Philosophical Story Challenge of the Week

682587So, in the middle of the 20th century, actually a few years after WW2, Lord Patrick Devlin and H. L. A. Hart had a rather famous debate in the journals of English philosophy of law concerning a central issue: does a nation have a right to outlaw something simply because it is immoral?

Lord Devlin argued that the morality is an essential part of the law, and thus while there are other limitations to what the law can ban. There is no private sphere of morality which is inherently protected from government interference. However, according to Lord Devlin, the law should not try to ban everything that is immoral, it simply should be able to ban something for no other reason than the fact that it is immoral.

images (1)Hart argued that there is an essential distinction between the law and morality. Thus, the law should not ban things that are a matter of individual privacy (for instance – suicide). Instead the purpose of the law is to prevent those actions which cause direct harm to others, and those actions or practices which threaten the fabric of society as such.

So, my question to you is this: which of them is right? Should the government have the right to ban something simply because it is immoral? Is there a hard right to privacy that defines a sphere of behavior in which the government absolutely cannot interfere?

As always, write me a story of 1000 words that presents and defends your answer.

Ethics in Writing: The Literary Applications of Moral Thought

My last post was less about writing than it was about living will. However, the more I read (both fiction and non-fiction), the more I am convinced that the two are profoundly connected. First, for those who are familiar with this thought, let me say that I do not subscribe strictly to narrative ethical thought. While I do think that fiction can and should have a powerful formative effect upon character, I do not believe that a narrative approach to moral thinking is, in itself, either necessary or sufficient. Stories are importantimpactful, and helpful in the formation of character, but they are only one tool that may be used in the process of personal or community moral development. They are not essential to character, nor are they capable for forming a persons character in and of themselves. That being said, there are many novels that have had a profound impact on my own personal development such as Lars Walker’s Year of the Warrior, J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings, Frank Herbert’s Dune, Robert Heinlein’s Starship Troopers and Stranger in a Strange Land, and Dostoyevsky’s Crime and Punishment among others. Some of these have affected me positively (i.e. shown me, led me to consider, etc traits, ideas, and qualities that I wanted to develop), others negatively (i.e. shown me ideas, traits, qualities etc that I wanted to avoid), and others have merely stimulated deeper and more thorough examination of my own beliefs, preconceptions, opinions, and beliefs. I say all of this to make a particular point, one that I have mentioned before: as authors our writing can have a significant affect on our readers.

Some works are specifically intended to have a positive effect, presenting qualities and characters to be emulated or scenes that inspire the reader to greater virtue. Others, like my own Among the Neshelim, are specifically intended to have a negative effect, presenting examples of vice and its attendant consequences to the reader. Some works, like Stranger in a Strange Land, simply lead the reader into deeper thought about their current beliefs and culture and whether they actually want to assume the beliefs that they have always held, or whether those beliefs should be subjected to serious questioning. All of these are valuable,but something that I’ve noticed is that more and more often fiction authors focus on vice. There is an idea floating around in the literary world that ‘damaged’ characters are fundamentally more interesting and thus more desirable than healthy, well-adjusted characters. I want to challenge this idea.

Certainly, and I don’t know anyone who will argue with this, damaged characters are easier to write than healthy characters. They provide their own inherent conflict, and this creates a plethora of story possibilities. They also provide obvious areas in which the character can grow and change throughout the novel/series. So, I will admit that there is some validity to the idea that damaged characters are easier than healthy characters. However, my favorite characters are individuals like Superman, Captain America, Sparhawk (who some may argue is moderately damaged), Leto Atreides, Razumikhin, Aragorn, etc. By and large my favorite characters are always the characters who I look up to. The ones who I actually do want to be like!

It strikes me that I might not be the only person who feels this way. Certainly I like the character of Amet in my serial Rise of the Neshelim, than I do Chin Cao Yu in Among the Neshelim. Amet is, across the board, a better person. Yu is broken, conflicted, deeply damaged, and is subtly torn out of his already questionable view of the world and introduced to a much more deeply broken and disturbed understanding of reality. He is drawn in by the subtle promises of evil, and he pays the consequences. Amet, on the other hand, is a good person. He is worn down by life, challenged and oppressed by circumstances, and emotionally beaten by the evils of the world, but through it all he stands firm, pursues goodness, and practices humility, wisdom, and love. Honestly, to me, Amet is in every way a better and more interesting character than Yu. Both serve their purposes, but even given his immensely difficult circumstances, I actually want to be like Amet. I would never want to be like Yu.

I say this as both exhortation and encouragement. In the world of modern fiction there are relatively few characters that we can actually look up to in general. Damaged characters have an important place in fiction. They allow both stories of warning and stories of redemption. However, there is also a need for characters that are simply good people. Certainly they are harder to write, and often we can get lost in our own problems when we’re trying to write them. However, they are immensely important, and honestly I’d like to see them make more of a comeback :).

Philosophical Story Challenge of the Week

Well, I think my exam yesterday went fairly well… as long as my instructor can read my handwriting anyway… if he can’t then there could be problems. So, today’s philosophical challenge post is going to be fairly difficult I think. Metaphysics is a discipline of philosophy dealing with higher things such as being, knowing, the nature of truth, etc. It stands above disciplines such as ethics, politics, philosophy of law, medicine, science, etc as a discipline that deals with first order concerns. For instance, metaethics is the study of metaphysics as it is applied to ethics. Where as ethics deals with conceptions of right and wrong and how we can discern right from wrong, metaethics deals with questions of whether we can discern right from wrong, whether right and wrong even exist to be discerned, and whether conceptions of right and wrong are meaningful in the first place.

So, two of the major subdisciplines in metaethics are ontology and epistemology: the study of being and the study of knowing respectively. These two disciplines are often and easily confused because they are very closely related to one another. For instance, if I say that I am a moral realist, I am making a statement of belief concerning the ontological nature of morals: I am saying that morals have an actual, objective existence apart from myself. If I say that I am a moral irrealist, then I am making the opposite ontological claim. However, if I say that I am a cognitive moral realist, then I am making both an ontological and an epistemological claim: i.e. that morals have objective, real existence, and that they can be known by man. Similarly if I say that I am a non-cognitive moral irrealist, then I am making the opposite ontological and epistemological claim (though it’s kind of redundant… I’ll get to why in a moment). But, if I claim that I am a non-cognitive moral realist, then I am making three claims at once, two of which are possible contradictory: first I am making the ontological claim that morals have a objective existence, second I am making the epistemological claim that I cannot in any way know the objective nature of morals, but thirdly these two claims together make the third claim that nothing I say about morals can be objectively meaningful. Because I can’t know anything about morals, then whatever I claim about the objective existence of morals is meaningless because I can’t know anything about their objective existence, which means that (for all practical purposes) they may as well not exist.

Are you confused yet? I told you this one would be hard. Here’s your challenge: What is the distinction and relationship between ontology and epistemology?

As always, provide a 1000 word long story that presents and defends your answer to the question.

Philosophical Story Challenge of the Week

(Photo Credit)
(Photo Credit)

What is the difference between action and intention? According to some early Jewish rabbis sin existed in action only, not in thought or intention. Some Muslims teach this as well. Christ, however, in the Sermon on the Mount (specifically Matthew chapter 5) taught that sin exists in intention and desire as well as in action. Thus, while some will argue that only the act of adultery is wrong, Christ teaches us that fantasizing about women, desiring to commit adultery, etc is also wrong. So, this is the question I have for you to consider today: what is the difference between action and intention? What are the similarities? How should we think about these things?

A connected question is this: what is the difference between motive and goal? According to some ethicists there are three major factors in any moral decision: motive, goal, and act. Simply put, the motive is the immediate impulse that leads to an act, goal is the ultimate end of an act, and the act itself is the thing you actually do. For instance, lust may be a motive, pleasure a goal, and sexual intercourse an act.

So, feel free to handle either of these questions. You know the rules: write me a story of 1000 words that answers the question and supports your position on the question.

A Very, Very, Very, Very Brief Introduction to Ethics and Why It Matters for your Writing (Part 3)

So, a while back I started a series introducing general ethics and why they matter for writing. I’m notorious for not finishing the series I start (as those who have been long-time readers can tell you), but amazingly I actually want to finish this series. I think it’s important. As anyone who’s been reading for a while knows, I argue that philosophy is very important in writing. It shapes who we are, what we choose to write, and the way we write it. Our beliefs come through in our writing (whether we want them to or not), and its generally better if we try to be intentional in presenting them rather than incidental. This doesn’t mean that we beat people over the head with our dogma and doctrine (trust me, I get into plenty of that and it never works out well), but that we intentionally write from the world-view of our beliefs. I am a Christian, thus I am not likely to come up with a fantasy world the bleeds materialism (i.e. the belief that nothing exists beyond the physical world).

So, in my last post I discussed Naturalistic (or Materialistic) ethics. In this post I want to give a brief overview of Ideological Ethics. As you know, I’m going to be discussing each broad category along six different lines: metaphysic, epistemology, philosophical anthropology, teleology, exemplar, and method.

Ideological ethical theories share different versions of the same general metaphysic: something non-material exists that most (or all) people don’t have access to. This non-material world could be embodied in Plato’s world of the forms (i.e. a non-material world of perfect ideas that give shape to physical realities such as ‘the form of love’ or ‘the form of bed’ or ‘the form of man’), Aquinas’ divine mind (i.e. divine knowledge forms the building blocks of all that exists), or Immanuel Kant’s noumenal realm (i.e. a non-material world of perfect reality that is completely inaccessible to man). While the theories vary in some way, they all agree that some non-material reality exists that gives shape to the material world.

However, ideological theories disagree about epistemology. For instance, Kant argued that the phenomenal (i.e. material) world that men inhabited could never contact or ‘know’ the noumenal world that gives it shape, and thus men are left with hopeful belief that could never progress farther than that. Alternatively, Plato argued that some men could, through rigorous education and inward thought, access the world of the forms and know it. Thus, some men could know true reality and thus pass it on to others. Aquinas argued that man could know those parts of the Divine mind that God chooses to reveal through scripture, contemplation, prayer, and meditation. So, some ideological theories argue that we can know true reality, and others argue that we can’t.

Again, ideological theories tend to disagree over whether man is good or evil. Plato assumes that man is generally decent while Aristotle assumes that man is a blank slate, and Augustine assumes that man is generally wicked. Most ideological theories, however, believe that there is some way for man to become good, even if they don’t start out that way. These ways fit into the methods of ideological ethics.

Ideological theories tend to fit into one of two categories: primarily teleological (i.e. goal-oriented) or primarily deontological (i.e. rule-oriented). Kant, for example, argues that we have duties that must be fulfilled and that discovering those duties is the goal of ethics. Plato and Aristotle, on the other hand, argue that man has a natural end that should be achieved and thus the goal of ethics is finding a way for man to achieve that end. There are also some scholars who attempt to combine deontological and teleological thought into a unified whole, and others who argue that it can’t be done. One key point here is that, while naturalistic ethics tend to be consequentialist (i.e. good and evil are determined by what actually comes out of an action, and so no action can be determined to be good or evil before its consequences are known), Ideological ethics are much more focused on motive, goal, and action.

Ideological Ethics tend to have exemplars of some sort. Aquinas points to Christ, Aristotle to the ‘Great-Souled Man’, Plato to the ‘Philosopher-King’, Confucius to the ‘Sages’, etc. As far as I know Kant didn’t present any particular exemplar, but it could just be that I haven’t read enough of him.

Methods tend to differ between teleological and deontological ideologies. Deontological ethical theories tend to focus on establishing clear systems of rules. Following the rules and doing one’s duty is the way to be moral. On the other hand, teleological theories tend to focus on character. The way to be moral is to establish moral habits that build a moral character and make you a moral kind of person rather than following strict rules that attempt to cover every possible situation.

So, how is this useful? Consider that there aren’t many religions that preach materialism. In general, if you have a religion, it’s going to have some kind of ideological ethical thought: something exists out there that makes reality what it is and that thing is what determines how we can be moral (i.e. what is good and what is evil). Similarly, even people who reject knowledge of that thing (like Kant) can accept that they should be doing their best to figure out how to live like it, and thus how to be moral. There’s also a distinct difference between hard deontologists (i.e. the Pharisees) and hard teologists who seek to establish a ‘whole and good man’ who instinctively does what is right in every situation. This could be fodder for some interesting character conflicts in your writing. So, that’s enough for now. Enjoy!

A Very, Very, Very, Very Brief Introduction to Ethics and Why it Matters for Your Writing

So, like a month ago, I started this series about ethics and why it helps in your writing. It’s been a little while since I wrote something in this series, and I thought it was about time that I got back to it. So, lets deal with Naturalism first. If you don’t remember the categories that we’re using to outline these theories they are: metaphysic, epistemology, philosophical anthropology, teleology, exemplar, and method. If you don’t remember what these mean, it’s all explained in this post. So, by naturalism I am referring to a set of philosophical ethical theories that all hold to a particular metaphysic. This metaphysic is the assumption (and it is an assumption) that only the material world exists, and anything that does not exist is automatically false. So, this includes pretty much all consequentialist theories, along with various forms of hedonism, nihilism, positivism, emotivism, etc, etc, etc. Pretty much anyone who rejects the supernatural fits into this category.

So, different types of naturalistic theories have different epistemilogical outlooks. For instance, emotivism rejects the reality of moral values. Instead, it argues that when I say ‘this cheesecake is good’ or ‘this waterfall is beautiful’, what I actually mean is ‘I like this cheesecake’ or ‘this waterfall gives me warm butterflies’. On the other hand, realist utilitarianism argues that there is a real good, that good is whatever is best for the majority, and that it can be know with mathematical precision. Many naturalistic theories do believe in an objective moral standard that is based in some clearly or even mathematically discernible good (i.e. physical pleasure, the good of society, demonstrable personal goods, etc, etc, etc).

The philosophical anthropology of naturalistic theories also has a fairly wide variety, but in a somewhat more interesting. The vast majority of ancient naturalistic theories failed because they realized that men weren’t particularly good by nature and thus had to descend into nihilism. If the world is an uncaring place, people are generally crap, and physical pleasure or emotional happiness are the only things worth living for, then really what’s the point of trying? However, many modern versions of these theories, such as Ayn Rand’s Ethical Egoism, Utilitarianism, Moral and Cultural relativism, and a variety of others generally manage to maintain a more positive outlook on life. The world might be all there is, but they live under the assumption (many would call it an illusion) that the world is a generally good and happy place, and that people are generally warm and fuzzy. Needless to say, I disagree with this.

The vast majority of naturalistic moral theories have no actual teleology. Consider here that there is an important difference between a teleology and the kind of goals that consequentialism aims for. Consequentialistic theories look for specific results (i.e. this particular decision made X% of the population happier), and then assume that the means by which those results are achieved is immaterial (seriously, Mill’s theory can easily be used to defend limited slavery). However, a teleology is directed at the final end of man. What is it that we are attempting to become (i.e. a good example of a teleology might be Christlikeness in Christianity or Eudaimonia in Platonic ethics). So, in teleological thinking the ends (not the consequences), and the means both play a part in deciding whether a potential action will be good.

Similarly, the majority of naturalistic models have no real exemplar. Hedonism points to the child as an exemplar of ethics: the child simply does what makes him happy in the moment. …True hedonists don’t tend to live long lives. Utilitarianism has no clear exemplar apart from it’s mathematical formulas (though some nerds will point to Spock as an example of rationalistic utilitarianism). Relativism and emotivism actually can’t have examples. When I should do whatever feels right to me then no one else can be my example.

Lastly, naturalistic theories, by and large, tend to be unconcerned with methods. Utilitarian thought can justify slavery or genocide as easily as it can compassion or mercy. Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World is actually an excellent example of this. Further, moral relativism and various forms of emotivism argue that anything that feels right to me actually is right, and thus absolutely any action can be right. Hedonism and Egoism both argue that I should act in my own interests (either physical or intellectual, immediate or long-term depending on the circumstance), and thus justify whatever I need to do to achieve those interests. So, one of the most significant problems with naturalistic moral philosophies is that they often give us little or no practical guidance about what is actually right or wrong.

So, how is any of this of use in your writing: I’ll be willing to bet that you have a few characters who just do whatever they want. We’ve all know people like this. Spock is a great example of strong utilitarianism in fiction, and a great character to boot. Similarly, Brave New World is a masterpiece of fiction that stands as a direct refutation of Jeremy Bentham’s utilitarian theory. On the other hand, you might want to move a character from some natuarlistic viewpoint to an idealistic or existential viewpoint. Perhaps one of your characters has given up on actually understanding the world, and is slowly coming to the conclusion that we can’t actually know anything. Or perhaps one of your characters is moving in the opposite direction. Perhaps the incredible science of a futuristic world is actively convincing him that truth is real and can be known. There’s a lot of potential uses here if you let them work for you. So, have fun, and get writing.

Sunday Reading List

So, I’ve been saying that I’m going to post my reading list from this semester, and the semester is just about over. So, here is the list of works that I read this semester. This includes all of the assigned books from my classes, the fiction I read, some other books I read, and some (but not all) of the works I read for research. All in all, and this is admittedly a guess because I haven’t had time to actually calculate everything out, I think I’ve done somewhere in the neighborhood of ten thousand pages of reading in the past few months. I was quite a hall… now to do it all over again next semester. I swear, I’m not a masochist.

Terry Irwin, Plato’s Ethics
David O. Brink, Moral Realism and The Foundations of Ethics
Daniel A. Putnam, Human Excellence: Dialogues in Virtue Theory
Inazo Nitobe, Bushido: The Soul of Japan
Alasdair MacIntyre, After Virtue: A Study in Moral Theory
Richard Cavandish, The Tarot (Partial)
Benjamin Farley, In Praise of Virtue
Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Ethics
Karl Barth, God in Action
C.S. Lewis, The Abolition of Man
Bryan Van Norden, Virtue Ethics and Consequentialism in Early Chinese Philosophy
H. Richard Niebuhr, The Responsible Self
Steve Corbett and Brian Fikkert, When Helping Hurts: How to Alleviate Poverty without Hurting the Poor… and Yourself
C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity
Reinhold Niebuhr, Moral Man and Immoral Society
C.S. Lewis, The Weight of Glory
Oleg Benesch, Bushido in the Meiji Dynasty
C.S. Lewis, “On Ethics”
Walter Rauschenbusch, A Theology for the Social Gospel
Leon Gautier, Chivalry
James Rollins and Rebecca Cantrell, The Blood Gospel
James Rollins and Rebecca Cantrell, Innocent Blood
Joseph Fletcher, Situation Ethics
Chuck Hogan, The Strain
Ed. Xiusheng Liu and Philip Ivanhoe, Essays on the Moral Philosophy of Mengzi
C.S. Lewis, The Screwtape Letters
C.S. Lewis, A Pilgram’s Regress
Philip J. Ivanhoe, Ethics in the Confucian Tradition
C.S. Lewis, The Four Loves
Andrew Downing, “Sin and It’s Relevance to Human Nature in the Summa Theologicae”
John Haldane, “Philosophy, the Restless Heart and the Meaning of Theism”
Matthew Elliot, “The Emotional Core of Love: The Centrality of Emotion in Christian Psychology and Ethics”
Dolores Puterbaugh, “The Screwtape Letters: Sophistication and Self-Absorption”
Lowell Garetner, “It’s not WEIRD it’s WRONG: When Researchers Overlook uNderlying Genotypes they will Not Detect Universal Processes”
Edmund Pincoffs, Quandries and Virtues: Against Reductivism in Ethics
Jay Richards, Money, Greed, and God: Why Capitalism is the Solution and Not the Problem
Susan K. Allard-Nelson, An Aristotelian Approach to Ethics: The Norms of Virtue
John Murray, Principles of Conduct
Cornelius Van Til, The Defense of the Faith (Partial)
Cornelius Van Til, In Defense of the Faith Volume 3: Christian Theistic Ethics
Kwong-Loi Shun and David Wong, Confucian Ethics: A Comparative Study of Self, Autonomy, and Community
C.S. Lewis, The Problem of Pain
C.S. Lewis, “The Psalms”
Tom Nelson, Work Matters
John M. Rist, Plato’s Moral Realism
Carl F.H. Henry, Christian Personal Ethics
Stephen Angle and Michael Slote, Virtue Ethics and Confucianism
Norman Vance, Sinews of the Spirit: The Ideal of Christian Manliness in Victorian Literature and Religious Thought
J. Daryl Charles, Virtue Amidst Vice: The Catalog of Virtues in 2 Peter 1
Yiu Sing Lucas Chan, The Ten Commandments and the Beatitudes: Biblical Studies and Ethics for Real Life
Karl Marx, Theories of Surplus Value (Partial)
Karl Marx, The Communist Manifesto (Partial)
Adam Smith, An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations (Partial)
Chuck Hogan, The Night Eternal

A Very, Very, Very, Very Brief Introduction to Ethics and Why it Matters for Your Writing

philosophyWell, like Selanya, I am ridiculously busy at the moment. I still have five books to finish this month, a 5 page, 10 page, 14 page, and five 3-4 page papers to write, a presentation to give and a final exam to take all by the first week in December. This is the last stretch of my semester though, and then I can start my reading for next semester (my plan is to get five books read before the semester starts :P, maybe six (they’re all long…). So, I am admittedly busy, and I’m still trying to synthesize everything that I’ve learned this semester. So, I’m going to set out to write a series of blog posts broadly outlining the various approaches to Ethics that have been taken in the past 2500 years and discuss how a basic understanding of them can help you in your writing. So, as a primer I want to introduce a few concepts that are going to be important in this discussion and give a general outline of the topics that I’m going to discuss.

At a basic level there are six things that every ethical system must handle in some way. Some systems attempt to combine these features, others attempt to remove one or more (this generally doesn’t end well), and some simply assume answers to certain questions rather than actually asking those questions. However, every ethical system must provide a basic metaphysic, epistemology, philosophical anthropology, teleology, exemplar, and method. So, a brief overview of what I mean in using these terms:

Metaphysic: Metaphysics is the philosophy of being. This is actually an entire branch of philosophy devoted to explaining the nature of existence, being, potential being, non-being, etc. However, here I am using it in a much more basic form to refer to the basic understanding of the universe that an ethical system is built on. For instance, is existence purely material? Should we accept the immaterial as real? If so, how do we differentiate between the material and the immaterial worlds? Can the two intersect in any way? Every ethical system either presents arguments defending or simply assumes an understanding of the world in which we live, and then builds its model of ethical knowledge off of those assumptions. For instance, Plato spends a significant amount of time in his ethical thought developing his concept of the forms, which are fundamentally real immaterial entities that the material world mirrors. For instance, there is a form of beauty, truth, goodness, etc that beautiful, true, or good people/actions/etc in the material world reflect like a mirror.

Epistemology: Another entire field of philosophy, Epistemology is the study of knowledge. Plato, for instance, distinguished between true opinion and knowledge (which is related to his theory of the forms) and argued that the majority of people could only have true opinion, and only those who have sought to understand that forms could actually have knowledge of the forms. Epistemology seeks to answer questions like ‘can we know anything?’ If so, what can we know? How do we know it? What is knowledge? How do we defend knowledge that we have? Along with a metaphysic, every system of ethics either defends of assumes a particular concept of knowledge. For instance, Plato’s theory of the forms assumes that there is an immaterial world that we can have knowledge of, but that such knowledge is difficult to obtain. Kant, on the other hand, accepted the idea of an immaterial world (the noumenal), but rejected the idea that we can have any knowledge of it. Alternatively, many scientists today (Stephen Hawking if I’m not mistaken), argue that existence is entirely material and that we can only have true knowledge of reality through an arduous process of repeated experimentation and observation commonly referred to as the scientific method.

Metaphysical EducationPhilosophical Anthropology: This refers to the concept of man’s moral nature. While not a distinct philosophical field in and of itself it is important in ethics as this attempts to answer questions such as what does man start with? Is he born a blank slate? Born thoroughly wicked with no hope of redemption? With little hope of redemption? Born saintly and only corrupted by a wicked world? Born with a variety of good or bad genetic dispositions that must be encouraged or discouraged appropriately? Just as every ethical system assumes or defends a basic nature to the universe, every ethical system assumes or defends a basic nature of mankind. For instance, Wang Yangming, a Confucian scholar, argued that man was born with a morally perfect nature that was simply clouded with desires. If the desires are paired away, then the perfect man will emerge. However, Augustine argued that man was born thoroughly wicked and only through the active grace of God could he have any hope of becoming even remotely good.

Teleology: This refers to the end goal. While many ethical systems simply assume a metaphysic, epistemology, and anthropology, the teleology of the system is generally more intentionally presented or defended. This asks the question: what is the proper end of man? What is the point? The mark that we are aiming at? The place that the system wants it followers to end up? In my reading thus far I’ve found that there Teleology is one of the major sticking points of ethics. There are many ethical systems that claim to be non-teleological, or to have no ‘end point’ in mind. For instance, the ethics of Immanuel Kant are deontological (i.e. duty-based) rather than teleological (i.e. end-based), and many deontologists claim that the system has and needs no end goal. However, what I’ve noticed is that non-teleological systems always have a teleology… it’s just an under-developed one. For instance, the teleology of Kantian ethics is to become ‘the person who does right’. Now, this might sound fine, but it also raises a lot of questions. More on that later :).

Exemplar: This is a clear picture, conception, or ideal that the ethical system shoots for. While there are a number of ethical systems that don’t provide a clear exemplar, I am going to argue that any strong ethical system needs a clear exemplar. For instance, as I just said, in Kantian ethics, the goal is to become ‘the person who does right’. This sounds good, but it’s extremely general. What does that look like? Kantian ethics doesn’t actually provide an example of it’s teleological goal (mostly because it attempts to ignore the goal). Alternatively, Confucianism presents the Sage Kings Yao and Shun as exemplars for men to strive for. Another good example of this is Christianity which presents a clear exemplar in the person of Jesus Christ as the perfect man.

Method: This is the method of means by which an individual follows the ethical system. Kant’s categorical imperative or Jeremy Bentham’s hedonistic calculus are good examples of this. Further, in Confucianism the rites serve as a good example of method, and in Judaism (especially Hasidic Judaism) the law serves as a good example of method. The method of an ethical system seeks to answer the question: what do I do? Again, while every good ethical system has some form of method, some are stronger than others. For instance, the hedonistic calculus of Jeremy Bentham’s utilitarianism is attractive precisely because it is a clear, simple method that can be applied to any decision. The teleology and metaphysic of Bentham’s system may be highly problematic, but his method is clear and simple. Alternatively, Plato has a fairly strong metaphysic and epistemology for his ethical theory, and a clear teleology, but his anthropology and exemplar seem to vary from book to book, and he has a fairly unclear method.

102So, over the next several posts I intend to provide a broad overview of ethical categories including Naturalism, Idealism, Confucianism, Existentialism, and Christian Ethics and discuss each of them in light of these six categories and how each may be useful for your writing. However, I hope that after reading this post you’ve already got some ideas about how some of these might be useful. Metaphysic in your writing is an obvious part of world-building. What is your world like? What is real and what isn’t? Epistemology is similar. How do people in your world actually know things? Can they know anything? What does it mean for them to ‘know’? Similarly, where do the people in your world start and where are they going? What is the goal of life, or is there a goal? How do they get there? All of these are important world-building questions for any particular culture that you want to work through.

Scene Challenge of the Week

I have to admit... I have no idea what this means. Someday I will though.
I have to admit… I have no idea what this means. Someday I will though.

Well, I just finished my Chinese for today! As of today I can write recognize and ‘translate’ about 20 characters of the 4000 some that I’ll need to know… … Yeah, long way to go. However, I ‘translated’ my first proverb today. I’m not actually sure if I got it correct as the book I’m using unfortunately doesn’t provide correct translations. However, I am sure that I got it somewhere within the vague realm of correct (pretty sure… it sounded suitably Chinese at least :P). I’ve also found that I thoroughly love Carl F.H. Henry’s Christian Personal Ethics… though I don’t love the fact that it’s 600 page with small print and wide margins. However, the content is awesome. I think, along with Bryan Van Norden’s Virtue Ethics and Consequentialism in Early Chinese Philosophy, this is my favorite book of a semester of interesting reading. Anyway, I have a scene challenge for you. So, if you don’t already know the rules: I give you a prompt and you write a scene off of it.  Try to keep your scene under five hundred words, and try to keep it in the same tone as the introduction.  If I give a line that is very dark and depressing, then I don’t want to see a scene about a drunken monkey in a tutu…it just doesn’t fit.  If I do give you a line about a drunken monkey in a tutu, then you should probably try for a funny scene.

Your prompt: “Okay, I think I’m starting to get this. How do I say that one?…”

Story Challenge of the Week

(Photo Credit)
(Photo Credit)

So, I doubt that this will ever affect most of you, but Reinhold Niebuhr is an extremely annoying writer. It’s not that I disagree with him, though I’m not entirely sold on some of his ideas, but that he writes in a way that seems to intentionally make his ideas harder to understand. I’ve run into a few authors that do the same such as John Flavel and Baruch Spinoza. Personally, I love Confucius’ position: let your ideas be complicated, keep your writing as simple as possible. I much prefer simpler writing that expresses complicated ideas to complicated writing that expresses relatively simple ideas. Anyway, I have a story challenge for you. So, you know the rules. Take your subject and run with it. Write me a story of 1000 words or less and stay on topic. As before, if it’s in any way applicable, you should use this to try to develop your world a little more :).

Your Challenge: Is such a thing as a good (i.e. morally/ethically good or virtuous) government possible?

Just as some background, for anyone who is familiar with earlier (i.e. not 4th) edition Dungeons and Dragons, I was once part of a fairly well-grounded and thought out forum discussion regarding this subject. One of the major arguments in the debate was that all governments were, by dint of the very nature of government, Lawful Evil in alignment. This particular debater took the position that the requirements of effectively running a state forced a government to do things, and to allow things, that were inherently morally wicked.