Author Topic: Is it possible to be morally responsible?  (Read 793 times)

readselerttoo

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Is it possible to be morally responsible?
« on: September 08, 2012, 03:53:12 PM »
Obviously, the new topic I am proposing strikes a chord with me.  I do not believe that there is such a thing as being morally responsible.  Since the day of the fall of humanity (ie. Genesis 3 and forward) human beings forfeited any possibility of ever becoming morally responsible.  Before and after Christ, human beings cannot possibly be morally responsible creatures before God.  Now some will argue that there is an arena in which before one another a modicum of responsibility becomes necessary within public life.  And yet within that arena to believe that to be morally responsible could ever occur outside of God's judgment and wrath is to declare that humans can behave and modulate public behavior beyond God's sight or at least declare that God is pleased with our standards of morality/measurement.  What has changed in Christ is that sinners are forgiven, not to return from forgiveness to create moral standards in which now they believe they have reached God's favor.  Forgiveness is only received within the moment at which God has forgiven a sinner and which a sinner has received that forgiveness.  This cannot be extrapolated into the public sphere as received by a body of people.

Morality is a product of Kantian philosophy which on the one hand does acknowledge God but only within the bounds of its own acknowledgment of God, ie. through its own idea of who God is.  What results from this is human fashioning of morality that secures for itself measures which may indeed secure but then at the same time these humanly devised standards of measurement are ascribed with divine value . 
« Last Edit: September 08, 2012, 03:58:25 PM by readselerttoo »

Brian Stoffregen

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Re: Is it possible to be morally responsible?
« Reply #1 on: September 08, 2012, 06:40:46 PM »
Morality is a product of Kantian philosophy which on the one hand does acknowledge God but only within the bounds of its own acknowledgment of God, ie. through its own idea of who God is.  What results from this is human fashioning of morality that secures for itself measures which may indeed secure but then at the same time these humanly devised standards of measurement are ascribed with divine value .


At the recommendation of two ministers in town (Methodist and Episcopalian) I'm reading: The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion, by Jonathan Haidt.


His first chapter is: "What Does Morality Come From?"


He offers this summary of his opening chapter:

Where does morality come from? The two most common answers have long been that it is innate (the nativist) answer) or that it comes from childhood learning (the empiricist answer). In this chapter I considered a third possibility, the rationalist answer, which dominated moral psychology when I entered the field: that morality is self-constructed by children on the basis of their experiences with harm. Kids know that harm is wrong because they hate to be harmed, and they gradually come to see that it is therefore wrong to harm others, which leads them to understand fairness and eventually justice. I explained why I came to reject this answer after conducting research in Brazil and the United States. In concluded instead that:

  • The moral domain varies by culture. It is unusually narrow in Western, educated, and individualistic cultures. Sociocentric cultures broaden the moral domain to encompass and regulate more aspects of life.
  • People sometimes have gut feelings -- particularly about disgust and disrespect -- that can drive their reasoning. Moral reasoning is sometimes a post hoc fabrication.
  • Morality can't be entirely self-constructed by children based on their growing understanding of harm. Cultural learning or guidance must play a larger role than rationalist theories had given it.
If morality doesn't come primarily from reasoning, then that leaves some combination of innateness and social learning as the most likely candidates. In the rest of this book I'll try to explain how morality can be innate (as a set of evolved intuitions) and learned (as children learn to apply those intuitions within a particular culture). We're born to be righteous, but we have to learn what, exactly, people like us should be righteous about. (pp. 25-26)


If some portion of morality is innate -- something we are born with, or as he writes, "preloaded, perhaps in our God-inscribed hearts (as the Bible says), or in our evolved moral emotions (as Darwin argued)" (p. 5), then they are not completely "a humanly devised standard" as you seem to start with.
"The church had made us like ill-taught piano students; we play our songs, but we never really hear them, because our main concern is not to make music, but but to avoid some flub that will get us in dutch." [Robert Capon, _Between Noon and Three_, p. 148]

Michael Slusser

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Re: Is it possible to be morally responsible?
« Reply #2 on: September 08, 2012, 07:58:04 PM »

Morality is a product of Kantian philosophy which on the one hand does acknowledge God but only within the bounds of its own acknowledgment of God, ie. through its own idea of who God is. 

This seems bizarre to me. People didn't need to wait for Kant in order to be moved and convicted of their moral responsibility by the Bible. If God holds us morally responsible, who am I to say that there is no such thing as moral responsibility?

Peace,
Michael
« Last Edit: September 08, 2012, 07:59:35 PM by Michael Slusser »
Fr. Michael Slusser
Retired Roman Catholic priest and theologian

pearson

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Re: Is it possible to be morally responsible?
« Reply #3 on: September 08, 2012, 09:37:02 PM »

Obviously, the new topic I am proposing strikes a chord with me.  I do not believe that there is such a thing as being morally responsible.  Since the day of the fall of humanity (ie. Genesis 3 and forward) human beings forfeited any possibility of ever becoming morally responsible.  Before and after Christ, human beings cannot possibly be morally responsible creatures before God.  Now some will argue that there is an arena in which before one another a modicum of responsibility becomes necessary within public life.  And yet within that arena to believe that to be morally responsible could ever occur outside of God's judgment and wrath is to declare that humans can behave and modulate public behavior beyond God's sight or at least declare that God is pleased with our standards of morality/measurement.  What has changed in Christ is that sinners are forgiven, not to return from forgiveness to create moral standards in which now they believe they have reached God's favor.  Forgiveness is only received within the moment at which God has forgiven a sinner and which a sinner has received that forgiveness.  This cannot be extrapolated into the public sphere as received by a body of people.


All of which prompts the question: responsible to whom, or to what?  It appears that your answer is: to God.  And since none of our moral actions is adequate to secure God's favor, we can never be morally responsible before God.  Further, you suggest that any ethical sytem we devise is also subject to "God's judgment and wrath."  Well, OK.  So where does that leave morality?  One conclusion consistent with your position, Pr. Rahn, is that morality has no place in theological discourse -- that morality has nothing to do with the descriptions Christians offer of the proper relationship between God and human beings.

But that doesn't entail that it is not possible to be morally responsible in any sense whatsoever.  We can't be morally responsible before God, but we can be morally responsible before one another.  As long as we seek the highest level of moral excellence available to fallen human beings -- filthy rags before God, to be sure -- we can fufill our God-given vocations in morally responsible ways in this life.  Can't we? 


Morality is a product of Kantian philosophy which on the one hand does acknowledge God but only within the bounds of its own acknowledgment of God, ie. through its own idea of who God is.  What results from this is human fashioning of morality that secures for itself measures which may indeed secure but then at the same time these humanly devised standards of measurement are ascribed with divine value .


I'll second Fr. Slusser's earlier puzzlement.  Morality is the product of Kantian philosophy?  What does that mean?  What happened to Plato, Aristotle, Augustine and Aquinas, not to mention a host of more recent moral  thinkers?  I'm no fan of Kantian ethics, but even I can't blame Kant for everything.

Tom Pearson

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Re: Is it possible to be morally responsible?
« Reply #4 on: September 08, 2012, 10:37:18 PM »

At the recommendation of two ministers in town (Methodist and Episcopalian) I'm reading: The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion, by Jonathan Haidt.


His first chapter is: "What Does Morality Come From?"


He offers this summary of his opening chapter:


I won't bother to quote the "summary," because if it is a fair representation of the first chapter, it does nothing to answer the question, "What (or where) does morality come from?"  It describes three possibilities for how human beings might access morality (innate, psychological, social), not what morality "comes from."  In doing so, it collapses the distinction between how morality comes to us and what morality is.  If we want to know what morality "comes from," we'll need to discover something about the normative content of morality: the message, and not just its medium.  It's a category mistake to confuse the delivery system by which we acquire something with what that something is -- sort of like confusing the delivery system for getting the national news with the content of the news.

Tom Pearson   



Brian Stoffregen

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Re: Is it possible to be morally responsible?
« Reply #5 on: September 09, 2012, 03:10:20 AM »
It describes three possibilities for how human beings might access morality (innate, psychological, social), not what morality "comes from."  In doing so, it collapses the distinction between how morality comes to us and what morality is.


If morality, or at least a core of it, is innate, it doesn't "come to us," it is part of us.
"The church had made us like ill-taught piano students; we play our songs, but we never really hear them, because our main concern is not to make music, but but to avoid some flub that will get us in dutch." [Robert Capon, _Between Noon and Three_, p. 148]