Introduction

We seek to promote mature, thoughtful reflection on ethical matters and values, sacred and secular.  This site aspires to engage those outside the St. Olaf community, but its origin and maintenance lies principally in supporting the work at St Olaf College on Ethics in Normative Perspectives (or EIN). Due to St. Olaf College tradition and the interests of many faculty and students, special attention is given to strands of thought within Christian ethics.

The purpose of this site is global in ambition, hoping to appeal to any individuals interested in Ethics. We are motivated not only by our appreciation of non-Christian ethical positions, but also our belief that Christians committed to ethical reflection need to appreciate the value of other traditions. We encourage contributions that are specific to an ethical tradition (such as Christianity, Buddhism, and so on) as well as contributions that are comparative or secular in nature.

We are committed to the value and relevancy of ethics. A more extensive argument for the study of ethics may be found in our article “Why Study Ethics?” For now, we merely wish to convince the uncertain reader that ethical positions inform our lives at every level. We all ask questions relating to ethics in our daily lives such as: “Am I doing the right thing?” As with all ethical inquiries we may resolve through intuition, philosophy, theology or religion, or some combination of these.

At a social level, ethical stances can drive both the oppression and liberation of entire groups of people. Slavery was justified in the United States with a number of theological and philosophical arguments. The oppression of African-Americans has been driven not just by economic and political motivations, but also by flawed, poisonous conceptions of God’s will. Modern day oppression continues to be philosophically and theologically supported. For example, ethno-nationalism, like White Supremacy (and its attached bigotry and hatred), is brought about by a set of ethical propositions (involving the supposed value of one’s own race, nation-state, or otherwise). Liberation is also brought about through ethical reflection. Thinkers from Martin Luther King to Cornel West have harnessed theological ethics to combat social oppression. We hope to contribute to social justice, equality, and liberation through our discussions of ethics on this site.

Ethics also inform geopolitical matters like trade and warfare. For example, when the United States is involved in an armed conflict, the military determines “rules of engagement.” One part of these “rules of engagement” involves the assessment and valuation of civilian casualties. This process is somewhat opaque, but well attested to by declassified documents. In each conflict, the U.S. military determines how many civilian casualties are “acceptable” per high value target. Sometimes this number is zero, but often the military determines that a high value target might be worth anywhere between 5 and 30 innocent civilian lives. The U.S, carries out drone strikes knowing they will kill civilians, but justifying these deaths by the “value” of particular military targets. The process of determining this number of acceptable casualties is one of the most high-stakes applications of ethics imaginable. In this case, the ethical sensibilities of generals and Pentagon officials determine which innocent human beings live and die.

We seek to treat all of these issues and many more on this site. The interested reader would be well served to read our more thorough, formal guide on the Getting Started page. Following that, they may want to read “What Is Ethics?” and begin exploring our many other articles.

Thank you for reading. We hope you enjoy the site, and best of luck on your ethical endeavors.

-The Editors