One of the pleasures of moving is that in going through all your earthly possessions you rediscover books that you either hadn’t read or hadn’t fully digested. One such book of mine is Murray Jardine’s The Making and Unmaking of Technological Society. I think I may have blogged about it a bit a few years ago, but I thought I might revisit parts of it.
Jardine’s central argument is that the moral malaise of modern Western society is the result of the fact that we have acquired massive new powers to alter the natural and human environment but lack a corresponding moral framework for guiding our choices about how to use that power.
The reason for this is that traditional moral theoires assumed a relatively static view of the natural and social orders and therefore have a difficult time providing guidance to us once we’ve acquired the ability to radically alter those orders. One proposed solution is that offered by liberalism: the proper moral order for society is the one which maximizes individual choice so long as those choices don’t harm others and so long as people don’t impose their values on others.
However, Jardine makes the now-familiar criticism of liberalism that, since it lacks a substantive concept of the good life, it is unable to give a coherent account of why the non-imposition of values should trump all other values or what constitutes harm to others. Abortion provides an excellent example: all parties to the debate agree that it’s wrong to harm the innocent, but they disagree about whether abortion counts as a case of such harm. Ultimately, Jardine argues, liberalism results in nihilism since it can provide no solid foundation for moral values, and thus doesn’t provide a workable alternative to traditional natural law theories of morality.
What’s needed, Jardine says, is a moral framework that provides guidance for our choices while recognizing the changeability of the natural and social orders. His view is that recovering a geniunely biblical idea of morality can provide such a framework because it explicitly recognizes human beings as co- or sub-creators, creatures who have a share in the Creator’s power to shape reality.
I’ll try to post more thoughts on what Jardine takes to be the Christian alternative for grappling with our technological power soon.