Monday, September 3, 2012

Generic Ethics

It's been several years since I started seeing ads about "ethical investing."

In the ones I saw, "ethical" seemed to mean not investing in companies involved in tobacco products, alcohol, or gambling: and giving money to folks who recycled. I'm oversimplifying, of course.

"Ethical investing" looked like a well-intentioned effort - or maybe a marketing gimmick playing off old-school 'American values' on the one hand, and the 'green' sensibilities of post-60s America.

Beer, Bingo, and Environmental Awareness

The Catholic Church says that abusing alcohol, tobacco, or other substances is a bad idea: and that we shouldn't do it. (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2290)

We're also told that a passion for gambling can lead to big trouble. (Catechism, 2413) But the Church doesn't insist that we shrink in horror from Demon Rum - and Catholic organizations in America, like Knights of Columbus, are notorious for running Bingo games.

The Church forbids the "disordered use" of any creature, and insists that we take good care of this world. (Catechism, 339, 373, 2415) If that's 'not what you read in the papers,' I'm not surprised: and that's another topic. Topics. (April 17, 2012, April 3, 2012)

It looks to me like investing in something like (pre-1989) Christian Brothers' distillery might not be a problem; and I'm not troubled about working a shift at the local Knights of Columbus annual Bingo games.

"The Economy Needs Ethics"

"Caritas in Veritate" approves of ethical financing and investment funds.
"...These processes are praiseworthy and deserve much support. Their positive effects are also being felt in the less developed areas of the world...."
("Caritas in Veritate," 45)
This section starts out by saying that ethics are important, but that not any old ethics will do. 'There always seems to be a catch.'
"Striving to meet the deepest moral needs of the person also has important and beneficial repercussions at the level of economics. The economy needs ethics in order to function correctly - not any ethics whatsoever, but an ethics which is people-centred...."
("Caritas in Veritate," 45)
"People-centered?" I think this is what Benedict XVI meant:
"...It would be advisable, however, to develop a sound criterion of discernment, since the adjective 'ethical' can be abused. When the word is used generically, it can lend itself to any number of interpretations, even to the point where it includes decisions and choices contrary to justice and authentic human welfare.

"Much in fact depends on the underlying system of morality. On this subject the Church's social doctrine can make a specific contribution, since it is based on man's creation 'in the image of God' (Gen 1:27), a datum which gives rise to the inviolable dignity of the human person and the transcendent value of natural moral norms...."
("Caritas in Veritate," 45)
Since "morality" usually means "rules about sex" in my dialect of English, I generally use "ethics" to describe the "system of morality" Benedict XVI referred to. (June 3, 2011) Moving on.

Unethical 'Ethics'

When ethical theory moves away from the ideas that individual people are important, and that ethics is more than an arbitrary set of human rules, bad things happen. That's my opinion. And, much more to the point, that's what Benedict XVI said:
"...When business ethics prescinds from these two pillars, it inevitably risks losing its distinctive nature and it falls prey to forms of exploitation; more specifically, it risks becoming subservient to existing economic and financial systems rather than correcting their dysfunctional aspects. Among other things, it risks being used to justify the financing of projects that are in reality unethical...."
("Caritas in Veritate," 45)
What comes next is, I think, a very important point:
"...The word 'ethical', then, should not be used to make ideological distinctions, as if to suggest that initiatives not formally so designated would not be ethical...."
("Caritas in Veritate," 45)
Labels can be important: but 'what's inside' is what really counts. Simply calling a policy "ethical" doesn't make it so.

Ethical, not Political

Finally, about "ideological distinctions." In this context, ideology probably means political orientation: "an orientation that characterizes the thinking of a group or nation." (Princeton's WordNet) The Catholic Church isn't "political," although part of its job is to point out issues that involve politics.

I think some of the anger I've seen directed at the Church comes from frustration at this refusal to claim, or at least imply, that some particular party or nation 'owns' God. And that's yet another topic.

More posts about "Caritas in Veritate" (Charity in Truth)
"Caritas in Veritate"

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What's That Doing in a Nice Catholic Blog?

From time to time, a service that I use will display links to - odd - services and retailers.

I block a few of the more obvious dubious advertisers.

For example: psychic anything, numerology, mediums, and related practices are on the no-no list for Catholics. It has to do with the Church's stand on divination. I try to block those ads.

Sometime regrettable advertisements get through, anyway.

Bottom line? What that service displays reflects the local culture's norms, - not Catholic teaching.