September 30, 2012

Justified In the End or The End Justifies the Means?

In deontological ethics, we see an action based ethics system.  Deontological is just a real fancy word for ethics that are bound by duty. For example: As a Christian, we have an obligation to do good because God has commanded it. We're bound by duty (and indwelling of the Holy Spirit) to progressively become more like Christ in a process of sanctification or becoming more holy. It is literally Christian behavior acted out. We manifest the Spirit that is within us.

It is indicative of what one performs or an imperative as Immanuel Kant implied. Teleological ethics are based in their consequences or outcome alone or the "ends justifies the means". Therefore, deontological and teleological ethics ask a person what they should do. One says that what you do should be done by a prescribed behavior (duty, deontological). This approach says that in order for a person to make a correct moral choice, they  need to understand what the moral obligations are in that situation and what correct rules exist which regulate those duties. What we do and how to do it is what’s important in producing the “good” or moral outcome. If we do what we’re supposed to the end result is moral, ethical or proper behavior, if not we are immoral unethical and behaving improperly.

Teleological on the other hand zeroes in on the end results or what we understand to be the consequences (consequentialist) of our actions or the ends justifies the means. To be able to make a moral choice in these situations we need to understand the possible outcomes of our actions and we need to weigh them and take them into account before acting. If we then make decisions that lead to proper outcomes they are considered moral.

This means that teleological requires that the outcome is desirable. This is not always the way of God. Sometimes the desirable outcome for God is that we suffer so that we "learn by the burn" so to speak. I believe this is where utilitarianism comes in because utilitarianism forces one to think about what will be the greatest good for the most people even if it means the sacrifice of one for the many like Joseph and his brothers or Christ for all of humanity that would believe. I believe a huge issue arises from this when viewed it from a human standpoint. We as humans are limited in our ability to see the future unlike God who sees all of time as the eternal present. Unlike God we are limited in knowledge and not omniscient so we are forced to consider all consequences of all alternative actions before doing something and even then we do not have an accurate picture. Unfortunately, we cannot often see the point of our suffering (but God can). To me, understanding the reason for our suffering is just not possible from the human perspective because we are not omniscient. This is why trying to fully understand evil and suffering (theodicy) and grasp its purposes from the human point of view ends up being a fools errant. Only God could possibly know all the variables and potential outcomes to a given situation or series of actions.  It therefore behooves us to obey the will of God as God can and does know the long-view of history. We also know from the Bible that God:

Romans 8:28-30 ~ “…works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters. And those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified.”

This is a passage taken from a larger context of suffering at the end of Romans 8. This is exactly why I believe that man is so urgently and vehemently warned or exhorted to obey God and follow in His ways as duty. His ways are in accordance with His will…which would also encompass His purposes (v.28) (i.e.: deonotological; obeying our duty to god). It appears it is because He has laid out and preordained these ways based on a concept of teleological ethics or that fact that God knows where we're going in the end. Although some may not benefit in the end or as the Calvinist asserts, some are reserved for judgment and damnation because of their own choices, God ultimately seems sort of utilitarian in His approach because in the end, His plans will create the greatest good for the most people in the proper ratio that He has predetermined. The difference being, God doesn’t need to weigh the consequence of His actions in terms of good or bad since He already knows them in advance and He cannot contradict his righteous good nature.  

Ultimately, through their own choices and freewill, many will condemn themselves to eternal separation from God. The remainder will join God in eternity which is the ultimate good from a Christian and God's point of view because we are in the mind of Christ as Christians. It is God’s desire that all be saved and not perish. To me this is surprisingly utilitarian (the most good for the most people) in its approach even though I am not even remotely trying to pass judgment on God.

1 Timothy 2:3-4 ~ "For this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior; who will have all men to be saved, and to come unto the knowledge of the truth" (1 Tim. 2:3-4).

2 Peter 3:9 ~ “The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.”

So what we see paradoxically in the end of God’s plan for humanity is not so much that the end justifies the means but rather, in the end, saved humanity is justified by believing in God’s plans that appear to be ethical and totally moral.

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