Moral Choices: An Introduction to Ethics
Magnuson, K. T., Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society
Moral Choices: An Introduction to Ethics. By Scott B. Rae. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1995, 253 pp., n.p.
This book joins recent publications in Christian ethics that are meant to help students think through contemporary moral issues. The temptation, for both author and student, is to bypass the more difficult work in theory in order to get to the interesting (often explosive) issues at hand. Rae offers a balance. Chapters 2-5 focus on theory, discussing Christian ethics, major people and theories in the history of ethics, and a procedure for making ethical decisions. Chapters 6-12 address various contemporary ethical issues: abortion, reproductive technologies, euthanasia, capital punishment, sexual ethics, war, and "legislating morality."
Rae's style is very readable, and the content is presented in such a way that it should appeal to students and others who want an introduction to ethics. His chapter on making ethical decisions offers practical, common-sense guidelines that will interest many readers. Further, the discussions of various issues will be of interest to most readers, and Rae gives some helpful case studies and facts.
The chapters on ethical theory, especially summaries of major thinkers and systems in the history of ethics, provide useful introductions to the topics and offer some important insights. For instance, in his chapter on major figures in the history of ethics Rae notes that moral authority has long been conceived of as being either immanent (deriving from human beings) or transcendent (external to human experience) and suggests how this basic dichotomy functions in contemporary ethical debates. In addition, he points out that the end result of ethical reasoning is often derived from the questions one asks, something that is not often recognized in contemporary ethical deliberation.
There are some shortcomings, however. First, some positions are not adequately represented, as when Rae dismisses absolutism as not being "an attractive or realistic position to hold," driving people to relativism. "It is better to see morality on a continuum, with absolutism at one extreme and relativism at the other" (p. 89). Setting aside the value of Aristotle's golden mean (virtue being the middle ground between opposing vices), surely there are some who believe that a well-reasoned absolutism is an attractive and realistic position to hold (and can even be integrated with the virtues of compassion, kindness and love! …