Good afternoon, Ionian_Tradition:
I too would like to note that your conversation with me has been most helpful. I left this forum about a year ago, but returned this summer for two reasons. The first was because there were several new people who seemed of the highest character, and whom I thought I would benefit from speaking with. The second was that I thought the dialogue could be helpful as I studied for my entrance exam in August. I consider this debate the pinnacle of fulfilling both of my expectations, and I consider you an extremely intelligent and able debater. As you have been so kind as to yield to me the final word, I'll try to be brief. It always bothers me when someone takes the opportunity of going last as a chance to throw a few final curve balls. I'll simply try to clarify a few things and suggest potential points of further inquiry.
I believe you may have misunderstood my point. My intention here was to demonstrate that the obligation which arises from the formula you've presented is strictly rational in nature. While it may be true that the decision to act in accordance with a desire to fulfill one's teleological purpose may have a certain "moral" significance, it is not true that the obligation to act in accordance with one's desires is a "moral" obligation...Again such an obligation, per your argument, is strictly rational, so when I use the term "justified" I do not mean it in a moral sense, (your argument makes no provision for this) rather I mean to say that one is rationally justified when one acts in accordance with one's desires (be they nefarious or beneficent). The fact that your argument is fit only to provide one with a rational obligation to act in accordance with one's desires ,while it simultaneously lacks the means to establish a moral obligation for one to act morally despite the subjective desires of the individual, makes provision for a scenario in which both the sinner and the saint stand rationally justified in their respective actions, provided those actions were predicated upon a subjective desire act in the manner chosen. I believe this significantly weakens your argument. If a man's actions are to be governed solely by subjective desire and not at all by moral imperative, then terms such as "good" and "evil" have become little more than descriptive labels. According to the logical formula youâ€™ve presented, a man could know precisely what "good" is, yet could justly be named "irrational" if he were to in fact pursue it (provided he held a desire to pursue the contrary).
I believe that my clarification on MacIntyre which I explained in my last post paints a different picture on this issue. Two brief points:
(1) Moral obligation must involve:
a) A teleological obligation based in our ontology resulting from the Creator God
b) A volitional obligation based on our duty to follow our will
c) A rational obligation based on our knowledge of what we must do if we wish to fulfill our teleological purpose.
(2) To be morally praiseworthy/justified, one must:
a) Fulfill the teleological obligation by fulfilling his or her purpose
b) Fulfill the volitional obligation by wanting
to fulfill the teleological purpose
c) Fulfill the rational obligation by knowing
one is fulfilling these purposes, and therefor intentionally
Thus, if someone subjectively wants to do good, and rationally thinks they are doing good, but does not fulfill the teleological purpose, he or she is not doing good. Likewise, if someone fulfills their teleological purpose, but does not wish to do so and acts under compulsion, then that person is not praiseworthy. And finally, if the person wishes to do the good, and coincidentally fulfills the teleological purpose, but rationally intended
to do something else and to act against his will for some reason, that person would not be morally praiseworthy.
Were this conversation to continue, I think we would need to discuss what a moral
obligation was contrary to a mere rational
obligation. Furthermore, we would need to ask how a subjective
moral agent, acting through subjectivity, could act in a way that accorded with an objective
Second, MacIntyre offers a few additional formulas that are helpful. First, he points to a formula from A.N. Prior which might be summarized as follows: X ought to do Y. A is X, therefore A ought to do Y. (After Virtue
, 57). So, "scissors ought to cut. This is a pair of scissors, therefore this ought to be able to cut." This form of argument is rooted completely in the teleological purpose of a thing. This would seem to offer the universal obligation to do the good which you say has been lacking: "Human beings ought to be good. Ionian_Tradition is a human being. Therefore, Ionian_Tradition ought to be good." I think it is apparent that there are two slightly different ways of using "ought" here, and I still believe that the covenantal formula I put forward introduces the obligation to one's self as well as to the One who designed you, which seems a bit closer to Biblical theology. But there is also in the Bible the idea that we are all designed for a specific purpose which we ought to fulfill.
Most fascinating. However, is not "purpose" prescribed by the subjective mind? There is no objective/universal law which states that "scissors ought to cut" irrespective of a subjective desire to use them in this fashion. Scissors can just as easily be used to carve or puncture. It is therefore evident that it is not scissors which "ought to cut" rather it is the individual who wishes to use scissors to cut who "ought" to use scissors in this manner. This argument seems to suggest that if a man wishes to defend his home and family from a violent intruder, he ought not use the Louisville slugger propped in the corner of his bedroom for the simple fact that baseball bats objectively/universally "ought to hit baseballs" not the heads of violent intrudersâ€¦ Clearly this is false. Similarly, though the subjective mind of God may desire my members to perform actions which are conducive with the purposes equally born from his subjective desires, it is in no way objectively true that I "ought" to use my body in a way which would serve to satisfy the subjective desires of God. Just as scissors can both cut and carve, so too can the body commit acts of both "good" and "evil". I see no reason why the body universally "ought" be used in one fashion to the exclusion of the other anymore than a newspaper universally/objectively ought to be read and not used as kindling for a camp fire. The manner in which I use my body or a piece of newspaper is predicated upon my subjective desires alone...Not upon objective/universal law.
I'll let your final objection stand here, with only a brief note of where future conversation would need to go on this issue.
I'm thinking of social constructionism. John Searle suggests that socially constructed realities (such as money, governments, etc) fit the following formula: X counts as Y in C. Social fact "Y" exists only through subjective intentionality, but it actually does
exist. In most social facts, X exists independently of social fact Y, (so the paper in paper money exists independently of it being money). However, arguably God's single creative act brings about both the existence of X, and the goodness of X which is Y. C would then be the conditions of purpose which would make human being X count as morally good, Y.
At present, this is not in a persuasive form, and it would be unfair of me to develop it further without giving you a chance to respond. However, future discussions might need to consider (1) how subjectively created realities such as social facts function, and (2) whether realities subjectively created by God would function differently than those created by human beings.
(3) covenantal moral obligation is an obligation which arises where the teleological and volitional obligation overlap: "if you want to fulfill your purpose and be good, you ought to act in a certain way."
I believe I've addressed most of this above. I will say however, that 3 is fundamentally predicated upon subjective desire (the desire to fulfill a purpose & be good). As such, the obligation which arises from this desire is rational in nature, not moral. To say 3 is a "moral obligation" is to imply the existence of a moral imperative which your argument makes no provision for.
You also say:
If one is not in covenant with God by will, one still can be condemned as a useless creation if one transgresses the teleological purpose.
Perhaps according to God's subjective opinion, but I suppose this would be of little significance to one who already lacks a desire to act in accordance with God's subjective desires, let alone a desire to be in covenant with him.
I think future discussion would require clarity on what constitutes a "moral imperative."
Furthermore, that the "sinner" cares little of not fulfilling his purpose is central to Christian orthodoxy. Thus, the "sinner" is given over to his own desires for hell, where there is no goodness, beauty, existence, or truth.
We've covered much of this in another thread and I've refrained from responding there so as to pick the discussion up here. However, upon further reflection, I wonder if, given the focus of this particular discussion, debating the existence of the Trinity is indeed proper...The title of this discussion ("Can a trinitarian God serve as the objective source of morality?") presupposes the existence of the trinitarian God. Therefore, in accordance with the principle of charity, it seems proper that I accept, for the sake of argument, the existence of the trinitarian God and proceed to formulate arguments under those terms. I shall endeavor to do just that, and will content myself to continue my dialogue with you concerning the existence/logical tenability of the Trinity in the aforementioned thread (provided you have the time of course). Forgive me if I've strayed too far from this thread's the topic of focus.
I do not see that you have strayed too far at all. In fact, I find at least a cursory degree of the discussion of the trinity vital. If I were to argue that "square circles" can explain morality, but the explanation depends on "square circles" existing, then the argument would seem to be nullified, as it would entail the acceptance of a logical impossibility.
Though I do not think that I would need to be able to perfectly explain the doctrine of the Trinity in this thread, I would hope that I could at least present a few arguments for why it isn't a logical contradiction. I hope I have done so above (or at least made a good effort of it).
Biblically, when the term "judgment" is used, as in the original example of "thou shalt not judge", the idea is not of forming true judgments or moral judgments. Rather, it is of making ultimate judgments, judgments about the eternal status and destiny of individuals. This belongs to the Lord alone (and perhaps those to whom he gives authority once they are sufficiently perfected... lots of exegetical issues I won't go into now).
Fair enough, however I'm not quite sure the judgment to terminate a life is "ultimate" in the manner you suggest given that the death of the body does not determine the eternal fate of the individual (if indeed there is life after death). It is quite evident that men can indeed terminate lives, thus to say that only God can make such judgements is simply not true. If there are judgements regarding the eternal status and destiny of the individual which belong solely to God and cannot be replicated by men, then they are judgements regarding the eternal fate of the soul (judgements men surely cannot replicate).
It would seem that your final sentence has granted the possibility that God could morally do things which humans beings could not. As future discussion would simply focus on which things would fit under this category, I think there wouldn't be much of importance left to discuss.
If however, you affirm that men can form both true and moral judgements then you leave room for the possibility that men could indeed formulate accurate judgements regarding not simply their own behavior, but the behavior of others, as well as judgements regarding how best to respond to such behavior in a moral fashion.
The Bible does not preclude making moral judgments about another person. Hence, "you shall know them by their fruits" (Matthew 6:17), or this is why the Old Testament gives various standards for testing a prophet. However, judgment in an ultimate sense is Gods. When he says "vengeance is mine" he points forward to the eschatological judgment when those who receive eternal life will be separated from those who face eternal judgment and vengeance.
We need only ask, is the act of God terminating a life an eschatological judgment? Is it possible for God to take a life and yet the act itself not be an act of eternal judgment? Surely the death the child in 2 Sam. 12:14-18, who God killed as a result of David's sin, was not an eschatological decision concerning the eternal fate of the child. Is it not possible that mortal body of the child was terminated but the eternal soul of the child was given eternal life with God? If so, the mere choice to terminate a life need not imply an eschatological judgment. In fact, I believe you would be hard pressed to demonstrate that the decision to terminate a mortal body is by nature an eschoatological judgment. It does not follow that because a mortal/temporal life has been willfully terminated an eschoatological judgment regarding the eternal fate of the individual (heaven or hell) has been made by virtue of the act itself. As such, I believe you may be conflating â€œeschatological judgmentsâ€� with â€œmortal judgmentsâ€�. The former being a decision which directly impacts the eternal destiny the individual, the later pertaining to a decision which directly impacts the fate of the mortal body. There is a distinction between these two judgments which I believe is illustrated nicely in Matthew 10:28 where it states:
Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell.
When we first began this discussion and this example, you cited three verses:
Deuteronomy 32:35 - "To me belongeth vengeance and recompense; their foot shall slide in due time: for the day of their calamity is at hand, and the things that shall come upon them make haste."
Romans 12:19 - "Do not take revenge, my friends, but leave room for God's wrath, for it is writen: 'vengeance belongeth to me; I will repay' says the Lord,"
Proverbs 20:22 - "Do not say, 'I'll pay you back for this wrong!' Wait for the Lord and he will deliver you."
Contained within these three verses is the idea of eschatology. Deuteronomy used the eschatological formula "the day of their calamity", Romans 12:19 referred back to Deuteronomy. Together, these verses present the idea that God's judgment is imminent, and point to the passive waiting and hope which the believers should adopt (again basic to the idea of eschatology). For this reason, my entire discussion explained why, as human beings, we ought not to do what God does: offer an eschatological judgment.
The example of David's child in 2 Samuel 12:14-18 is clearly not an eschatological example. But for that reason, it is not contiguous with my previous discussion and does not serve to undermine my previous claim. This example again shows where human beings ought to treat God's character as the standard for moral virture, but that, until they reach that ideal standard, they ought not to do certain acts.
So, for eschatological judgment:
A: A Being who is God, and therefor omniscient and morally perfect, can offer eschatological judgment
B: Humans ought to strive toward the character of God and thereby moral perfection
C: Lacking omniscience, human beings cannot emulate God in eschatological judgment
Similarly, in using death as a tool of punishment:
A: A being who is without sin (God), can judge sin and punish accordingly, such as by death
B: Human beings ought to emulate the character of God in attempting to be without sin
C: Lacking freedom from sin, human beings cannot emulate God in using death as a punishment
In both instances, the moral act of God is a result of the divine nature of God. In each instance, the human being strives to emulate the nature/character of God. But, in each instance, where the human being has not yet developed a nature sufficiently like God, the human being cannot do the actions appropriate to a being with a divine nature.
As you have rightly pointed out, man is not God. There are indeed actions which only God can perform which cannot be replicated by man. You accurately cite eschatological judgment as one of these acts, yet you confuse eschatological judgment with the act of terminating a life. The scriptural passage above clearly states that man is fully capable of killing the body (a mortal judgment) yet lacks the means to destroy the body & soul in hell (a eschatological judgment). Thus you are in error when you claim that, for instance, terminating the life of one found guilty of embezzlement, is an eschatological judgment. If it were, man would not be able to perform it (man is not God afterall). Given that man can indeed perform this act, it cannot be said that the act itself has any eschatological bearing on the eternal fate of the soul which once inhabited a body terminated for crimes of embezzlement. If a man takes a life, the decision to do so will always be a â€œmortal judgmentâ€�. If God takes a life and sends it to hell, the decision to do so was both a mortal judgment (termination of the body) and a eschatological judgment (the fate of the soul â€“ in this case, eternal separation from God in hell).
From this is seems clear that the act of terminating a life for crimes of embezzlement is both conducive with the nature of God and is an act which can be replicated by men. Therefore, if for any reason it is immoral for man to perform this act, then it is clear that what is conducive with the nature and character of God is not the standard which instructs human morality.
Luke 6:27-35 states:
27 â€œBut to you who are listening I say: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, 28 bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. 29 If someone slaps you on one cheek, turn to them the other also. If someone takes your coat, do not withhold your shirt from them. 30 Give to everyone who asks you, and if anyone takes what belongs to you, do not demand it back. 31 Do to others as you would have them do to you.
32 â€œIf you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners love those who love them. 33 And if you do good to those who are good to you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners do that. 34 And if you lend to those from whom you expect repayment, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, expecting to be repaid in full. 35 But love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back.
It would seem that vengefully taking the life of one who is guilty of thievery is not morally permissible per the words of Jesus Christ himself. Thus it has been made clear that what is conducive with the nature and character of God (terminating a life for crimes of embezzlement) is not the standard which instructs human behavior. Instead it would seem to be that which has been commanded by Jesus in scripture which instructs human morality. As such, the Euthyphro dilemma stands.
In reading back through these posts in our debate, one thing has become apparent. I spoke primarily in terms of the general metaphysics of morality, and you spoke primarily in specific examples.
Thus, when your first specific example related to eschatology, I used the example of eschatology to explain why someone who is not God could not eschatologically judge. Moral actions arise from moral being, and given Augustine's connection between morality, truth, beauty, and existence, the maximally moral being is also the maximally existent being: God. Insofar as human beings are not maximally existent, they cannot be maximally moral. Yet God, as maximal being, is still by virtue of his character the standard for goodness, and it is because of the fact that human beings fall short of the character of God that they cannot do these actions. This is the bulk of my argument.
Your objections are coming from a view of morality alien from my own. I have tried to affirm that the primary question is that of being
good, whereas you continue to ask questions about doing
the good. You want to ask: "can a Christian kill an embezzler in the way that God does?" I want to ask: "Is the Christian the sort of being who can kill an embezzler, or is God this sort of being?" Your question looks at the actions without care for the nature of the moral agent. But, given my Augustinian assumptions clearly stated at the beginning of our debate, the moral character and existential being of an agent are inseparable. To be maximally good, one must be
maximal. Therefore, in continuing to point to specific examples, you are not addressing the actual claims of my ethical system.
If you want to look at the specifics of embezzlement, we can point to the same as above in the case of the death of David's child: we cannot kill as a result of sin because we ourselves are sinful. This fits with John 8:7 - "Let he who is without sin be the first to cast the stone." But even though Jesus tells
the apostles in Luke 6, or tells he crowd in John 8, that those who are sinful should not kill the sinner or act in anger towards them, it does not follow that these things are wrong solely by virtue of Jesus having said so. I can say "it is wrong to kill", but my having said so doesn't make it true.
You claim that God teaching one thing and doing another restores the Euthyphro dilemma by saying that God arbitrarily says what is good and evil, but it seems to me that I can still maintain that God Himself can be the standard of good by virtue of His maximal being, but can tell human beings not to try to do those things which a less-than-maximal being cannot do without making his words the standard instead of his character. After all, if the reason Jesus says these things is because of the character of God, the character remains the standard of goodness.
Let's say that you are a marathon runner. You have won all the big races, you won gold medals in the olympics, you have world records and course records in virtually every race and event. Growing bored of marathons, you begin to run multi-day ultra marathons, and set records in these as well. And so finally you get a job teaching others to run. Rich people who are out of shape, but who are willing to pay top dollar to bring in a celebrity like you. Your performance, as the current exemplar of long distance running, is the ideal that these new joggers should strive toward. Your posture, your pace, your strategy, your cardio workouts, all of these things are the apparent ideal that new joggers should strive for. However, you would be a foolish teacher if the first thing you did was start them on an ultramarathon in the dry Arizona desert. The runners could not complete it, and would likely face heat stroke, exhaustion, dehydration, or even a heart attack or death. Instead, you would slowly teach them to adopt more and more of your exemplary running form, your exercises, and your diet. In time, if they became able, you would let them run a marathon. And then perhaps an ultra marathon. But it would take time and training.
In the same way, God's perfect character and nature is the standard of goodness. But we must remember the theological connection between being, goodness, beauty, and truth. God is maximally good and also maximal being. God is omniscient, omnipotent, and everlasting. He knows all things. As maximal being, he is maximally good. Humans, lacking maximal being, lack maximal goodness, and therefore cannot do the maximally good things which a maximal being can do. It is an ontological deficiency that causes this, not an external moral standard. Humans cannot judge (in an eternal sense) because they are not maximal beings. Therefore, they should not attempt to judge, for to do so is not to actually judge and thereby manifest the characteristics of God. Instead, it is to distort these characteristics.
Your argument states that a man need only act in a manner
which is conducive with the nature and character of God in order to perform a â€œmoralâ€� or â€œgoodâ€� act. Given that the nature of God is â€œmaximally goodâ€�, any action which is conducive with that nature is by definition â€œmaximally goodâ€�.
I don't think this is what I have argued at all...
To be good is to exist, to reflect the beauty of God, and to live in truth. In this way, being good
is to avoid sins of omission (i.e. sins committed by inaction instead of active existence, such as letting injustice continue), to avoid sins of perversion (i.e. sins which corrupt the beauty intrinsic to humanity, such as murdering a beautiful creation of God), and sins of falsehood (i.e. sins which corrupt the truth, such as lying).
(Even in my earliest post, I made the emphasis on being
good. Being good is linked with existing. Therefore, we see already the nascent connection between maximal existence and maximal goodness).
Every divine action or thought is moral in the sense that every action is a fulfillment of God's character as giver of existence, beauty, goodness, and truth
(Here I stated that God's actions are good because they derive from his character, and I link this character with his existence.)
Would you say that human beings "do good" when they reflect the glory and beauty of God which is seated in his Nature?
A more precise way to phrase it might be that they are good
when they reflect the glory and beauty of God.
(Here, in direct response to your query, I say that it is more precise to speak of human being being
good, than doing
good. What is fundamental is the nature from which human actions spring.)
If a man's actions are conducive with the character and nature of God, has he done a "good" or "moral" thing?
If a man's actions are conducive with the character and nature of one created in the image of God, he has done a good thing.
(Here I intentionally differentiate between the human being created in the image of God, and the nature of God. If human being's actions are conducive with or appropriate to his human nature, he has done good. If, however, he does what is only conducive to divine nature, and not to a human being created in and striving toward the image of God, then he has not done good.)
Human beings are not omniscient, nor perfectly good, therefore they would not be qualified to judge.
(And here in my first response to your objection i clearly explain that human beings have a less maximal nature than God by virtue of not being omniscient. Therefore, it would follow that 1) since good actions are rooted in good existence, different actions would proceed from a different degree of existence; 2) since human beings are not of the same character/nature as God, they do not do the same things as God; and 3) humans still strive toward existing in a way congruent with God's existence. We strive to be "partakers in the divine nature" to use 2 Peter's words.)
I think that's enough for now. I just point this out to demonstrate one of the largest barriers to comprehension that I think we were unable to overcome in our debate. It still seems as if you are interpreting me in a way that I do not intend, and from my perspective a correct interpretation would resolve this objection. Sadly, we are out of time and so I cannot try further to explain what I meant. But I did want to highlight how what I had already said did not fit with your summary of it.
Moreover, Iâ€™m not sure youâ€™ve clearly demonstrated that there are â€œdegreesâ€� of goodness which would serve to lend the term â€œmaximally goodâ€� any measure of coherency. Good is, according to your argument, that which is conducive with the nature and character of God. If goodness is rooted in the nature and character of God, there can exist no good which is less in degree than that from which its source is derived. Therefore a â€œgoodâ€� or â€œmoralâ€� act is maximally good, or more accurately, fully good so long as it is conducive with the nature of its source. If a man truly performs an action which is conducive with the nature and character of God, your argument dictates that the action performed be considered no less than fully good.
More to the point, Humans can make mortal judgments, as can God. If those judgments are conducive with the nature and character of God then, per your argument, they must be considered fully good. If for any reason we claim they are not, the nature and character of God cannot be the objective standard of that which is fully good, nor can it be the standard by which the moral quality of menâ€™s actions are measured.
I think this perpetuates the above confusion. While I grant that I have perhaps not demonstrated the "degrees of goodness", I would like to point out that I have assumed them from the beginning. In my first post I wrote:
Augustine claimed that evil did not exist, it was the absence of good. Furthermore, everything that God created is good, so evil is actually a privation or diminishment of existence.
If evil is diminishment of existence, and existence and goodness are related, evil is a diminishment of good, i.e. a different "degree" of goodness.
I think the problem here is that you are thinking in terms of actions. As I mentioned, I affirmed that it is not primarily a matter of what humans do
, but of what humans are
. Humans are not maximal beings, and so are not maximally good. They therefore do not do things a maximally good being does. Not because they have a different standard than God to measure their actions against, but because they have a different character and nature than God, a character/nature which they always strive to draw closer to God's as the standard of goodness and existence, but a nature which, nonetheless, is far short of God's and therefore is unable to be maximal. We are but new students in a jogging class, trying to emulate the standard set by the olympic runner. Until we can match God's character, we ought not to act like we have. Until we can run like the olympian, we ought not to compete in the olympics.
Iâ€™ve addressed this in my post above. Your argument makes no provision for â€œdegrees of goodnessâ€� if indeed goodness is rooted in the nature and character of a fully good God. This is why an assessment of action is in fact very important. The goodness of an act is not a matter of degrees, it is a matter of whether or not that act is conducive with the nature and character of God.
I objected to your discussing things in terms of actions, and you respond by perpetuating the analysis of actions over character. As I have discussed above, the ethical model I am putting forward focuses on being
good. If one is
good, then one does
I think there are two possibilities here:
(1) As I suggested above, perhaps I have failed to adequately present my views in a comprehensible way, then the fault is my own.
(2) If, however, we have a more fundamental disagreement, the fault is no ones, but we are at an impasse.
The potential fundamental disagreement is over the relationships between action and character. I take actions to proceed from character. Most of what I do, I do not have time to think about. Therefore, by default, I do what corresponds with my character. Therefore, the fundamental question does not concern what I do, it concerns what I am.
On the other hand, you might think that actions are determinative. Our character is created by our successive actions. In this instance, actions are the primary locus of analysis.
This is significantly important because if actions are fundamental, then it would seem your objection is correct. But, if character is essential, then human beings, who have a character different from God (but who still strive to have God's character) cannot do the things which God does. We would still judge whether humans were good in relation to God, because judging whether humans are good is a matter of judging their character.
I closing, I would again extend to you my gratitude for the opportunity to discuss this topic with you at length. I am content to say that out of all the discussions Iâ€™ve had on this forum, this is perhaps one of the most pleasant. I wish you well with your endeavors outside this forum and look forward future discourse with you should it be my good fortune have the opportunity to do so. Be well my friend, and with that said I yield to you the last word.
And I'll end on a similar note. I wish you the best, I have greatly enjoyed this discussion, and I have profited from it as well. Hopefully it was beneficial for you. I'll be traveling in July and cramming in August, but perhaps our paths will cross again in September or so.