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Ethical Reflections
August 25, 2008, 7:49 pm
Filed under: Ethics | Tags: , ,

In any world in which the giving of gifts is possible, certain moral truths will be the case.  Of course, in a world with no persons at all, the giving of gifts will not be possible.  But if there are persons, and they find themselves in the right sorts of situations, the giving gifts will be possible.  And if the giving of gifts is possible, then certain moral truths will be the case.

For example: It is right and fitting to be grateful to our benefactors.

That is, it is right and fitting to be thankful to those who give us good gifts.  Conversely, it wrong and unfitting to be ungrateful to our benefactors.  A good person is thankful, and you’re a bad person if you’re not.

You either acknowledge this or you don’t.  But regardless of what we have to say about it, we know it, right?  Someone who didn’t know this would be utterly incapable of thinking in the way of moral reasoning/thinking/judging.


It’s not that such a person would be mistaken somewhere in their moral reasoning/thinking/judging.  No.  Their problem would  be that they haven’t even begun to enter into the way of moral reasoning/thinking/judging.

This would NOT be like thinking Napoleon was a heroic Australian frontiersmen.  That would be a mistake.

Imagine being incapable of even entering into the kind of thinking involved in remembering and retelling history–any history at all.  We wouldn’t scold someone like this for making a mistake.  They would be less than mistaken.  They wouldn’t have risen to the level of mistake.  We would say this kind of person is seriously unwell.


If we didn’t know this moral principle, God’s revealed commands would be unintelligible to us.  We would have to know it first in order to make sense of God’s commands.  But this pre-biblical moral knowledge doesn’t call the bible’s authority into question.  Instead it undergirds it.


Since God is our creator, the giver of life, we owe God a great debt of thankfulness.  This is what establishes our most basic obligations to God as our creator.   The gift of life is very great, so our debt to God is very great.

After God rescued Israel from Egypt and lead them to the promised land, Israel owed God a great debt of thankfulness for this redemption.  It is upon this basis that God gave them the 10 commandments and Mosaic covenant.

Since God is reconciling the world to himself in Jesus, we owe him a great debt of thankfulness.  In view of the mercies of God we ought to offer ourselves as living sacrifices.  This is right and fitting.  (Romans 12)

Any attempt to reduce this kind of moral truth to some lower or more basic principle is misguided.  (i.e. Utilitarianism and most all modern moral theories are lost causes that completely miss the point.)  A principle like this is the very beginning of moral reasoning/thinking/judging.  If we are to engage in explicit moral reasoning, we must begin by acknowledging it, not by seeking to establish it.

If you know what a person is and what a gift is, then you know this moral principle.  (Not explicit and formalized knowledge of course.  I’m talking here of lived-out knowledge, not precise definitions and formulas.)  You can’t understand personhood and the nature of gift giving and not understand this moral principle.  It is a part of the very logic of personhood and gift giving.

If you really don’t know (as apposed to merely claiming you don’t know) this moral truth (in the form of lived out knowledge not formal definitions), you aren’t immoral, but you are amoral.  You are sub-moral.  But, unless you are seriously unwell, you do know it.


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We still haven’t gotten our wedding photographs from our photographer

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