I may have mentioned that I’m working on my doctorate. It’s an inter-disciplinary study, which basically means that I was able to choose the courses that I think I’ll best be able to use in my work.
Last week I handed in my coursework for “The Problem of Evil,” and for the next couple of months I’ll be studying bioethics—I thought the topic would give me good fodder for my novels.
Yesterday I read a chapter in my textbook on ethical systems and ways of moral reasoning. It applied names to all the ways people reason, and yesterday afternoon, since I was taking some time off, I watched a movie I’d recorded off the TV: “A Bronx Tale.”
Then I found myself floored as ways of ethical reasoning announced themselves with flashing lights. No, not really, but once I learned the buzzwords, I was able to see how characters in the movie justified their actions using weak ethical methods.
For instance: in one scene, a nine-year-old boy witnesses a murder. When the cops come knocking, the boy’s father tells them the boy “didn’t see nothing.” The boy, however, tells them he saw everything, so the cops take him downstairs for an impromptu lineup.
The father lied out of fear. The boy, however, lies because he thinks the gunman is the coolest guy in the world, and he wants to protect him. The end result is the same—the killer gets off—and the boy asks his dad, “Did I do the right thing?” The dad says, “Yeah, you did a good thing for a bad man. But you had to do what was best for us, so yeah, you did the right thing. But I don’t want you hanging around that man ever again.”
Immediately, I recognized the moral reasoning involved: UTILITARIANISM, that which says morality is determined by the end result. If telling a lie and covering for a killer keeps the family out of trouble with the mob, then it was the right thing to do. Trouble is, nobody thought about the dead guy in the street . . . . who was looking out for his interests?
In a later scene, the kid is grown up, a teenager, and he’s asking the mob guy (who’s become a second father to him), if he should date a black girl. “You gotta do what’s right for you,” the thug says. “You gotta follow your heart.”
Again, lights flashed in my head. That’s ETHICAL EGOISM, and even Scripture indicates that a degree of ethical egoism is valid. God motivates his people by promising blessings for obedience and curses for disobedience. The weakness of ethical obedience is that it must be balanced with a concern for others—you can’t live in a world that runs only by your reasoning and your desires.
The kid goes on, loving this slick hood, and I realize I’m seeing the embodiment of VIRTUE THEORY: we choose an “ideal person” and model our morality after his/her example. Christians, of course, model their morality around Christ (Example: what would Jesus do?), but this kid was modeling himself after a street-smart thug.
Now . . . it’d be nice if I had a point, wouldn’t it? I find all of this very interesting, and I know it’ll be useful as I get ready to write columns for my local newspaper and for my books. As Christians, we use a combination of divine command, natural law, and virtue theory to conduct our moral reasoning. I’m looking forward to being able to deconstruct some arguments and build others that will stand up against faulty systems.