Before coming to Johnson University, I was under the ethical perspective of deontological ethics. I am not suggesting that I became legalistic, but that I was always set in place by the rules due primarily to Mountain Mission School being rule-driven in its ethical approach. Rules were the moral limits that informed my decision-making process. For the most part, this is how I thought and reasoned about ethical decisions. Having attended Johnson for four years, I would say that I have learned and grown in ways I never thought I could or would while at Johnson. I have discovered that ethical decision making manifests itself in a myriad of ways and that it is not necessarily just one way that is supreme over all the others. In light of the interdisciplinary presentations, the best approach to making ethical decisions is to conflate all three ethical perspectives into an integrated method that utilizes the best of all three perspectives thus optimizing the three perspectives into a holistic approach. The remainder of this essay will discuss this conflation of ethical perspectives by utilizing Robin Lovin’s “Christian Ethics: An Essential Guide” and the “Interdisciplinary Presentations: Perspectives on Ethics”, and how I use all three to inform my worldview and ethical decision making process by answering a question presented to me in a fake scenario wherein my wife has asked me: “Would you ever cheat on me?”
Loving writes that a teleological ethics speaks of the goals and goods of our actions. One of my main goals in life is to cultivate a loving, wholesome, healthy marriage wherein we carve out of this chaos of our pasts and of this world a tiny part of the Kingdom of God made manifest through the family system. Lovin goes onto to write that, “Our goals give direction to our choices primarily by identifying the personal qualities and skills that we need to develop in order to achieve our goals.” Being faithful to my marital covenant serves as a prerequisite to my goal of cultivating a healthy marriage. Faithfulness, in my humble opinion, is a personal quality in the context of the relationship. To answer the theoretical question posed by my wife in this scenario from a teleological ethics perspective, I would state that cheating on her is against the goals I have set for myself and for our marriage, so no, I would not cheat. Infidelity would contradict and destroy my goals of being a loving, faithful husband seeking to cultivate a loving, healthy marriage. In this case, my goal informs my actions, my personal qualities, and the skills needed to achieve said goal.
Lovin writes that, “Philosophers speak of a system of ethics that is based on rules as a deontology or as a deontological ethics. The term is derived from a Greek root deon, which concerns that which is necessary or required.” In summation, deontological ethics are about what rules are established particular within a covenant community. The Ten Commandments can be seen as a deontological list of rules. “Deontological ethics evaluates ethics,” writes Lovin, “by asking whether this action was the right thing to do according to a rule not by assessing what happens as the result of the action.” Dr. Bridges’ presentation on New Testament ethics encouraged us to ask this question to aid us in making ethical decisions: “Does Scripture contain a flat, plain, obviously universal command on this issue? If so, obey it.” My response stated from a teleological approach would be that I would not cheat because it is a command in Scriptures to love my wife and to be faithful to her and the covenant. Dr. Owens spoke to us about how Old Testaments ethics focus on bringing God into life. I would not be bringing God into my life and my marriage by committing adultery, which is a command He gives in the Ten Commandments, which is also repeated in the New Covenant.
“Virtues are the admirable qualities of persons that emerge from an examination of their narratives and that shape their moral lives. A system of thinking about ethics that centers on virtues is sometimes called an areteology, or an areteological ethics,” writes Lovin. This term arête is a Greek word meaning virtue. Virtue is a behavioral pattern learned through consistent practice and eventually becomes a part of how that person conducts his or her self (Aristotle). Dr. James R. Thobaben of Asbury Theological Seminary says, “Virtue reasoning is based on the idea that the end conditions the means…If I want to have the attitude of Christ Jesus I cannot betray people who have trust in me.” I believe that the end is Christ when it comes to virtue reasoning. Our virtue should be Christ Himself. We should seek to be so deified (the process of going through theosis) that we become little Christs. Dr. Thobaben says, “Our primary means of reasoning should be virtue reasoning. We need to look at who we want to be in Christ and act accordingly” (Italics mine). I believe that the virtues stem from God’s holiness, from His essence and energies. And the primary example of His Holiness is His Son Jesus Christ, who came and lived a virtuous life among us providing us with an example, but also giving us the means to become like Him, to “put on the divine nature” as St. Peter writes. My answer to my wife’s question under an areteological approach would be that of Dr. Thobaben’s response and that is that I would not cheat on her because it would violate who I am and who I want to be in Christ, so I must act accordingly.
In conclusion,the best approach to making ethical decisions is to conflate all three ethical perspectives into an integrated method that utilizes the best of all three perspectives thus optimizing the three perspectives into a holistic approach. I have shown how it is possible, and beneficial, to conflate all three ethical perspectives into an answer to a theoretical question posed to me by my wife. I would not cheat on her due to my goals for my marriage and family, because of the rules and commands of God laid out in Scripture and Holy Tradition, and because it would violate who I am and who I want to be in Christ. I have learned that utilizing all three perspectives gives a more balanced and thought out answer to our moral decision making and ethical dilemmas and optimizes the quality of our lives.