Ethical Perspectives 1 (3):130-144 (1994)

John-Paul II’s encyclical Veritatis Splendor examines the commandments, in particular the Decalogue. In so far as it is the expression of ‘natural law’ applicable and reflexively accessible to all, it is a permanent charter not only of Christian inspired ethics but of every human ethic . Using the story of the rich young man, cited in the encyclical’s first chapter, we would like to elucidate in the first part, and in our own way, how prohibitions open the way for freedom and the richness of human creativity.This will show that Christian ethics, for which the Decalogue is of essential importance, cannot limit itself to drawing borders. Prohibitions are only a necessary condition and not a sufficient ground for a Christian ethic inspired by the gospel whose heart is the living person of Jesus the Christ. A Christian ethic does not end with delimiting borders that make possible and protect certain fundamental values; it also opens its own perspectives for a tasteful shaping of a qualified freedom that is ‘won’ thanks to keeping the commandments. This in turn leads to the point of the second part: a look at ‘taste’ and aesthetics in ethics. This will show how a balanced Christian ethic will necessarily be marked by a bipolarity of prohibition and taste.[...]CONCLUSIONEthics is not a simple matter; it is a complex field wherein orientations, commandments and prohibitions, suggestions, examples and experiences all play a role. We hope that it is now evident that ethics, on the existential level of experience, can only function properly when there is a tension between prohibition and taste. A one-sided emphasis or absolutizing of one of the two leads to the self-destruction of ethics. Reducing ethics to obeying commandments and prohibitions leads to a rejection of ethics, while a narcissistic absolutizing of taste leads to a destruction of ethics in as far as it results in the aestheticism of pure taste and in arbitrariness. Only an ethic that remains normatively modest by focusing its attention on the essential delimiting rules that protect basic values opens perspectives towards a creative meaningful life as a ‘lively adventure’
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DOI 10.2143/EP.1.3.630089
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