Posts tagged with: ethics

aa-bookIn a sermon to the class of 1864, Williams College President Mark Hopkins addressed the intimate and inevitable relationship between character and destiny, “Settle it therefore, I pray you, my hearers, once and forever, that as your character is, so will your destiny be.”

Within the academy, this basic prescription for earthly happiness, says Lewis M. Andrews, reigned supreme for almost three centuries, from Harvard’s founding in 1636 until the early twentieth century.

The typical centerpiece of the moral curriculum was a seminar, taught by the college president, that took up most of the senior year for undergraduate students and was designed to show them how to apply their newly acquired knowledge within a Christian context. University presidents of all denominations focused on the importance of good character and the dangers of vice and immorality.

Problems that are now thought of, at least to some extent, as mental health conditions — depression, discouragement, fear, loneliness, self-doubt, addiction, anxiety — were viewed in large part as consequences of the moral character of the students. Pursuing vengeance will depress us; a willingness to tell white lies leaves us anxious; manipulating others makes us lonely; and guilt can only be assuaged through some form of amends or atonement. Conversely, the college presidents taught their students that the proper application of moral and spiritual principles would enable them to build character and lead emotionally fulfilled and happy lives. While these principles were consistent with Christian theology, and their teaching often drew from the Books of Psalms and Proverbs, or the parables of Jesus, they were reinforced with similar observations by classical philosophers, such as Plato, Aristotle, Cicero, and Plotinus.

But students learned also that even though adherence to moral principles leads to real happiness, the immediate pleasures or advantages that come from compromising one’s values can blind us to how such actions often leave us miserable and unhappy in the end. Everybody is tempted to believe that some things are so worth having that unethical choices are justified to achieve them. By an act of great self-deception, the perceived gains overshadow the real losses.

Andrews explains how these university presidents were pioneers of what we would now call mental health care, and why the history of spiritually based therapy is largely unknown:

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Lewis Hine Power house mechanic working on steam pumpOver at Think Christian, I reflect on an “authentically Christian” view of work, which takes into account its limitations, failings, and travails, as well as its promises, prospects, and providential foundations.

The TC piece is in response to a post by Simon Critchley and Jamieson Webster, in which they juxtapose the pscyhologizing of work as subjectively authentic self-expression with their own preferred view of work as something done simply “for the sake of sustenance.”

Critchley and Webster are right to point to the dangers of unchecked subjectivism, but are wrong in devaluing work as merely instrumental. David F. Wells of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary penned a monumental indictment of the inroads radical subjectivism has made in Christian, and particularly evangelical, circles in his 1994 book, God in the Wasteland: The Reality of Truth in a World of Fading Dreams. As Wells puts it, the difference between the objective and subjective points of departure for our knowledge amount to two different ways of seeing the world; one is biblical, the other is worldly. “The one belongs to those who have narrowed their perception solely to what is natural; the other belongs to those whose understanding is framed by the supernatural. The one takes in no more than what the sense can glean; the other allows this accumulation of information to be informed by the reality of the transcendent,” writes Wells.

More recently, Carl Trueman of Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia analyzed the shift from objective measures of oppression to subjective psychologizing in the context of political ideology. “Supplementing the economic categories of Marx with the psychoanalytic categories of Freud, Marcuse and his followers effectively broadened the whole notion of oppression to include the psychological realm. Such a move is dramatic in the implications it has for the way one views politics. Simply put, oppression ceases to be something that can be assessed empirically in terms of external economic conditions and relations, and becomes something rather more difficult to see, i.e., a matter of the psychology of social relations,” writes Trueman. (more…)

Transparency International has released its 2013 findings regarding global corruption and bribery. The implications of corruption and bribery are manifold: they decrease confidence in governments, make it difficult for the poor and corruptiondisconnected to get out of poverty, and break down trust throughout society. In fact, Transparency International found that two institutions that should be the most trusted (police and the judiciary) are the ones most riddled with corruption, world-wide.

Here is one example:

Fifty-year old Carmela [name has been changed] was sleeping at home when she was woken by banging and shouting from the  apartment above, where her son lives. Rushing upstairs, she says she found the 27-year-old mechanic being beaten by police officers. Ignoring her cries, the officers dragged him from the apartment and took him to their local headquarters, where they demanded payment for his release. Carmela’s problem is not new in her community, a makeshift settlement where local people claim to suffer constant harassment from certain police officers who demand bribes in return for leaving them in peace. Fearing retaliation, people find a way to pay the officers, who reportedly ask for as much as several thousand US dollars. But for Carmela, a housekeeper with four children, one suffering from cancer, this was impossible. Acting on Carmela’s behalf, Transparency International Venezuela contacted senior government and police officials, calling on them to take action. As a result, when she went to the local police headquarters to pay the bribe, the state authorities were watching. As soon as the money changed hands, they moved in and arrested the officers involved. Her son was released without payment. The police officers were detained and now await trial, while a full investigation is underway.

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I recently wrote on the implications of “pathological altruism,” a term coined by Oakland University’s Barbara Oakley to categorize altruism in which “attempts to promote the welfare of others instead result in unanticipated harm.”

In a segment from the PovertyCure series, HOPE International’s Peter Greer offers a good example of how this can play out, particularly in and through various outreaches of the church:

Oakley’s paradigm depends on whether such harm can be “reasonably anticipated,” and as Greer’s story indicates, far too often the church isn’t anticipating much at all. Ship the stuff, check the box, and sing our merry songs. (more…)

This morning at Acton University I attended a fascinating lecture by Dr. Edd Noell, “Origins of Economics: The Scriptures and Early Church Fathers.” I have briefly examined one ancient Christian perspective on wealth in the past (here), but Dr. Noell’s survey today was far more expansive. For the benefit of PowerBlog readers, I would like to reflect on some of the major themes of his talk here as a sort of preview of what one could expect once the audio is available for sale. (more…)

In a new paper, “Concepts and Implications of Altruism Bias and Pathological Altruism,” Barbara Oakley of Oakland University argues that scientists and social observers have mostly ignored the harm that can come from altruism. Though “the profound benefits of altruism in modern society are self-evident,” Oakley observes, the “potential hurtful aspects of altruism have gone largely unrecognized in scientific inquiry.”

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Aiming to lay the groundwork for such inquiry, Oakley focuses on what she calls “pathological altruism” — “altruism in which attempts to promote the welfare of others instead result in unanticipated harm.” As for whether such behavior is “intended,” Oakley believes it can emerge from “a mix of accidental, subconscious, or deliberate causes,” though it can be more clearly identified by whether an external observer would conclude that the harm was “reasonably foreseeable.”

In other words, the pathologically altruistic have a sort of tunnel vision, a way of looking at the world around them that lends toward destructive self-sacrifice. Some already know it, others simply should. (more…)

A study from Harvard University and the University of Utah purports to show that merely thinking about money makes one unethical and more inclined to immoral acts. The Huffington Post reports:rolling in money

Researchers split up roughly 300 participating undergraduate students into two groups. The first group was asked to perform activities that were associated with money-related words and images, and the second group participated in activities that were unrelated to money altogether.

Afterward, the participants were asked to make a series of illicit business decisions: to act dishonestly but earn more money, for example, or to hire a candidate who would share confidential information. The students who first participated in the money-related activities were more likely to engage in unethical behavior, the researchers found.

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There is no doubt that higher education is costly. Textbooks alone can run $1000 a semester for some undergraduates. Waiting tables and flipping burgers won’t cover those costs. With many parents just as strapped for cash as their children, how does one pay for a college diploma?

For some young women, the answer is to sell themselves. There are websites that offer “matching” services for “mutually beneficial relationships”; that is, a young woman signs up for a “sugar daddy”. He pays for college and she has her money problems solved. One website does offer helpful information, such as “keep your emotions in check” and “sugaring is not welfare”. All just business, plain and simple. Although young men sign up for this type of arrangement, the vast majority are young women. (more…)

While the Obama administration is busy dealing with the IRS scandal, the Benghazi scandal and the seizure of reporters’ phone records, HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius is skirting around a problem as well. Sebelius has been asking for donations for Obamacare costs from the very people and industry who will be charged with implementing it and getting government money to do so.sebelius

Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius has gone, hat in hand, to health industry officials, asking them to make large financial donations to help with the effort to implement President Obama’s landmark health-care law, two people familiar with the outreach said.

Her unusual fundraising push comes after Congress repeatedly rejected the Obama administration’s requests for additional funds to set up the Affordable Care Act, leaving HHS to implement the president’s signature legislative accomplishment on what officials have described as a shoestring budget.

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A-College-Graduates-Guide-to-Starting-a-Career1Yesterday, Jordan Ballor explored the relationship between money and happiness, referring to money as “a good, but not a terminal good,” and pointing to Jesus’ reminder that “life does not consist in an abundance of possessions.”

Over at Café Hayek, economist Russ Roberts offers a good companion to this, advising college graduates to have a healthy perspective about money and meaning when entering the job market:

Don’t take the job that pays the most money. Nothing wrong with money, but it’s the wrong criterion for choosing if you are fortunate to have a choice in this not-so-great job market. People often confuse economics with anything that is related to money as if the goal of economics is to make you rich. But the goal of economics is to help you get the most out of life. Money is part of that of course, but usually there are tradeoffs–the highest paying job has drawbacks. Don’t ignore those. So take the job that is the most rewarding in the fullest sense of the word. Sure, money matters. But so does how much you learn on the job, how much satisfaction it gives you and whether it lets you express your gifts. The ideal is to find a job you love that still lets you put food on the table and a roof over your head. You spend a lot of time at work. Don’t do something you hate or that deadens your soul just because it pays well.

Time is precious. One of the simplest but most important ideas of economics is the idea of opportunity cost–anything you do means not doing something else. Don’t spend all of your leisure on email and twitter and entertainment. Keep your brain growing. Listen to Planet Money. Read a novel. Take a cooking class or keep working at that musical instrument.

Of course, the Christian must be especially careful that this goal of “getting the most out of life” is properly grounded and directed. (more…)