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[RD] Ask a Theologian V

Discussion in 'Off-Topic' started by Plotinus, Nov 17, 2013.

  1. Jehoshua

    Jehoshua Catholic

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    The teleological end of human life intended by God in the Christian conception is the beatific vision and union with God, not the instant of death. Sin is simply the engagement of actions that thwart this end, which is achieved through fidelity to the law of God and the sanctification of the human soul through theosis.

    On your point regarding sex, the natural end of sex is directly reproduction. Its why the entire set of sexual equipment biologically came to be. Presuming evolution (sorry creationists :p ) the very reason sex exists is due to the biological imperative of procreation, with all other aspects of sex (such as pleasure) being entirely contingent, and indeed oriented to serve this end (pleasure existing so that it is enjoyable, thus supporting procreation by making sex a desirable activity). Your assertion that reproduction is a byproduct (in the sense of ends) of sex is simply absurd from a biological point, and from any rational perspective, it is quite clear procreation is the direct objective. Now this applies to morality in the Christian perpective, since Christianity upholds that God created the universe and established within it an order. If the ultimate end of the Christian is to obtain the beatific vision through following Gods law, than acting in harmony with the order of nature obtains a moral character, since the entire definition of morality hangs upon becoming closer to the divine. Ergo what is in accord with the order of God's creation and is in harmony with his will and divine plan is moral, and what is not is immoral. Since God created the universe and its laws, and since sex is biologically in the laws of nature oriented towards procreation, to the Christian it is morally right to act in harmony with the inherent order of nature, and with the natural end of the sexual act as is imperative biologically, within the context of the end of the human being himself to achieve the beatific vision.

    Your position that what is moral and what is immoral changes on the other hand is entirely predicated upon a worldview which denies the existence of God, and is abject relativism. Likewise it clearly manifests the reality that without God morality cannot exist, since if God does not exist (and man does not have a teleological end in salvation) what is left is pure opinion and no moral conception can be said to be objectively true. This leads logically of course to the nihilistic vitalist rhetoric you have expressed here. The discussion between Plotinus and I however fundamentally hinges on whether the Catholic framework is consistent, which naturally presumes the existence of God with all the accompanying ramifications of that existence.
     
  2. Agent327

    Agent327 Observer

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    His human nature or person, that is. But Jesus is also God, and God "offering" something to God would hardly qualify as a gift, let alone a sacrifice. My point is: God does not sacrifice anything in the procedure. For God to actually sacrifice something would include, say, God, giving up immortality or any other Divine quality.

    I also do not see the omniscience precluding sacrifice explained away.

    That's illogical: God is immortal, ergo God cannot die (if God did die, i.e. gave up immortality, that obviously would be a scarifice). Again, this seems to preclude any sacrifice on the part of God. (My question is not about incarnation or the various interpretations of it, but about the central Christian tenet that the death of Jesus is a sacrifice.)

    (I apologize for not addressing your other comments, as they do not seem to address the issue.)

    The teleological end of human life intended by God in the Christian conception is not the same as the natural end of life.

    Only from a limited biological point of view is this tenable. There are plenty of arganism that reproduce asexually or non-bisexually. So, even biologically speaking reproduction came before sex.

    Actually, it isn't. It's simply how morality evolves during time. (I do not deny God, by the way.)

    I would call that a (very) personal view.

    You seem to be unaware that there are plenty of moral systems which do not depend on the existence of God. You are, in fact, arguing that an atheist or a Buddhist is by definition immoral. That seems a rather absurd position.

    I would, in fact, call our very disagreement on the nature of morality a clear illustration of the relativity thereof.

    Which 'nihilist vitalist rehetoric' would that be precisely? You see, I am neither a nihilist nor a vitalist, so I'm quite curious at this point. One can be perfectly moral, independent of the matter whether there is a God. For instance, I consider stealing wrong, but I do not base this consideration on the yay or nay existence of God.

    Indeed. If you check the Gospels you may note that the Annunciation merely consists of the announcement that Mary shall have a son and that she should name him Joshua (transliterated as Jesus). The gradual removal of Joseph as Jesus' father is an interesting theological process. The fact that Luke inserts an apocryphal trip to Bethlehem (in order to take part in a census that did not take place, since at the time of Jesus' birth Israel/Palestine did not form part of the Roman empire, but was still ruled by Herod; in addition, no empirewide census is known from this time). The urge to make Jesus' birth circumstances fit in with Judaic prophecies would need either Joseph or Mary to be descendant from David; hence the Joseph genealogy that is included. Which is subsequently annulled by the blunt announcement that Joseph is not Jesus' father. This ofcourse could not hide the fact that Jesus simply isn't from the house of David: one of the main reasons mainstream Judaism never accepted him as Messiah. Simply put: he didn't fit the profile. It was a matter that clearly troubled early Christianity, as I'm sure Plotinus can explain in detail.
     
  3. Arakhor

    Arakhor Dremora Courtier Moderator

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    It’s also the line that many fundamentalist Christians of all stripes are oft to use.
     
  4. Jehoshua

    Jehoshua Catholic

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    If one believes that persons cease to exist at the moment of death, or if one rejects Christian teaching on the matter. However since the whole argument on contraception is regarding the consistency of Catholic doctrine on contraception, it is precisely the Christian conception of mans natural end that is the reference for the subject.

    We are not talking about other species though, or bacteria that procreate through division. We are talking about humans and their agency, which makes your point irrelevant.

    On the contrary, what you have stated is moral relativism objectively. Likewise you are completely ignoring that to the Catholic (again, the Catholic philosophical sphere being the frame of reference for whether the Church's teaching on contraception is self-consistent) morality is objective and entirely extrinsic to human opinion. What's right is right even if no one is doing it, and what's wrong is wrong even if everyone is doing it sort of thing.

    To say morality changes (in the sense of what is right and what is wrong) is as I noted before, dependent on moral relativism which sees human opinion as the root determinant of morality, which ultimately means there is no objective morality since all that exists is pure opinion.

    The nihilist part would be your argument, which logically leads to a conclusion that life is fundamentally meaningless and the vitalism is implied by your statements on sex (although vitalism is just a stage of nihilism).

    I did not say that a moral system cannot exist without God, I said a) that any moral conception without God cannot reasonably be argued to be objectively true, and that b) morality as an objective and extrinsic phenomena (as distinct from human moral codes) cannot be said to exist without God, since there would be nothing objective to say any particular point of morality is actually objectively true. If there is no natures God, all a Buddhist or atheist can do is point to human opinion, or to the fact something is "bad' for whatever reason. He cannot say that a universal and objective moral order exists intrinsic to creation that is universal and independently true regardless of what human being think, and he cannot say that a contrary opinion is any less valid (ergo he can't say his moral code is objective). His code of course exists, but since it lacks reference to anything other than human beings, any assertion of universality is highly questionable, and all he has really is his own opinion on what is moral. Creation lacking a creator simply exists as a brute fact, and cannot be said to be right or wrong in it, things simply are and thus meaningless.

    Likewise your assertion that my argument means an atheist or Buddhist cannot be moral is simply absurd. If my argument clarified above is true (which I obviously think it is) that does not mean the Buddhist or Atheist cannot act morally, it simply means that the moral order exists independently of what the atheist and Buddhist thinks and his actions are moral or immoral depending on his actions accordance to that order which is extrinsic to him. If giving alms to the poor is good according to the objective, divinely instituted, moral law, than if a Buddhist gives alms he is doing moral good irrespective of the fact he can't claim his own moral code is objective in the absence of a God. Likewise if God does not exist, no ones actions (atheist, Buddhist or Christian) have any moral value whatsoever beyond human opinion, which means morality cannot be objective since there would be no grounding beyond opinion (one could say charity is good, and another could say thievery is good as a manifestation of survival of the fittest, and both would be equally valid since there would be no reference beyond opinion), and morality could not be said to be an independent phenomenon that actually exists in a real sense.
     
  5. Eran of Arcadia

    Eran of Arcadia Stormin' Mormon Retired Moderator

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    Whatever the historical validity of that part of the Gospels, someone can legitimately be someone's heir through adoption, which would seem to cover it.
     
  6. Plotinus

    Plotinus Philosopher Administrator

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    I sympathise with your rejection of JEELEN's extreme relativism, but I don't think that this conclusion really works. Why can't morality be a brute fact? The Buddhist can assert that suffering just is bad - just as the Catholic can assert that obedience to God's will just is good. The Catholic position is that there are brute facts independent of God's will, such as the necessary truths of mathematics. How, one might ask, can anyone say that it's true that 2+2=4 without appealing to God? But we do, and Catholics don't have a problem with that. Why not say the same thing about ethical truths? It may be that we can't know moral facts with as much certainty as we can mathematical ones, but that doesn't mean that there can't be any. To say that the only possible ground for the objectivity of morality is God is pure assertion, and it's shown up as such by the fact that even theists - even theists who believe this - at the same time believe that there are other objective facts which don't depend upon God.

    As I said before, I don't see any reason why the claim "it is wrong to cause suffering" can't be objectively, universally true, such that we can morally rank actions according to how much suffering they cause and morally rank agents according to how much suffering they intend to cause. Why is that any less plausible than "it is wrong to deviate from God's plan" or "it is wrong to disobey God" or however you want to phrase it? You might ask how we can know that it's wrong to cause suffering; after all, we have only our gut instinct to follow on this. You'd be quite right to ask that, but precisely the same question can be asked of the God-based claim as well. How can we know that it's wrong to deviate from God's plan? How, indeed, could we even know what God's plan actually is? Any moral theory, whether theistic or not, faces a serious epistemological problem along these lines - you can't make out that theistic theories are immune to it in some special way.

    Besides, the claim that morality is dependent upon God's will itself has serious problems which are well known. The most obvious and well known is that one can always ask why God decrees that e.g. charity is good and murder is bad. If he has no reason, then his commands are arbitrary whims and there really is no true morality at all. If he does have a reason, then that reason is what actually makes charity good and murder bad.

    One can put this another way. Are there possible worlds in which God decrees that charity is bad and murder is good? If there are not, then it's a necessary truth that charity is good and murder is bad, and necessary truths do not depend upon God's will. In that case we certainly don't need to appeal to God's will to explain why charity is good and murder is bad, they just are, necessarily. What, then, if there are possible worlds in which God decrees that charity is bad and murder is good? Then a form of relativism is true: not temporal or regional relativism (according to which good and bad vary by time or place) but modal relativism (according to which good and bad vary between possible worlds). This is a problem because it suggests that there's nothing intrinsically good about charity or intrinsically bad about murder; they're only good or bad because of facts external to them, and moreover these are contingent facts, namely the will of God which might (by hypothesis) have been different. And that seems a fundamentally relativist position to take, even if it's combined with the claim that in fact in the actual world charity is always good and murder is always bad. It makes out that charity is always good and murder is always bad only in the same sense that the sun always rises in the east and always sets in the west, or in the sense that human beings always have ten fingers and ten toes (barring birth defects and accidents). It's always true but only accidentally so - it could have been otherwise. That seems to me very unsettling.

    This is why I think it's wrong for divine command theorists to accuse non-theistic moral theories of relativism. They're just as relativist themselves, and arguably more so. Every argument by which the theist makes out rival theories to be relativist applies just as well to the theistic theory.
     
  7. Jehoshua

    Jehoshua Catholic

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    Catholics assert that obedience to Gods will is good firstly simply because God is God and seeking God is a good end in and of itself, and secondly by virtue that God created the universe. Ergo its his game so to speak and so he is arbiter that determines its rules.

    However on the main point you make, would it not be logically absurd to say some law in the universe, or some matter, exists independently of God as creator? I mean, to say that that thing (be it the laws of mathematics or some portion of the material stuff in the universe) was not created by God, which would imply the universe including its matter and its laws was not created by God (which is against the definition of God as creator). . You can't say that mathematical laws (rather than pure chaos, or some strange reality incomprehensible to our limited minds bound up in the laws we operate within) exist independently of God unless you deny God exists, since if the Universe is created by God than by definition he created the mathematical laws that underpin it. Indeed since God by definition is the first principle and eternal (timeless), than if God exists than you can't say anything is independent of Him (either as part of his essential nature, or by his decree in the act of creation) since everything would be contingent on God.

    Your point on suffering just reiterates what I said about a moral system divorced from God being entirely based in human opinion. We COULD rank actions according to how much suffering they cause, and morally rank agents according to similar criteria, however there is no universal objectivity to that moral assertion and its fundamental reduction is pure and simple human opinion. Thus while it is fair to say that it is a moral code, it is not correct to say that it is an objective and universal morality that is extrinsic to human beings. It would be a fabrication of the human intellect and one could not argue reasonably for a distinction in validity between that moral code and any other.

    With regards to morality being dependant on God however, it is of course arbitrary in the sense God chose a particular order rather than another (as is true any other aspect of creation). Morality however could be said to be universal, and to be extrinsic to human whim precisely because God is eternal and the creator. As I said its his game and so his rules apply, and an objective morality is such precisely because it has been deemed thus by the creator.

    If alternate universes with opposing moral codes do not exist, that does not make the "necessary truth' independent of God. Indeed what would make that truth true would be precisely that a given moral truth proceeds from the Eternal Gods uncreated nature, being instituted by God into His creation (both generally and in the limited sense of humanity proper) as a reflection of Himself. Ergo that moral law would be objective in origin and be necessary precisely because it is essential to the divine being whom ordered the universe. It wouldn't be extraneous to or independent of God, but proceed necessarily from Him.

    On your hypothetical alternate universes. If alternative universes with opposing moral codes do exist, and what is evil in one is good in another are different (presuming that men in both are otherwise identical) the laws in each one would still both proceed from the one thing that is non-contingent (God) and eternal, which is the creator of both universes. They would thus be objective in the sense that they are universally valid as implementations of the divine will, and objective in the very basest since that morality would be reduced to "what God decrees as creator is law" and thus universally valid. A non-theistic conception couldn't claim this precisely because there would be no reasonable basis for any one conception to have higher validity than another, since all conceptions would be simply products of human beings.

    That said, I think the first notion is true.

    If the first notion in the above section is true (that the moral law as instituted by God is a manifestation of Gods essential nature) than morality (in the objective extrinsic to humanity sense) being a divine command "God's game, God's rules" thing couldn't in any way be called relative, and it couldn't be called true independent of God as creator. Even the second notion can still be called objective in the very base sense that Godly whim still applies universally and exists extrinsically.

    However I think my position (particularly considering that if God exists independent brute facts are impossible) that any moral conception without God cannot reasonably be argued to be objectively true, and that morality as an objective and extrinsic phenomena (as distinct from human moral codes) cannot be said to exist remains valid.
     
  8. Agent327

    Agent327 Observer

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    Again, Christian teaching is not the same as Catholic doctrine on contraception.

    I used other organisms as an example; reproduction came before sex, biologically speaking. Also, ofcourse, humans evolved from other organisms. So other organisms are hardly irrelevant, on the contrary.

    Since Catholic morality is just as human as competing moralities (they are, after all, formulated by humans), I fail to see the point here.

    As Plotinus noted, that does not automatically and necessarily follow. But let's take biblical morality as an example: are adulterers stoned to death? If not, has the Church's position on adultery changed? Christianity's opinion on various moral issues has obviously changed. Not to mention that Jesus' morality seems to differ on various issues from Judaic morality. To hold that the Church's position on one issue (contraception) has remained unchanged - against which one might argue - hardly is proof that Christian morality is unchanged or unchangeable. There are numerous examples to wit where the Church's morality has indeed changed over time. (Slavery, to name one.) It would be absurd if Christinanity's morality had not changed over time, as it would then be applicable to a situation that no longer exists; in essence, its morality would become irrelevant through being outdated. (Contraception is a good example thereof. You may argue that the Church's position is - and has been - internally and theologically consistent here, but that does not deny the fact that its consequences have lead to an immoral position.)

    It is not nihilism if one states that the meaning of life is what humans assign to it. In fact, this is exactly what morality (from whatever source) does: assign meaning. (It is very possible that this is the reason for morality in the first place, but that is in itself irrelevant.)

    I'm still not following how what I said about sex amounts to vitalism; I don't quite see the point in labelling comments like this. It does not clarify, it obfuscates.

    You seem to ignore the fact that ultimately, all morality is based on opinion - including that of the H. Church.

    That would include the Christian acts then - for which you, however, seem to make an exception. That's illogical. If morality exists independent from human activity, that must hold true for all men; if not, you have a double standard, which, morally speaking, could be termed dubious.

    You seem to be basically arguing that morality exists independent of humans or human will; however, morality is a very human concept -even if one thinks of it as some sort of Platonic ideal. It's not the abstract, absolute morality you seem to think of that is of use in daily life, it's the practical morality that is of use. (A practical morality, I would like to add, that seems to have been missing in the internally and theologically consistent attitude of the H. Church towards decades of pedosexual abuse by its own clergy, which has been immoral in the extreme. Hardly an institution guided by a "higher" moral law.)

    So what is this objective, divinely instituted, moral law you speak of? And if it exists, why is the Catholic church consistently ignoring it? Perhaps because it is a very human institution?

    @Plotinus: Theology has given up on the answer to my question? Because of extreme relativism?
     
  9. Takhisis

    Takhisis ΑΛΗΘΩС ΑΝΕСΤΗ

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    Could be, could be. I'm not sure I was aiming for that but exams-addled Takh often produces such results.
    Wine is a status symbol, a source of pleasure and/or inebriation…
    Sex (and sex appeal, clothes, etc.) is used for pleasure, as a status symbol, for revenge, etc., many ways beyond its original purpose.
    Of course, we are comparing from different places, because here wine is overabundant and drunk in a lot of ways while it's a luxury item over there.

    Also, I'll include a quote that the admins of this site think i am right in my signature.
    Maybe we should speak about 'purpose' instead of 'end', to avoid confusion. All life ends in death. But they have different purposes.
    God is Jesus' father, Joseph is his early father who treated him as such. Of course, in those times they didn't have the same values as they do now.
    Some people confuse 'Christian' with '(Roman) Catholic'.
     
  10. Arakhor

    Arakhor Dremora Courtier Moderator

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    And some other people assume that Catholics aren't Christians, but I'd hope that, in a theology thread, mind-numbingly basic errors like that would be avoided.
     
  11. MagisterCultuum

    MagisterCultuum Great Sage

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    Why should we view the Catholic position on sex being for reproduction as anything more than the cognitive bias of Functional Fixedness?
     
  12. timtofly

    timtofly One Day

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    @ Sex:

    People tend to forget that when one goes through the act of sex, it is more than just pleasure. It allows a chemical process in the brain that binds one to the object of the act. That is why it is addictive. The purpose of marriage was put down in the very first chapter of the Bible and that it was to make two individuals into one flesh, both in reproduction as well as what is described as a "soul mate". That each person can be radically different as in "opposites attract" it works out as bringing the strengths from each individual to form a stronger union. That is why there is submission on both sides. It is not a one way street of domination.

    It was also not suppose to be done with multiple partners unless 3+ members in the union all receive a same and equal implementation of such a union.

    @ Christianity

    Yes we all know that the "Christian" "religion" (A relationship with God outside of religion that accepts Christ is outside of religious dogma's and rules that tend to come after years of evolution) has been split into thousands of pieces and no one piece has any monopoly over any other piece. They tend to be structured to make it look that way, but that is all human fabrication and not necessarily the Will of God.

    @ Atonement

    Paul laid out in Romans why the term sacrifice was used. It is the fulfillment of the Law that demanded a sacrifice. Now if Christ did not fulfill that, then we will have to wait for the Jews to re-establish their religion and their laws and their temple so a Messiah can be sent by God to be the sacrifice that such a "setup" would require and represent. The atonement could be done outside such an experience, but it would make less sense than it does now.

    God does not need a sacrifice, he could just wipe the slate clean and start over if and when he so choses. God set up the need for the sacrifice when he allowed humans to have free will and then gave Adam the choice to live with the knowledge of good and evil which had been already "messed up" by the angels. God called out a people and created a Law that demanded such a sacrifice. The life of Jesus was the end of such action, and his people were spread to the ends of the earth. Humans can refuse the notion that this is indeed a sacrifice, but it seems to have met all of God's requirements and since it was God who put it in motion, it is probably only God who determines the fulfillment of said requirements.

    I always thought it interesting that God can now sit beside himself in Human form, and would not dissolve that "person" back into Himself.
     
  13. Takhisis

    Takhisis ΑΛΗΘΩС ΑΝΕСΤΗ

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    What?
     
  14. timtofly

    timtofly One Day

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    That is not practical now, but that is the way it was designed. We have given ourselves plenty of license and excuses to subvert the design.
     
  15. Takhisis

    Takhisis ΑΛΗΘΩС ΑΝΕСΤΗ

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    And where have you got this… information from?
     
  16. Gary Childress

    Gary Childress Student for and of life

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    How can anyone tell what is "in accord with the order of God's creation" and what is not? Obviously sex can be done for purposes of procreation or it can be done for purposes of pleasure. If God wanted only the former why did he create the capacity for the latter? It seems sort of arbitrary to say one thing people often do is "natural" and something else isn't.

    I do agree that some things are destructive (for example) and others not and very often the destructive carries a sense of moral wrong with it for most of us but I don't see where sex for pleasure is necessarily destructive. Therefore I don't get the same sense of what the great wrong is with it.

    As far as the "natural end of sex being directly reproduction", what is meant by "natural"? What is meant by "directly"? It seems to me that one can just as easily state that the "direct" end of sex is pleasure and an indirect end is reproduction and be just as consistent with the meanings of the words "direct" and "indirect".

    If the end/intent of sex is reproduction then why does it need to be pleasurable? If I and a woman want to have children then we can perform sex and have children. It doesn't need to be pleasurable for the two of us to want and to have children. No pleasure needs to be involved. So why does there need to be any pleasure involved at all? If having children is something two people want to do then they can perform the act without deriving pleasure from it. Pleasure seems like an entirely unneeded accessory. And yet pleasure is there, ergo, God wants us to sometimes have sex for pleasure. QED. j/k
     
  17. timtofly

    timtofly One Day

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    What information? You hold to treating each other with equality and respect? If one person is weaker in one area, then another will have to take up the slack, but if no one is willing to do so, where does that leave us? You would rather we abuse ourselves and things will "hopefully" work out in the end?

    If you think that a "one night stand" does not actually do anything in the brain, then how would one even associate pleasure with it? As pointed out, if it only produced pain and anguish we would not do it. So until someone can figure out a way to not record the experience to the brain and still produce pleasure, that brain writing episode is going to pop up in unexpected ways in the future as a memory that cannot be erased. Scientific studies have been done and the information is out there on the topic. Now drinking may erase brain cells, but is there a guarantee it is going to "take care" of the "right" ones?
     
  18. El_Machinae

    El_Machinae Colour vision since 2018 Retired Moderator

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    This law, that God is the first principle and timeless, certainly seems to exist independently of God as Creator. He Created himself as First Principle? No, that just doesn't follow. It's a law of Nature more meta than God.
    This is a common error. Just because we cannot objectively perceive the moral code (how could we?), doesn't mean that an objectively moral code doesn't exist. It's like the relative health of different foods; eggs are objectively better for you than the equivalent calories in arsenic. It's a head-scratcher as to whether broccoli or cauliflower is superior for me this evening, but that doesn't mean that there there's an objectively true answer. We can perceive that either is better than arsenic (because it's true), but our ability to perceive fine-grained objective differences is limited.
    Well, I think there's reason to believe that traveling backwards in time is a big 'no no', due to it being apparently forbidden by the fundamental laws of the universe.
     
  19. Gary Childress

    Gary Childress Student for and of life

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    I'm sure this is true but among things that are possible for us to do how can we tell an action is or isn't in "accord with God's purposes" or whatever?
     
  20. Plotinus

    Plotinus Philosopher Administrator

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    There are two distinct claims here, which you're running together.

    First, there is the claim that (1) obeying God is good.

    Second, there is the claim that (2) only obeying God is good, or, if you prefer, that obedience to God is the sole good-making characteristic of any act.

    What you've said in the above quotation supports (1). And indeed (1) seems perfectly reasonable. If God exists and is the perfectly good creator, then yes, obeying him would be right. Not only that, but it would be right to obey him in matters that would otherwise be morally indifferent; e.g. if God commands everyone to drive on the left instead of the right, it would be right to do so simply because he has commanded it, even though there's no intrinsic moral rightness or wrongness about driving on one side of the road rather than the other.

    But just because (1) is true (and, if God exists, it is true), that doesn't get you to (2). The reason for this is that (1) is plausible because it rests on a general moral principle, which is that the wishes of someone to whom you owe a great deal are to be respected. E.g. children should, other thing being equal, obey their parents; I should, other things being equal, obey the law. You said this yourself when you said that the universe is God's game and he gets to lay down the rules; if he is our creator then we owe him our obedience.

    But if you're trying to defend not claim (1) but claim (2), you can't do this, because claim (2) states that all moral principles derive from God. But this would include the principle that it is right to obey the commands of someone to whom you owe a great deal (or in this case, your existence); and it's wrong to disobey them. Where does that principle come from? It can't be laid down by God, because then the argument would be circular: you'd be saying that all moral principles derive from God because of this other moral principle that derives from God. But if it's not laid down by God, then there is at least one moral principle that doesn't derive from God. And indeed some defenders of divine command theory have tried to argue this, but to my mind at least it doesn't make sense; if you're going to accept that there are any moral principles that are independent of God then I don't see why the rest of them can't be too.

    Some philosophers and theologians in the past have thought this, most notably Descartes, who got into a bit of trouble for it. Peter Damian is often cited as defending a view like this too, though I think he didn't really do so. However, the vast majority of classical theists have rejected it, and held that necessary truths are true independent of God's will. That is, God does not have the power to determine what is (logically) possible; he has only the power to actualise anything that is (logically) possible. So, for example, the fact that 2+2=4 is necessarily true quite apart from anything God wills, and God could not change that fact if he wanted to (not that he would want to). Similarly, God cannot create a square circle, because such a thing is a contradiction in terms, and the fact that it's a contradiction in terms has nothing to do with God's will.

    This is the standard Catholic view. Thus, in the ST I.25.3:

    There is of course nothing in this to contradict the idea that God is the creator of everything, since possibilities aren't things, and neither are necessary truths. God is the creator of all actual things other than himself, including the whole universe and everything in it; it doesn't follow from this that he's the creator of the logical laws (as opposed to the physical laws) by which all possible universes run, because those aren't really things, they're just necessary facts.

    But you're not giving any reason for this view. You say that if we were to rank actions according to the suffering they cause, there would be "no universal objectivity to that moral assertion". Evidently you think not, but what's the argument for this view?

    You must distinguish between two different claims here:

    (1) It is possible (i.e. it could have been true) that "it is wrong to cause suffering" is an objective moral fact that is necessarily true independently of the will of God.

    (2) It is true that "it is wrong to cause suffering" is an objective moral fact that is necessarily true independently of the will of God.

    Now clearly you reject (2) because it is inconsistent with your God-based metaethics. But I'm not asserting (2). I'm only asserting (1). This is because you're claiming that your God-based metaethics is not only true, but the only possible system under which moral claims have objective truth. This is an extremely strong assertion and one that seems, on the face of it, false, given that we can easily imagine alternative systems in which moral claims have objective truth. These systems don't need to be true to be counter-examples to your claim, they only need to be possible.

    So imagine, if you will, that moral truths are true in the same way that Aquinas says necessary truths are true, i.e. because their denial would involve an inherent contradiction, not because of the will of God. You will surely agree that (1) this is a comprehensible claim and describes a possible way that things could have been, at least as far as we can tell, even if you think it's not how things actually are. You must also agree that (2) if this situation were to obtain, moral truths would be objectively true and not a mere matter of human opinion. But if you agree to these two things, you must agree that (3) it's wrong to state that divine command theory is the only way to secure the objectivity of moral truths and that all alternatives are mere relativism. If you want to continue to deny (3) then you must say which of (1) and (2) you reject, and why. Because both (1) and (2) seem to be true.

    As I said above, the argument that "it's his game and so his rules apply" appeals to a moral principle (i.e. whoever's game it is, gets to make the rules, such that disobeying them is immoral), which is fatal to the argument. Does that moral principle depend on God's will or not? If yes, morality is circular; if no, morality isn't down to God after all.

    I find it very hard to understand what this would involve. I can understand the idea that charity is good because God commands it, on the understanding that he could have commanded something different. I think it's a mistaken idea, but I understand what's being said there. But what does it mean to say that the goodness of charity just emanates from God necessarily, and not as a consequence of his will? What makes it good? The fact that it reflects (in some way) the way that God is, or the way that God behaves? Well, perhaps that can make sense. But it seems to be inadequate to explain morality. Perhaps charity is good, in the sense of admirable or beautiful or desirable, because it reflects God's nature. But I could say, without any apparent inconsistency, that I think it's good in that sense, whilst denying that I'm under any moral obligation to perform it. Just as I can say that Michelangelo's David is a good sculpture without feeling under any moral obligation to carve something similar myself. Morality is about obligation and imperative - if an act is moral, it's not just something to admire, it's something that I ought to do. And if an act is immoral, it's not just something to abhor, it's something that I ought not to do. God is a perfectly admirable being, and we may say that what comes from God is as perfectly admirable as anything can be that isn't God; but you can't get moral imperatives from that.

    (You can get moral imperatives from divine commands, for the reasons I gave above; so in that sense, divine command theory is superior to this sort of divine essence theory, at least as an explanation of morality. The problem with divine command theory is that, as I've said, you can't base the whole moral system on it; you can only say that some things are right or wrong because of God's commands, not that God's commands are what determine all rightness and wrongness.)

    I'll accept that if this is your view, it's not relativist. But I think it buys that non-relativism at too high a price, namely the price of not really being an explanation of morality at all. It's more like an explanation of beauty. (And that's hardly surprising, given that it basically is the Neoplatonic explanation of beauty, recast into moral language.)

    Sure, they'd be objectively true for the people in that universe, but obviously not necessarily true; just as it's objectively true for us that light travels at 299,792,458 metres per second, but presumably there are possible universes in which it doesn't. But I still say that there's a worrying modal relativism about this idea, because it would accept that morality could have been different, which means there's nothing inherently good about charity or inherently bad about murder.
     

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