Christian Ethics Comparison

Christian Ethics

Three philosophers John Locke, Aristotle and James Gustafson derived ideologies concerning ethical decisions and actions. The approaches that these individuals employed to develop their ideas are different, yet they have irrefutable similarities. Considering backgrounds and arguments of these philosophers, this essay will compare and contrast their personalities as well as ideologies and discuss personal challenges with the provided conceptions.

John Locke

John Locke, an English philosopher, was born in Wrington, England in 1632, to a country lawyer of the Puritan descent. In 1647, Locke went to the best school, the Westminster School of London. In 1652, he enrolled in Christ Church, Oxford to get a B.A. degree. There the philosopher learned logic, metaphysics, and classical languages. Locke also worked as a senior student and later a lecturer in different faculties at the Christ Church. Moreover, he was a part of experimental physicians, along with Robert Boyle, and Robert Hooke among others. They conducted medical research to identify treatments through observation. While working with these physicians, he met Lord Ashley, who asked him to be his assistance. The acquaintance with Lord Ashley saw the beginning of his political career as the Secretary of the Board of Trade and Plantations and Secretary to the Lords Proprietors of the Carolinas (Floyd-Thomas & De La Torre, 2011). With his educational background in medicine and political involvement, he wrote about politics and its interaction with religion.


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Additionally, Locke produced the idea of social construct, where the government was socially constructed for wellbeing of the public. Hence, this hypothesis was a criticism of divine endorsement of authority upon the monarchs. Religion should be differentiated from the state since earthly judges cannot be trusted to decide in the claims of faith. The freedom of religion and conscience is essential to reduce community conflicts. People should have the freedom of conscience to hold different beliefs and follow that the one, which they deem, is the right one (Floyd-Thomas & De La Torre, 2011). Moreover, he argued that God endorsed human beings to have natural rights to life, and to property, for s long as the person could develop it. Therefore, it was justifiable to amass wealth at the expense of others until others were not fully utilizing it. Locke also added that reason should have been a part of religion to regulate its extremes.


Aristotle, a Greek philosopher, was born in 384 BC in Stagira to a physician father of the Macedonian descent. He went to Plato’s Academy, Athens in 361 BC, studied and taught there, until the Plato’s death. After demise of the latter, Aristotle left to Asia Minor and Lesbos, where he conducted biological and psychological researches (Floyd-Thomas & De La Torre, 2011). Later he was summoned by the Macedonian King Phillip II to educate his son Alexander the Great.

Aristotle maintained that ethics dictated that individuals acted to gain pleasure and reach paradise. Thus, such life was a combination of numerous actions and activities, which brought happiness and delight for the sake of people themselves and not for the reward they might obtain. Therefore, Aristotle employed anthropocentric reasoning in developing his ideas.

James Gustafson

James M. Gustafson was born in 1925 in Norway, Michigan. He acquired his first degree at Northwestern University; later the ethicist received a bachelor’s degree in divinity at the University of Chicago and a doctorate at Yale University.

Gustafson had a theocentric outlook on ethics. He denied the dogma and doctrine of human beings as the center of life, where God worked for their purpose. Instead, Gustafson argued that people’s experiences were just a part of God’s design of the Universe, where God, the world and individuals as moral agents had to make moral decisions (Floyd-Thomas & De La Torre, 2011). Utilizing the relativist approach Gustafson agreed that moral good was relative to a particular group at precise time. Hence, it was not a standard measure of good, applicable across groups, cultures and epochs as Objectivism implied. However, he disputed the idea that the relative good was stated by certain persons.

Similarities and Differences

There are discrete and conspicuous variations between the three philosophers. The very basic one comprises different times of existence, the approaches to moral ideas and backgrounds, which influenced their perspectives. Deriving inspiration from occurrences of their epochs and cultural contexts is a unifying factor. All of them relied heavily on their environments in the way they perceived ethics.

Living in time before Christian awareness, Aristotle asserted from a derivational point of view. His claims about religion and other topics had very little literature and opinions to be compared with and learnt from. Apart from the work of his teacher, Plato, whom he criticized and whose theories he developed, Aristotle made his argument basing on his analysis of history and human conduct. For example, at that time, citizens’ involvement in the court matters was extensive, and they were active participants of society. However, the public did not comprise all individuals in the community. Only the non-slave men and those without condemnation belonged to the group of citizens. Therefore, when Plato declared that people act for the good in life, his statement could be narrowed to mean for the good of the citizens, the lives, which had the right and authority to make moral and ethical decisions.

On the other hand, Locke lived within the period when the British monarch was challenged, and British colonization was in operation. His continuous presence in the world of politics, since his father was an assistant of a local MP, Alexander Popham, as well as his affairs with Lord Ashley influenced his perspective. In addition, the Puritan war of 1640 affected his outlook before adulthood contributed to his democratic views and world perception. As a physician interested in medicine, Locke employed empiricism to his scientific arguments and liberalism to his political and social conceptions. Locke’s active involvement in governance of the colonials and slave trade illuminated his mindset. Furthermore, Locke categorically opposed Aristotle’s ideologies and instead attempted to develop an alternative hypothesis to explain what Aristotle aspired to clarify earlier.

Unlike the other two, Gustafson, who coined philosophies in various topics, focused his ideologies on theological ethics only. Living in the nineteenth century, during the period of civilization and religion diversity accommodation, Gustafson approached ethics from a Protestants viewpoint, developing his ideas through theocentric attitude. Deriving inspiration from the Bible as a Christian, Gustafson argued his conception from the biblical, traditional and behavioral paradigms. He integrated the world, the aspects of faith and moral duty to prove his essence. Gustafson did not condemn Aristotle’s ideologies; rather, he refuted Objectivism, which advocated a common measure of ethical good and Subjectivism, which rendered the relative good as per the dictates of particular individuals. Thus, the sources of inspiration of these philosophers act as both differentiating and unifying factors.

Personal Challenges

Several challenges may be found with regard to some ideas of these philosophers. Firstly, Aristotle’s good is disputable and ambiguous. There is no common measure of it, which can apply to all ethical situations and decisions. Furthermore, good is relative, dependent on time and group, thus making it impossible to judge whether one acts for the sake of moral life or not. Secondly, Locke’s argument that God endorsed human beings the right to acquire and own property is problematic considering his involvement in the colonial business and slave trade. Eligibility to possess estate overlooks the means through which the latter was acquired, whether it was hurtful to the original owners. Furthermore, his involvement in the flesh traffic creates the impression that some human beings are also the property, which is possible to be owned. I find it unacceptable that he could consider British moral right to hurt others as an endorsement from God. Lastly, another challenge with Gustafson’s idea can be revealed since he seems to invoke reasoning in faith to the extreme. Religion and theology are the matters of faith, which do not accommodate reasoning to a great extent. Gustafson approached ethics from a theological perspective, yet he tried to employ reason to a great part of it. Religion and belief in God are claims beyond the proof of reason, and when Gustafson tried to merge the two, disconnection may be traced.

Conclusively, the three philosophers, who lived in different times in history, made attempts at illuminating the concepts of Christian ethics. Borrowing experiences and academics from his own background, each of them presented arguments that diverge and converge at some points. Aristotle considered it ethical when an individual acted for the purpose of happiness and pleasure the good might deliver. On the other hand, Locke viewed religious ethics as the one endorsed by God upon those deserving to possess natural rights to life and property. Finally, Gustafson claimed that ethics appeared when people acted for the relative good, ascertaining that they were in no common measure of good and that God’s creation of the Universe did not center on human beings only. Therefore, in regards to defining the assumptions, which prevail for the ethical assertion to function, each philosopher was right.  Due to critical evaluation some drawbacks were revealed in all the aforementioned conceptions; nevertheless, this does not mean that they were totally wrong.

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