The Decalogue and a Human Future: The Meaning of the Commandments for Making and Keeping Life Human

Article excerpt

THIS IS THE THIRD of three major works published by the late Professor Lehmann. Ethics in a Christian Context (1963) and The Transfiguration of Politics (1975) had established him as a distinctive and significant ethical thinker, and the present work certainly adds to that reputation.

The subtitle of this book expresses a continuing theme in Lehmann's work. Eschewing the dominant ethical theories of deontology (absolute obligations) and utilitarianism (seeking the best possible consequence in one's actions), Lehmann unites theology and ethics by defining the ethical in terms of the divine presence and purpose in the world: the humanization and flourishing of human life. In this book he relates the Commandments to this purpose, understanding them as descriptive rather than prescriptive in the sense that they present a form of behavior that confirms and enables the flourishing of human relationships.

The book is divided into two parts, the first providing a theoretical framework and the second presenting the content of the Commandments. In part one Lehmann develops the notion of "apperception" to describe our capacity to discern or to gain moral insight into the nature of things so that we can act responsibly. He also describes the setting for moral action in terms of societal inequality and heterogeneity, structures within which the Commandments present a response which Lehmann characterizes as "reciprocal responsibility. …