Saturday 15 January 2011

Dan Maguire on Ethics

I suffered through two courses on 'Christian' ethics over the last several years, and frankly they were a low point in the study program. The selection of writers drawn on were overwhelmingly, stiflingly, of the Reformed persuasion, loaded down with all the assumptions and baggage that go with it. The absence of modern Catholic moral theology - actually any alternative to the dominant Anglo-Reformed paradigm - was remarkable. In the end I threw my hands in the air, shoved the assigned readings to one side, and went hunting for material that was free of contamination. That's when I came across Daniel Maguire.

Maguire comes out of the tradition of Catholic moral theology, but like many others he has fallen afoul of the magisterium. Thankfully that hasn't stopped him. Conservative Christians will find much of what he says challenging, his is an unapologetically 'progressive' view, but what's life without challenge? And unlike the dominees of Reformed ethics, Maguire is readable by any reasonably educated layperson. The clip below is an introduction to his latest book, Ethics: A Complete Method for Moral Choice.


  1. Gavin,

    It's true that Maguire's rewrite of his 1978 work is accessible a priori to anyone.

    Complete Method for Moral Choice he illustrates pedagogically, using a Wheel Model.

    The Bishops probably find the ethical teaching done using his Complete Method Wheel Model are less than convinced with the methodology and the results.

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  4. This is interesting and expands upon the two ethics courses I've taken, although, in the Table of Contents of his book, I did not see the five fundamental types of ethics except "the end justifies the means" but it may be that he does address the others in the book.

    It appears to me that throughout history, both business and religion (just a different kind of business) does rely upon "the end justifies the means" ethic. The Crusades are an excellent example of this. These days, we seem to be stuck in Jihad as the same ethic.

    To "do the right thing" seems to vary with the level of power of the ones with the conscience. It is amusing to watch Merlin on BBC Television, depicting Price Arthur before he became King with Merlin as his personal valet in a period piece. Just about every show we get to see Merlin as the peasant serf be abused by the Prince as collateral damage. Last week, it was Merlin mopping the floor and Arthur taking the dirty mop rag and stuffing it into Merlin's face, followed by emptying the bucket of dirty water over Merlin's head. In other episodes, there have been similar events, such as having Merlin being put into stocks and having people throw rotten vegetables at him.

    My wife and I talked last night about the power of privilege at it relates to cult fiefdoms. The minister as the Prince or King in his little fiefdom with his Spokesman Club buddies going off hunting in the Fall. Fall into line or you will be symbolically in stocks or get a bucket of dirty water dumped on your head without so much as a "by your leave".

    This, of course, offends our tender sensibilities, but very few have escaped the despotism of these sorts of acts, sometimes in a church environment, other times at work.

    For the most part, my take on modern ethics, religious or not, goes something like this:

    1. The End Justifies the Means;
    2. Never get caught;
    3. Those in charge are exempt from the rules;
    4. You are required to not just get something for nothing: You need to get everything for nothing [for the good of the kingdom].

    A really good examination of this sort of ethic is found in Moral Mazes by Robert Jackall.

    Thanks again for the head's up. I will probably buy the book.

  5. Dan Maguire evangelizes his pluriform moral imagination Gospel at Marquette in this way:

    I've been criticizing the hierarchy for what I call establishing a kind of pelvic orthodoxy; as though Jesus had said, "By this shall men know that you are my disciples; that you are opposed to contraception, same sex marriages, and abortion.". "By this shall you know that you are my disciples; that you love as I love; that you serve the poor as I serve the poor; that you seek to reconcile and bring peace to the earth." Those are the criteria for orthodoxy.

    And unfortunately, because of this pelvic obsession people have been judged as to whether or not you're a good Catholic is if you agree on sexual reproductive issues rather than on the main challenge of the Gospel, which was to bring peace to a troubled world by the elimination of poverty.