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Emergentist Approach to Ethics - Part 1

Ice crystal represents the Moral Development theory of Emergentism, Emergence, and Ethics
Ice Crystal Fractal

Summary: In this paper, I advocate for a renewed emphasis on individual moral education to address large-scale ethical dilemmas.

Approach: The approach described will assist the reader to understand the relationship of micro-level moral education to macro-level ethical outcomes. Advocates for the moral education of individuals.

Design/methodology: I begin by claiming that ethical problems increase exponentially with scale, and then provides examples of ethical decision-making approaches. The complex nature of ethical thought is compounded as the perspective shifts from the individual, to the organizational, to the societal levels.

Findings: There is a marked tendency for people to try to solve ethical dilemmas at larger and larger scales of organization without first addressing the complexity of moral reasoning encountered at the level of the individual.

Practical implications: Christian leaders must understand and embrace the importance of moral education at the individual level, and work to achieve this at the micro level with full confidence that better ethical outcomes at the macro level will follow.

Originality/value: Advocating for moral education at the individual level changes places emphasis on the Christian telos of transforming the heart through a relationship with the living God, and treats improved ethical outcomes for society as a natural byproduct.

An Emergentist Perspective of Ethics

Nineteenth-century American colleges considered moral education to be integral to their mission, but by the 1930’s the intellectual landscape had changed significantly (Henry & Beaty, 2007) with modern science ascending to the intellectual and cultural stature previously occupied by theology and philosophy. The ability to perceive and wrestle with the complexities of ethical dilemmas is one of the striking characteristics that set humanity apart from the other creatures of the earth, and each individual person will inevitably engage in endless moral struggles and challenges. As perspective moves from the level of the individual to the level of society, it becomes clear that ethical problems increase exponentially with the number of people involved. Despite this, few of the many approaches to ethical decision making are taught to students, and as a consequence, we experience national and global failures of ethics with catastrophic consequences.

Christianity offers an integrated approach to ethical decision making that encompasses behavior-based as well as virtue-based ethics, it takes into account both moral intuition and moral reasoning and provides a mechanism for improving the ethical outcomes at the individual, organizational and societal levels. The focus of Cristian attention is on the individual human heart that transforms human behavior into Christian leadership as actions flow naturally from the heart of an individual who has been transformed through a relationship with the living God. When the nation or even the world is plunged into the maelstrom of ethical or moral crisis, the appropriate response is not to react with national or global scale policy aimed at achieving more ethical outcomes; it is to focus instead with new intensity on the formation and development of the individual human heart.


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