Session 2 - Values-Based Ethical Philosophies
In this week’s session, we are going to examine values-based ethical systems. It seems popular these days to
hold to the idea that morality is relative, dependent on the person making the decisions and the society in
which that person lives. To suggest that there are universal absolutes is often seen as naïve at best and
morally imperialistic at worst. However, I suggest that if you ask someone if it is ever appropriate to
discriminate based on race or gender, to commit rape or murder, you will find that some issues are pretty
universal. In fact, most people will also get upset if they learn they have been lied to or deceived. For these
reasons, I suggest that, as we begin considering various frameworks for making ethical decisions, we should
start with an appreciation of values-based approaches. Business decisions can get very complicated. A
foundation of strong moral values, then, is very important.
Absolutism is seen, perhaps, as the most rigid approach to ethics, especially to those who are not Christians.
However, for believers it is the most important approach. When one holds fast to certain laws and moral
beliefs, regardless of the situation or outcome, we say he or she is taking an absolutist approach. Christians
tie their absolute approach to ethics to their belief in the sovereignty of God, the instruction He gives us in
the Bible, and the prompting of the Holy Spirit at work within us. The apostle Paul also tells us that we can
see evidence of God’s absolute truth in nature all around us. We observe that when people tell lies, commit
murder, or in other ways break God’s laws, negative consequences occur within the created order. By this
observation, we can know that God’s ways are best.
Even so, Christians disagree in the explanation of this approach and its implications. We will look at three
variations of absolutism. Before we go into these differences, though, let me make a personal observation
about absolutism (and I am talking to my fellow believers here, not those who are of another faith, or no faith
at all). I am troubled by our individualistic, Rambo-like faith which puts us in judgment of the world, almost
like a spiritual vigilante. Certainly, we are to be in the world but not of it. We are to love the things of God
and not of the world, just as Scripture tells us. But it is God's job to judge the world, not ours. I wish I could
say that I never break any of God's absolutes, but I am a fallen man, a sinner so dependent on and thankful
for the forgiveness that comes from God. I cannot expect a fallen world to do a better job of following God's
absolutes than I do. I cannot expect those who do not know God to even believe that absolutes exist. So,
rather than berate them and force the 10 Commandments on them, my desire is to show them a living
example of how God's absolutes make sense lived out in the public arena. Let's pray for each other, that we
will live obedient lives of faith and grace that point others to the goodness of God.
Now, on to the three views of absolutism. The first main difference is in the question, "Can absolutes conflict