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On Law and Justice

If you were to find yourself in court accused of performing an action that you think is morally permissible--good, even--but against which there is a law, how would you react? Most likely, even if everyone in the room thought otherwise, you would think an injustice was being carried out.

Imagine being led from the courtroom to undergo lashing, imprisonment, or even death when in your mind you had done nothing wrong. I'm sure most people's stomachs would be in a knot. You'd be angry and incensed for good reason. The reason, I suggest, is that legal codes of particular governing authorities are beholden to a higher law.

Now, perhaps you are wrong. Either there is no higher law or you are wrong about what it would say. If there is no higher law, then that feeling of injustice is merely a feeling and nothing more. In which case, justice just is whatever the court decides. If, on the other hand, there is a higher law, but you are wrong about what it would say, then you have a d…
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Why Christians Use the Bible in Moral Arguments

What is the point of citing Bible verses when making moral arguments? Since not everyone believes the Bible to be true or authoritative, surely we need to make arguments based on something else, something we have in common. But Christians use the Bible all the time. Why?

To get to an answer, one has to consider a range of issues in ethics. Once one has reasoned through these questions, it becomes clear why many Christians find that the Bible has an essential role to play in most moral reasoning. Thus, when engaging in moral debate, we often use the Bible.

The first relevant issue is whether moral statements are translatable into factual statements. For example, can one translate "it is wrong to murder" into a factual statement? Some suggest that this is not possible, that concepts such as 'good' and 'wrong' are not analyzable in terms of anything else. Christians, however, are likely to say that "it is wrong to murder" can be translated into the fact…

On Moral Relativism

Cultural Relativism is the view that “Normality…is culturally defined” (Ruth Benedict). More precisely, cultural relativists hold to MR:

(MR) There is no moral principle which necessarily applies to everyone, everywhere, and at every time
For the cultural relativist, the source of moral principles is the conventions given by a group of people who make up a culture. The argument for such a view is:

(1) What is normative is culturally determined
(2) What is moral is normative
(3) Therefore, what is moral is culturally defined

Why might one hold to such a view? First, one might think the following is true: "Beliefs about what is right and wrong vary from culture to culture." Since we have no way to tell which culture is correct (ours or theirs), the following is also true: "What is really right and wrong varies from culture to culture." Second, one might think that if someone says that morals are not relative, then they must be intolerant, ethnocentric or a bigot. Third, …

Hard Work Does Not Always Pay

Though it is generally true that those who work hard will earn a living, the sweat of your brow has no necessary connection with the contents of your wallet. The valueof your labor does not determine its price. What determines the price of something is the amount someone is willing to pay for it. Nor is there are moral connection - without a voluntary agreement to pay for someone's labor, work itself does not obligate anyone to pay for it.

Language Use and the Existence of God

Natural human language-use entails moral obligations, specifically objective obligations between persons. All of these obligations are routinely broken (see Twitter). 
These obligations are both objective and social. They depend on being objective and not merely an expression of a particular preference or culture. They also depend on the existence of a social context composed of more than one person. 
As Nicholas Wolterstorff claims, “speaking is, through and through, a normative engagement.” Wolterstorff suggests three norms and provides examples: (i) speech should be related rightly to the mental state of the speaker. If the speaker asserts something he ought to believe it. If the speaker promises something, he ought to intend to fulfill the promise. If the speaker requests something, he ought to want it. (ii) speech should be rightly related to the facts. A speaker ought not to assert what is false or proclaim someone guilty who is innocent. (iii) speech should be rightly related to…

On Desire

Dissatisfaction is a mental state induced by not getting what one wants. Desire is also a root of evil. As James puts it, "each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death" (James 1:14-15).

There are at least two proposals on the cultural table for dealing with desires. Neither way works.

The first way is to attempt to remove desires from the inside. This is the way of 'enlightenment' - coming to believe a new truth - there are no such things as desires. They appear real, but they are not.

Desires are native to persons. We have them and there's no way to rid ourselves of them. Thus, some teach that there are really no persons. If there are no persons, then there is nothing to have a desire. To realize such a truth is to be enlightened.

According to the second way, though we cannot remove desire from the inside, we can severely limit them f…