Wolfgang HUBER.  Ethics: The Fundamental Questions of Our Lives.  Washington, DC: Georgetown University Press, 2015.  pp. 250.  $32.95 pb.  ISBN978-1-62616-165-8.  Reviewed by Moni MCINTYRE, Duquesne University, Pittsburgh PA  15282.


Wolfgang Huber’s cogent insights in this book spring from his expertise as a theologian, ethicist, professor of systematic theology, and bishop of the Evangelical Church in Germany.  Such a background in both theory and praxis enables him to draw clear and quite convincing theological and philosophical conclusions from his major contention that “we humans are, ultimately, relational and communicative beings” (221). 

Beginning and ending with this point, Huber explores ethical issues that confront human beings from the beginning to the end of life. In a series of carefully developed essays in twenty short chapters, Huber invites the reader to investigate the meaning and importance of ethics as a discipline (Chapter 1) and its role in our life in common (Chapter 2). In his third chapter, “Human Dignity,” Huber reflects upon “trial pregnancy” and ponders whether such a concept even makes sense, especially from his favorite perspective of the “ethics of responsibility.”  He explores the human penchant for perfect images of ourselves as he considers the birth of handicapped individuals in Chapter 4.  Highlighting the dangers of selfish thinking, the author considers both the “opportunities and challenges of the life sciences” (40).  In Chapter 5, Huber probes the various challenges related to feeding the world population.  As always, he searches for the most ethical approach to this task in light of the habits of wealthy nations and the deficits of poor ones.  Not surprisingly, he moves next to an examination of world poverty and the responsibility of the haves toward the have-nots.  He explores the human penchant to preserve one’s culture and develop the best way to form one’s conscience.  “How does one become a world citizen?” he asks in Chapter 9 and, in Chapter 10, wonders if the media control us in the Information Age.  Recalling the fundamentals of professional ethics, he looks at regional and global implications of the information gap.  Ever the theologian, Huber infuses his reflections with theological concepts and conclusions even as he analyzes his topics.  He tackles work and profit and asks, in reference to science, “Are we permitted to do everything that we can in fact do?” (129). Huber’s chapter on medicine includes ethical principles that ought to be considered in a world of uneven resources, including what to do about the shortage of organs for transplants.  In his chapter on politics, Huber asks whether it is “possible to combine power and morality” (153) and depicts the role of virtues in public life. He follows his reflections on politics with questions about our capacity for tolerance.  Citing contemporary examples in which religion plays a major part, Huber considers the scope of “personal, societal, and political tolerance” (172).  No book on general ethics would be complete without a section devoted to war and peace.  Huber does not disappoint us; he insists that the use of force must serve justice and be secondary to the law.  In his last three chapters, Huber considers intergenerational justice, the obligations of the fourth commandment to honor one’s parents, and an appropriate time to die.

Far from being a rehash of the old questions with a moralistic tone, the author offers fresh comments along with just enough background for the average reader to feel comfortable.  Accessible, engaging, and complete in its own way, the book satisfies both student and casual reader alike.  Numerous scholarly references point the reader in many directions for further study, and each chapter invites further reflection.  Ideally suited for graduate and sophisticated undergraduate students, this remarkable volume reflects the wisdom and experience of an elder who is steeped in social justice with much of value to offer this generation.  I believe that this book is eminently worthwhile.