Mirror of Justice

A blog dedicated to the development of Catholic legal theory.
Affiliated with the Program on Church, State & Society at Notre Dame Law School.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Haldane: "Putting Ethics Back Together Again"

John Haldane suggests, at Public Discourse, that "[m]uch of our moral confusion comes from our failure to find a replacement for the Judaeo-Christian outlook that once animated the West. We need, and generally now lack, a philosophical understanding of human life."  Part of the problem?:

We continue to use concepts and language that have their origins in a religious outlook, but we now lack the single coherent source for that use. We speak of “universal rights” and of the “equality of all people” but by any natural measure human beings are evidently unequal, so whence comes this elevated status and inviolability? We speak of the obligation to clothe the naked, and feed the hungry but whence comes that duty, if not from some broad notion of common membership in an all-inclusive moral community? And what can be a natural basis for this that can substitute for the religious idea of brotherhood?

Not only has the original foundation been lost sight of without an evidently adequate alternative being provided, but in losing touch with the source of moral meaning, our moral thinking has become confused. On the one hand we invoke the principle of the inviolability of innocent life in condemnation of the bombing of civilians, but on the other we set it aside when it comes to the matter of abortion. We assert the principle of non-exploitation in opposition to slavery yet countenance the creation of “sibling saviors” for the purpose of harvesting tissue from them. We deploy the language of innocence in relation to underage sex, yet switch instantly to talk of a right to gratification with the passing of a birthday. We assert the importance of community and of autonomy, yet legislate to restrict the latter in ways that will forseeably destroy the former. We oscillate between understandings of doctors, nurses, teachers and judges as motivated by vocations to serve the common good, and as salaried service-providers in a consumer economy. Little surprise, then, that we face confusing and apparently irresolvable conflicts. . . .


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