We discuss different ethical theories and evaluate if they fit with the LDS commitments and doctrine. We layout the positive and negative aspect of each theory and come up with a theory of ethics that is scriptural and consistent with the LDS world view and revelations.

Topics Discussed:
• The Possibilities of Ethics in LDS Thought
• An LDS Teleological Ethic?
• The Human Rights Objection
• The Distributive-Justice Objection
• The Genuine Friendship Objection
• A Duty-Based LDS Ethic?
• The Overbroad Rule Argument
• The Underinclusive Value Argument
• An LDS Agape Theory of Ethics in Alignment with the Gospel of Christ

Show Notes:

The Possibilities of Ethics in LDS Thought

“It seems to me that, as far as ethical theories go (and they don’t go very far), either a utilitarian or deontological theory of ethics is more aligned with LDS thought than any reviewed by Beckwith. A deontological theory of ethics is one that bases moral obligation on rational duty. A utilitarian ethic bases moral obligation on the utility of a rule or an act to promote the greatest happiness.”

An LDS Teleological Ethic?

“A teleological theory of ethics is one that bases the rightness or wrongness of an act, not on the qualities of the act itself, but on the consequences or ends brought about by the act”

Explain Utilitarianism and its tenants.

“Joseph Smith made some statements that suggest a utilitarian ethic:
In obedience there is joy and peace unspotted and unalloyed. And as God has designed our happiness, and the happiness of all his creatures, he never will institute an ordinance or give a commandment to his people that is not calculated in its nature to promote that happiness which he hath designed and which will not end in the greatest amount of good and glory to those who become the recipients of his law and ordinances.”

“Aligned with these thoughts is Lehi’s well-known aphorism: “Man is that he might have joy” (2 Ne. 2:25). Joseph Smith seems to have suggested that an act is not good merely because God commands it; rather, God commands us to do acts because they will make us happy and lead to the greatest joy.”

“Joseph Smith also made a statement that seems, at first blush, to teach a divine-command theory of ethics or the view that an act is good or evil solely by virtue of the fact that God commands it. Joseph said: “That which is wrong under one circumstance may be, and often is, right under another. God said, ‘Thou shalt not kill.’ At another time he said, ‘Thou shalt utterly destroy.’ This is the principle on which the government of heaven is conducted—by revelation adapted to the circumstances in which the children of the kingdom are placed. Whatever God requires is right, no matter what it is, although we may not see the reason thereof until long after it transpires.”

Now I am open to the possibility that Joseph Smith is inconsistent in the various statements he made. After all, he was a prophet, not a systematic theologian. Yet there is an easy way to reconcile this statement with the view that happiness is the greatest good and that God commands only what will lead to our happiness.”

The Human Rights Objection

“Teleological theories run into their greatest difficulty whenever the impersonal value of the “greatest good” is pitted against the intrinsic value and human dignity of individuals. For example, if punishing an innocent person would deter many others from committing crimes that would lead to the greatest happiness or good for society as a whole, then utilitarianism would sanction violating basic human rights by punishing those who are innocent. ”

“Given a utilitarian ethic, we are justified in violating human rights whenever it promotes the interest of society as whole. Thus, the very concept of human rights cannot consistently be adopted by a utilitarian.”

The Distributive-Justice Objection

“Teleological theories can also give results that are unjust when dealing with problems of distributive justice. One instance would occur when the great good of a few outweighs the just distribution of goods to a larger segment of the population.”

“The problem of distributive justice proposed by utilitarian theories is particularly problematic in the LDS world-view because it flatly contradicts the view of distributive justice in the LDS ethic of Zion”

The Genuine Friendship Objection

“it seems to me that utilitarianism is simply incompatible with genuine friendship and loving interpersonal relationships.”

“If you value me as a friend merely because I contribute to the greatest good overall, then I must acknowledge that I can be replaced at any time by another commodity that is more valuable overall.”

“Perhaps a utilitarian could respond that genuine friendship is such a great good that a society where we commit to persons from a motive of friendship, valuing the friend for her own sake and intrinsic value, is a greater good than one without such genuine friendship.”

A Duty-Based LDS Ethic?

“For Kant, moral obligation is grounded in the pragmatic necessity that we must have a reason for what we choose to do.”

“Reason provides a ground for morals because there are maxims of conduct which we must accept as universally binding on all persons to act rationally. For example, we must accept as a duty that we will to keep promises; otherwise, the very idea of a promise loses its meaning, for a promise that can be broken at will simply is not a promise. ”

“A form of this imperative is stated sometimes in popular advice from parents: “What if everybody did what you did?” Although such a question is often asked to focus our minds on the consequences to society if everyone acted the same way, that is not how Kant would formulate it. For Kant, we focus not on the results that would occur if everyone did what we did, but on what happens to the very notion of a law of action that guides our actions.”

“The second categorical imperative focuses this same principle on the duties that prevail in human relationships: “Act so that you treat humanity, whether in your own person or in that of another, always as an end and never as a means only.”

...more stuff will be here soon

“Now LDS beliefs don’t preclude a person from adopting an ethical theory along the lines suggested by Kant. However, there is nothing in LDS thought that requires adoption of a Kantian theory either. I have severe reservations about Kant’s theory of ethics which I believe counsel against adopting it as a basis for LDS ethical theories.”

The Overbroad Rule Argument

Kant said "....There is, therefore, only one categorical imperative. It is: Act only according to that maxim by which you can at the same time will that it should become a universal law.”

“This fallacy can be readily detected when it is seen that this maxim would allow as our moral duty acts which we have no moral duty to perform.”

“the very purpose of the categorical imperative is to identify what it is our moral duty to do; and if I can universalize acts which are not my moral duty, then it fails in its purpose.”

“perhaps we could expand a bit on the first categorical imperative to clarify: (1) It is a duty to act on a maxim only if it one cannot will to refrain from the act directed by the maxim to be a universal moral law; (2) it is permissible to act on a maxim only if one can will it to be a universal law; and (3) it is wrong to act on a maxim only if one cannot will it be a universal law.”

Still problems though...

The Underinclusive Value Argument

“But what of the second categorical imperative? I am inclined to accept the second categorical imperative as a valid statement of moral obligation, but for reasons very different than those urged by Kant”

“ It recognizes that persons are not things and thus cannot be used as mere means but must always be treated as ends in themselves. However, I disagree with Kant on what distinguishes persons from mere things. Kant suggests that human dignity arises solely from the capacity for transcendental rationality.”

“... capacity for rationality is not what we recognize in others as alone worthy of dignity and respect.”

“What I value is not limited to what you are but includes primarily who you are.” “What makes you worthy of respect is not merely that you are human but that you are the particular human that you are. It is the uniqueness of each Thou whom we encounter that demands respect and demands never to be treated as a mere thing.”

“This demand does not arise from autonomy or sameness alone but primarily out of heteronomy or difference and uniqueness.”

Egoistic Theories

“Egoism is the view that the most basic ethical obligation is to promote the greatest balance of good over evil for one’s self. Whatever ultimately enhances one’s personal happiness is what is good. ”

“the only way that egoism can be taught as an ethical theory is if one’s own greatest good is always served by seeking the interest of others. In fact, that is precisely what I claim the case to be. Our greatest happiness is served by forgetting ourselves and serving others out of love for them.”

An LDS Agape Theory of Ethics in Alignment with the Gospel of Christ

“I want to outline a “pre-theory” of moral obligation in LDS thought, for the Restoration has the resources to provide a profound basis for a Christian ethic. The starting point for an LDS ethic is the realization that whatever we are essentially is uncreated. Our eternal nature defines our inherent capacities. ”

“We must next ask: What laws define the conditions of mutual self-realization that we must abide to partake of the divine nature?”

“The answer is that there is one eternal law that defines this possibility: the law of love. God, as a unity of divine persons, is love.”

“The purpose of the moral law is to challenge us to so act that we love others as we love ourselves.
Thus, good and evil can be defined solely in terms of the law of love.”

“A good act is one that leads to healing a broken relationship or growing in intimacy and meaning in existing relationships. I would add that those choices and acts that lead to personal growth are the same as those acts that lead to interpersonal growth.”

“In contrast, an evil act is whatever injures or destroys a relationship; it is one that creates alienation. ”

“The relationships at issue can be broader than relationships between persons, for it is evil to torture animals just as it is to torture humans. It is evil to destroy the environment. The relationships at issue thus include the broadest array of relationships, the relationship I have with others, with animals, with the earth, and with myself. An evil act is one that injures relationships or which leads to alienation or separation.”

“ for love to be genuine, our entire end in acting for others cannot be merely our own self-realization, our own happiness alone, but must include love for our neighbor as its ultimate purpose, for anything less is not truly love.”

“This law operates independently of God, for God is divine by virtue of the fact that he is love; he is not love by virtue of the fact that he is God.”

“Now this law of love cannot be formulated easily, for it is known only through the spirit rather than the letter of the law. Yet this law is near to us, for it is written in our hearts precisely because it is an expression of who and what we are eternally. ”

“The law of love is objective and universal in two senses. First, the force and effect of the law of love cannot be escaped. The results of failing to live the law of love follow naturally.”

“an outline of moral theory in LDS thought ties together the moral intuitions that underlie several ethical theories. Like Aristotelian and Thomist theories, the good is defined in terms of what fulfills our human nature to the extent that such fulfilment leads to mutual self-realization. Like utilitarian theories, the good is what leads to the greatest happiness and joy. Like Kant’s theory, moral obligation is a duty that arises out of our nature as rational agents. Like social contract theories, the good is not something imposed on us by another but something to which we mutually agree, for the choice to love is certainly an autonomous choice that expresses our deepest being. Like Platonic theory, the law of love is not open to a point of view or merely a subjective judgment, for there truly is conduct that cannot be called loving no matter what criterion we are using to judge it.”


Popular Posts