Covenantal ethics is a living system for living systems. We humans are not simple, isolated individuals living stagnant, dead lives. Rather we are immersed in a complex system of living, glowing and developing interpersonal relationships with others. Philosophy in general and ethics in particular are often looked upon as dead or dormant entities. Covenantal ethics is neither. It is a living approach to the philosophy of ethics that recognizes the dynamic system in which we live. Our world recently welcomed a new millennium. We moved forward, leaving behind much of the old and eagerly anticipating what was to come. One of the many things which we left behind was the monopoly held by theistic religion over the world's tradition, philosophy and religion for the last one thousand years. Today the world is much bigger than Europe and North America. The church seems much smaller. For centuries the layman could turn for direction in moral decisions only to the church. In one sense, theism may now be socially antiquated. While it is true that the vast majority of Americans claim to believe in God, it is my observation that the dominant ethical force in our society is not the Church. From what I can tell, our society, by and large, has lost any direct connection between belief in God and normative ethical theory. In its wake, the Church left behind innumerable rivals competing for ethical force in our society. Human ideas like scientific advancement, political correctness, religious pluralism and philosophical relativism have replaced the Church with respect to swaying ethical opinion. However, even within this modern pluralistic society, there are still two dominant ethical forces. They are Kantianism and utilitarianism. Tradition mandates that a respectable ethicist choose between these two schools of thought. And what about the religious ethicist? Must he or she attempt to do ethics only within the confines of existing ethical models? I propose to construct an ethical system that is distinct from Kantian, utilitarian and pluralistic models. I suggest that this system will be a tenable option for the Christian and the non-Christian, for the ethicist and the non-ethicist alike. Furthermore, I propose that this system is internally consistent and that it is useful in the field of medical ethics. I propose to construct this system around the notion of "covenant." In this system, we would not be bogged down with many of the philosophical problems that are unavoidable with Kantian, utilitarian or pluralistic rhetoric. Rather, we would be able to discern the right course of action in our lives after we first properly examined the covenantal relationships into which we have entered. For those of us who acknowledge a relationship with God, our primary covenant is with Him. As a couple of contemporary ethicists note, "The experience of one's own life as a gift from God becomes an inherent element of one's attitude toward all interventions in life (Pellegrino and Thomasma 1997, 40)." In a hypothetical decision, the outcome of which would not affect any other person or thing, this covenant alone is sufficient to discern right from wrong and better from best. In most cases, however, other covenantal relationships need to be evaluated. For instance, as a physician, I may have entered into a covenant with a patient, or as a husband entered a covenant with my wife. How can I, in these particular circumstances, honor this covenant with my patient, or that with my wife, in such a way that I also honor my covenant with God? I propose to begin by arguing that there is a problem with the current discussions of medical ethics and to explain why this problem exists. I will then suggest my proposal concerning covenantal ethics and explain the origins of this idea. Subsequently, I will describe it in greater detail, comparing and contrasting it with other existing ethical systems. I will next describe how covenantal ethics may be used in general. I will close by showing that this system truly will impact real decisions in medical ethics. The question of abortion will provide me with a test case. Throughout this project, I propose to allow historic and current criticism from theology, philosophy and society to raise questions and problems for covenantal ethics. In the end, covenantal ethics will not only survive the challenge, but will grow more vigorous because of it.
Biomedical and Clinical Ethics
Master of Arts (MA)
Year Degree Awarded
Date (Title Page)
Library of Congress/MESH Subject Headings
Covenant Theology; death - Moral and Ethical Aspects; Right to Die - Religious Aspects
Loma Linda University Libraries
This title appears here courtesy of the author, who has granted Loma Linda University a limited, non-exclusive right to make this publication available to the public. The author retains all other copyrights.
Viel, Matthew D., "Covenantal Ethics: A Living System for Living Systems" (2001). Loma Linda University Electronic Theses, Dissertations & Projects. 451.
Loma Linda University Electronic Theses and Dissertations
Loma Linda University. Del E. Webb Memorial Library. University Archives