With all due deference, some may find it inaccurate to regard Jesus as a philosopher, as a kind of minimizing with faint praise, but one must acknowledge that having served as a living example of utter compassion and astonishing clarity and insight as Jesus is said to have done -- only through actions and respectful and straightforward communication -– Jesus was certainly the bearer of a system of Moral Philosophy, concerned above all for the dignity of the human person.
The Knowledge of Good and Evil
Moral Philosophy, or what is called Ethics, in our modern world, concerns the intentions and actions that characterize an individual’s choices – minute by minute - between right and wrong, with respect to oneself and to others, both in the ‘here and now,’ and for an unforeseen future.
For many individuals, this is the absolute nature of faith and its relationship to happiness -- both for the ‘here and now,’ because for those who have experienced the habits of choosing what is 'good,' virtue is indeed found to be its own reward -- and as the Roman Catholic Church has said, this is what every person ultimately desires. It is what we think of as 'peace of mind.'
The Philosophy of Jesus As a 'Categorical Imperative?'
In his "Groundwork for the Metaphysics of Morals," the German philosopher Immanuel Kant (1724–1804) writes:
So act that you use humanity, whether in your own person or in the person of any other, always at the same time as an end, never merely as a means.
This is the aspect of human dignity that most individuals recognize to be self-evident.
Kant called this 'the categorical imperative.' The first fundamental principle of morality, Kant says, is this:
Act so that the maxim [that determines the motivation of the will] may be capable of becoming a universal law for all rational beings.
Many would say that this comes very close to what is expressed in the New Testament, in Matthew 7:12-14:
So whatever you wish that men would do to you, do so to them; for this is the law and the prophets.
Enter by the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the way is easy, that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many.
For the gate is narrow and the way is hard, that leads to life, and those who find it are few
In the ‘here and now,’ good and evil seem to be in continual conflict –- exaggerated by failures to communicate effectively from one person to another, even among members of the same family, tribe, or nation -- who, paradoxically, may even have the same shared interests -- yet so often 'fail to see the forest for the trees.'
The Here and Now and the Unforeseen Future
There is also an underlying conflict between those who see a meaningful and transcendent origin of life and death and life thereafter -- as Jesus makes reference to -- and between those who have come to regard the ‘here and now’ as all there is, and who have come to take a more materialistic view of life.
Because the life and morals of Jesus was such a unique approach – choosing a life of meaning through the deliberate intention to recognize and to do what is good, and having the intellectual honesty to keep track of one’s progress through the formation of a conscience, this "philosophy" has been passed along for thousands of years.
In making that deliberate choice to do what is right -- even when no one is looking -- there is something very deeply satisfying. It is in our human nature to be accountable. It is also deeply satisfying in many ways, to experience sorrow in having made the wrong choice, and asking forgiveness, especially for any harm to others that results from those wrong choices.
These teachings, through the life and morals of Jesus, continue to be passed on -- sometimes accompanied by hardshop or the risk of danger -- for numberless people for over 2000 years.
Among those whom Jesus influenced was the public servant Thomas Jefferson, who wrote to America’s first career diplomat, William Short, that he was convinced that the teachings of Jesus constituted the "outlines of a system of the most sublime morality which has ever fallen from the lips of man."
At the heart of what Jesus preached and suffered and died for, as a compassionate response to the natural desire of mankind for happiness, was this:
Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.
Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they
shall be satisfied.
Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy.
Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.
Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for
theirs is the kingdom of heaven.