In the chapter titled “The Powers of Man” by Paul Lehmann, the juxtaposition of Christian ethics to humanism is placed to the forefront. As such, Lehmann explains how Christian ethics was suddenly confronted by a rival, humanism, being so attractive a model that it attracted many adherents. Lehmann writes: “Consequently, philosophical ethics has been confronted by a vigorous and persuasive critic and rival.” The question becomes: how to we believe in God when we want to believe in the fundamental powers and potential of man? That being said, Lehmann posits that moral relativism is still a possibility. In other words, no one needs trump one value for another. The scholar Weiss lays heavy emphasis on the fact that perfection in and of itself is the ultimate end-goal of any human being; on the contrary, it is better to think of the human being’s potential. “Perfection, moreover, is good not in the sense of being finished and complete but as an ideal which becomes perfected in the course of its being realized”.

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Lehmann goes on to quote from Fromm, who ardently believes that productivity is the element by which man may evaluate himself and his progress through time. Other scholars and philosophers disagree. Whereas Aristotle stresses virtue to be the ultimate end goal, Kant relies on the categorical imperative and its maxims that lead one to say “I ought, therefore I am.” Lehmann goes on to unite both Kant and Weiss’ understanding of man’s freedom in relation to Christianity. As such, Lehmann comes to a series of important questions: what forces man to make ethical judgments? To what extent can we blame or applaud man for his decisions, be they good or bad? Weiss formulates what he calls the “primary ethical principle”, by which he means that every human should live by the maxim “I can, therefore I ought.” In bearing this in mind, man is responsible, and alone responsible, for what decisions he comes to. Lehmann articulates a historical arc that establishes to what extent the problem of evil has troubled religious scholars who grappled with the concept of human freedom. These questions launch Lehmann into another debate: to what extent should humans nourish one’s self-love versus love of one’s neighbour? These and many more questions are vital ones which Lehmann comes to address.

  • Lehmann, Paul. Ethics in a Christian Context. KY: Westminster John Knox, 2006.