This is a guest essay from Jason Smith. He holds a Ph.D. in theology from Vanderbilt University and, by his own admission, writes about sports, theology and philosophy on the internet sometimes. He teaches at Tougaloo College in Jackson, Mississippi.
Making moral decisions requires knowledge.
This might sound counter-intuitive at first. After all, isn’t living ethically more about doing the right thing — about carrying out a certain series of actions — rather than just knowing stuff? That instinct can seem right, but put it under even mild scrutiny and the appeal of it almost instantly disappears.
Let’s channel Chidi Anagonye from The Good Place for a moment.
If you subscribe to Deontology as a moral philosophy, this requires that you deduce ethical maxims that apply to all persons in all situations. In other words, there are moral rules that apply to everybody all the time, but the universe requires you to use your reason to figure them out—to deduce them. Sure, you have to follow those maxims, to do them, but first they have to be deduced. You have to go through a process of discernment and arrive at knowledge of the universal rules and, after that, you’re good to go. But the deducing comes first.