"What embitters the world is not excess of criticism, but an absence of self-criticism." - G.K. Chesterton

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

The ground we stand on

As usual Tom Freeman has been asking some good questions and making me think much harder than I would on my own. Thanks for that bro! Recently, in the context of one of our back and fourth sessions, he brought up a thought that I'd really like to explore a little further.

Allow me to set the stage. Tom fashions himself as an atheist. He has a very acute sense of right and wrong. Not wanting his sense of right and wrong to be based on mindless chemicals (read feelings), Tom has come to see the concept of moral realism as an appealing option. The problem is, at the moment Tom is flying his atheist kite and that model doesn't come equipped with a personal God who's character gives a foundation for moral realism. When faced with this Tom has been sort of half-heartedly toying with the dualist idea. But as most atheists realize, there's no answers in a theoretical dualism... just a hope.

So the question that has been coming to my mind is this: If some who consider themselves atheists can begin toying with notions such as dualism, what keeps them from belief in God? More specifically what keeps them from faith in Jesus?

It would seem that many atheists reject the God of the Bible, because they view Him as immoral...

Tom says this in response to my claiming that all morality is rooted in a posture of the heart:

"The code of behaviour is to adopt a certain posture of the heart, so that you’re then inclined to obey commandments. Never mind whether you think they’re good or bad commandments, just use your freedom of conscience to surrender your own freedom of conscience, and give up your right to ask questions of they guy in charge. “I am the way, the truth and the life” – or, as Judge Dredd puts it, “I am the law”. I’m not sold on this!"

He makes several moral objections in this comment.

1. It is wrong to go along with something you believe is morally evil
2. It is wrong to surrender your freedom to choose to the will of another isn’t a moral outlook
3. It is wrong to have someone tell you to shut your mouth and just go along with X
4. It is wrong for God to claim that He alone is the standard by which all will be measured
Tom adds: 'An outlook that involves surrendering your freedom to choose to the will of another isn’t a moral outlook'

But here's the problem. He's using a standard to say these things. Tom is not ready to say that this standard is purely subjective and only reflects the matter thats clanking around in his head. So where is this standard coming from? How can we use this moral standard to shoot down the only One from whom it could possibly be derived? The more we pursue this end, we are essentially digging out the ground we are standing on. On what then do we stand?... or do we stand at all?

So here then is my proposition. Could it be that our allegations towards towards the God of the Bible might be seen in a different light if we were open to look? Tom made a number of objections earlier, I don't find any of them to be particularly troubling. All they require to be dealt with (and they do need to be dealt with) is a little perspective. If Tom wishes to maintain that his moral objections have any weight at all, there must be a personal God from whom this standard flows. If he cannot accept that due to some kind of materialistic prejudice, then he cannot appeal to dualism either. If, however, his reluctance to acknowledge the God of the Bible is due to some real moral objection, then we have some work to do to discover where this moral standard is coming from.

As for me, I continue to maintain that God as revealed in these ancient texts (and all of creation) gives us our best shot at sustaining a objective, or 'real' moral framework.

Lastly, one could always take the position that there is a God, but He is not properly revealed in any major religion. That is indeed a valid move, but I would caution about being to quick to leap in that puddle. Let's at least hold off until we've given a proper exploration of our motives.

Hope you don't mind me picking on you a little Tom. ;-) Just know that I do this only as a means for us to discover the truth of our existence. You know I love you bud!

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15 Comments:

Blogger Matt M said...

That's why it's moral relativism all the way for me.

11:20 AM

 
Blogger Alex said...

Well that may be your truth, but it's not mine. ;-)

1:06 PM

 
Blogger Timmo said...

Alex,

If Tom wishes to maintain that his moral objections have any weight at all, there must be a personal God from whom this standard flows.

Again, the main thrust of your argument is that moral facts are somehow God-dependent. I was hoping to see some arguments for this contentious claim; why do you think that moral facts require a personal God?

3:12 PM

 
Blogger Lord Nazh said...

hate to O/T here but have you read Ruthie's post on this subject yet Alex?

She's my favorite not-yet met person ever :)


here

7:37 PM

 
Blogger Rev. Dr. Incitatus said...

"If some who consider themselves atheists can begin toying with notions such as dualism, what keeps them from belief in God? More specifically what keeps them from faith in Jesus?"

Because even if God(s) does/do exist, there is no real reason to choose one over the other, because there is no material evidence for any of them, and thus no evidence favouring the existence of one over the other.

That's an essential weakness of the theist's cause; it's hard enough to prove that morality is God-dependent (Timmo's right, we still haven't seen a persuasive argument on this), let alone that it's specifically dependent on one arbitrarily chosen concept of God out of many.

As for me, I tread a blurred line between Matt's moral relativism and the idea that there is a basic, and to a degree flexible, moral standard dictated by our evolved physiology. When we hear talk about 'inalienable rights', I see a collective emphasis put on these evolved moral standards (which predate Aristotle, let alone Christianity, by a good few hundred millenia). Our laws reflect that emphasis on the collective, and the liberalisation of our laws reflects the broadening inclusiveness of the collective and its increasing heterogeneity from an isolated clan to a bustling cosmopolitan population. Hence, ten years from now, gay marriage will probably be quite acceptable; even to theists.

Again, for me it's not so much a question of whether there is a god, so much as whether we really need one to explain the direction of our moral compass. I don't think we do; I think game theory does a far better job of explaining it.

8:01 AM

 
Blogger Tom Freeman said...

Hi Alex, happy to make you think! And very happy to be made to think in turn. Afraid this isn’t a proper response – am pretty busy at the mo – just a few quick points on your summary of my views.

I think a (non-naturalistic) moral realism appeals in the sense that if moral principles aren’t themselves foundational and utterly independent – a notion seems very obscure to me – then they’re just opinions, conventions, laws and the like (humanly or godly). Dualism isn’t a word I’d use outside philospohy of mind, and I don’t go for it there.

The standards of morality I use in life are just the ones I find myself with, and in outline I reckon they’re much the same as most people’s. The causal explanation of how I came to have them you can figure out (family, society, genes, blah blah). But I don’t claim that’s an Absolute Standard. That’d be nice but I can’t justify that claim.

Your points 1-4, for the sake of my argument, should probably read something like ‘An outlook that involves surrendering your freedom to choose to the will of another isn’t a moral outlook’. This is based on my conception of what ‘morality’ means, but it doesn’t assert that there objectively, ultimately is such a set of principles. My point (that morality isn’t the sort of thing that could be divinely created) is more definitional than substantive.

[If you’re wondering how I manage to cope with the high-level theoretical moral uncertainty, maybe this helps: I truly think that Cartesian scepticism about the external world is irrefutable. I can’t know for sure that there are physical objects around me as my senses seem to suggest. And yet I don’t walk into things and I don’t sit around panicking about the potential nothingness (or something-else-ness). Life goes on; I can just assume things and get by, and then now and again look at the assumptions in a philosophical mood. The foundation of morality is a bit like that for me: if I had to justify everything I do from self-evident first principles, I’d never move at all.]

Like Timmo and Incitatus, I’ve honestly seen nothing in the way of non-circular and non-subject-changing argument suggesting that the existence of immaterial souls, eternal afterlife and/or a supreme creator of whatever personality has any relevance to the question of moral realism. For this reason, hefty chunks of your position just aren’t doing it for me, I hate to say.

As for the God of the Bible, a lot of non-Christians find some of the teachings there to be very sound principles. Other parts seem peculiar and arbitrary (although perhaps historically explicable), and others still seem positively immoral. (Have you seen this? The tone’s a bit hostile and I’d definitely not vouch for all the examples, but you get the gist.)

Actually, this has been a proper response. So sue me… But I’ve not got back to the other thread yet. You’re getting almost as wordy as me, matey!

8:08 AM

 
Blogger Alex said...

Timmo,
Well lets look at it this way. Materialism is bankrupt when it comes to trying to formulate an explanation for morality. Now you have said in the past that perhaps atheism does not necessarily equate materialism. So what are our options at that point? Some kind of immaterial moral quality existing all around us? I really have no idea what you are hinting at with this theoretical 'God-Independent moral fact' talk. Care to fill me in?

So here's where I'm coming from:

Moral statements are ultimately statements involving the relationship of free personal agents to the ultimate personal creator. Moral statements involve questions of value, meaning and purpose. These are personal qualities that only have meaning as they relate to a conscious mind. If this ultimate mind created us (and all creation) out of His character which is loving, just, true, etc... then the moment we begin acting in ways that are outside of these attributes we are in-fact being immoral. We are violating the only possible standard that could ever give us an unchanging perfect moral compass. We are violating the very nature of God... The very nature of reality. We Christian folk call it sin.

So let's see if I can work up a little more of a formal argument for you fine peoples:

First let me flesh out what I mean by 'personal' by defining what we'll call the: 'personal agent thesis'
{PA}= A personal agent is an agent that has attributes similar to that of people. e.g. consciousness, freedom of the will, emotions, etc...

Next we have what I'll call the 'morality thesis'
{MT}= Morality points to the degree a PA submits to a standard of 'right' and 'wrong'. This encompasses a generally understood code of conduct, but even more importantly, the motives behind the actions.

MT can only apply to the relationships between PAs. You cannot apply MT to the interactions between a PA and non-personal objects. For instance: One cannot speak in moral terms about man's relationship between himself and, say, a plate of cookies. However, if the plate of cookies belongs to another PA, we can now follow the relational chain to another PA, thus introducing the ability to speak in moral terms.

In my last example you can see that there can be no talk of morality until another PA is brought into the mix. If you were the last PA alive on earth could you do anything immoral? I'm not sure if you think thats possible or not. Personally, I think you could. I can say that because I believe we are derived from an ultimate PA. Even if there were no other person around for me to offend, I would still be able to offend the personal unchanging character of God.

If you believe there is the possibility of a mysterious impersonal quality in the universe that transcends man, I'd love to hear what that is. Barring a satisfactory explanation of this impersonal moral quality, I see no reason to believe there is such a thing as objective morality, unless you allow for a personal God.

In closing, my argument goes something like this:

MT is dependent upon the relationship between PAs.
In our day-to-day we operate amidst human PAs. Human PAs are notoriously inconsistent in how they define their moral code. Therefore, if we wish to have an unchanging 'objective' standard, we must have a PA that possesses an unchanging standard for us all to relate to.

Curious to see how you handle this as I can't imagine it's anything new for you. I have a feeling I'm about to learn something!

Nazah:
Ya I just took a look at that. It's a very nice posting. I see Mr. Timmo found his way over that direction as well!

Incitatus/Tom,
Thanks for the comments. No time to respond at the moment. Feel free to push me on any particular issue if I don't end up getting around to what you have to say. I've been quite bad at letting things drop lately. Usually they are the topics that require the most work for me to sort out... not to mention the ones I really ought to be spending the most time with.

2:53 PM

 
Blogger Rev. Dr. Incitatus said...

Alex,
Regarding the Timmo's assertion that you haven't yet supported this statement,

"...there must be a personal God from whom this standard flows."

You responded with this statement,

"Materialism is bankrupt when it comes to trying to formulate an explanation for morality."

But I would argue that you haven't provided a sufficient argument to support that one either, so we're still left with no convincing proof that morality is God-dependent.

Your argument outlined in your last response doesn't make this any more clear, because there is nothing in it that couldn't just as easily be ascribed to a morality rooted in evolutionary biology. Unless I'm mistaken (quite possible, I'm a little hungover) you basically state that morality is dependent on the existence of at least two PAs. I can live with that. The entire basis of the evolutionary hypothesis behind morality is that it evolved as a result of the necessity for organisms to interact. Where does God come from in this argument?


"Therefore, if we wish to have an unchanging 'objective' standard, we must have a PA that possesses an unchanging standard for us all to relate to."

Well, at some point, you have to take apart the hardcore materialist's contention that our morality is a product of biology, and thus subject to a certain evolved standard in that sense alone. That we are essentially born with a moral compass, which, although sufficiently flexible to allow us to adapt to changing environments, is nevertheless rigid enough to ensure that we can form and maintain cohesive social groups. Again, you cannot simply argue that people can "choose" to go against those evolved moral values if the materialist is right; in truth, it's unlikely that they can, and history points to the fact that few, if any, have ever succeeded in doing so.

Did Cho murder those students because he successfully reversed his moral compass (good=evil, evil=good &c) in the manner of the fictional Aaron? Or was it because he sufficiently distorted his world view in a manner that brought his prejudices into line with the moral compass he was born with? I'd argue the latter.

To quote Albert Ellis via Wikipedia's 'Evil' entry:-

"He says the root of anger, and the desire to harm someone, is almost always one of these beliefs:
" 1. That they should/shouldn't have done certain things
2. That someone is an awful/bad/horrible person for doing what they did
3. That they deserve to be punished for what they did
"

12:54 PM

 
Blogger Alex said...

Incitatus,
"I would argue that you haven't provided a sufficient argument to support that one either, so we're still left with no convincing proof that morality is God-dependent."

PA's require: consciousness, freedom of the will, emotions, etc... I can seem to find no stretch of the imagination that would allow me to believe that out of nothing comes something. (mindless matter and energy eg: fields, waves, strings, whatever) Then this matter clanks around off the 'natural laws' long enough that eventually it perceives it's self. Not only that, but this mindless matter eventually reaches a point where it frees it's self from the casual chain of action/reaction, even to such a degree that this matter ordains that such and such things are right and wrong. The hubris of such a notion rings as utter nonsense. This is what the materialists must maintain if they want any sort of morality. But even here it does not allow for any sort of objectivity. All you have is the way a specific arrangement of matter responds to various interactions with other material.

Then you have the eliminativist school of thought that says, since all things are material then immaterial concepts such as morality, justice, mercy, etc... must not exist at all. At the end of the day I don't need to demonstrate that materialism is incompatible with objective morality. They do a perfectly good job pointing that out themselves.

"you basically state that morality is dependent on the existence of at least two PAs. I can live with that. The entire basis of the evolutionary hypothesis behind morality is that it evolved as a result of the necessity for organisms to interact. Where does God come from in this argument?"

Yes I would say that you can have a kind of morality with at least two PA's present. But, I would go on to say that this sort of morality is not very helpful when it comes to deciding who's 'moral code' is 'better' or 'worse' than anothers. It puts morality on the level with with ones preference for sweet food, or that some prefer Chris Carrabba to Jon Bunch.

What I'm after here is an unchanging moral foundation. You have earlier conceded that you don't believe one exists. That's a poison I'm not willing to swallow. In answer to your question: "Where does God come into the picture" I'd say right at the moment we realize that the disavowal of an unchanging standard of right and wrong opens the door to validating whatever it is we happen to feel is 'right', or 'wrong', as just that... at least to you. Which is to say, all moral proclamations are ultimately meaningless hand waving on the level with expressing your opinion that blueberry pie is better than apple pie.

"you cannot simply argue that people can "choose" to go against those evolved moral values if the materialist is right; in truth, it's unlikely that they can, and history points to the fact that few, if any, have ever succeeded in doing so."

Here you seem to assume that the strongest impulse we happen to feel must then be given the status of 'moral', based on the contention that morality is simply our evolved code of conduct. You are on dangerous ground here friend, I encourage you to take some time observing your strongest impulses. It shouldn't take long to see that the strongest drive within us is often not what any would consider to be the 'moral' option.

In the solitude of your life, when no one else is around, do you take that opportunity to indulge your every passion? If so, are we to consider that just good 'moral' living? If not, what stops you?

"Or was it because he sufficiently distorted his world view in a manner that brought his prejudices into line with the moral compass he was born with? I'd argue the latter."

I'd agree with you one hundred percent. And this fits in precisely with what I have defined as "evil" here. Evil is the perversion of an extant good. He claimed that (among other things) he had enough of "debauchery" and "deceitful charlatans". These are obviously good things to disagree with, but to then assume that it was he who was to deal out any kind of judgment on his classmates, Cho took that leap from righteous revulsion, to evil. Judgment was not his place. It was his twisted response to right feelings that caused his actions to be evil.

2:21 PM

 
Blogger Matt M said...

I can seem to find no stretch of the imagination that would allow me to believe that out of nothing comes something.

The idea of an infinite, all-powerful being seems hardly more plausible though. Either something came out of nothing, or there has always been something - both concepts seem beyond human imagination.

What I'm after here is an unchanging moral foundation.

How does theism provide that? All you're doing is replacing one set of preferences (those of Incitatus) with another (those of your God). What is the foundation of accepting God's will? And then what is the foundation of that foundation?

Nearly everyone looking for that one final argument for anything has discovered the same thing: it's turtles all the way down.

6:30 AM

 
Blogger Rev. Dr. Incitatus said...

Alex,
Thanks for the response. I'm a little short of time right now, but I'll get back to you on it. Meanwhile, it's interesting that Matt recently posted about the use of argumentum ad ignorantiam to undermine the atheist position.

It seems that the general tone of your response above plays into that same territory; you offhandedly dismiss the idea that morality might come about through purely material means, but do so solely on the basis that you, personally, cannot conceive of how it might occur. Well, based on the history of human endeavour, I'd argue that that's more likely due to the limitations of your imagination than due to the limitations of nature.

I can understand the passion behind statements like this,

"The hubris of such a notion rings as utter nonsense."

(Where, again, the word "rings" betrays the subjective opinion being presented) but there is simply nothing to support such claims.

Personally, I can't imagine quarks, muons, leptons and neutrinos, but I would hesitate to suggest they don't exist based purely on that thought alone.

11:06 AM

 
Blogger Tom Freeman said...

Alex,
Let me bring back a couple of things left over from this thread.

Me: with a divine command theory holding that morality is rooted in God’s character, and no independent way of assessing the morality of that character, then there’s an arbitrariness built in to that view of ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ from the start.
You: I'm not so sure I'm a divine command theorist. I take it one step past the command to the nature of God.

OK. ‘Divine character theory’? Anyway, the point is that morality is defined in terms of God, and so the ‘how does this make it morality rather than something else?’ question keeps its force.

On the difference between morality and obedience/conformity, you said:
You can be obedient to all sorts of different things. The question of morality comes in when you ask the question: "Is it good to be obedient to X". In Christianity, the reason moral living is different from simple blind obedience is that we have a God who loves us. …
I will freely act in obedience to Him because He first loved me.


Me: there’s an arbitrariness built in to that view of ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ from the start.
You: To which I have to ask... so? It's there and it's good.

No doubt we’d all rather be charged with obeying a loving ruler than a cruel one. Being loved feels good. Returning love feels good. This is all personally beneficial and enjoyable. But, as they say in France, ou est la moralité?

Why is love morally good? On your view, the fact that God loves us makes our existence morally valuable – but how does God’s love make ‘love is morally good’ true? Your “so? It's there and it's good” looks awfully pragmatic to me. It’s the sort of thing I might say if I were articulating a view of morality that wasn’t God-centred… ;-)

Now, let me tie back in to this thread. I agree that the very concept of morality is of something that relates exclusively to personal agents.

I think there’s an unjustified leap in your argument, though. The fact that morality applies distinctively to the domain of PAs doesn’t therefore mean that such morality would have to be wholly defined in terms of those PAs’ moral opinions. (Which then leads you to observe inconsistency and suggest that there’d have to be an unchanging PA to anchor it all.)

The existence of self-aware beings, with needs and preferences, capable of satisfaction and of suffering, is as I see it the precondition for there being morally good and bad situations. That such beings are capable of choosing their actions, and thinking about consequences and alternatives, is the precondition for morally right and wrong actions.

More simply: people’s wellbeing matters; and actions that affect people’s wellbeing matters. This dual principle can hold constant even if people’s needs and preferences differ and change with time. Any outlook that incorporates this has a moral aspect, however it might explain or interpret this.

None of this involves saying that what is moral is in some way determined by the opinions these people have about morality. For instance, if the only PAs in existence were a (now adult) child and a parent, and the child had long been treated badly by the parent and internalised the belief that they deserve to suffer, then there’d be durable unanimity about the rightness of the child’s continued suffering. That’d not make it right. There’s a difference between wellbeing and opinions, and where they conflict here I’d say that the former is more morally relevant.

In terms of my earlier question BTW, I do think love is morally good, because it’s so important to people’s wellbeing and to their motives towards the wellbeing of others. Alas, I don’t have a meta-ethical theory to explain why. If you don’t, then I can’t fault you for being in the same boat as me (give or take the supernatural baggage).

But then, you’re the one trying to ground morality in terms of something pleasant (divine love) and then saying that non-godly pleasantness (human love) couldn’t possibly ground morality. No doubt God’s love would be on a greater scale than our own and hence morally greater as well, but what you need is an argument that the existence of God’s love is logically necessary for anything being morally good or bad. And you need that argument also to be able to reject the idea that human love alone could do it.

2:12 AM

 
Blogger Timmo said...

Alex,

I have been very busy lately, so I haven't had the opportunity to reply to your comments. This is somewhat late, but I thought it worth replying all the same.

If you believe there is the possibility of a mysterious impersonal quality in the universe that transcends man, I'd love to hear what that is. Barring a satisfactory explanation of this impersonal moral quality, I see no reason to believe there is such a thing as objective morality, unless you allow for a personal God.

For moral realists like G.E. Moore, goodness is a property of things which is not itself a natural property or reducible to any natural properties. It is a simple, sui generis quality or characteristic that some things have and other things lack. What is the puzzling part? As Robert Wolff put it so nicely, "Now I do not in general approve of the philosophical tactic of playing the idiot, of claiming not to understand some statement that looks perfectly comprehensible on the face of it."

Moreover, attacking the intelligibility of non-natural properties like you are is not an option for the theist; all of God's properties are non-natural properties one way or another!

For what it's worth, I think the best option in metaethics is Kant's constructivism rather than Moore's non-naturalism: according to Kant, moral norms spring from the activity of our practical reason. The moral law is autonomously imposed on and presupposed by agents employing practical reason. Through their exercise of their will, rational agents confer value on natural things. Kain puts it this way here, "In the classical terminology: this constructivism is a cognitivist theory (there are moral facts that are true or false), but it is anti-realist (because the moral facts are dependent upon us and our activities)."

So, I stand by my original criticism. The argument that anyone committed to objective moral truths ought also commit themselves to the existence of God does not have any force because there is a whole galaxy of possible views one could have about the nature of ethics which allows for there to be objective moral truths without there being any sort of personal deity backing them up.

The thing to do, then, is to show where you think those others views stumble. Even if you can't produce knock-down arguments against a rival view, you can argue that your view does a better job answering philosophical questions about ethics than any rival. This seems to be your main argument for this:

MT is dependent upon the relationship between PAs.
In our day-to-day we operate amidst human PAs. Human PAs are notoriously inconsistent in how they define their moral code. Therefore, if we wish to have an unchanging 'objective' standard, we must have a PA that possesses an unchanging standard for us all to relate to.


I do not think that the content morality is exhausted by prescriptions governing how agents treat each other. We have moral duties to non-human animals, to beautiful things in nature, and even to the dead. Moreover, we have moral duties to ourselves (such as the duty not to recklessly damage your own body or needlessly commit suicide).

If we want to have an objective standard, we need something more than just an agent who holds him or herself consistently to some standard. That would only make morality subjective, not objective. Someone committed to objective moral truths thinks there are facts of the matter about ethics, so this solution simply won't do.

Besides, if there are multiple agents who are constant in their moral code (say a bunch of extremely stubborn individuals, gods and demons), then you will find yourself stuck with a really worrying problem that there are multiple standards, all of them equally valid. Something more than constancy of one's demands on themselves and others is necessary to ground moral obligation.

4:31 PM

 
Blogger Alex said...

Hey Tom,
Super busy at the moment. I only have time to address the very first thought you offered. I really would like to spend some time with the rest of your comments though (same to you Timmo) so feel free to just hold on responding to this (if you can) lest we get further side tracked.

Tom:"and so the ‘how does this make it morality rather than something else?’ question keeps its force."

I see morality, ultimately, as the why behind the action, not the action itself. Thus, in answer to the question: "why is it right to do such and such?" there must ultimately be the answer: "because God is", or no answer at all.

Remember this quote from way back when? (source)
Suppose that someone were to ask you whether it is good to help others in time of need. Unless you suspected some sort of trick, you would answer, “Yes, of course.” If this person were to go on to ask you why acting in this way is good, you might say that it is good to help others in time of need simply because it is good that their needs be satisfied. If you were then asked why it is good that people's needs be satisfied, you might be puzzled. You might be inclined to say, “It just is.” Or you might accept the legitimacy of the question and say that it is good that people's needs be satisfied because this brings them pleasure. But then, of course, your interlocutor could ask once again, “What's good about that?” Perhaps at this point you would answer, “It just is good that people be pleased,” and thus put an end to this line of questioning. Or perhaps you would again seek to explain the fact that it is good that people be pleased in terms of something else that you take to be good. At some point, though, you would have to put an end to the questions, not because you would have grown tired of them (though that is a distinct possibility), but because you would be forced to recognize that, if one thing derives its goodness from some other thing, which derives its goodness from yet a third thing, and so on, there must come a point at which you reach something whose goodness is not derivative in this way, something that “just is” good in its own right, something whose goodness is the source of, and thus explains, the goodness to be found in all the other things that precede it on the list. It is at this point that you will have arrived at intrinsic goodness.

12:15 PM

 
Blogger Tom Freeman said...

Hi Alex
I’ve been way too busy this week as well. Without wanting to sidetrack, I’ll just come in quickly on this:

I see morality, ultimately, as the why behind the action, not the action itself. Thus, in answer to the question: "why is it right to do such and such?" there must ultimately be the answer: "because God is", or no answer at all.

I completely agree with the first sentence! And I agree with about the first three-quarters of that quote:

if one thing derives its goodness from some other thing, which derives its goodness from yet a third thing, and so on, there must come a point at which you reach something whose goodness is not derivative in this way, something that “just is” good in its own right, [I take issue with this bit onwards:] something whose goodness is the source of, and thus explains, the goodness to be found in all the other things that precede it on the list. It is at this point that you will have arrived at intrinsic goodness.

The unsupported assumption here is: if we accept that any chain of ‘why is that good’ questions has to stop somewhere, with something “that’s good in its own right”, then all such chains have to stop in the same, single place, which is “the source of… the goodness to be found in all the other things”.

Anyway, you already know what I think about that! Right, I’m off to the pub.

9:59 AM

 

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