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Questions What Christian Ethics Is About Notes

Theology Notes > Christian Ethics (focus on Medical ethics) Notes

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'What Christian ethics is about'

1. Where do we encounter 'ethics' in its variant forms?
'Ethics' is a very broad term, both in the sense that it covers a wide range of constituent areas and is made up of a number of different forms of ethics (meta-ethics, for example), but also in the sense that its effects or implications are considered in almost every area of life. A code of ethics advises and informs a moral agent of what attitudes or actions are appropriate in a given situation. As such, ethical consideration on one level forms an intrinsic part of our decision-making in every instance, since even in the most uncontroversial situations, we still know there are kinds of behaviour that are unacceptable - murder, for example - and it is our ethics that inform us and furnish us with that knowledge. This having been said, it is true that certain controversial areas of human social existence are consistently under scrutiny in ethical terms. The fact that terms such as 'medical ethics' and 'political ethics' exist, and that terms such as 'reading ethics' or 'cleaning ethics' do not, indicates those kinds of areas which consistently make demands of our understanding of ethics (as opposed to those that do not), both as individuals and societally, and it is here that we most commonly or obviously encounter 'ethics'. It is characteristic of these areas in which we encounter ethics that they have the potential to entail far-reaching consequences, or lead us to important ethical conclusions or to challenge existing ethical assumptions.

2. What is meant by the terms 'ethics', 'ethos', 'morality' and 'moral theology'?
The term 'ethics' is used to mean that set of instructions that informs a moral agent as to what actions are to be considered appropriate or inappropriate in a given situation. A moral agent's personal 'ethics' would thus comprise how that moral agent believed she should act in any given situation, in accordance with the understanding of 'right' and 'wrong' or 'good' and 'bad' that that moral agent possesses. The term 'ethics' has a second meaning, however, in academic terms, as the study of ethics in the former sense of the word, comprised of a number of fields, including normative and applied ethics. 'Ethos' might be considered equatable to the former meaning of 'ethics', in that it entails the code or collection of principles in accordance with the directions of which one responds to situations in life. It may be suggested that the word 'ethos' might be more often used to describe the general ethics of a community or group, rather than of one individual. The term 'morality' describes, similarly to 'ethics', to mean that code by which a moral agent guides his own actions, in terms of what that code suggests is an appropriate or inappropriate response to a particular set of circumstances. Richard Ryder suggests that the terms 'morality' and 'ethics' can be used interchangeably in a great deal of situations, except naturally in those circumstances where 'ethics' is being used to describe the academic study of ethics (or morality). Moral Theology might be described as the systematic theological treatment of Christian ethics, which endeavours to identify the principles involved in making a life worth living, in light of the authority of scripture, and specifically the life of Jesus.

3. What is the primary subject matter of ethics; what does it enquire about?

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