Ethics and the Urban Ethos: An Essay in Social Theory and Theological Reconstruction

Ethics and the Urban Ethos: An Essay in Social Theory and Theological Reconstruction

Ethics and the Urban Ethos: An Essay in Social Theory and Theological Reconstruction

Ethics and the Urban Ethos: An Essay in Social Theory and Theological Reconstruction

Excerpt

The modern setting of man is an artifact. It is made, it was not given. It is invented, built, and contrived. It was not found or discovered. It is a product of human projects, even if the projects are made from the givens. Societies consist in the interplay of givens and projects. The city has tipped the balance: projects far outweigh the givens.

When society is governed by givens, nature or tradition determine actions. Questions as to what "I" or "We" ought to be or do are not raised. Duty is given in the very structure of things. Everybody knows. The means of adaptation to the givens are also given. Conceptually and emotionally man draws his models and metaphors from that which is given. Psychologically, sociologically, physically, and intellectually, he survives and succeeds as he integrates himself more deeply into the given system, making it a part of him, making himself a part of it. Life is already organized; the problem is to find its patterns and laws and to fit in. He who most authentically represents the pregiven structures is most honored.

When society is governed by projects, life is not so conceived. New forms are imagined and invented; intentional creation of new social and psychic worlds is common. People construct and are expected to construct life anew. The possibilities are not seen as being given in nature or tradition. They are seen as technical ones: how can we bring nature and the routines of the past into line with our new horizons? He who reconceptualizes and reorganizes for the construction of new patterns is most honored.

There are dangers in such a situation: the psychological needs of individuals can become divorced from any overarching patterns. Liberated from the tyrannies of natural and traditional necessity, individuals are plunged into the anxiety of not knowing what they ought to do. The cues to proper action are not given and instead have to be constructed with art and imagina-

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