Jesus As a Philosopher: At the interface between Ethics, Economics, Politics, and Civics over 2000 years ago
14 Pages Posted: 24 Nov 2020
Date Written: August 14, 2020
Over 2000 years ago, Jesus faced nearly the same kind of economic, institutional, political, and social problems that confronted Socrates over 400 years earlier in Athens, Greece. A certain segment of the upper income class in Jerusalem, called Sadducees, who were allied with Israel’s aristocrats, were engaging in practices that were damaging the economic and social health of Israel.
Jesus was a teacher of ethics and moral philosophy in Israel. Ethics dealt with the self (starting with those actions that provided security and safety through prudent behavior for the individual) while moral behavior concentrated on the interactions between one’s self and other selves (benevolence). Jesus’s main philosophical concern was teaching, applying, and living virtue ethics. Jesus’s main teaching tool was the parable, which was usually a short, fictitious story that made a clear cut ethical or moral point.
Jesus’s version of virtue ethics was very concise, brief, and to the point. Jesus taught that there were only two laws or rules, not many laws or rules that had to be practiced in order to obtain salvation. These two laws were to a)love your God and b) love your neighbor as yourself or as you love yourself. Either law implies the other either directly or indirectly. If you love yourself as you love your neighbor, then you are also loving God. If you love your God, then you will love others as you love yourself. The crucial word here, that is reflected in all of his teachings, is Jesus Christ’s emphasis on the word love, although sometimes what is required is “tough love”. Christian love is benevolence from those who have to those who do not have, where we are dealing with needs, not wants. Needs must be fulfilled or the person in need will be unable to have a fulfilling life.
Jesus‘s emphasis on only two laws also put him in direct conflict intellectually with the Pharisees, who accepted the standard conclusion that there were 619 laws that were directly descendant from Moses. The Pharisees, like Jesus, understood that the Sadducees were misusing the Temple in Jerusalem to amass great wealth. The definition of a good Jew for a Pharisee meant that one knew all the laws, as well as their correct interpretation, or always was carrying or had available for immediate personal use documents containing the written laws that one could then consult and implement as needed. Jesus and the Pharisees split over this issue of knowing precisely and exactly what the written law entailed as well as knowing how to correctly interpret the law.
Keywords: Jesus, Sadducees, Virtue Ethics, Utilitarian Ethics, Pharisees, Justice, Prudence, Temperance, Courage, Benevolence
JEL Classification: B10, B12, B14, B16, B18, B20, B22
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation