we come to the place of realization like Job, of who we are and who God is, like Job, we will try and justify ourselves by condemning the almighty.

Let me give you one more example of why our judgment of good and evil is lacking before we move on to other topics.  This example I first saw while reading Voltaire, but it can also be found in many folk tales and stories from the Middle East.


The Hermit

From the French of Voltaire.

IN the reign of King Moabdar there lived at Babylon a young man named Zadig. He was handsome, rich and naturally good-hearted; and at the moment when this story opens, he was travelling on foot to see the world, and to learn philosophy and wisdom. But, hitherto, he had encountered so much misery, and endured so many terrible disasters, that he had become tempted to rebel against the will of Heaven, and to believe that the Providence which rules the world neglects the good and lets the evil prosper. In this unhappy spirit he was one day walking on the banks of the Euphrates, when he chanced to meet a venerable hermit, whose snowy beard descended to his girdle, and who carried in his hand a scroll which he was reading with attention. Zadig stopped, and made him a low bow. The hermit returned the salutation with an air so kindly, and so noble, that Zadig felt a curiosity to speak to him. He inquired what scroll was that which he was reading.

“It is the Book of Destiny,” replied the hermit; “would you like to read it?”

He handed it to Zadig; but the latter, though he knew 86 a dozen languages, could not understand a word of it. His curiosity increased.

“You appear to be in trouble,” said the kindly hermit.

“Alas!” said Zadig, “I have cause to be so.”

“If you will allow me,” said the hermit, “I will accompany you. Perhaps I may be useful to you. I am sometimes able to console the sorrowful.”

Zadig felt a deep respect for the appearance, the white beard, and the mysterious scroll of the old hermit, and perceived that his conversation was that of a superior mind. The old man spoke of destiny, of justice, of morality, of 87 the chief good of life, of human frailty, of virtue, and of vice, with so much power and eloquence, that Zadig felt himself attracted by a kind of charm, and besought the hermit not to leave him until they should return to Babylon.

“I ask you the same favour,” said the hermit. “Promise 88 me that, whatever I may do, you will keep me company for several days.

Zadig gave the promise; and they set forth together.

That night the travellers arrived at a grand mansion. The hermit begged for food and lodging for himself and his companion. The porter, who might have been mistaken for a prince, ushered them in with a contemptuous air of welcome. The chief servant showed them the magnificent apartments; and they were then admitted to the bottom of the table, where the master of the mansion did not condescend to cast a glance at them. They were however, served with delicacies in profusion, and after dinner washed their hands in a golden basin set with emeralds and rubies. They were then conducted for the night into a beautiful apartment: and the next morning, before they left the castle, a servant brought them each a piece of gold.

“The master of the house,” said Zadig, as they went their way, “appears to be a generous man, although a trifle haughty. He practises a noble hospitality.” As he spoke, he perceived that a kind of large pouch which the hermit carried appeared singularly distended; within it was the golden basin, set with precious stones, which the old man had purloined. Zadig was amazed; but he said nothing.

At noon the hermit stopped before a little house, in which lived a wealthy miser, and once more asked for hospitality. An old valet in a shabby coat received them very rudely, showed them into the stable, and set before them a few rotten olives, some mouldy bread, and beer which had turned sour. The hermit ate and drank with as much content as he had shown the night before; then, 89 addressing the old valet, who had kept his eye upon them to make sure that they stole nothing, he gave him the two gold pieces which they had received that morning, and thanked him for his kind attention. “Be so good,” he added, “as to let me see your master.”

The astonished valet showed them in.

“Most mighty signor,” said the hermit, “I can only render you my humble thanks for the noble manner in which you have received us. I beseech you to accept this golden basin as a token of my gratitude.”

The miser almost fell backwards with amazement. The hermit, without waiting for him to recover, set off with speed with his companion.

“Holy Father,” said Zadig, “what does all this mean? You seem to me to resemble other men in nothing. You steal a golden basin set with jewels from a Signor who 90 receives you with magnificence, and you give it to a curmudgeon who treats you with indignity.”

“My son,” replied the hermit, “this mighty lord, who only welcomes travellers through vanity, and to display his riches, will henceforth grow wiser, while the miser will be taught to practise hospitality. Be amazed at nothing, and follow me.”

Zadig knew not whether he was dealing with the most foolish or the wisest of all men. But the hermit spoke with such ascendency that Zadig, who besides was fettered by his promise, had no choice except to follow him.

That night they came to an agreeable house, of simple aspect, and showing signs neither of prodigality nor avarice. The owner was a philosopher, who had left the world, and who studied peacefully the rules of virtue and of wisdom, and who yet was happy and contented. He had built this calm retreat to please himself, and he received the strangers in it with a frankness which displayed no sign of ostentation. He conducted them himself to a comfortable chamber, where he made them rest awhile; then he returned to lead them to a dainty little supper. During their conversation they agreed that the affairs of this world are not always regulated by the opinions of the wisest men. But the hermit still maintained that the ways of Providence are wrapt in mystery, and that men do wrong to pass judgment on a universe of which they only see the smallest part. Zadig wondered how a person who committed such mad acts could reason so correctly.

At length, after a conversation as agreeable as instructive, the host conducted the two travellers to their apartment, and thanked Heaven for sending him two visitors so wise 91 and virtuous. He offered them some money, but so frankly that they could not feel offended. The old man declined, and desired to say farewell, as he intended to depart for Babylon at break of day. They therefore parted on the warmest terms, and Zadig, above all, was filled with kindly feelings towards so amiable a man.

When the hermit and himself were in their chamber, they spent some time in praises of their host. At break of day the old man woke his comrade.

“We must be going,” he remarked. “But while everyone is still asleep, I wish to leave this worthy man a pledge of my esteem.” With these words he took a torch and set the house on fire.

Zadig burst forth into cries of horror, and would have stopped the frightful act. But the hermit, by superior 92 strength, drew him away. The house was in a blaze; and the old man, who was now a good way off with his companion, looked back calmly at the burning pile.

“Heaven be praised!” he cried, “our kind host’s house is destroyed from top to bottom.”

At these words Zadig knew not whether he should burst out laughing, call the reverend father an old rascal, knock him down, or run away. But he did neither. Still subdued by the superior manner of the hermit, he followed him against his will to their next lodging.

This was the dwelling of a good and charitable widow, who had a nephew of fourteen, her only hope and joy. She did her best to use the travellers well; and the next morning she bade her nephew guide them safely past a certain bridge, which, having recently been broken, had become dangerous to cross over. The youth, eager to oblige them, led the way.

“Come,” said the hermit, when they were half across the bridge, “I must show my gratitude towards your aunt;” and as he spoke he seized the young man by the hair and threw him into the river. The youth fell, reappeared for an instant on the surface, and then was swallowed by the torrent.

“Oh, monster!” exclaimed Zadig, “oh, most detestable of men ——”

“You promised me more patience,” interrupted the old man. “Listen! Beneath the ruins of that house which Providence saw fit to set on fire, the owner will discover an enormous treasure; while this young man, whose existence Providence cut short, would have killed his aunt within a year, and you yourself in two.”


“Who told you so, barbarian?” cried Zadig; “and even if you read the issue in your Book of Destiny, who gave you power to drown a youth who never injured you?”

While he spoke, he saw that the old man had a beard no longer, and that his face had become fair and young; his hermit’s frock had disappeared; four white wings covered his majestic form, and shone with dazzling lustre.

“Angel of heaven,” cried Zadig, “you are then descended from the skies to teach an erring mortal to submit to the eternal laws.”

“Men,” replied the angel Jezrael, “judge all things without knowledge; and you, of all men, most deserved to be enlightened. The world imagines that the youth who has just perished fell by chance into the water, and that by a like chance the rich man’s house was set on fire. But there is no such thing as chance; all is trial, or punishment, or foresight. Feeble mortal, cease to argue and rebel against what you ought to adore!”

As he spoke these words the angel took his flight to heaven. And Zadig fell upon his knees.

18.(Voltaire)  (

This story by Voltaire has a similar theme as the book of Job.  Humans judge by appearance and limited knowledge whereas God judges with true judgment.  This type of thinking is not appealing to the mind of man, for it removes us from our own exalted idea of ourselves and as the standard setters of what is true and what is not.  To acknowledge that we do not know all things and that we are not self caused or self sufficient removes us from a place of honor, knowledge and power.  It relegates us to creature hood rather than a place of divinity, and we are left with scrapes of carnal knowledge rather than the fulfillment of spiritual enlightenment.

Ecclesiastes 3:10-22  KJV

10 I have seen the travail, which God hath given to the sons of men to be exercised in it.

11 He hath made every thing beautiful in his time: also he hath set the world in their heart, so that no man can find out the work that God maketh from the beginning to the end.

12 I know that there is no good in them, but for a man to rejoice, and to do good in his life.

13 And also that every man should eat and drink, and enjoy the good of all his labour, it is the gift of God.

14 I know that, whatsoever God doeth, it shall be for ever: nothing can be put to it, nor any thing taken from it: and God doeth it, that men should fear before him.

15 That which hath been is now; and that which is to be hath already been; and God requireth that which is past.

16 And moreover I saw under the sun the place of judgment, that wickedness was there; and the place of righteousness, that iniquity was there.

17 I said in mine heart, God shall judge the righteous and the wicked: for there is a time there for every purpose and for every work.

18 I said in mine heart concerning the estate of the sons of men, that God might manifest them, and that they might see that they themselves are beasts.

19 For that which befalleth the sons of men befalleth beasts; even one thing befalleth them: as the one dieth, so dieth the other; yea, they have all one breath; so that a man hath no preeminence above a beast: for all is vanity.

20 All go unto one place; all are of the dust, and all turn to dust again.

21 Who knoweth the spirit of man that goeth upward, and the spirit of the beast that goeth downward to the earth?

22 Wherefore I perceive that there is nothing better, than that a man should rejoice in his own works; for that is his portion: for who shall bring him to see what shall be after him?

21. (


So, why did God place the tree of knowledge of good and evil in the Garden of Eden?  And prohibit humans from eating of its fruit when He knew full well they would.  The short answer to this question is to maximize His Glory.  The long answer is that by providing humans with a choice, they became culpable for their own actions.  By choosing self interest over divine authority, we set ourselves in opposition to the commands of God, His standards and His will.  The history of humanity, since the fall, has been one of man striving to regain that which was lost and through self improvement or self control  to live up to the standard of good and evil that has been branded upon its very soul.  This is exactly what Ethics and Religion are all about.  Ethics deals with trying to understand correct judgment and the right way to live.  Religion is an organized and systemized attempt to reconnect with the divine.  Yet, all ethical systems and religious solutions fall short, for we are not in an epistemic  position (place of knowledge) where we can know what is true, and we do not have the moral fortitude to live up to it even if we did.  Religion fails for the same reasons that ethics and morality do.  We have made God in our own image and we try to come to God based on human knowledge and experience.  We describe and define God, but in doing so, bring Him down to the limitations of man.  This struggle to do what is good and to avoid the evil, along with our existential angst over our sense of loss and disconnection can lead to self righteousness, or self condemnation.  The self righteous pit their own knowledge of good and evil and their ability to live out an ethical life, against the standard and values of the creator.  The self condemned realize that they either do not know what is the ultimate good or evil, and that even if they did there is no way they could live up to such perfect standards.  Adam and Even would not have known there was something beyond their own natural instincts and desires without the knowledge of good and evil.  Without the fall, man would have existed in a state of childlike innocence, but also in childlike ignorance.  In a cosmic sense, the knowledge of good and evil caused humans to grow up, to see ourselves from a self reflective place, and to either consciously choose our own will, or to realize that our will was not sufficient to bring us happiness or fulfillment.  The fall as horrific and tragic as it was, became the catalyst for God’s eternal plan of redemption and exaltation.  Man fell because of the weakness of his nature and the pettiness of his own will.  This fall brought about separation and death. Yet, God would bring out of this tragedy reconciliation and life. It would be accomplished through the strength of His will, and through His own good pleasure.  God would provide reconciliation out of alienation, joy out of sorrow, forgiveness out of condemnation, life out of death, and ultimately children and heirs out of creatures of dust. That which was beyond the knowledge or power of man God would accomplish through His own wisdom and strength.  Through our own will, efforts and determination no man is justified, we are condemned for our imputed disobedience in Adam, and our personal failings as individuals.  We are condemned by the Law of God, and by the law of our own minds.  God used our very disobedience to show us that we could never obtain holy perfection through our carnal and earthly nature, yet this is what He would bestow upon us through His own precious Son.

Titus 3:3-6 KJV

For we ourselves also were sometimes foolish, disobedient, deceived, serving divers lusts and pleasures, living in malice and envy, hateful, and hating one another.

But after that the kindness and love of God our Saviour toward man appeared,

Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to his mercy he saved us, by the washing of regeneration, and renewing of the Holy Ghost;

Which he shed on us abundantly through Jesus Christ our Saviour;

19. (

I Corinthians 15:22-28 + 45-58

22 For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive.

23 But every man in his own order: Christ the firstfruits; afterward they that are Christ’s at his coming.

24 Then cometh the end, when he shall have delivered up the kingdom to God, even the Father; when he shall have put down all rule and all authority and power.

25 For he must reign, till he hath put all enemies under his feet.

26 The last enemy that shall be destroyed is death.

27 For he hath put all things under his feet. But when he saith all things are put under him, it is manifest that he is excepted, which did put all things under him.

28 And when all things shall be subdued unto him, then shall the Son also himself be subject unto him that put all things under him, that God may be all in all.

45 And so it is written, The first man Adam was made a living soul; the last Adam was made a quickening spirit.

46 Howbeit that was not first which is spiritual, but that which is natural; and afterward that which is spiritual.

47 The first man is of the earth, earthy; the second man is the Lord from heaven.

48 As is the earthy, such are they also that are earthy: and as is the heavenly, such are they also that are heavenly.

49 And as we have borne the image of the earthy, we shall also bear the image of the heavenly.

50 Now this I say, brethren, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God; neither doth corruption inherit incorruption.

51 Behold, I shew you a mystery; We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed,

52 In a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trump: for the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed.

53 For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality.

54 So when this corruptible shall have put on incorruption, and this mortal shall have put on immortality, then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written, Death is swallowed up in victory.

55 O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory?

56 The sting of death is sin; and the strength of sin is the law.

57 But thanks be to God, which giveth us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.

58 Therefore, my beloved brethren, be ye stedfast, unmoveable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, forasmuch as ye know that your labour is not in vain in the Lord.

20.  (

It is also through the fall that God would show us our own shortcomings and failings.  Adam and Eve in their original perfection and innocence had no need of a savior and redeemer.  Yet, with the fall, our human need for one that is greater than ourselves would become painfully clear, all our self efforts of perfection and reconciliation would fall woefully short, and our own self sufficiency and moralism would lead us to despair.  God, by allowing us to disobey, provided the means by which He would one day make us more than human, more than mere creatures, beings beyond the wildest imagining of angels, for through our fall, alienation and rebellion, God would judge us dead, Yet, God would quicken us and give us new life and being through His very own Son. Adam and Eve in their original perfection walked with God and spoke with Him in the Garden, but we fallen race of men have been offered an even greater gift and relationship with the creator than Adam and Eve could ever have dreamed of.  Through the disobedience of Adam, mankind forfeited his position as lord of this earth by trying to achieve divine knowledge through his own will.  Through the second Adam, mankind is now exalted beyond all creation, not through the strength of our will or personal acquisition, but through the free gift of God, provided by His only begotten son.  Unlike Adam and Eve who knew God externally, we can know God within us, for He has given us His own Spirit and has made us god men and god women. [cite this]  But as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name:  Which were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.  And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, (and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father,) full of grace and truth.” (John 1:12-14) “ For since by man came death, by man came also the resurrection of the dead.  For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive.” (I Cor. 15:21+22) “And so it is written, The first man Adam was made a living soul; the last Adam was made a quickening spirit.” (I Cor. 15:45) “For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known.” (I Cor. 13:12)

The Knowledge of Good and Evil

Tree of knowledge of good and evil and death

The Knowledge of Good and Evil 

Along with the universal human principle of moral failure as mentioned in Romans 1, is another universal principle that directly relates to the study of ethics and morality. This human universal pertains to the knowledge of Good and Evil.  According to the scriptures, humans were originally created in the image of God, yet not all of God’s knowledge or power was invested upon human beings.  A notable exception of being made in God’s image was the absence, in Adam and Eve, of the knowledge of Good and Evil.  It was this very lack of knowledge that the serpent used to entice Eve into eating fruit from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, the only fruit in the entire Garden of Eden that was forbidden to Adam and Eve.

Genesis 2:7-9, 15-17 KJV

And the Lord God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul.

And the Lord God planted a garden eastward in Eden; and there he put the man whom he had formed.

And out of the ground made the Lord God to grow every tree that is pleasant to the sight, and good for food; the tree of life also in the midst of the garden, and the tree of knowledge of good and evil.

15 And the Lord God took the man, and put him into the garden of Eden to dress it and to keep it.

16 And the Lord God commanded the man, saying, Of every tree of the garden thou mayest freely eat:

17 But of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat of it: for in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die.

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It is hard to imagine what it would be like not having the knowledge of Good and Evil. In many ways it seems like pre-fall humans would have been very similar to animals at least in the area of ethics and morality.  Humans would have lived lives based on instincts seeking that which brought pleasure and avoiding what brought pain.  Humans would have had their senses and could distinguish between soft and hard, bitter and sweet, warm and cool, etc. Yet these sensations would have been taken as is without thought or introspection into their value or worth, let alone assigning some ethical groundwork for these impulses or feelings.  They would have slept when they were tired, had sex when they were aroused, ate when they were hungry and for all intents and purposes lived like the animals which were placed under their dominion. All of creation was given the command to be fruitful and multiply, but Adam was given the additional privilege of naming the animals that were brought before him, and to “dress and keep” the garden in which God had placed him. Man was the only creature made in the image God. “ … God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them.” (Gen.1:27) Man was placed as the head and steward of God’s creation, but was also given a prohibition not to eat of the tree of knowledge of Good and Evil.  If other aspects of God’s created order were given divine commands we are not told about them in the scriptures, other than perhaps the waters being given boundaries and the celestial bodies being for times and seasons, plants being designated as food, and for living beings to reproduce and fill the earth. For whatever purpose, God had placed a special prohibition on man, yet within the prohibition itself was implied man’s ability to chose to comply or to disobey. From the opening chapters of Genesis, man is only given two commands, to tend the garden and procreate, and one prohibition, to not eat of the tree of knowledge of good and evil.  God did not give reasons for these commands or prohibitions, but He did give the consequences for disobedience.  The penalty for non compliance, at least with His prohibition, would be death.

Without our current knowledge of good and evil, cause and effect, and death, it’s hard to even imagine what this divine prohibition would have meant to Adam.  In many ways it seems like telling a dog that he can eat anything he finds on the floor, but not to eat off of the table.  The dog understands the difference between the floor and the table and the command to eat or not eat, but telling the dog it will die the day it eats off of the table seems like it would be beyond its comprehension.  I understand that Adam and Eve were not dogs, but as far as we know from scripture they had no understanding of death or even the notion of obedience or disobedience.  Animals can be trained to practice certain activities and avoid others through behavior modification training, but Adam and Even were basically just given the rules and left to their own inclinations. It is in this context that we have the deceiving and enticement of Eve, the compliance of Adam, the fall of man and the curse that would extend to all of creation.

Genesis 3 KJV

1 Now the serpent was more subtil than any beast of the field which the Lord God had made. And he said unto the woman, Yea, hath God said, Ye shall not eat of every tree of the garden?

And the woman said unto the serpent, We may eat of the fruit of the trees of the garden:

But of the fruit of the tree which is in the midst of the garden, God hath said, Ye shall not eat of it, neither shall ye touch it, lest ye die.

And the serpent said unto the woman, Ye shall not surely die:

For God doth know that in the day ye eat thereof, then your eyes shall be opened, and ye shall be as gods, knowing good and evil.

And when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was pleasant to the eyes, and a tree to be desired to make one wise, she took of the fruit thereof, and did eat, and gave also unto her husband with her; and he did eat.

And the eyes of them both were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together, and made themselves aprons.

And they heard the voice of the Lord God walking in the garden in the cool of the day: and Adam and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the Lord God amongst the trees of the garden.

And the Lord God called unto Adam, and said unto him, Where art thou?

10 And he said, I heard thy voice in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked; and I hid myself.

11 And he said, Who told thee that thou wast naked? Hast thou eaten of the tree, whereof I commanded thee that thou shouldest not eat?

12 And the man said, The woman whom thou gavest to be with me, she gave me of the tree, and I did eat.

13 And the Lord God said unto the woman, What is this that thou hast done? And the woman said, The serpent beguiled me, and I did eat.

14 And the Lord God said unto the serpent, Because thou hast done this, thou art cursed above all cattle, and above every beast of the field; upon thy belly shalt thou go, and dust shalt thou eat all the days of thy life:

15 And I will put enmity between thee and the woman, and between thy seed and her seed; it shall bruise thy head, and thou shalt bruise his heel.

16 Unto the woman he said, I will greatly multiply thy sorrow and thy conception; in sorrow thou shalt bring forth children; and thy desire shall be to thy husband, and he shall rule over thee.

17 And unto Adam he said, Because thou hast hearkened unto the voice of thy wife, and hast eaten of the tree, of which I commanded thee, saying, Thou shalt not eat of it: cursed is the ground for thy sake; in sorrow shalt thou eat of it all the days of thy life;

18 Thorns also and thistles shall it bring forth to thee; and thou shalt eat the herb of the field;

19 In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread, till thou return unto the ground; for out of it wast thou taken: for dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return.

20 And Adam called his wife’s name Eve; because she was the mother of all living.

21 Unto Adam also and to his wife did the Lord God make coats of skins, and clothed them.

22 And the Lord God said, Behold, the man is become as one of us, to know good and evil: and now, lest he put forth his hand, and take also of the tree of life, and eat, and live for ever:

23 Therefore the Lord God sent him forth from the garden of Eden, to till the ground from whence he was taken.

24 So he drove out the man; and he placed at the east of the garden of Eden Cherubims, and a flaming sword which turned every way, to keep the way of the tree of life.

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Genesis chapter three is one of the most tragic passages in the entire Bible.  There are a few interesting things I want to point out in the serpent’s dialog with Eve.  The first observation is that the serpent found Eve alone in the garden and apparently near enough to the tree of knowledge of good and evil that she was able to see it.  The serpent begins by questioning Eve about what God had commanded and intentionally exaggerates God’s prohibition in his question to make it sound ridiculous and unreasonable.  “Hath God said, Ye shall not eat of every tree of the garden?”  In Eve’s response she also exaggerates God’s prohibition, by saying, “We may eat of the fruit of the trees of the garden: But of the fruit of the tree which is in the midst of the garden, God hath said, Ye shall not eat of it, neither shall ye touch it, lest ye die.”  Now perhaps Adam told her not to touch it, but at least from what we know of God’s prohibition from scripture, the command was to not eat the fruit, not looking at it or touching it were probably good ideas, but were additions to God’s prohibition. When we add to or take away from God’s prohibitions or commands it can lead to all sorts of problems, which range from libertinism to legalism. The serpent’s response to Eve is the first recorded lie in scripture.  And the serpent said unto the woman, “Ye shall not surely die: For God doth know that in the day ye eat thereof, then your eyes shall be opened, and ye shall be as gods, knowing good and evil.” Due to this lie many biblical scholars have seen the serpent as being Satan himself, or as a beast of the field that has allowed Satan to posses and speak through it. 10 (   The serpent also matches the description of Satan portrayed by Jesus, “Ye are of your father the devil, and the lusts of your father ye will do. He was a murderer from the beginning, and abode not in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he speaketh a lie, he speaketh of his own: for he is a liar, and the father of it.” (John 8:44)  This lie is one of the greatest ever told and makes a devilish template for all subsequent lies.  Part of why this lie works so well is that it contains a great deal of truth.  Satan begins with the lie, “thou shalt not surely die, which was even a partial truth, for the death that will occur on the day the fruit is eaten will not be physical but spiritual. Then the serpent implies that God is trying to withhold something from them, something that will make them gods themselves.  In a sense, the devil’s work was done, he had planted the seed of doubt concerning God’s intentions and Eve took it from there.   “And when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was pleasant to the eyes, and a tree to be desired to make one wise, she took of the fruit thereof, and did eat, and gave also unto her husband with her; and he did eat.” Eve sets the pattern that will distinguish the way of the world to come.” For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world.” (I John 2:16)

Satan’s lie led to the fall and death of the human race.  How true that he is a murderer and liar from the beginning. Yet, not all of what he told Eve was a lie, for with the eating of the forbidden fruit, she and Adam had acquired the knowledge of something that God had withheld from them. Humans now knew for the first time the meaning of good and evil, and its immediate existential affect on them was fear and shame.  Adam and Eve would also soon learn about cause and effect and the cost of disobedience.  When God confronted Adam and asked him if he had eaten of the tree that was prohibited to him, Adam responds by blaming Eve and in a subtle way even blaming God Himself.  “The woman whom thou gavest to be with me, she gave me of the tree, and I did eat.” Then Eve blames the serpent, and the serpent is left with no one to blame.  The first curse goes to the serpent, the second curse to Eve and the third curse to Adam and by default all of creation.  Disobedience to God has ushered sin into the world and with sin comes death.  Adam and Eve do not physically die that day, but the race of Adam died in the moment of disobedience and we were spiritually cut off from God, until the new Adam would come and bring reconciliation.

Romans 5:12-21

“12 Wherefore, as by one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin; and so death passed upon all men, for that all have sinned:

13 (For until the law sin was in the world: but sin is not imputed when there is no law.

14 Nevertheless death reigned from Adam to Moses, even over them that had not sinned after the similitude of Adam’s transgression, who is the figure of him that was to come.

15 But not as the offence, so also is the free gift. For if through the offence of one many be dead, much more the grace of God, and the gift by grace, which is by one man, Jesus Christ, hath abounded unto many.

16 And not as it was by one that sinned, so is the gift: for the judgment was by one to condemnation, but the free gift is of many offences unto justification.

17 For if by one man’s offence death reigned by one; much more they which receive abundance of grace and of the gift of righteousness shall reign in life by one, Jesus Christ.)

18 Therefore as by the offence of one judgment came upon all men to condemnation; even so by the righteousness of one the free gift came upon all men unto justification of life.

19 For as by one man’s disobedience many were made sinners, so by the obedience of one shall many be made righteous.

20 Moreover the law entered, that the offence might abound. But where sin abounded, grace did much more abound:

21 That as sin hath reigned unto death, even so might grace reign through righteousness unto eternal life by Jesus Christ our Lord.”

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I Corinthians 15:45-50

45 And so it is written, The first man Adam was made a living soul; the last Adam was made a quickening spirit.

46 Howbeit that was not first which is spiritual, but that which is natural; and afterward that which is spiritual.

47 The first man is of the earth, earthy; the second man is the Lord from heaven.

48 As is the earthy, such are they also that are earthy: and as is the heavenly, such are they also that are heavenly.

49 And as we have borne the image of the earthy, we shall also bear the image of the heavenly.

50 Now this I say, brethren, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God; neither doth corruption inherit incorruption.

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Adam and Eve were not just the biological progenitors of the human race, but Adam was also the ontological head.  What I mean by this is that Adam contained all of humanity within himself, including at one point Eve.  Between Adam and Eve, the human race was generated, but not just biologically, our non physical human natures were also contained within Adam and would be affected by the choices he made and in the case of good and evil, the knowledge he acquired.  All humans have an innate idea of good and evil and from a Biblical world view, the reason for this knowledge is because the head of the human race took, what had been prohibited to him.

The knowledge of Good and Evil has been one of the greatest curses humanity has ever had to endure.  Adam and Eve now had the categories of Good and Evil in their consciousness, but now everything was subject to evaluation and moral judgment.  No more lounging naked in the pools of Eden without shame, no more doing what was prompted by one’s instincts without looking for motive and consequence.  No more innocence and taking things at face value.  Humankind now had godlike knowledge of Good and Evil, but humanity did not have the knowledge of God to be able to use it properly.  Now every human would be a moral compass unto themselves and would have an internal template of good and evil. This template would be used to evaluate all other claims to truth, goodness and morality even those dictated by God Himself.

From the day Adam and Eve took that which was not meant for them, humanity has been at conflict with God, each other, and our own selves.  We have the knowledge of good and evil, but we see it from our own point of view.  All our ethical theories and moral judgments are based on our own perspective of what we think is just; feel is fair and consider reasonable and livable.  The history of mankind is one of conflict from Cain and Able to the present day.  I’m right from my side and you’re right from yours.  In past times certain people or groups have been able to impose their idea of ethics and morality on the bulk of humanity.  Religious systems have claimed divine revelation to impose certain rules and rituals on the populous.  Great Philosophers have used their intellect to look for universal truth or logical systems of reason to formulate ethical systems that don’t rely on divine intervention.  Parents have used guilt and shame to try and curb unwanted behavior. Dictators have used fear, intimidation and might to impose moral dictates; relativists have claimed everyone has their own truth and moral autonomy.  Without divine knowledge and wisdom, having the knowledge of good and evil becomes subjective and relative to time, culture and place.  Everyone in the end does that which is right in their own eyes and moral anarchy is the logical outcome of having the knowledge of good and evil, but only the limited data of your own existence by which to make correct judgments.

The reason God’s moral judgments are just and true are because not only does He have a perfect nature, but He also knows all things.  Because of God’s omniscience, He always has all the data necessary to make the correct moral evaluation.  Because of His power He has the authority to establish ethical standards and the ability to enforce them.  Because of God’s nature He always has proper intention and motivation.  The Good, the True and the Beautiful are all synonyms and aspects of the Divine Nature.  God actually sets the standard of Good and Evil and is beyond all distinction and division in His Holy Simplicity.

When humans try and make value judgments we always fail.  We are finite beings and have limited understanding on the cause and purpose of things.  We are biased by our personal perspective and self interest.  We have flawed characters and limited understanding.  We do not have the insight to know of others intentions or the power to enforce our judgments.  We do not have the knowledge or wisdom to determine ethical systems or the ability to live them out even if we did.  All our ethical systems and moral judgments will be tainted and skewed based on our own frailties and limited understanding.  “All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way; and the Lord hath laid on him the iniquity of us all.” (Isaiah 53:6)

The first mention of the Word “good” in the bible is in Genesis 1:4,“And God saw the light, that it was good: and God divided the light from the darkness.  This was the beginning of the creation account, and God declares “was good” after each act of creation. “And God saw every thing that he had made, and, behold, it was very good. And the evening and the morning were the sixth day.” (Gen. 1:31)  God is the very author of the Good and the sole designator as to what Good actually means.  It is a standard of perfection that God has set and only God can accomplish.  All other types of “goodness” fall short of God’s standard, and are therefore by definition, not Good.  Good in English can have a wide array of meanings and it is the same for the Hebrew word for good which is towb. We talk about having a good day, or it was a good show, good times, or a good conversation.  These are all proper uses of the word good, but the usage being discussed here is absolute good, i.e. perfection.  This perfection belongs to One being alone as attested by Jesus in the gospel of Matthew.  “… one came and said unto him, Good Master, what good thing shall I do, that I may have eternal life? And he said unto him, Why callest thou me good?  there is none good but one, that is, God: but if thou wilt enter into life, keep the commandments.” (Matthew 19:16+17)

At this point you may be thinking, “if God created all things, then isn’t He also responsible for creating evil?” And I’m not just talking about personal subjective evil, like I have a tooth ache, or that was an evil thing to say, I’m talking about absolute metaphysical evil.

James 1:13-17

13 Let no man say when he is tempted, I am tempted of God: for God cannot be tempted with evil, neither tempteth he any man:

14 But every man is tempted, when he is drawn away of his own lust, and enticed.

15 Then when lust hath conceived, it bringeth forth sin: and sin, when it is finished, bringeth forth death.

16 Do not err, my beloved brethren.

17 Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and cometh down from the Father of lights, with whom is no variableness, neither shadow of turning.

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Evil is not a thing, and neither is Good.  This is what is called the reification of good and evil, turning them into objects.  Good and Evil are adjectives or adverbs not nouns, they describe how things line up with divine judgment and evaluation.  All the works of God’s hands are good.  Yet, as soon as God labels something as Good, He also now allows for the potentiality of Evil.  By creating a standard of perfection, there is now the possibility of that which does not measure up to God’s Holy standard.  Saint Augustine saw evil as that which was a negation or that which was lacking, like a hole or a shadow. [Cite this] He was not denying that evil didn’t exist, but that it was not a thing.  You may be thinking, “but don’t the scriptures themselves teach that God brings forth evil?”  “Out of the mouth of the most High proceedeth not evil and good?” (Lamentations 3:38)  “I form the light, and create darkness: I make peace, and create evil: I the Lord do all these things.” (Isaiah 45:7)  Both of these passages do talk about God bringing evil to pass, but this is not a moral evil, or the creation of something evil.  Rather these passages talk about God bringing evil, i.e. calamity and destruction on those who have strayed from His path.


Why ethics derived from culture or society do not provide true morality.


Why ethics derived from culture or society do not provide true morality.

Many people derive their view of ethics from the enculturation they receive through their upbringing.  Formally this is called Ethical Relativism, which is a confusing term, because although it is relative in a universal sense it is quite absolute in its regional manifestations.  Simply put, Ethical Relativism claims that the standards of right and wrong are dictated by your culture.  When in Rome, do as the Romans, when in Southern California; do as the Southern Californians, etc.  This theory was developed after tomes of field work were produced by cultural anthropologists who documented the wide array of ethical systems throughout time and place.  When certain ethicists looked at the data, they came to the conclusion that there were no universal moral guidelines; rather each culture formulated an ethic that suited their particular needs.  Franz Boaz and his student Margaret Meade were pioneers of a field work approach, where you became a participant observer in a culture and then formulated your theories of human behavior based on your observations, rather than what had been common in the past of formulating your theories and then going out to find data to corroborate your previously held view.

This approach made cultural anthropology a much more viable social science.  Where data was observed, hypotheses were formulated, and then tests were conducted to verify or refute the hypothesis.  This also led to looking for cultural universals which accounted for the entire range of human experience in different locations and different times.  Previously cultural anthropology had been very ethnocentric, and other cultures were judged and evaluated based on the cultural norms of the cultures the researchers were coming from.  Even though some universals were discovered across geography and time, many more unique variations were found than similarities, which brought into question the very notion of the possibility of a universal Ethic.

Some of the universals that cultural anthropologists discovered where things like, gender and age roles, language, art, music, religion or beliefs about the origins and meaning of life, modesty, marriage, tools, good and evil or at least right and wrong etc.  While many universals exist in human cultures how they are actualized is where the relativism enters in.  Although every society has gender and age roles, what those roles are vary widely depending on time and place.  Language although a universal human trait, has thousands of variant forms and different rules of grammar and intonation.  Art and music are equally diverse as are the forms of religious belief and practice.  Modesty is universal, but could range from complete body covering to feeling covered by simply wearing a piece of string, a bead, feather or paint.  Marriage is found in almost every culture, but its variations are so vast that it is almost impossible to even define what marriage is. Tools can be as simple as a digging stick or as complex as an atom smasher, but all cultures have specialized tool use.  All cultures also have a sense of the good, the right, what is fair and just.  From these are developed norms (what is considered normal behavior) values (the ideals of that culture) and laws (enforced norms or values).  The range of what is considered normal, however is what led ethicists to come to the conclusion that morals and values are culturally constructed, so one must use their cultural guidelines to determine right and wrong behavior within the culture in which they live, or are visiting.  Ethical Relativists were also clear that each culture must be evaluated in its own light and not by the norms, values, laws and ethics of other cultures.

The enculturation of ethical values usually begins in the home by one’s immediate family.  Parents train their children as to what is acceptable and unacceptable behavior.  For many behaviors there may be sound reasons, where others are simply a result of tradition, habit, or because the parent says so.  This ethical and cultural training is then continued by the extended family, community, clan or tribe.  In more urban societies the training of values is often carried out in schools or in agrarian or pastoral cultures moral training takes place while working with others.  Religious institutions re-enforce ethical guidelines and are often quite successful at gaining compliance, especially if there is a strong belief in supernatural consequences for adhering to or rebelling against the social mores.  The state or whatever form of government is culturally in place also re-enforces the socially accepted customs in the forms of laws, and penalizes or removes those that violate convention.

            This type of ethical theory has many advantages.  This theory seems so natural, you simply behave in a way that seems normal and appropriate to you because that is how you were raised and everyone around you was raised with the same ideas of right and wrong.  Your norms, values and laws are in sync with your culture’s world view and religious beliefs.  The government or powers that be, enforce the laws of your culture and society.  Abhorrent behavior is obvious and draws attention to itself and can be easily seen as out of tune with the rest of society.  Other societies are free to pursue their own values as long as their practice does not infringe on the well being of your culture and society.  This helps prevent ethnocentricism and promotes toleration of those who have different views and values than our own.  In fact, if one doesn’t like the norms, values or laws of their own culture, they may have the option to immigrate to a culture to whose mores are more compatible with their personal taste.  Ultimately, one could set up their own culture if they could find an uninhabited island and set up their own standards of what was ethical and what was not.

Yet, if ethics are really nothing more than social norms and cultural conventions, then why should we have to adhere to them?  Social norms and mores change generationally and geographically, so why should we have to wait for social change, or move to a place that agrees with how we want to live?  Ethical relativism does not allow for individuals to critique the norms or mores of other cultures or, for that matter, even their own.  Since the culture and society are the standard for right and wrong behavior, the standards produced by it cannot be questioned by members of that society.  Even practices which might seem morally repugnant to us cannot be judged as being immoral in another culture that finds them acceptable. The subjugation of women, child abuse, slavery, torture, genocide etc. may be acceptable among certain culture groups.  If we judge them by our own cultural values we are being ethnocentric and intolerant.  Even seeking social change in our own culture puts us in the category of the immoral, rebellious and fomenters of social unrest.  The only justification for rebellion that I can think of is if your rebellion is successful and you overthrow the old order and set up a new standard of what is moral, normal and legal.  If you are successful you will be hailed as a liberating hero against oppression, a freedom fighter, and perhaps even founding father of a new cultural or national identity.  If you lose, however, you will be branded as an outlaw and traitor, terrorist and fanatic, malcontent and criminal.  The key to rebellion is to win, but then you become the new standard that others will one day rebel against and you have already set the precedent on how social change takes place.

Ethical Relativism can be especially problematic in pluralistic societies like the United States of America.  The laws apply to all people and are absolute, but because there are so many sub-cultures and even counter cultures in America, the norms and values of the American people cover a wide range of behaviors and beliefs.  Various subcultures will attempt to get their norms and values passed into laws and are opposed by those with competing value systems. This results in social unrest and culture wars often leaving both sides dissatisfied or for minority groups being disenfranchised.  Often one’s social identity and rules for conduct find greater loyalty in one’s subculture than in one’s national identity.  This could apply to gangs, various ethnic, religious or political groups.  The subcultures’ ethics and values are in conflict with other subcultures and rather than not judging other groups by their own standards and promoting toleration, these subgroups often try to impose their standards on the whole of society.

Ethical Relativists do not have to give reasons or justifications for their ethic.  It really just comes down to, that’s the way it is, we’ve always done it this way, and do you think you know better than those who came before you?  Perhaps if we knew the history and background of certain norms, it might make more sense to us, or could give us grounds of why social mores should be changed or enforced.  But Ethical Relativism is an absolute ethical system based on the standards of the culture from which it comes.  To challenge Ethical Relativism is challenging the very culture that gave you life, language, a world view and values.  This culture reared you, protected you and provides a mate for you. Who are you to question the values of your culture?  It would be like a child telling the parent they weren’t parenting right.  The development of Ethical Relativism as a social theory coincided with the rise of the counter-culture movement in the 60’s.

Many American youth rejected the values, norms, laws and religious beliefs of their parent’s generation, and even went beyond Ethical Relativism into moral relativism.  If there are no ethical absolutes except those mandated by your culture, and if your culture just arbitrarily made their standards up because there are no universal standards, then why can’t we just make up our own standards.  Especially if ethical standards are based off of a relativistic non-foundation to begin with?  The rise of moral relativism made a free for all of ethics and morality.  Peace and love seemed more valid to many youth, rather than the values of the military industrial complex of their elders.  The norms of the protestant work ethic and Judeo/Christian values were seen to be the values of another time and place and were easily replaced with sex, drugs and rock & roll.  Many chose rather to drop out, turn on, and seek a less totalitarian form of economics and religion.  Socialism challenged the assumptions of capitalism; experimental economic and family systems were explored from co-ops and communes to group marriages.  Western Dogmatism was replaced by Eastern Mysticism and everyone did that which was right in their own eyes.  Moral relativism opened the possibility of situational ethics, where right and wrong was dependent on each particular instance and each particular moral agent.  Ethics were no longer a dictate from on high or a list of rules and calculations, there could be a plurality of morally acceptable choices, things weren’t so black and white anymore.  No more absolutes, besides there being no absolutes, toleration of everything besides intolerance, and being open and accepting of all types of expression ultimately leaving us hating nothing at all, except hatred.

This progression from ethics derived from one’s culture or society to moral relativism and situational ethics really just leads us back to egoism.  And the same reasons ethical egoism does not provide true morality applies to relativism as well. When everything is ethical and moral then nothing is ethical and moral.  The toleration espoused by Ethical Relativism causes it to label any universal ethic as being ethnocentric, judgmental and bigoted.  The moral relativists sees any check on their personal moral choices as oppressive, bigoted and hateful, and the situational ethicists, basically does whatever they want for they are not accountable to anyone but themselves.  Relativism in any of its forms does not satisfy man’s quest for ethics or morality.  What has the appearance of normalcy, toleration and freedom, turns into a morass of conflicting values and judgments.  It is the oppression of toleration, a toleration which has now been transformed to mean acceptance, in other words, if you don’t agree with me you are being intolerant.  This is an odd turn in deed, for toleration used to mean putting up with and being respectful of other people or other views that you didn’t agree with, but in a relativistic world, I suppose toleration can mean whatever people want.

Why ethics derived from law and authority do not provide true morality.

justice statue with sword and scale. cloudy sky in the backgroun

Why ethics derived from law and authority do not provide true morality.

The point I am trying to make in this section is that whether you are progressive or traditional, a Biblical Christian or a secular humanist, believe in personhood rights for the unborn or the right of a woman to have control over her own reproduction, believe in heterosexual monogamous marriage or marriage equality, in creation or evolution, a class hierarchy or socialism, civil rights or slavery, laws will come and go, but they will not change the human condition.  What I mean by this is that you can externally impose all sorts of behavior modification upon people, whether through punishment or reward, but once the positive or negative reinforcements are removed, then so will be the behavior unless it is internalized. Or people will comply with the laws of the land but will actively work to change them or choose not to follow them in their personal thoughts and actions.

The 13th Amendment legally ended slavery in the United States of America, but it did not end the moral sickness within humans that made slavery possible.  The Black Codes and Jim Crow laws would follow and try to mitigate the changes in national law.  Slavery would also continue to the present day in both subtle and brutal forms, subtle in the form of debt and poverty, brutal in the form of human trafficking, the sex trade and indentured workers. The civil rights act of 1964 along with the voting rights act and fair housing act were all attempts to legally stem discrimination and racism in the United States.  Yet racism and discrimination continue to be issues and even some of the civil rights protections have been removed by the Supreme Court’s 2013 ruling on certain elements of the voting rights act. ( (

In 1973 the landmark Supreme Court’s decision to end state’s restrictions on most forms of abortion decriminalized abortion in the United States. ( Legal abortions since that time have exceeded 54 million abortions in the United States alone. ( Yet recent gallop polls show that the majority of Americans do not believe abortions should be performed or if they are allowed it should only be under medically required conditions. (

In 1962 the Supreme Court ruled that prayer, bible readings and other types of religious promotion by schools would no longer be permitted.  This did not mean students could not pray, as long as it did not disrupt others, but it did mean that school officials or programs needed to keep all activities and events secular in nature, neither advancing nor prohibiting religion, or allow excessive entanglement between religion and government. Yet, in spite of this ruling the vast majority of Americans believe prayer should be allowed in public schools and things like bible reading or posting the 10 commandments is part of our Judeo/Christian heritage. (

In 1968 the Supreme Court ruled that the prohibition to teach the theory of evolution was a violation of the 1st amendment’s Establishment clause.  Since that time the legal history of what can be taught in the science classroom has been defeat after defeat for the creationist position.  Even attempts at introducing equal time for creationist theories, or the more subtle intelligent design theories have been rebuffed by the courts across the United States and their decisions upheld by the Supreme Court.  Yet, even after forty years of almost exclusive evolutionary teaching in the public school’s science curriculum the majority of Americans still believe in a Creator and Creationism.  In fact, 46% of Americans believed in a young earth creation account and if you include theistic evolutionists who believe God used evolution as a means of bringing about modern humans, the number jumps to 78%.  This leaves only 15% of the population believing in a purely materialist evolutionary process, although it is interesting to note, that the higher level of education one achieves in America, the higher likelihood that one will believe in the theory of evolution. []

There is also a distinction between what is moral and what is legal, even for Ethical Relativists if their subculture values supersede the collective values of the nation in which they live.  Just because a certain practice is permitted or restricted under the rule of law does not mean that the population under those laws will necessarily agree with the practices that those laws will permit or restrict, this is especially true in a pluralistic society like the United States of America.  Different subcultures will have different ideas of right and wrong behavior which may or may not line up with the overall laws of the land, but I will cover this issue under, “why custom and tradition do not provide morality.  Laws and authority, however, can affect people’s views on what is ethical and moral, which is often tied into public education, government sponsored programs and trends in popular culture. For example the immorality of slavery or discrimination based on race, gender, or sexual orientation has been greatly influenced by American norms.

In the antebellum South, only around 8% of the population owned slaves, yet there was a general consensus that slavery was a part of the divine order of things.  In America today, over 150 years after the abolition of slavery one would be hard pressed to find a pro slavery advocate, and even if one were found they would be perceived as an immoral cretin and among the dregs of society.  Views of homosexuality have also greatly changed over the past fifty years. “Homosexuality had been officially classified as a mental disorder in the APA’s first Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-1) in 1952. There it was designated as a “sociopathic personality disturbance.” Viewing homosexuality as a mental illness was not controversial at the time as it coincided with prevailing societal attitudes. DSM-II, published in 1968, listed homosexuality as a sexual deviation, but sexual deviations were no longer categorized as a sociopathic personality disturbance.” ( By 1973 it had also been removed as a deviation as long as the homosexual was comfortable with their homosexuality and it wasn’t causing some other type of emotional or behavioral issues.  Even in national polls the majority of Americans no longer see homosexuality as a moral failure or a sin, let alone a psychological disorder.  Among more conservative religious groups homosexuality is still seen as morally unacceptable, but disapproval even in these circles is on the decline. (

At this point in the discussion you may be thinking to yourself, “You’re speaking out of both sides of your mouth.”  “In the earlier examples you showed how the laws and institutionalized attempts to regulate, promote or educate the populous to a particular point of view were ineffective, but then you gave examples of how laws of the land and social influences could bring about change.”  Yes, I admit, this does seem to be confusing.  On the one hand it seems that we cannot enact laws and expect people to internally conform to what is now the legal point of view, but on the other hand it seems that people can be influenced and have their views changed through laws, convention, education and cultural socialization.

I suppose what I am actually suggesting is that compliance or disregard of the law is not what provides human ethics or morality.  Blind obedience to authority does not make you a free moral agent but rather a moral automaton who only acts within prescribed moral perimeters.  Compliance with unjust laws is still participating in injustice, and obedience for the sake of hope of reward or fear of punishment makes you little more than a moral mercenary. When someone gives you a better offer you will change your ethic like a chameleon changes its color. Do you give moral accent to something because it is the law of the land, or because someone in authority told you it is the right thing to do, or is there some other standard and guideline you use to evaluate the laws of the land or the commands of those in authority over you?

Adam and Even lived without the law, in freedom and innocence.  They were, however, under the ultimate authority in the universe, the Creator Himself.  Because Adam and Even did not have the knowledge of good and evil, they had no code of ethics or standards for morality.  In many ways they were like the beasts of the field.  They were however under God’s authority, just as God had placed creation under the authority of man.  Even with the ultimate authority in their lives, it still did not guarantee that Adam and Eve would comply with God’s Divine Command.  In fact, by God giving Adam and Eve a prohibition, it implied they had the choice to disobey God’s command.  God’s authority did not provide morality for Adam and Eve because it was external to them and with the prohibition it awoke the temptation to disobey.

In Romans 4:13 Paul begins his talk about the law. “Because the law worketh wrath: for where no law is, there is no transgression.” In Romans 5:13 he says, sin was in the world, but without the law, sin is not imputed.  In verse 20 he tells us that the law entered so that the offense might abound, for where the offense abounded grace abounds more. In Galatians 3 Paul tells us why the law was given.

Galatians 3:10-26 KJV

10 For as many as are of the works of the law are under the curse: for it is written, Cursed is every one that continueth not in all things which are written in the book of the law to do them.

11 But that no man is justified by the law in the sight of God, it is evident: for, The just shall live by faith.

12 And the law is not of faith: but, The man that doeth them shall live in them.

13 Christ hath redeemed us from the curse of the law, being made a curse for us: for it is written, Cursed is every one that hangeth on a tree:

14 That the blessing of Abraham might come on the Gentiles through Jesus Christ; that we might receive the promise of the Spirit through faith.

15 Brethren, I speak after the manner of men; Though it be but a man’s covenant, yet if it be confirmed, no man disannulleth, or addeth thereto.

16 Now to Abraham and his seed were the promises made. He saith not, And to seeds, as of many; but as of one, And to thy seed, which is Christ.

17 And this I say, that the covenant, that was confirmed before of God in Christ, the law, which was four hundred and thirty years after, cannot disannul, that it should make the promise of none effect.

18 For if the inheritance be of the law, it is no more of promise: but God gave it to Abraham by promise.

19 Wherefore then serveth the law? It was added because of transgressions, till the seed should come to whom the promise was made; and it was ordained by angels in the hand of a mediator.

20 Now a mediator is not a mediator of one, but God is one.

21 Is the law then against the promises of God? God forbid: for if there had been a law given which could have given life, verily righteousness should have been by the law.

22 But the scripture hath concluded all under sin, that the promise by faith of Jesus Christ might be given to them that believe.

23 But before faith came, we were kept under the law, shut up unto the faith which should afterwards be revealed.

24 Wherefore the law was our schoolmaster to bring us unto Christ, that we might be justified by faith.

25 But after that faith is come, we are no longer under a schoolmaster.

26 For ye are all the children of God by faith in Christ Jesus.


The law cannot justify us before God, not because the law is not just or holy, but because no man can keep the law.  If the law could have provided life and justification, then Jesus would not have had to die on the cross.  Rather the law was our teacher, to show us we could never live up to the standard of God’s righteousness.  What the law could not do, Christ would accomplish.  The Law of Moses was never meant to save anyone, but rather to show the impossibility of keeping God’s standard.  It is strange that the law rather than making us good seems to incite us to evil.

Romans 7:7-14 KJV

What shall we say then? Is the law sin? God forbid. Nay, I had not known sin, but by the law: for I had not known lust, except the law had said, Thou shalt not covet.

But sin, taking occasion by the commandment, wrought in me all manner of concupiscence. For without the law sin was dead.

For I was alive without the law once: but when the commandment came, sin revived, and I died.

10 And the commandment, which was ordained to life, I found to be unto death.

11 For sin, taking occasion by the commandment, deceived me, and by it slew me.

12 Wherefore the law is holy, and the commandment holy, and just, and good.

13 Was then that which is good made death unto me? God forbid. But sin, that it might appear sin, working death in me by that which is good; that sin by the commandment might become exceeding sinful.

14 For we know that the law is spiritual: but I am carnal, sold under sin.


Many people are looking for better laws or a better set of rules, unfortunately even if you had the perfect law given by God almighty Himself it would still not enable you to be a righteous person.  It seems to be a basic part of human nature, or perhaps it is our own ego.  Either the law provokes us to rebellion and disobedience, or we think we can keep the law and it leads us to legalism and self righteousness.  Both reactions miss the mark and either show us our own depravity or we delude ourselves into thinking we are actually good people and can keep the law.

The last example I want to give comes from Revelation chapter 20.  Satan is bound for a thousand years and Christ reigns on earth.  Yet even with Christ as the ruler, when Satan is loosed he leads a multitude in rebellion.  Even a theocracy with Christ as His own representative cannot bring about internal righteousness.  Christ’s authority, rule and law are perfect, but it only incites man’s rebellion for those who are not in right relationship with God.  Law and authority cannot provide morality, for either we will rebel against it, or be unable to live up to it.


Why self denial and ascetism do not provide true morality


Why self denial and asceticism do not provide true morality.

            While the egoist seeks self interest and pleasure to achieve the good life, the ascetic practices self denial and mortification of the flesh.  Although union with God is often the stated goal of the ascetic, it is easy for self control and self discipline to become their highest good. This confusion can arise because of the severity of their practice through which they hope to achieve freedom from carnal desires and egoistic ideas of self worth or self importance.  Taste not, touch not, handle not become the mantra of the ascetic.  The spirit is good and flesh is evil.  By starving the flesh and beating it into submission, one can release the spirit within.  The physical world is a distraction to our true selves, and will tempt us through our senses to get lost in the false promises that the world of transitory things has to offer.

The flesh is at war with the spirit, and the ascetic brings the focus of his will to tip the balance towards the spiritual.  There are many practical practices the ascetic can incorporate into his struggle against the flesh, fasting, exposure to the elements, wearing course clothing if clothing is worn at all, hair shirts and a celise can all help keep the flesh agitated and from feeling pleasure.  Simple foods are eaten, for sustenance not for pleasure, bland and bitter foods aid against the seduction of the sweet, salty and spicy.  Dry and lean wards of the richness of fat and flavor, and herbs and grains are preferred to meat, sauces and pastries.  If it’s pleasing to the touch, don’t touch it, if it’s pleasing to the eye, don’t look at it, and if it’s pleasing to the ear, don’t listen to it, especially if it makes you tap your feet or move your body.  If it’s pleasing to the nostrils don’t smell it and if it’s pleasing to the taste, don’t eat it.  In a nutshell, if it feels good don’t do it.

If the ascetic has stumbled and given into the flesh various forms of penance can be performed to get him back on track.  Self flagellation is perhaps one of the most direct and impressionable tools at the ascetics disposal.  By physically beating the very flesh that betrayed you, it brings a quick causal connection to body and soul of the consequences of sin.  Some ascetics become masters of psychological flagellation, where they beat themselves up emotionally and spiritually in psychic bouts of internal bloodletting.  They will beat themselves raw in an attempt to show true contrition and to show that they are serious about dealing with their sins as one would deal with a rabid dog in the yard.  In some cases even amputation or castration may be called for.  Did not Jesus himself say, “And if thy right eye offend thee, pluck it out, and cast it from thee: for it is profitable for thee that one of thy members should perish, and not that thy whole body should be cast into hell. And if thy right hand offend thee, cut it off, and cast it from thee: for it is profitable for thee that one of thy members should perish, and not that thy whole body should be cast into hell.” (Matthew 5:29+20)

The problem, however, with this type of self denying morality, is that the denial of the physical body is very appealing to one’s soulish flesh.  What I mean by soul is the mind, will and emotions.  It is the non physical part of humans that makes even identical twins different from their genetically identical sibling.  The soul is the seat of the temperament and personality, it is where the ego lives and what we are referring to when we say me, myself or I.  The reason asceticism is appealing to the ego, is that it exalts it above the physical frame.  All acts of self control, discipline and restraint, embolden and empower the ego within.  What externally may appear as humility, contrition and even self abuse, is really a mask for pride, self sufficiency and self exaltation.  Even if the ascetic succeeds in subduing his carnal desires and mortal frame, by his very success he will have lost himself to himself. The law of diminishing returns applies to asceticism the same way it applies to hedonism, the self denial you did today, wont give you the same satisfaction tomorrow, and you will have to go to greater and greater lengths to deny yourself in order to satisfy yourself.

It is an odd paradox indeed when that which looks like the antithesis to egotistical hedonism turns out to be its mirror image and twin.  By denying the self, even when the intention was to be united with God, the self ends up being more its own god than it was in the beginning.  Perhaps the worst thing possible for the ascetic is if he succeeds in his attempts at self mortification and control, for if it is the self that is the means of controlling the self, then it is the self that is the ultimate authority and power in one’s life.  Egoism and asceticism are simply two names for the same path, and this path leads to self righteousness the worst kind of moral failure.

Why self interest and pleasure do not provide true morality


Why self interest and pleasure do not provide true morality.

            You may be thinking to yourself at this point, “wow, I’m glad I’m not a Divine Command Theorist. It’s so much easier being an Egoistic Hedonist.  All I have to worry about is what is in my own self interest, seek what is pleasurable and avoid that which brings pain.”  Unfortunately, the egoist doesn’t have the foresight or knowledge to know what that good is, even when it only concerns themselves.  Because we cannot see the future, we do not always know what will be in our best interests.  Since our choices are made off of limited data or incorrect interpretations of what we perceive, we often end up harming ourselves through our choices even though they were motivated by our own self seeking pleasure.  We do not know the future, and even though it seems like we are choosing what will produce pleasure and benefit to ourselves it turns out to bring pain and suffering.

You may be thinking, “Well I at least know what pleasure is and it’s easy to tell when something is bringing me enjoyment or causing me discomfort.”  This is true, but pleasure is a fickle mistress, for she is subject to the law of diminishing returns. That which brings you pleasure today, may not seem so pleasurable tomorrow, and that which once brought you excitement, wonder and passion, now is nothing but dust and ashes to  your senses and your taste.  The ultimate problem with pleasure being our guide, is that pleasure always requires more to get the same pay off.  The drug that got you high yesterday, may only maintain “normalcy” tomorrow.  Those images or actions that once aroused you sexually are now bland and unalluring.  The thrill you received from walking the slack line in your backyard may one day require you to cable walk across a canyon to get the same adrenaline rush.  Pleasure doesn’t satisfy, but becomes the tyrant that always demands more.

Perhaps you are not a crass hedonist, but rather are searching for the higher pleasures of the mind.  You love to repose and think about the wonders and mysteries of life.  You enjoy good literature, music and drama.  You are a connoisseur of the arts and nurture that which nourishes your soul rather than indulging in that which merely titillates your body.  Even these high end type pleasures are not free from diminishing returns.  Even your highest and brightest thoughts will one day be brought low and find themselves shrouded in darkness.  When the evil days come and you find no more pleasure in them and you return to the dust from whence you were taken. [Ecclesiastes 12]

Those who seek to find happiness and fulfillment by only seeking that, which brings self satisfaction, will have limited pleasure indeed.  For in light of the cosmos we are but a speck, and if all your ambitions, hopes, fears and dreams are focused on the speck of yourself, you are a miserable and isolated creature.  Because you are only concerned about yourself, you will never know true love or friendship.  You will be suspicious and cynical of others because you will project your own selfish motives and intentions onto others.  You will be paranoid that others will find out your true motivations or become indifferent to the thoughts, cares and concerns of those around you.  Solitude will be your abode and loneliness your only companion.  You will serve a petty god, whose name is self, and it will not be able to deliver you from your own self created hell.

Why ethics derived from pragmatism, utility or consequentialism do not provide true morality.


Why ethics derived from pragmatism, utility or consequentialism do not provide true morality.

            Teleological Ethical Theories determine what is good, based on the outcomes, consequences or end results of actions.  Good is defined by these types of theories, as that which maximizes usefulness, happiness and pleasure.  Two of the major theories in this category are Utilitarianism with its emphasis on utility, i.e. usefulness and consequentialism with its emphasis on end results. Teleological slogans would include statements such as, the greatest good for the greatest number, the ends justify the means, actions speak louder than words, and the road to hell is paved with good intentions.  Teleological theories are also highly pragmatic, applicable and adaptable.  Efficacy and efficiency weigh heavily in making moral choices, for example, what works best, costs cheapest and lasts longest, would hold great weight for this type of ethic.

            One of the most well-known teleological theories is called Utilitarianism and was developed by Jeremy Bentham and John Stewart Mill.  It was an attempt to come up with an ethical theory based on reason rather than on culture, tradition, authority or some type of mystical instruction from above.  Jeremy Bentham presented a hedonic form of utilitarianism, in other words, he was looking for an ethic that would provide the greatest amount of pleasure for the greatest amount of people.  Bentham even developed what he called, hedonic calculus to try and determine which actions would maximize pleasure and minimize pain.  It is often called social hedonism, for unlike the egoistic hedonist who is simply looking out for their own pleasure; utilitarianism is looking out for the pleasure of the many.

            John Stewart Mill contributed to the theory of Utilitarianism by addressing its critics.  He addressed the criticism that an ethic based on pleasure was perhaps suitable for beasts but not for man.  Mill responded that utilitarianism seeks higher pleasures rather than base pleasures so it was perfectly suited for human beings.  Another critique argued that the variables in determining what were in human’s bests interests were beyond the ability for humans to predict.  The final critique was that we often must make quick moral decisions and don’t have the time to work through all the variables involved in conducting a hedonic calculation.  For the last two critiques Mill believed the detractors did not fully understand how the principles of utility work.  There are also major divisions in a utilitarian approach to ethics and these can be divided into act and rule based utilitarianism.

            In act based utilitarianism you simply choose the action, which you believe based on your calculations, will produce the greatest pleasure and avoid the greatest amount of pain.  In rule based utilitarianism, certain rules are put into place based on the principle of utility to help avoid situational actions which may seem to produce greater happiness, but reason and prior actions have taught us that as a rule certain actions must be avoided because they generally produce more pain than pleasure.  For example, one could reason that to murder, rape, or torture could produce good in certain circumstances, yet based on the overall effect of murder, rape and torture these actions would be prohibited under rule based utilitarianism.  Not because they are wrong in and of themselves, but because the consequences of these actions have been demonstrated to bring about more suffering and pain than pleasure and happiness.

            The development of Utilitarian Ethics followed the development of Democratic Political Philosophies.  In many ways, utilitarianism is the perfect ethical companion for a democracy.  If right conduct is determined by that which produces the greatest good or happiness for the greatest number, then a democracy where individuals get to cast their vote for what they believe will provide them the greatest good or happiness seems to ensure that the majority of the people will be happy with the outcome.  The United States tried to mitigate the potential tyranny of the majority over the minority by providing a basic set of individual rules or rights which could not be trampled on by the majority decision.  Many of these rights and rules were taken from the Political Philosophy of John Locke who preceded Bentham by a little more than 100 years.  Americans by enlarge are enamored by utilitarian thinking and for much of the population [quantify or verify this statement with data, % etc.] it is a national norm and value compatible with their democratic ideals.  This utilitarian type thinking is very pragmatic and applicable to a host of social, political, environmental, economic and ethical issues.  The use of utilitarian type ethical thinking crosses ethnic, racial, class, political and religious lines and has become for many Americans their default ethical system.

            The first utilitarian justification I can recall hearing was in regards to the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.  I believe I was in my 7th grade U.S. history class and we were discussing World War II.  My history teacher, explained to us that the dropping of the atomic bombs on Japanese cities was justifiable because it brought a quick end to the war. If the war had gone on, and the U.S. was forced to mount a conventional invasion of Japan, it would have cost thousands more American and even Japanese lives.  Yes, dropping atomic bombs is horrific, but it was justified because the good it produced was greater than the evil.  I think in retrospect, what is most shocking to me, is how reasonable this explanation seemed.  So much so, that I didn’t really give it another thought until I was studying history again in college and got a little more precise understanding of what atomic bombs were and the affect they have on human beings.  I also had become aware that there was more to the story of Japan’s surrender than I was told about in high school and that the atomic bombs were meant as a message to the Soviets as much as to the Japanese High command.  I also had finally realized that the Japanese were actually people too, and that they had a completely different perspective on the atomic bombs in particular and about World War II in general.

            We will never know what would have happened if the U.S. wouldn’t have dropped the atomic bombs on civilian population centers in Japan.  We do know, however that the atomic bombs killed anywhere from 160,000 to 180,000+ people with the addition to the long term effects of radiation on humans, and nature for years to come.  Japan actually offered to surrender before the dropping of the atomic bombs with the condition that it could keep its emperor.  The United States rejected the terms and would only accept an unconditional surrender by Japan.  It is odd that when the United States did accept Japan’s surrender, after the dropping of the atomic bombs, they allowed Japan to keep their emperor. It is hard to imagine anyone would claim the wholesale slaughter of hundreds of thousands of people would be anything but a horrifically monstrous act, yet with utilitarian/consequentailism even the most horrific acts can be justified if the ends justify the means.

            Utilitarian/Consequentialism and its pragmatism are not restricted to secular humanists.  It can be seen across a vast social, ethnic and religious spectrum. Even among more conservative evangelical groups that are often strong proponents to right to life issues like the life of the unborn and human dignity, they often fall prey to utilitarian justifications when it holds the promise of great good, even at the expense of some questionable means.  An example of utilitarian justifications for what would normally be deemed immoral by most Evangelicals is the use of embryonic stem cells for research in the hopes of finding a cure for a host of genetic and degenerative diseases, spinal cord injuries, and eventually even the growing of replacement organs which would be much more viable than donor organs.  The vast majority of Evangelicals are opposed to abortion on the grounds that it is murder, the taking of an innocent life.  This argument is based on the scriptures and what is taught in regards to the sanctity of life, and rests on the ontological belief that all humans are made in the image of God.  It is rather disturbing to find that almost half those who hold such a view on abortion, would then advocate the using of cells taken from destroyed embryos in the hopes of accomplishing some good.  Here the argument is perhaps a little subtler, but it still comes down to an ends based justification.  Although most Evangelicals and even President Bush believe that the making of new embryonic stem cell strains needs to be prohibited, the argument claims that destroying the existing embryonic stem cell lines we already have would be a double tragedy.  Yes, a life was taken to acquire these stem cells for research, but the life can’t be brought back so why not use the existing cells for good.  Another argument is that the zygotes used for embryonic stem cell research were never implanted in the womb and were therefore never intended to become human so their cells can be used.  When utility becomes your guide you may find yourselves building monuments and medical wonders into the heavens, yet at least in this case, your foundation rests on the desecration of the dead and the slaughter of the innocent.

Views on Stem Cell Research



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Non-evangelical white Protestants
































































This ABCNEWS/Washington Post poll was conducted by telephone July 26-30 among a random national sample of 1,352 adults. The results have a 2.5-point error margin. Fieldwork was conducted by TNS Intersearch of Horsham, Pa.                2001

            The final example I would like to share with you is the utilitarian justification for the use of torture.  I have taught “Christian Ethics” for the past fifteen years and this is the first semester I actually had to set aside time to explain to my class why torture is wrong, categorically!  After all, Americans don’t torture and certainly not Christians, yet 90% of my students believed torture was an acceptable means of acquiring information if that information could save lives.  When presented with the “ticking bomb scenario” (explain what this is) the consensus was that one must do whatever it takes to save lives.  In fact, they went so far as to say that if you did not torture the terrorist subject you were culpable and responsible for any lives lost due to your lack of zealous interrogation.  I am not trying to project my own personal teaching experiences on the Evangelical community at large, but apparently my students are not alone in their beliefs. A Survey by Pew Research Center for the People & the Press Oct. 12-24, 2005; nationwide survey conducted among 2,006 adults, reports a total of 65% of White evangelicals believe that torture is justifiable under certain conditions as opposed to only 31% who thought torture is never justifiable.  What race has to do with this survey I’m not certain, perhaps that can be the topic of another study. 

Survey by Pew Research Center for the People & the Press Oct. 12-24, 2005; nationwide survey conducted among 2,006 adults

Do you think the use of torture against suspected terrorists in order to gain important information can often be justified, sometimes be justified, rarely be justified, or never be justified?


Total public

Total Catholic









Don’t know/refused












White Protestant

White evangelical









Don’t know/refused























Don’t know/refused






            In every instance, however, in which I have read the justifications for the use of torture, it has come down to an argument from utility, (i.e. yes torture is wrong, but it would be a greater wrong not to do all within ones power to save innocent lives).  Torture is the lesser of two evils, when compared with the massacre of thousands of innocents, etc.  I have also seen some attempts at using versions of “Just War Theory” as justifications for the use of torture, but these would need to be discussed separately.  When clear scriptural mandates are violated in the hopes of achieving some greater good, or preventing some greater evil, the winds of utilitarianism have swept Evangelicals from their ethical moorings.

            The use of utilitarian/consequentialism can be applied to decide what kind of shoes or car to buy or what size bag of chips gives you the best value or who should receive health care or government bailouts.  The reason why utilitarian/consequentialism can never provide true morality, is not because it is unlivable, but rather it is untenable.  What I mean by this is that even though this is one of the most pragmatic ethical theories ever conceived by the mind of man, it is also limited by the same frailties that affect all men.  If we accept act based utilitarianism as an ethical standard, it becomes a standard with no standard, for literally any action is potentially possible if it can be presented as a viable means of producing more benefit than harm.  Lying, assassinations, theft, murder, fraud, infidelity, tyranny, human medical experimentation, organ farming, child or slave labor, acts of terror or counter terrorism and much more are all fair options if they can be rationally demonstrated to have a chance of producing more happiness for more people than it brings misery. 

If for this reason you advocate a rule based utilitarian ethic, this also invalidates utilitarian ideals, for the rules generated must come from some other ethical system.  If you claim the rules come from observation of what experientially has been most expedient in the past, this allows for radical conflict if those making future decisions have had different past experiences.  If an interrogation officer claims that after years of field experience he has determined torture is counterproductive, how will this persuade someone who has always gotten whatever information they wanted to know every time they applied torture?  Who gets to make the rules in rule based utilitarianism?  What are the rules based on? Reason? Experience? Certain presupposed core values or human value or obligation?

Utilitarians will often claim that it is not farfetched to make projections into the future of likely outcomes.  The better data one has, the better predictions one can make.  Utilitarianism and consequential based ethical theories in general often site how good intentions can bring unintended, but none the less, horrific consequences.  Yet, couldn’t the same be said about utilitarian based ethics?  No matter how well thought out or researched, no matter what one’s past experience or expertise predicts, the future is beyond the scope of human insight and speculation.  When your ethical theory cannot tell you if you acted correctly or incorrectly until the consequences of your actions have been revealed, this seems like a poor map and guide for living a moral life.

 Certainly utilitarians can claim that one of the advantages of this type of ethical approach is that it is flexible and can adapt to different needs, environments and criteria.  Increased knowledge can help increase accurate predictions of outcomes, and the more one practices an ends based ethic, the more proficient one will become at choosing the best case scenarios and means of action.  This certainly is true for a vast array of ethical dilemmas and real life quandaries, if you find that your choice is producing undesirable consequences you are allowed to make adjustments and corrections within a utilitarian framework.  A deontological ethical theorist must press on through hell or high water, for he is bound by duty or a code of conduct which is not alterable based on circumstances or unforeseen unpleasant outcomes.  Yet, even for the consequentialist who can theoretically make adjustments, some moral choices cannot be undone and like the deontologist the best of intentions does not mitigate against unforeseen unpleasant consequences.  You cannot take back certain actions, and often the consequences of many well thought out and good intended acts cannot be known for generations to come.  DDT was thought to be a wonder of modern chemical science and allowed for an unprecedented control of insects with the results of major improvements in crop yields.  Yet, the side effects of DDT poisoned the water table and had incalculable negative side effects on the health of migratory foul, fish and even human populations. When one’s actions affect the life and wellbeing of others, there are no “take backs” or “do overs”.  It is true that some mistakes we can learn from and make appropriate adjustments for future actions, but some mistakes may not allow for a future in which learning can take place. 

Even if humans possessed the knowledge of what would produce the most good for the most people, this would not alleviate the consequences of this type of thinking on the minority of the population or the violation of individual choice by the will and actions of the majority.  Utilitarian/consequentialism coupled with American consumerism and instant gratification is an exceptionally morally toxic combination.  We have seen firsthand the devastating socio/economic consequences of trying to please the masses in the present, without concern for the consequences of the present pragmatic choices on future generations.  It will be of little consolation for those who come after us if we admit that the sum total of our current choices brought increased misery to the majority,

In conclusion, utilitarian/consequentialism, pragmatism, teleological ethical theories or whatever else you want to call them cannot provide true morality.  Without the knowledge of how our choices will turn out in the future, we are not in an epistemic position as humans to determine which actions will produce the best consequences. Yet, even if we somehow gained this type of insight it would still not justify the suffering of the few in exchange for the pleasure of the majority, especially if one happens to be in the minority. An ethical system which has no boundaries for what could potentially be an ethical act, is a poor guideline by which to make ethical decisions and is therefore not able to provide true morality.