Philosophy & Theology

Faith & Reason Newsletter, December 2011

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The Texas Lutheran University Theology & Philosophy Newsletter December 2011 • Volume 15 Issue 1 Philosophy Summer Faculty- Student Research Project Kyle Zunker, senior Philosophy, English, and Spanish major Our summer research entitled "My Brother's Keeper" explored the following question: do we have a positive moral duty to help those suffering from poverty, or is doing so charity and as such optional? With the guidance of Dr. Davidson, we each recorded over 130 hours of reading and writing about various ethical theories and their pertinence to the issue. Our efforts resulted in four individual essays, each around 10,000 words. One of the most fundamental philosophical issues related to our topic involved whether or not people have positive moral duties. Nearly everyone agrees that we have some negative moral duties which require us to refrain from certain actions (e.g., one should not kill an innocent person), but there is a significant amount of disagreement as to whether we have positive moral duties, or ethical obligations (e.g., one should help others). The importance and relevance of the issue becomes apparent when we consider Peter Singer's Basic Argument. First premise: Suffering and death from lack of food, shelter, and medical care are bad. Second premise: If it is in your power to prevent something bad from happening, without sacrificing anything nearly as important, it is wrong not to do so. Third premise: By donating to aid agencies, you can prevent suffering and death from lack of food, shelter, and medical care, without sacrificing anything nearly as important. Conclusion: Therefore, if you do not choose to donate to aid agencies, you are doing something wrong. Singer, The Life You Can Save. New York: Random House, 2009. pp. 15-16 The first premise of the argument is a value statement about suffering and death, with which nearly everyone will agree. The third premise is a statement about practicality and efficiency that we can prove true by adequate research into aid agencies. Given that the argument is valid, the soundness of the argument depends on the second premise, which claims that we have a positive moral duty to help prevent suffering and death, as long as we can do so without sacrificing anything nearly as important. In order to determine whether something is right or wrong, we must appeal to an ethical theory, principle, or belief. It is at this point that much of the ethical debate over donations to aid agencies occurs. An example that shows what your money can do to help the poor is helpful when considering premise two and premise three. Consider the fact that it costs approximately $50 to restore sight to an individual plagued by cataracts or other treatable eye problems (Singer, p. 100). Can you restore someone's vision without sacrificing anything nearly as important? And does the low cost for such a valuable outcome demand moral action? 2011 Theology and Philosophy Department Reunion Ian Nutting, junior Philosophy and Music major The Department of Theology, Philosophy, and Classical Languages at TLU continued its tradition of highlighting past and present faculty by featuring Prof. Harry Foster during the 2011 Homecoming Reunion. Prof. Foster shared excerpts of his life, including his twenty-three years in the U.S. Army, his service as a pastor, his passion for Biblical Archaeology, and finally how much he enjoys teaching the complexities of the Old Testament here at TLU. After honoring Prof. Foster, presentations were given by two current TLU students, Kyle Zunker, a senior Philosophy/English/ Spanish triple major, and Ian Nutting, a junior Philosophy/Music double major, of the philosophy research they conducted during the past summer. Their research involved looking into several moral theories while considering whether it is an obligation to give to charities, or if giving to charities is just something that is admirable. Kyle presented his paper first, covering Peter Singer's Basic Argument for giving and defending a utilitarian approach to the problem from libertarian objections, including that of the "Experience Machine" raised by Robert Nozick. Ian presented second, covering the application of John Rawls' theory of justice to the problem while raising objections to the legitimacy of Rawls finding "justice as fairness" via the veil of ignorance. All in all, the 2011 Theology/Philosophy reunion did exactly what any reunion should do. It reunited the past with the present and allowed us all to consider what may lie in the future.

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