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July 25, 2014 / compassioninpolitics

Compare and Contrast Biblical Ethics versus Kantian Ethics

The following is from a question on the Q & A site Quora. I’ve included dividers ( ———————– ) to separate my responses to other people on the question thread.

Both aim to be more fully in line with what it means to be human. Both strive for what is fundamentally human.

1. Kantian ethics tends to be rule based. The Biblical ethic is more relational and process based.
2. Kantian ethics tends to be perfectionism based. The Biblical ethic is more grace and forgiveness based.
3. Kantian ethics could be seen as individualistic. Biblical ethics transcends the individual.
4. Kantian ethics could be seen as analytical. Biblical ethics see life as directional, but messy.

* This may be a simplification. I don’t have much formal education in theology or philosophy. I’m just reasonably well read and attend church with some regularity.

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RE: Their similarity or difference in regard to Utilitarian ends

When Paul writes letters from prison its quite clear the ethic is independent of utilitarian results.

Also, spiritual rewards are in one sense beyond the hedonic calculous (whether that be from Jeremy Bentham or John Stuart Mill). Certainly, Christians can and do take joy in these activities.

A Kantian isn’t excluded, though from taking joy. Neither is the Christian.

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You raise an interesting point–but it seems you may gloss over others (for instance above or in my answer proper). I think, though, you do a disservice to call the Bible or Paul a utilitarian in the traditional sense.

Its happiness and pleasure along the lines of the Aristotealian notion of ethics and happiness.

There are a number of scholars who make the point that the Bible’s embrace of the other transcends calculative thought. Not the least of which I explained above that the spiritual nature of the reward–not strictly a fleshly one.

Also, the grounding of the New Testament in terms of a relational ethics counter-poses or contrasts with a utilitarian one. Certainly, there are utilitarian benefits which flow from virtue and love, friendship, and relationship. But there is intrinsic value in those–which is encouraged by the NT.

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Also, this article points out a distinction between act-centered ethics versus agent-centered ones. Virtue ethics and the New Testament . (see note below) At a minimum, the Bible may fuse the two. The author points out how the New Testament is more agent centric (virtue) versus (act)–and a character and relationship with God which manifests in being other directed. Also, ethics itself isn’t determined by utilitarian calculations (ie you converted 10 people), but how your character, virtue, humility, and reverence for God and His principles..

I think that such a long-term goal wouldn’t sustain–unless he individuals found real Truth, meaning, connection, and value. Certainly you might have a small minority (2 to 3%) persist, but there is something more 1) complex 2) transcendent there.

* The article appears to need you to arrive via Google versus the page itself to access it. (“Aristotle and New Testament”). At least its a semi-permeable registration-wall.

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Its an intrinsic value consideration or virtue ethics one. Also, its applying those principles even when applying them might risk or create bad consequences.

I think most people following a virtue ethics framework or the Christian framework….perhaps begin by basing their beliefs on some sort of utilitarian notion….but ideally grow in faith as time goes on–so that its integrated into their character.

Most people don’t think of our Constitutional frameworks reliance on a natural rights as a utilitarian one. And if there is some reliance on utilitarian notions–its certainly one of degrees (i.e. a continuum).

Also a utility of principle and virtue is fundamentally different than a utility of happiness. Unless you have a very integrated and complex definition of happiness which I don’t think was developed by John Stuart Mill.

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At least as far as the Bible is concerned….I’m not sure if it speaks to weighing between competing virtues. I think God is happy if we choose one of the virtuous options (i.e. we land on the ethical when we land on the virtuous). Our accounting and calculation are somewhat beside the point.

I can’t conclusively say if he’s happier with the chain-of-events (which in many cases we may or may not have been able to forsee)–as long as we are connected to the Word and His principles. For instance, as long as our “heart” and striving is in it.

As a side point, I’m not sure an ethical system lives or falls by how it handles your two counter-examples–particularly the sadist. I think all ethical systems by definition can’t deal with the sadist–particularly when it relates to causing harm to others–but also pain, harm, and risk to self.

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