Morality is not Christian ethics

Letters to the Editor (The Guardian)
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Editor: Holly Pierlot (June 28) offers a virtue-theory view of morality. Virtue theory dates back to Aristotle and was Christianized by Aquinas (becoming natural law theory). As Pierlot well depicts, virtue theory’s notion of morality connects with human excellence. Humans have a purpose on earth and this is to strive toward virtue (and contemplate God, adds Aquinas). Pierlot singles out the benefits of survival, health, and love.

Virtue theory is popular with Christians, but at least five other moral theories exist that do not share virtue theory’s faults. Here are three such faults:

1. The belief that humans have a function to fulfil is counter to Darwin’s notion of the evolution of species. No species is goal-directed. The idea of an intentional function of humans makes no sense. Virtue theory is founded on a false premise.

2. Virtue ethics confuse theories of well-being with theories of morality. While health may be an important part of well-being, failing to exercise is not normally considered immoral. As a result, speaking about what makes our lives go well is different from speaking about which of our actions are morally permissible.

3. Virtue theory is indeterminate. If an act is done with virtue, we call it good; if not, bad. As a result, the same act may be good or bad depending on the psychological motivation of the agent. That means virtue theorists cannot say that abortion is immoral. To make that grander claim, they would have to say that all women who seek abortion do so for non-virtuous motives, as Pierlot states. But that empirical claim is patently false. Women seeking abortion consider all the things Pierlot commends: their long-term health — both physical and psychological — and their current loving relations.

Fortunately other moral theories have done better, but religious people like to stick with the only one that requires a supernatural agent.

Dr. Malcolm Murray,


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