From: Adrian Teo (email@example.com)
Date: Wed Oct 23 2002 - 03:02:55 EDT
From: John W Burgeson [mailto:firstname.lastname@example.org]
Sent: Tue 10/22/2002 11:29 AM
To: Adrian Teo
Subject: Re: Traditional Xtianity teaches
Burgy: I think the shoe belongs on the other foot, to show
situational ethics is necessarily an evil. Of course situational
ethics can (and often is) misused. And I have no interest in
defending Fletcher's book.
AT: I don't recall ever writing that situational ethics is a
necessary evil. However, I did imply that I disagree with it.
Situational ethics is an unworkable system because it is malleable
enough to lead to different conclusions for different people. Given
that people are most likely to choose conclusions that work to their
personal best interest, ethics is then reduced to personal
Burgy: All such scenarios are devised to illustrate a point
-- nothing more. Did the second one actually happen in real life? Did
a householder ever lie to the gestapo to save a life?
AT: Don't know the answer to the second question, but I
vaguely remember that Betsy Ten Boom was put in a similar situation
and did not lie. She told the truth about hiding Jews under her
coffee table and the Gestapo did not believe her and left.
Burgy: As for your last sentence, I did not say that either
decision in the railway car case was "immoral," only that sometimes a
decision between two terrible outcomes must be chosen. So we do not
AT: Yes, perhaps we do agree after all, but let's be clear
that this is not an application of consequentialism, even though
consequences are considered. The difference is that the intent and
the object of action of the agent are also considered in order to
reach the decision.
AT:"Yes, I have, and they are all very touching and painful
stories. But in order to think objectively about ethics, one has to
rise above the emotions and seek truth. In several of the
testimonies, the termination of life was chosen over the threat to
the mothers' fertility. These clearly reveal the underlying mindset,
which is that of this culture in America as well. How many women (and
their doctors) would choose to end their OWN life rather than lose
their fertility? Why then, is it more justifiable to end another
person's life for the sake of preserving fertility? I think these
testimonies reveal the depth of the confusion in this culture over
the making of ethical decisions. Consequentialism has taken over as
the dominant voice of ethics. Can you imagine the apostles and
martyrs saying, "Better that I not confess my faith now and be
killed, so that I can live on and witness to many more people."
That's the "beauty" of consequentialism - one can use it to justify
about anything. "
Burgy: Well, first of all a lot of early Xtians did just
that, and on the same general basis of reasoning.
AT: Well, I don't know if we can say that a lot of Christians
did that, but what we can say with certainty is that the ones we
remember and respect most were the ones who confessed their faith and
chose death, not the ones who engaged in consequential reasoning.
Burgy: Secondly, you speak above that "termination of life
was chosen over the threat to the mothers' fertility." I just reread
the six (actually seven) testimonies. In every case, the fetus was
going to, if born, suffer greatly and die quickly. Some had no brain
at all; one had a brain growing outside the skull. The seventh
testimony, by the husband of the sixth lady, Claudia Crown, said "The
procedure under assault in H.R. I833/S.939 protected my wife's health
and possibly saved her life. It allowed my son's suffering to end. It
allowed us to look forward to a growing family. It was the safest
medical procedure available to us." Similar statements are all over
the testimonies. Yes, it is consequentialist ethics. And the
decisions are tough ones. And putting the government police presence
into any one of those six situations, which the bill would have done,
is a moral wrong.
AT: Where we disagree, I think is that I do not see in
Scriptures a teaching of avoiding suffering at the cost of life. In
fact, I see in Scripture a promise and an embracing of suffering. And
I see in Scripture an inestimable value placed on life.
Burgy: Thirdly, thanks for at least reading those
testimonies. What they say to me is that late term abortion laws are
morally wrong; what they say to you is that late term abortion laws
ought not consider "emotional" issues but only the unborn fetus. I
see also that you prefer to construct your personal ethics solely on
deontological grounds and never on consequentialist or character
(virtue) grounds. Am I correct in this?
If so, we can agree that our ethical reasoning is simply
different and close the discussion. But you appear to claim more --
that consequentialist grounds for an ethical decision are invalid. I
don't know as that position can be maintained in all situations.
AT: To me ethics is not a matter of personal preference. It
is grounded in both theology (flows from God) and philosophy (the
necessity of absolutes). I would call myself a Thomist in this sense,
who is guided by natural law. In the Thomistic framework, there are
three basic components in any ethical decision: intent, object, and
consequence. All three must be right for the decision to be ethical.
If any part is wrong, then the decision is unethical. As applied to
the abortion cases, the object (the act itself) is wrong because it
involves the taking of human life, regardless of the intent and the
consequence (although these two may serving as mitigating factors).
The intent may be correct in the sense that these mothers did not
choose to kill their unborn. From a natural law perspective, there
are certain acts that are intrinsically evil, never justifiable.
These include the killing of innocent lives, rape, torture, and sex
outside of marriage, for example. These are the m!
oral absolutes. They cannot be explained away by circumstance. So, it
is not that I never consider consequences, it is that I consider them
together with intent and object.
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