This essay critically explores resources and reasons for the study of culture in religious ethics, paying special attention to rhetorics and genres that provide an ethics of ordinary life. I begin by exploring a work in cultural anthropology that poses important questions for comparative and cultural inquiry in an age alert to "otherness," asymmetries of power, the end of value-neutrality in the humanities, and the formation of identity. I deepen my argument by making a foundational case for the importance of (...) culture as a topic of normative analysis through a discussion of the emotions as cultural artifacts. To illustrate how cultural analysis can inform religious ethics, I turn to works by Wayne Meeks, Margaret Trawick, and Charles Taylor. I conclude by sketching some implications of a "cultural turn" for future work in religious ethics. (shrink)
Did the Gulf War defend moral principle or Western oil interests? Is violent pornography an act of free speech or an act of violence against women? In _Casuistry and Modern Ethics_, Richard B. Miller sheds new light on the potential of casuistry—case-based reasoning—for resolving these and other questions of conscience raised by the practical quandaries of modern life. Rejecting the packaging of moral experience within simple descriptions and inflexible principles, Miller argues instead for identifying and making sense of the ethically (...) salient features of individual cases. Because this practical approach must cope with a diverse array of experiences, Miller draws on a wide variety of diagnostic tools from such fields as philosophy of science, legal reasoning, theology, literary theory, hermeneutics, and moral philosophy. Opening new avenues for practical reasoning, Miller's interdisciplinary work will challenge scholars who are interested in the intersections of ethics and political philosophy, cultural criticism, and debates about method in religion and morality. (shrink)
This paper critically assesses three claims on behalf of the Iraq war made by the Bush administration and by various defenders of the war. Then it steps back from the specifics of these three rationales to ask whether they are in fact of the same sort.
Religious violence may trigger feelings of repulsion and indignation, especially in a society that encourages toleration and respect, but rejection contradicts the principles of inclusion that define a democracy and its core moral values. How can we think ethically about religious violence and terrorism, especially in the wake of such atrocities as 9/11? Known for his skillful interrogation of ethical issues as they pertain to religion, politics, and culture, Richard B. Miller returns to the basic tenets of liberalism to divine (...) an ethical response to religious extremism. He questions how we should think about the claims and aspirations of political religions, especially when they conflict so deeply with liberal norms and practices, and he suggests how liberal critics can speak confidently in ways that respect cultural and religious difference. Miller explores other concerns within these investigations as well, such as the protection of human rights and a liberal democratic commitment to multicultural politics. In relating religion and ethics, he develops a new lens for viewing political religions and their moral responsibilities. This probing inquiry also forces us to rethink our response to 9/11. (shrink)
This essay argues on behalf of a hybrid theory for an ethics of self-defense understood as the Forfeiture-Partiality Theory. The theory weds the idea that a malicious attacker forfeits the right to life to the idea that we are permitted to prefer one's life to another's in cases of involuntary harm or threat. The theory is meant to capture our intuitions both about instances in which we can draw a moral asymmetry between attacker and victim and cases in which we (...) cannot. I develop the theory by attending to instances of intentional, villainous harm and instances of involuntary danger—the latter of which are a matter of bad luck. I call some bad luck cases "Interpersonal Lottery Conflicts." These cases refer to potentially lethal conflicts into which parties are thrown as victims of circumstance. Although neither party has a moral advantage over another, that fact does not preclude permissible self-defense. (shrink)
Memory brings the past into the present. It is a feature of human temporality, contingency, and identity. Attention to memory's psychological and social importance suggests new vistas for work in religious ethics. This essay examines four recent works on memory's importance for self-interpretation, social criticism, and public justice. My focus will be on normative questions about memory. The works under review ask whether, and on what terms, we have an obligation to remember, whether memory is linked to neighbors near and (...) distant, how memory is related to justice and forgiveness, and whether memory sits easily with the kind of relationships that allegedly characterize life in democratic public culture. (shrink)
This essay critically examines justificatory arguments on behalf of justice for nonmainstream groups, focusing on two demands. The first is for mainstream groups to provide recognition by "fusing horizons" with the oral traditions of nonmainstream groups. Fusing horizons requires members of mainstream cultures to be transformed by the study of the other and thus to avoid ethnocentric evaluations of others. This demand involves the problematic idea that mainstream cultural norms and traditions are a priori morally deficient to evaluate alternative cultural (...) norms. The second demand is to provide group-differentiated rights on terms that aim to protect disadvantaged minority cultures because they provide a horizon for autonomous choice, not because their customs make a presumptive claim for others' recognition. This demand may produce legal rights, but not recognition in a psychologically robust sense insofar as it secures rights on terms that are foreign to the comprehensive goods according to which minority cultures understand and esteem themselves. The aim of this paper is to distinguish between these two demands, explain each as resulting from different specifications of equality, and suggest how the need to balance recognition and rights might occur in political practical reasoning. (shrink)
Richard B. Miller aims to stimulate new work in religious ethics through discussions of ethnography, ethnocentrism, relativism, and moral criticism; the ethics of empathy; the meaning of moral responsibility in relation to children and friends; civic virtue, loyalty, war, and alterity; the normative and psychological dimensions of memory; and religion and democratic life.
Margaret Mohrmann, Paul Lauritzen, and Sumner Twiss raise questions about my account of basic interests, liberal theory, and the challenges of multiculturalism as developed in "Children, Ethics, and Modern Medicine." Their questions point to foundational issues regarding the justification and limitation of parental authority to make decisions on behalf of children in medical and other contexts. One of the central questions in that regard is whether adults' decisions deserve to be respected, especially when they seem contrary to a child's or (...) adolescent's basic interests. Questions about respect, in turn, focus attention on others' decisions about what seems good for families and children, decisions that may be paternalistic or utilitarian. Such decisions are further complicated by a child's or adolescent's budding autonomy and need for respect and recognition. Pediatric bioethics grounded in an account of a child's basic interests produces a theory of negative and positive rights for assessing adults' actions in relation to children, especially (but not only) when adults demand respect in their expressions of care. (shrink)
The procurement of fetal tissue for transplantation may promise great benefit to those suffering from various pathologies, e.g., neural disorders, diabetes, renal problems, and radiation sickness. However, debates about the use of fetal tissue have proceeded without much attention to ethical theory and application. Two broad moral questions are addressed here, the first formal, the second substantive: Is there a framework from other moral paradigms to assist in ethical debates about the transplantation of fetal tissue? Does the use of fetal (...) tissue entail cooperation in abortion? To answer these questions I develop a theoretical framework by combining the paradigm of just-war reasoning with canons governing the use of cadaverous tissue. The kinds of safeguards provided by this paradigm allow fetal tissue to be procured without the taint of association with abortion. Central to solving the problem of cooperation is the distinction between intending and foreseeing a moral misdeed. Fetal researchers may foresee fetal death in elective abortions without intending such deaths to occur. Thus, even those who object unequivocally to elective abortion may condone the procurement of fetal tissue, if sufficient reason exists. Keywords: fetal tissue, casuistry, prima facie duties, just-war tenets, complicity CiteULike Connotea Del.icio.us What's this? (shrink)
This essay argues that the ethics of humanitarian intervention cannot be readily subsumed by the ethics of just war without due attention to matters of political and moral motivation. In the modern era, a just war draws directly from self-benefitting motives in wars of self-defense, or indirectly in wars that enforce international law or promote the global common good. Humanitarian interventions, in contrast, are intuitively admirable insofar as they are other-regarding. That difference poses a challenge to the casuistry of humanitarian (...) intervention because it makes it difficult to reason by analogy from the case of war to the case of humanitarian intervention. The author develops this point in dialogue with Michael Walzer, the U.S. Catholic bishops, and President Clinton. He concludes by showing how a casuistry of intervention is possible, developing a motivational rationale that draws on the Golden Rule. (shrink)
Analytically inclined philosphers of religion have commonly assumed that 1) “God” must be defined before arguments for or against his existence can be evaluated 2) the history of religious beliefs is irrelevant to their justification. In this paper I apply the causal theory of reference to “God” and challenge both assumptions. If, as Freud supposes, “God” originates in the delusions of the mentally ill then it does not refer. On the other hand, if “God” originates in encounters with some Entity, (...) no matter how vaguely conceived, then That is God. (shrink)
Recent critics have called attention to the alienation of contemporary academics from broad currents of intellectual activity in public culture. The general complaint is that intellectuals are finding a professional home in institutions of higher learning, insulated from the concerns and interests of a wider reading audience. The demands of professional expertise do not encourage academics to work as public intellectuals or to take up social, literary, or political matters in imaginative and perspicuous ways. More problematic is the relative absence (...) of religion in the writings of those who aspire to work as public intellectuals. This essay reviews recent attempts by William Dean, Cornel West, Jean Bethke Elshtain, Stephen Carter, and Robin Lovin to remedy the problem of academic alienation and to address the place(s) of religion in American life. (shrink)
This article assays Paul Ramsey's influential attempt to conceive possible nuclear deterrents within the confines of just war tenets. I look first at Ramsey's construction of just war ideas according to a protection paradigm, one in which agape is deontically defined. I also note a subtle sub-theme in Ramsey's construction of just war ideas, what I call a preservation motif. I then assess Ramsey's discussion of nuclear deterrence, closing with a critique of his treatments of intention and proportionality. I conclude (...) by arguing that Ramsey's argument falters, and that the weaknesses of his argument can be rendered intelligible by noting how the full implications of the protection paradigm are attenuated by the preservation motif. (shrink)