Before going to Johnson University, I was under the ethical perspective of deontological ethics. I am not suggesting that I became legalistic, but that I was always set in place by the rules due primarily to Mountain Mission School being rule-driven in its ethical approach. Rules were the moral limits that informed my decision-making process. For the most part, this is how I thought and reasoned about ethical decisions. Having attended Johnson for five years, I would say that I have learned and grown in ways I never thought I could or would while at Johnson. I have discovered that ethical decision making manifests itself in a myriad of ways and that it is not necessarily just one way that is supreme over all the others. The best approach to making ethical decisions is to conflate all three ethical perspectives (deontological, teleological, and areteological) into an integrated method that utilizes the best of all three perspectives thus optimizing the three perspectives into a holistic approach that best serves for moral and ethical living. I want to discuss the conflation of all three ethical perspectives, and how I use all three to inform my worldview and ethical decision making process by answering a question presented to me in a fake scenario wherein I am asked, “Would you ever sleep with a client?”
Teleological ethics speak of the goals and goods of our actions. One of my main goals in life is to develop a rewarding career that is both financially and personally rewarding for me and hopefully a family someday. Robin Lovin writes, in “Christian Ethics: An Essential Guide” that, “Our goals give direction to our choices primarily by identifying the personal qualities and skills that we need to develop in order to achieve our goals.” Being faithful to my professional and personal career goals serves as a prerequisite to my goal of wanting a rewarding career. Faithfulness, in my humble opinion, is a personal quality in the context of my career. To answer the theoretical question posed from a teleological ethics perspective, I would state that sleeping with a client goes against the goals I have set for myself and my future family as a Licensed Professional Counselor. Sexual contact with a client would contradict and destroy my goals of being an honest, faithful, and non-violent/non-harmful counselor. In this case, my goals inform my actions, my personal qualities, and the skills needed to achieve said goals.
Lovin also writes that, “Philosophers speak of a system of ethics that is based on rules as a deontology or as a deontological ethics. The term is derived from a Greek root “deon”, which concerns that which is necessary or required.” In summation, deontological ethics are about what rules are established particular within a covenant community, city, town, state, country, and profession. The Ten Commandments can be seen as a deontological list of rules. “Deontological ethics evaluates ethics,” writes Lovin, “by asking whether this action was the right thing to do according to a rule not by assessing what happens as the result of the action.” My response to this question stated from a teleological approach would be that I would not sleep with a client because the ACA Code of Ethics make it very clear that sexual contact with clients is absolutely unacceptable. Dr. Owens, in my Spiritual Formation class in undergrad, spoke to us about how Old Testaments ethics focus on bringing God into life. I would not be bringing God into my life and my career by sleeping with a client.
“Virtues are the admirable qualities of persons that emerge from an examination of their narratives and that shape their moral lives. A system of thinking about ethics that centers on virtues is sometimes called an areteology, or an areteological ethics,” writes Lovin. This term arête is a Greek word meaning virtue. Virtue is a behavioral pattern learned through consistent practice and eventually becomes a part of how that person conducts his or her self (Aristotle). Dr. James R. Thobaben of Asbury Theological Seminary says, “Virtue reasoning is based on the idea that the end conditions the means…If I want to have the attitude of Christ Jesus I cannot betray people who have trust in me.” I believe that the end is Christ when it comes to virtue reasoning. Our virtue should be Christ Himself. We should seek to be so deified (the process of going through theosis) that we become little Christs. Dr. Thobaben says, “Our primary means of reasoning should be virtue reasoning. We need to look at who we want to be in Christ and act accordingly.” I believe that the virtues stem from God’s holiness, from His essence and energies. The primary example of His Holiness is His Son Jesus Christ, who came and lived a virtuous life among us providing us with an example, but also giving us the means to become like Him, to “put on the divine nature” as St. Peter writes. My answer to the question under an areteological approach would be similar to that of Dr. Thobaben’s response, which is that I would not sleep with a client because it would violate who I am and who I want to be in Christ, so I must act accordingly.
In conclusion to my own personal code of ethics, the best approach to making ethical decisions is to conflate all three ethical perspectives into an integrated method that utilizes the best of all three perspectives thus optimizing the three perspectives into a holistic approach. I have shown how it is possible, and beneficial, to conflate all three ethical perspectives into an answer to a theoretical question posed as well as a means for my ethical and moral living. I would not sleep with a client based off my personal and professional career goals, because of the clear ethics and rules laid out by the ACA, and because it would violate who I am and who I want to be in Christ as well as the kind of counselor I strive to be. I have learned that utilizing all three perspectives gives a more balanced and thought out answer to our moral decision making and ethical dilemmas and optimizes the quality of our lives.
I believe also that these three types of ethics also us in dealing with ethical violations because I feel the ACA Code of Ethics, while absolutely necessary, stops short of the other two types. Counselors need to learn to embody virtue and live it out among the community wherein they practice. These ethics help us to develop, grow, and promote responsibility among one another as professionals. Ethics are a vital part of counseling because they serve to guide us in our pursuit of becoming excellent counselors and better people.