Benedictine Values as Compared to Ethics Principles
Many different sets of ethics are used throughout the world and within different organizations, but there are a few foundational principles upon which most of those are based. Early in the Christian era St. Benedict (480-547 AD) wrote a collection of values that people should live by. There were a great number of these, but the University of Mary selected six of these that apply most specifically to the students who matriculate there -- community, hospitality, moderation, prayer, respect for persons, and service (University of St. Mary, 2011). Besides these moral edicts from the church are some basic principles by which most systems are built today. They include the four foundational principles of ethics and the two divisions of virtue ethics. The purpose of this paper is to outline all of these concepts, then to compare and contrast the Benedictine values to the ethical principles and the sets of virtue ethics.
When St. Benedict wrote his "Rules" they were the values that he had found in both reading the Bible and conversing with God through prayer. In the centuries since he wrote the text, the Catholic Church (specifically) and many other organizations have used them, or part of the text, to design systems of ethics by which people can live. The principles within these values are centered on Christ and the church, but they have significant application to secular society also. The value of these rules to any person or organization is that they outline a method of conducting oneself that looks first to the needs of others before thinking of personal needs.
Most ethical codes are based on a very few principles that have been molded to the particular organization or purpose. However, most of these ethical programs are based on four basic premises which encompass the entirety of the code. These can be seen as respect, competence, responsibility, and integrity. Respect is concerned with how one person treats another. It is about valuing the individual and affording them the dignity that each person is entitled to. The second principle is termed as either labor or competence. It is the responsibility of every person to take pride in their work and to maintain a level of competence in all that they do. Responsibility is the next principle and it is one of the virtues that ties the others together. This value states that every person is individually accountable for their own actions. Finally, there is integrity. As an ethical principle, this may be the most important in that it is the foundation a person builds their ethical stance on. It has to do with honesty, accuracy, clarity and fairness (BPS, 2009).
The reason that this particular branch of ethics must be included is because it goes beyond the simple ethical principles. Virtue can be described as "moral character" (Stanford University, 2007), but there is also a sense of duty in a virtuous response. From a parable in the Bible, virtue is embodied in the "Good Samaritan." This individual demonstrated both moral character showing compassion on a fellow traveler who had been accosted by thieves (which the other people depicted in the parable would not do), and duty to a fellow human being when he took the battered man to a hostel where he could receive aid and the Samaritan paid for the lodging and the care. This dipartite view of virtue is what many systems of virtue ethics is founded on.
Comparison and Contrast
These three systems of edicts are very similar in many respects because they have similar goals. The Benedictine values (also called the Benedictine Rules) are set up as a foundation upon which a person can build a life, or an organization can develop an ethical stance. The principles of ethics can be used by individuals also, but they seem to be more geared for how that individual will conduct themselves within a greater organization rather than how they will conduct their entire life. Virtue ethics is very rudimentary in that it describes the essence of the individual. The other two sets of principles and rules are guidelines to follow, but virtue is how innate qualities have been developed through environmental experiences to produce a person who either acts moral or does not. Basically, the Benedictine values and the ethical principles seem to be designed to regulate the actions of any person regardless of what type of individual that person actually is. However, virtue speaks more of who the individual is than a system devised to tell the person how to behave.
The Benedictine values used by the University of St. Mary as a part of its mission are designed to encompass all possible angles of thought and action that can be brought under control. To properly compare these values with the other two systems, they will be secularized. The university asks that its faculty and students "strive together for the common good and grow…together" (University of St. Mary, 2011). This is the value of community that they wish to establish. The individual is to strive to build relationships with others while they are themselves growing. In this process, the individual is to act with hospitality (warmth and attentiveness (University of St. Mary, 2011) to all people. Acting hospitably will encourage growth of relationships. The person is next tasked with living a moderate life. This means that in everything the individual does they try to live as simply as possible. The next value that Benedict shared with his followers was prayer. This is actual communing with God and divining what is right for one's life according to His purposes. People are imperfect and the next value determines that this should not be an impediment to virtuous living. Everyone is to respect other people's virtues and flaws (University of St. Mary, 2011). Finally, the preeminent act of an individual is service to others. The university says that all adherents are "to meet the needs of others" (University of St. Mary, 2011).
Taking these six values separately, it is easy to see how well they correlate to the principles of ethics and the sets of virtues. The four ethical principles can be easily aligned with certain of the values. Both list respect, or respect for persons, as a cornerstone in their philosophies. Respect is to be offered to each other individual, not based on the way the individual acts, but based on the fact that they are a person. Competence is not something that is specifically listed in the Benedictine values presented, but it can be pieced from several of the different values such as service, hospitality and community. service, hospitality and community. Responsibility in the ethical principles is based on how a person conducts themselves toward others in their professional lives. For example, the first edict of medical professionals is to do no harm to their patients. In the Benedictine values this can be seen in the concept of moderation. The final ethical principle is integrity which is similar to the value of community as it is described by the university. Community has to do with how a person treats themselves as well as how they deal with others.
The virtues a person possesses align more perfectly with some of the Benedictine values. However, it is simpler to describe virtue as an underpinning of the list of values in total than to try and compare the two sets of virtues to a specific value. Every one of the values is built on the assumption that the individual has moral character and that they have a sense of their duty to their fellow individuals.
The contrast of the different systems is stark. The primary difference is the premise of secular vs. sacred foundation.…