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“Agathas” in September

I have been working through the major threads of a business ethics presentation which is coming up in about ten days. The good Lord knows I am not a business ethicist, let alone just an ethicist…but I did take an ethics course in 1979 and a few subsequent philosophy courses in jurisprudence (the philosophy of law) and social ethics (including issues like abortion and euthanasia).

So, back in the day, we studied formalism, utilitarianism, and particularism among other schools of thought. Formalism is basically what our legal system is based on. It presumes we can figure out what is universally good and true and apply it to all situations. So formalism ethics determines what is right and wrong for everyone all of the time. Now, we know that is a bit of a stretch; it might work generally for the legal community, but for business, the “black-and-white” absolutes are sometimes a little more gray.

Utilitarianismis based on the premise that the end justifies the means, or the most good for the most people most of the time. Sometimes, this makes good sense; sometimes, it doesn’t.

And then there is moral particularism which contends that moral judgement depends on the “particulars” of the circumstance. There are no absolute moral principles that apply to all situations, and the moral person is not defined by principles.

I attended a different church today, and the message was about agathas, which is Greek for goodness. I am still compiling and trying to synthesize the different elements to this message, particularly as it pertains to defining goodness. Nonetheless, it was pretty clear thata major theme of today’s message was that God is pretty keen on agathas (goodness). He VALUES it tremendously. It is the 6th fruit of the spirit in Galations 5, and in the 23rd Psalms: “surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all of the days of my life.” In Titus 2, it is listed as one of the 12 characteristics of a Godly woman. And, in Matthew 25, the master said to the servant who invested the two talents: ‘…well done, good and faithful servant”.

Those of us of the Christian faith love moral principles (and some of us really like to tell the world all about them). There is a lot of comfort in absolute right and wrong. What struck me today is that while moral right — a proxy for agathas – is highly valued by God, it only counts if the motivation is also agathas.

While Christians might take great delight in being deontologists or formalists who love absolute moral principles, God says, “slow down, it all depends on the motivation of the agathas act”. That is, goodness must be packaged in particularism. That is, doing good only counts if it is done for God.
The principle may be the premise, but the process is the proof.

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