From Plato’s “The Republic:”


Consider a group of prisoners chained in a cave. Behind them, a bright fire flickers. Between the prisoners and the light of the fire, figures come and go, carrying cut-outs of trees and animals and hills. The prisoners, bound so that they face the back wall of their prison, can only see the moving shadows. For them, the shadows are reality.


If one of the prisoners was set free, he could turn and see the fire. At first it would be too bright for him to look at it. But when his eyes grew used to the glow, he would walk beyond it to the mouth of the cave. There he would see the sunlight, and again the brightness would blind him. But eventually he would see the real trees and animals and hills --- reality. When he returned to the cave and tried to tell the others what he had seen, they would not believe him.


Paraphrased from 'The Universal History of the World, volume 2: Ancient Greece', page 158, by James L. Steffensen, Golden Press, 1966.


All we humans have are our five senses. All we apprehend of reality (material reality) must come from one or more of those senses. We never apprehend the “thing in itself,” only what our senses report to us.



Ethics – deliberately thinking through one’s decisions

-- the art of reasoning about morality.

-- A reflective exercise on a moral rule

–         Note – conviction is the luxury of one who sits on the sidelines


The structure:                       Worldview – where you are

                                                Religion – non negotiable

                                                Ethics – foundations of a decision

                                                Morality – what rule applies?

                                                Decision – selection of course of action or inaction


Three ethical paths to a decision:                    Deontological – rules and obligations based. Look up the rule. Do it

                                                                                Consequentialist – goal and consequences based. Think about it.

                                                                                Character – virtue based. Think hard about it.


All three often play a part in any major decision.


Ethical reasoning can be deductive. Example. Your child asks if he can go to a movie on Sunday.


Worldview – I am a Christian

Religion – As a Christian I take the scriptures seriously

Ethics – The 4th commandment is important

Morality – That commandment implies no movies on Sunday

Decision – Child forbidden to go to movies on Sunday


But usually, ethical reasoning is inductive. We decide and then seek a way to justify.


Ethical reasoning can be crassly consequentalist: Example: How much do I give to the church? Answer – As I give more I feel better. As I give more it hurts more. When the two curves cross, that’s the amount I give.


Situational ethics. No rule can possibly cover all situations. It is a morally bankrupt person who, at 3:00 AM, while driving a dying child to the hospital, fully complies with a traffic signal at a deserted intersection.


The Bible says, “don’t lie.” The Gestapo, at your door, asks if you have anyone in your basement. Your Jewish neighbors are hiding there. How do you respond? If you say “no,” you are lying. Is that a sin? Why, or why not?


How much shall I give to the church?


Deontological answer – 10%

Consequentialist question – what do they need?

Character question – who am I?