For as long as human beings have thought about how to live, they have recognized some ways of life as preferable to others. Of course a comfortable life is preferable to a miserable life, but as Socrates saw, a community dedicated only to comfort, a life organized only around what ‘technology’ could provide, would result in a life worthy of pigs. But who could be satisfied with that? We want more than mere safety and comfort. We want to live not only a good life but the best life possible. What might that be and how can we achieve it?
The philosophic attempt to answer such questions resulted in a field of study called ethics. Aristotle says that the term ‘good’ has as many meanings as the word ‘is.’ Many have concluded that although we can prefer some ways of life over others, we cannot know that some ways of life are good under all circumstances and ought to be pursued, even when the cost is high. Is this true? Is there a ‘best’ way of life?
We will examine the Greek, medieval, and modern contributions to ethics and how the Catholic Church adopted and incorporated the best of these traditions. Topics to be discussed include: good and evil, rightness and wrongness in human action, moral freedom, responsibility, conscience, virtue, natural law, natural rights, human nature, human dignity, human fulfillment, and the family.
Today, virtually every aspect of the Catholic Church’s moral tradition has been criticized or rejected. We will look at some of those criticisms and the Church’s response. We will conclude with a discussion of the relation between philosophic ethics and moral theology.