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Utilitarianism and Christian Ethics

Tuesday, January 27, 2009
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COMPARISONS

GOLDEN RULE
Mill linked the principle of utility to Jesus’ Golden Rule:

“Love your neighbour as yourself”
“Do unto others as you would have them do unto you”

Both the principle of utility and the Golden Rule express the idea that your own concerns are on a level with those of other people.

Rule Utilitarianism:
Based on the general good of others – takes a set of absolute laws and applies them universally just as the apodictic 10 commandments from Exodus 20:1-17.

Act Utilitarianism:
A more selfish philosophy as it is based on the good of those immediately affected by an action and not the ‘general good’. This is more difficult to compare to Christian Ethics.

SITUATION ETHICS
Situation Ethics is relativist in its approach to morality since it is based on the single maxim, agape love. It can be used as an example of a Christian relativist approach because Fletcher intended it to be adopted by the Christian church; the Roman Catholic Church rejected it but the Methodist Church embraced it. Thus Situation Ethics it has been dubbed ‘Christian Utilitarianism’.

Joseph Fletcher: ‘justice is love distributed’

Justice is concerned with the greatest good of society and takes humans into account collectively. Fletcher comments that this is the same as Bentham and Mill’s principle of utility replacing ‘good’ with ‘agape’.

‘The greatest agape for the greatest number’

Fletcher argues: the hedonistic calculus becomes the agapeistic calculus

CONTRASTS

NATURAL LAW (An example of a Christian absolutist approach to ethics)
• According to Natural Law theorists (the ethical approach adopted by the Roman Catholic Church), actions are intrinsically right or wrong – deontological and not consequential: the means do not justify the end
• Natural Law deals with a love on an individual basis rather than a collective good. The God of the bible is portrayed as a personal God – not the God of Situation Ethics who is concerned with the ‘greater good of society’ or the sacrifice of the few for the sake of the majority.
• But situation ethics requires us to love all individuals as we love ourselves.


A classic example of the clash between Utilitarianism and Natural Law:
? The introduction of the Rubella Vaccine in October 94 when two Roman Catholic schools rejected it on the basis that it was developed from a dead foetus (an intrinsic wrong)
? Utilitarianism – would justify the vaccine on the basis of its beneficial consequences
? Natural Law – would refuse to benefit from the consequences of an evil action

ENDS IN THEMSELVES
In St. Paul’s first epistle to the Romans he writes on two separate occasions:

“One may not do evil that good may come”

This is the same as saying ‘the end does not justify the means.’ Therefore, Christian Ethics takes the Kantian-minded absolutist approach to moral decision making by arguing for the intrinsic value of humans; that they should be treated as ‘ends in themselves’ (Kant).

BIBLICAL ETHICS
• We are made in God’s image as the climax of his work
Genesis 1:27
“So God created man in his own image”

• Life is divinely and uniquely ordained from conception
Psalm 139:13
“For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb”

? From this we can deduce that humans have intrinsic as opposed to instrumental value because they were purposely and uniquely designed in the loving image of their creator and therefore should not be treated as a means to an end but as ends in themselves (Kant)

PREFERENCE UTILITARIANISM
Peter Singer’s Preference Utilitarianism is concerned with maximising preference satisfaction, contrary to the Christian idea of being self-sacrificing.

PLEASURE AS THE SOLE GOOD
According to Christian ethics, real happiness comes through service to others; turning the other cheek and forgiving unto seventy times seven times. This is not the kind of happiness that can be measured in Utilitarian terms.  However, you cannot understand Christian ethics without exploring what it means to love oneself.



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