Ethics -- History and Good It Gives Term Paper

  • Length: 5 pages
  • Subject: Mythology - Religion
  • Type: Term Paper
  • Paper: #65275744
  • Related Topic: As I Lay Dying, Ego, Ethics

Excerpt from Term Paper :

Ethics -- "History and Good." It gives a summary and analysis of the chapter, besides a short introduction on the author and the book.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer (1906-1945), German theologian firmly believed that the foundation of ethical behavior lay in the reality of the world and the reality of God -- both being reconciled in the reality of Christ. All his life, he called for "responsible" action against evil and was sharply critical of ethical theories, which avoided such direct action. Bonhoeffer lived and practiced his ethical beliefs by confronting the evil of Hitler's Nazism that he saw rising at close range in his home country. His uncompromising stance against the Nazis ultimately cost him his life when he was arrested in 1943 for his part in a conspiracy against Hitler and was hanged in the weeks before Hitler's own suicide and the end of the Second World War in Europe.

The Book

Bonhoeffer had opposed National Socialism as a minister in the Lutheran church and as the leader of an underground seminary. However, he was actively recruited into a conspiracy to overthrow the Hitler's regime in 1940. It was during this time, until his arrest in 1943, that he wrote Ethics -- intended to be series of lectures that was left incomplete because of his arrest. Still it is his most seminal work in which he has formulated the basis for confronting 'evil' and the justification for the use of even extreme measures, if necessary, to eliminate such evil. Ethics, therefore, emphasizes the necessity to act against injustice and cruelty, as opposed to a legislated and pacifist Christian philosophy. Bonhoeffer's theory on ethics and his practical stance is in sharp contrast to the shameful stand of the "German Christians" who either made their peace with Nazism or actively promoted its advance.

Chapter VI: Summary & Analysis

Good and Life:

Bonhoeffer puts forward his theory at the beginning of the chapter that the question of good is not an abstract or an absolute concept and it cannot be divorced from the realities of life. It is directly related to our unique circumstances, relationships and history. There are no such things as absolute good and absolute evil and man cannot possibly hope to distinguish between the two in isolation and if the concepts of good and evil are viewed in abstraction from life, the attempt would lead us to withdrawal into our individual private spheres or lead us towards misleading ideologies -- all of which are doomed to failure.

Bonhoeffer, therefore, suggests a solution: that man should recognize his role in life as the creature rather than the Creator and recognize his limitations by realizing, "We can only live life; we cannot define it." (p. 214). Our life finds its origin, essence, and goal in Jesus Christ and can only be spoken of in relation to Him. Since Jesus Christ is both God in the form of man, and man in the form of God, we see in him both humanity in the form of God and God in the form of the humblest of man.

Jesus Christ says of himself, "I am the life" and by proclaiming thus, Jesus takes the responsibility of our lives on his shoulders. Thus instead of struggling to distinguish between good and evil, which is impossible for men to do in any case, it is best to leave the decision to Jesus. This concept of "leaving the decision of distinguishing between good and evil" to Jesus, of course, does not absolve us of our responsibilities in life, it just gives us a fundamental anchor and saves us from wandering in the directions that are bound to prove futile.

The Structure of Responsible Life:

A truly responsible life, according to Bonhoeffer is the one which is: a) bound to man and to and, b) a man's own life is free. These two factors the structure of a responsible life.


Responsibility can also be defined as "deputyship," i.e., acting on behalf of others; just as a father acts for his children -- caring for them, fighting and even suffering for them. Jesus lived his life in "deputyship" for the whole of humanity. He is the perfect example of deputyship -- living, suffering and dying for others. For man, deputyship (and therefore responsibility) "lies only in the complete surrender of one's own life to the other man." (p. 222) This means that only the selfless man lives; Bonhoeffer, in fact goes further, and says that only the selfless man lives. While fulfilling our responsibilities to others, Bonhoeffer cautions, we must not, however, fall into the trap of setting up our own ego as an absolute or setting up the other man as an absolute, neglecting our other responsibilities especially those towards God.


Responsibility is not unlimited. It is limited by the other man (the neighbor), who is also supposed to be a responsible creature. A responsible person does not use force or coercion against another person to achieve and absolute good; responsibility is limited in application. The responsible man always acts "in accordance with reality" rather than against it. In other words, the direction that responsibility dictates depends upon the situation. In order to prevent us from drifting into confusion, Bonhoeffer once again, gives us an anchor to bind the reality to -- the person of Jesus Christ and says that our acts can be directed by the word of Jesus which is the interpretation of his life. Since Christ is no stranger to human reality, there is no arbitrary division between secular and Christian principles and reality has been reconciled in Christ and to follow him is to have a meaningful word concerning actions in reality.

The World of Things:

Responsibility is basically a relation between persons, but after having determined that such relationship is based on the principles of deputyship and the adherence to reality and Jesus Christ, Bonhoeffer moves on to the issue of "pertinence" -- the relation that man has with the world of things. First of, one must keep in mind the divine origin of things, i.e., the relationship that a "thing" such as a cause has with God (or man). Such a relationship makes a thing more pure. Second, each thing has "its own law of being" and responsible action is to abide by the inherent laws of things, whether it the action is taken by the state, the corporation, or individuals. The exceptions to the laws of being do, however, occur sometimes in certain situations, which are termed necessita. For example, Bonhoeffer considers War as such an exception or a necessity. But whether one abides by the law of the being or performs an act of necessity, his actions are not exempted from the divine laws and are placed before God who alone judges whether they are good or evil.

The Acceptance of Guilt:

Jesus, because of his unbounded love for man, chose to take the burden of guilt upon Himself even while being guiltless and without sin. In the same way, true and responsible deputyship means that one cannot shun the guilt of one's fellow man. Therefore, every man who acts responsibly becomes guilty and those who try to escape guilt in responsibility are detaching themselves from the reality of human existence; the more innocent and selfless a person, the more willing he is to accept the guilt of others, ala Jesus.


Conscience sometimes does not permit one to take blame for the sake of another. This is because conscience seeks a unity with itself and "unity," in part, arises out of the ego's desire to justify its action before God. Bonhoeffer's solution to such divided conscience is self-denial and surrender of the ego to Jesus who has taken the burden of guilt of man but…

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