Remember, we’re doing summaries of summaries here; only bare sketches are possible. Buy his book for more detail.
Question VIII is Applied Ethics. Time to get dirty!
Article 1: Whether there is a moral obligation to worship God?
Yes. Yet the Qur’an teaches “there must be no compulsion in matter of religion”, plus not everybody knows or believes God exists.
And what about those folks not exposed to religion? St Paul says that knowledge of God is “clearly perceived in the things that have been made.” Paul “does not argue that [pagans] were wicked because they did not know the truth but that they did not know the truth because they were wicked: ‘who by their wickedness suppress the truth.’…And St. John also diagnoses evil as the cause of ignorance rather than ignorance as the cause of evil…This obligation [to worship God] is known by nature, and binds.”
Obligation is not the same as compulsion. Moral obligation itself does not work by compulsion but by free conscience, as the Qur’anic quotation says. Enforcing a moral obligation by public and civil sanctions does add compulsion, and this is an argument for the separation of church and state, contrary to what Muslims practice, but it is not an argument for a denial of the moral obligation itself to worship God.
Article 2: Whether it is immoral to worship idols?
Certainly; and this includes the Mighty Dollar, you “consumer” you.
If God is the infinitely perfect Creator, then this…excludes the worship of any finite creature whatsoever, including abstract causes, ideas, or ideals, as well as concrete things and people, whether others or oneself—or one’s pleasure, wealth, health, honor, comfort, intelligence, freedom, or virtue.
Article 3: Whether leisure is as necessary for man as work?
Yes, so go home. Kreeft reminds, “Higher civilizations appeared only among those peoples who cultivated leisure.” David Stove (yes, another plug) often said the only path to learning is quiet and leisure. So remove the thinking suppression device from your skull, switch off the IQ-lowering box, and take a walk to no place in particular. Maybe even read a book. Make it a real one because if it’s connected to the internet or on a computer you will invariably be distracted.
Article 4: Whether family and ancestors must be revered?
Of course! Such a question would not have seemed necessary, say forty years ago, since the answer was blindingly obvious. Now we don’t see as well.
[H]onor to family and ancestors is morally obligatory because it is a debt of justice. In fact the debt of justice owed to one’s parents and ancestors cannot possibly be adequately repaid, for our parents transmitted to us human life itself…and our ancestors invented almost all the good things, physical and spiritual, that we inherit by entering the world they civilized.
Part of reverence is respect for tradition. Chesterton:
Tradition means giving a vote to most obscure of all classes, our ancestors. It is the democracy of the dead. Tradition refuses to submit to the small and arrogant oligarchy of those who merely happen to be walking about. All democrats object to men being disqualified by the accident of birth; tradition objects to their being disqualified by the accident of death. Democracy tells us not to neglect a good man’s opinion, even if he is our groom; tradition asks us not to neglect a good man’s opinion, even if he is our father.
Article 5: Whether private property is a natural right?
[S]tealing another’s private property would not be wrong by nature if the possession of private property was not a right.
Also, “the original version of the American Declaration of Independence spoke of three nature, ‘inalienable’ rights: life, liberty and property (which was changed to ‘the pursuit of happiness’ for rhetorical purposes).”
Article 6: Whether it is ever right to kill?
Yes, especially for dinner.
The use of lethal force when necessary to protect innocent human life does not claim the authority to remove the natural right to life, but responds to the fact that the attacker has already done so…
The Hebrew word misleadingly translated “kill” means not all forcible taking of human life, but only murder. In fact, though private vengeance was outlawed, the right of capital punishment was instituted, by the same Authority that have this commandment.
There are many worried what will happen to the culture if the state refuses its duty to punish capital crime.
Article 7: Whether it is ever right to lie?
No, not really. But what about lying to the murderer about where his victim is hiding? Or to the government who is after your neighbor for a thought crime? Or to your wife (if we’re still allowed to use that word) when she asks about the possibility of excess poundage?
Lying breaks trust, “which is obviously a great evil.” What is a lie? “[T]he deliberate contradiction between what one knows or believes and what one says to one who has a right to know the truth.” Note carefully the last condition. Also know that there “is no universal right to know the truth about everything, even if tyrants, the paparazzi, and the media may assume they have such a right.”
Lying is bearing false witness; but not all speakers are in the position of giving witness, for a witness swears to tell “the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.”
Telling the murderer an untruth is not lying, nor is refusing to rat out your neighbor, and everybody knows “Am I too fat” always means “Do you still love me?” “[D]eliberately deceiving those who have no right to know is not lying.”
St Thomas agrees with St Augustine that one may “prudently conceal the truth by some dissimulation” in certain situations. Like if your wife really wants to know about her pants size.
Article 8: Whether sex is sacred and not to be adulterated?
Yes. The commonest objection is that before the sexual “revolution”—a state of internal war with bitter fighting and gruesome casualties—“when sex was seen as a sacred taboo, mankind lived in fear and superstition about sex.” We are now “liberated” and even schools should and “must” teach (by example) kiddies porn is good.
Yet isn’t it curious that every culture except the modern West’s have approached sex and death (its natural pairing) “with awe and reverence, surrounded them with taboos, proprieties, ceremonies, and laws, and taken great care not to adulterate them.” Now “the sacredness of sex can be deduced from two premises: the sacredness of each individual person and the fact that sex is his origin.” To call sex “sacred is not to deny its ‘secular’ status in reason and nature.”
The casualties of the sexual revolution? Glad you asked: “divorce, and the dead victims of backup birth control, or abortion.” Children born in wedlock. Now marriage and the family. Soon civilization.
Article 9: Whether lust is evil?
Yes. On the other hand, “Condemning lust causes fear, guilt, a low self-image, and a lack of self-esteem, and these are evils. Therefore it is the condemnation of lust, rather than lust itself, that is evil.” Oh! Don’t hurt anybody’s feelings, you brute!
Lust treats people as objects, as ends to your personal means. The ends do not justify the means.
Lust is disordered because it is selfish. It is selfish because instead of loving the other as such, for his or her own sake, it loves the experience of sexual pleasure in oneself…The commonest opposite and enemy of love is not hate but use.
Is lust “natural”? Depends on what you mean by “natural”. If it’s “behavior that is observed” then lust is natural, but then so is murder and theft. If instead it’s “behavior that complies with a man’s essence” then it is not natural and is a perversion.
Article 10: Whether greed is evil?
Yes, Ayn, it is.
Recall Marley’s lament—and warning:
‘Business!’ cried the Ghost, wringing its hands again. ‘Mankind was my business. The common welfare was my business; charity, mercy, forbearance, and benevolence, were, all, my business. The dealings of my trade were but a drop of water in the comprehensive ocean of my business!’
Greed is selfishness, as is lust. Yet some see greed, masked by the sometime euphemism “profit motive”, is good and that it “stimulates” the economy. But this does not prove that greed is good, “but that the world economy is bad because it is dependent on something bad, viz. on disordered human desires not on genuine human needs.” Plus this little tidbit:
“Richer” does not entail “happier.” Suicide, the most obvious index of happiness, is found much more among the rich than among the poor.
And so is institutionalized lust, abortion, divorce, etc.