Ethics of responsibility in a theological perspective


  • Wolfgang Huber University of Stellenbosch



In the article the author explicates his own view of a theological ethics of responsibility in dialogue with other proponents of such an ethics. A distinction is first made between an “ethic or responsibility” and an “ethics of responsibility”. Attention is then given to the emergence of the key term of “responsibility” in Western culture and its theological origin pointed out. It is argued that responsibility as an ethical concept implies the accountability of human persons for their deeds before an ultimate instance of accountability and thus with inner necessity depends on an affirmative understanding of autonomy and self-determination. What is, however, also implied is dependence on human interaction and communication. From this follows the conclusion that the ethics of responsibility is based on a relational rather than an essentialist anthropology. This conclusion is confirmed in an extensive discussion of the views of the two most important representatives of a theological approach to the ethics of responsibility, namely Dietrich Bonhoeffer and H. Richard Niebuhr. In the last part of the article it is argued that what distinguishes theological ethics of responsibility is that contrary to a purely future-oriented ethics – as is the case with, for example, the ethics of responsibility of Max Weber and Hans Jonas – it is an ethics that intertwines the three modi of time: past, present and future.






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