Re: O Freunde, nicht diese Toene

Date: Thu May 16 2002 - 18:41:09 EDT

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    George Murphy wrote:
    > 1. What are the relative roles and importances of (a) natural law
    >arguments and (b) biblical injunctions in dealing with ethical issues?

    With regard to ethical issues, I think some "natural arguments"
    can be used to guide and/or moderate the degree to which the ethical
    proscriptions are applied. Many ethical conflicts involve "hidden
    variables" - information that is not readily available to all parties.
    Our understanding of natural shortcomings in our knowledge can help
    in determining approximate limits.

    For example, the question, "At what age should a person be before they
    should be allowed to drink alcoholic beverages?", has an easy answer: A
    person should be old enough to drink responsibly and not harm others.
    Unfortunately, ethical and legal systems have a difficult time determining
    the exact answer for a particular individual. Some people can drink
    responsibly before they are 21; others should never touch a bottle.
    Lacking the ability to determine the proper age for each person, quasi-
    statistical methods are instead used to set blanket age limits, in the
    hope that the age chosen is a reliable guide most of the time.**

    Perhaps natural law arguments work better on the "application side"
    of things rather than serving as the chief reason behind establishing
    a particular code. Thus ethical and moral guidelines provide the "why"
    while knowledge of nature provides the "how" for working systems.

    > 2. How do we understand the role of natural law in view of the fact
    >that our understandings of what is natural
    > (a) may change with time, and
    > (b) may be culturally conditioned?

    I think rabbis recognized long ago that laws and their applications
    may change with time. Perhaps not all laws, but Jewish legal history is
    both deep & old. New problems continuously arrive. For example, what
    are we to make of XXY-chromosomed individuals or those with "parts"
    that don't quite fit together within the expected norms? Previously,
    these individuals were brushed under the rugs; Now, we've got surgery
    and hormone treatments.

    > 3. Can we differentiate between OT laws that (a) express
    >permanently valid religious or ethical principles and (b) those that are
    >essentially the civil law of ancient Israel which Christians are not
    >obligated to follow? (Shaun Rose's post "Some questions for Kamilla"
    >suggested, tongue in cheek, some examples in the latter category.) If
    >such a distinction is legitimate, what criteria do we use to decide
    >whether prohibitions of eating shellfish or of homosexual intercourse
    >between males fall in category (a) or (b)?

    I'm interested in reading about how this works too.

    Tim Ikeda

    ** Then again, the combination of ethical imperatives and natural
    aw arguments can lead to seemingly pardoxical situations. Although
    a person may not be considered responsible enough to drink 3/2 beer,
    they may nonetheless be considered sufficiently mature to wed, have
    oodles of babies, drive a multi-ton pickup and determine the best
    bombing pattern for leveling villages.

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