Political Worship: Ethics for Christian Citizens

Political Worship: Ethics for Christian Citizens

Political Worship: Ethics for Christian Citizens

Political Worship: Ethics for Christian Citizens

Excerpt

The most important shift in recent ethical theory might be termed the recontextualization of ethics. In the tradition determined by Kant, ethics was committed to as formal as possible a formulation of its content and methods, so that it could be universalized, generalized, and made communicable. But this tradition no longer reigns unchallenged. For the abstraction that was required brought with it a loss of sensibility for history, culture, and bodily life; and the consequent discomfort has led to a new thinking about the specific conditions in which an ‘ethos’ can emerge and develop, upon which ‘ethics’ as a reflective discipline can then ponder critically. The newly awakened concern for ethical theories which are embedded in forms of life (as in Aristotelian ethics) brought into the centre of the discussion themes and topics which had long been pushed out on to the fringe—virtue, the emotions, friendship, the role of tradition in shaping communities, and so forth. Subjects of this kind are once again being debated with an intellectual curiosity which is backed by the question of how a post-liberal ethic of this kind is related to the standards of liberal ethics in the Kantian tradition.

Kantian ethics drew its dynamic from the search for an ultimate rational foundation for moral conduct, and its methodic approach was in a sense backward-looking: starting from specific problems of the moral life, there was a systematic recourse to a series of rules of graduated conciseness which made as general as possible an appeal to reason, culminating in ideal principles, foundational propositions such as Kant’s categorical imperative. The post-liberal alternative sets off in a different direction. It too asks what lies behind a moral proposition or a moral act, but it does not search for ideal principles. It looks for the specific, historical, socio-cultural conditions from which the particular moral competence to speak and act is drawn.

In the discussion as it has moved on, the connections are presented as follows: a moral proposition or act expresses the speaker’s . . .

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