Can a Trinitarian God serve as the objective source..

One-on-one debates

Moderator: Moderators

User avatar
Ionian_Tradition
Sage
Posts: 736
Joined: Thu Jun 09, 2011 6:46 pm
Been thanked: 13 times

Can a Trinitarian God serve as the objective source..

Post #1

Post by Ionian_Tradition »

This debate will discuss whether the notion of a Triune God serving as the objective source of human morality is tenable; as was suggested in the following quote posted by theopoesis:
theopoesis wrote: (1) The Trinity: Though it is common to suggest that there are trinities in multiple religions, I am not convinced of the same through my reading in comparative religion. A triad is distinct from a Trinity. I am convinced that teleology helps us overcome Hume's objection that we cannot deduce "ought" from "is". We can do so through this logical form: If moral agent A wants outcome O, A ought to do O. If outcome O is the teleological purpose of that agent, and if failing to act according to one's purpose is in fact self-destructive, then we can formulate a moral system based on a mutual desire of agent A for his/her own benefit, and of God G (from whom teleology originates). It is cooperative in the Christian metaphysic, and it truly can move from is to ought.

Now, suppose that you were to hold to a polytheistic view of the world, or an atheistic view. You could potentially run into problems with the teleological component of this whole metaphysic. If there were two distinct sources of creation, there could potentially be two distinct purposes, two distinct teleologies, and two distinct moral systems. Therefore, for moral coherence, we would need to posit a single source of teleology: monotheism.

Having done so, we run into the Euthyphro dilemma, which argues from a false dichotomy that morality would be meaningless if derived from God. I resolve this dilemma through the suggestion that God acts according to his character. In patristic thought, you could explain this by claiming that God's actions are Personal, and undertaken by the Three Persons of the Trinity, who are perfect hypostasizations of the divine nature and character. Thus, they work in perfect harmony according to a real moral standard that is not contingent on their will nor is external to their nature (thereby defeating Euthyphro as I understand it). The trinity is necessary first because without the three persons instantiating the same nature, there could be division and teleology would break down. But why not simple monotheism, as in Islam or Judaism?

The answer is in considering that "God is love." If we defeat Euthyphro by referring to God's character, then we would hope that God's character was loving in order to maintain any degree of morality as we know it. But to be loving, there must be relationality. In fact, I've read some sociological arguments (not by Christians or specifically talking about God) that indicates that to truly judge a social action, you must judge the action with respect to a minimum of three social agents. Hence the Trinity. Hence Christianity. (That's all very abreviated, but I hope it at least shows that my decision to favor Christianity isn't only arbitrary.

I will begin this discussion by asking that theopoesis define a few terms. Once this is done I will begin by presenting the potential flaws I believe may be present within this particular line of reasoning. Once I have done so, theopoesis will be invited to respond to my critique. From there casual discussion will ensue between both parties until such a time that a mutual satisfaction has been achieved. There is no time limit for this debate and both parties may respond to one another at their leisure.

User avatar
Ionian_Tradition
Sage
Posts: 736
Joined: Thu Jun 09, 2011 6:46 pm
Been thanked: 13 times

Post #11

Post by Ionian_Tradition »

I apologize for my late response. I've been extremely busy as of late and have not had the chance to respond as quick as I would like. I am roughly half way finished with my response to you and should find enough time to finish sometime next week. Thank you for your patience.

User avatar
Ionian_Tradition
Sage
Posts: 736
Joined: Thu Jun 09, 2011 6:46 pm
Been thanked: 13 times

Post #12

Post by Ionian_Tradition »

theopoesis wrote:



theopoesis wrote:
I believe it does show that there is a way to get from "is" to "ought", and also that we must qualify exactly what this way consists of. In the way I have formulated it, the obligation derives from the desires of human beings. If I want to have a relationship with God (and thereby to have existence, goodness, joy, and truth), then I ought to follow my purpose. But my purpose is given by God, and the specific character that I must therefore strive to develop through repeated specific moral actions is a character and set of actions derived from the character of God. So the moral system itself derives both from the character of God and from the will of humans.

Ionian_Tradition wrote:
As I stated previously, the fact that purpose is prescribed by God is more or less incidental. The "ought" is driven solely by the subjective desire of the individual to acquire the benefits made available only through compliance with God's purpose. If one desires relationship with God, and the pleasantries therein, it follows that he/she ought to act in accordance with God's purpose. If one desires the converse then it follows that he/she ought to abstain from acting in a manner conducive with the purposes of God. Though a moral system can indeed be derived from the character of God, a rational obligation to adopt such a system is derived solely from the subjective mind of the individual. Thus it cannot be said that an obligation to act in accordance with the purposes of God is derived from his nature. God's nature constitutes the "is", the "ought" is predicated upon desire alone.


I'm starting to understand the problem here, and the fault is my own for not catching it in the proposed topic of our debate...



If you look at my initial argument, I do not claim anywhere that there is objective universal obligation to do the good, or that this obligation is rooted in God's character. Rather, I say "we can formulate a moral system based on a mutual desire of agent A for his/her own benefit, and of God G." Right up front I tried to be clear to suggest that the obligation was covenental, rooted in mutual desire. In that sense, I don't see that noting that the obligation is subjective is really an objection to my initial argument. Can you explain why it is?


I believe the problem lies in the absence of a moral imperative to pursue that which is "good" and abstain from that which is "evil". While it may be true that your moral system, granting for the moment its veracity, does provide an objective definition of the terms "good" and "evil", it lacks the means to provide a universal obligation for all men to mold their actions in conformance with one and not the other. As such, its ability to establish a coherent framework of moral imperatives through which the actions of men can be measured and judged renders both terms mere descriptive labels which denote potential avenues of behavior which men might model, provided they possess a subjective desire to do so. The implications of this, in their extreme, prove quite problematic in that (forgive my candor) we can imagine a scenario emerging from your moral system in which the rapist stands justified in his objectively wicked act by virtue of the fact that, according to the system you posit, he possessed an obligation to act in this manner by virtue of a subjective desire to do so. Thus, though it can be said that the act of rape itself is objectively "evil" by definition, the rapist remains justified in that he fulfilled his obligation to act in a manner which is conducive with his desires. How then can we judge such a man? According to your system, can it be said that he ought not have committed such an act? Can it truly be said that he was morally obligated to suppress his decidedly wicked desires for the purpose of pursuing the greater good? If moral obligation is rooted in subjective desire alone, it most surely cannot. And this is where I believe the force of your argument begins to wane....It serves to rationally justify the actions of both the sinner and the saint. For my part, I believe that when a moral system is predicated upon subjective preference at the expense of moral imperative, the system itself plummets into incoherency.






theopoesis wrote:
Had I claimed an objective obligation, I would think that this would be a refutation of my initial argument. Since I did not claim as much, I think I need some dots connected.



Moreover, I am still not convinced that " the fact that purpose is prescribed by God is more or less incidental." I have suggested that there is an objective, real "good" in the world, and that only living according to this objective, real good will have any positive outcome. Thus, if we desire the positive outcomes which are the benefit of doing good, we subjectively enter the covenant with God, but the content of that covenant is beyond our control. This is quite important because it negates moral relativism. There is only one good, and though we can create any number of social conventions by which we might establish obligation, only one such contract will actually be good. When we come to God, there is no negotiating of the terms of the covenant, no haggling over what we should and should not do. I'm not advocating a system where, as long as you believe in God, then you're free to do pretty much whatever you want. Rather, if you subjectively enter into covenant with God, there are objective things that you must therefore do. And I think that is quite important.


Indeed the term "good" has been concretely defined, but will definitions alone suffice to produce a coherent moral system? If one’s only obligation to pursue “good� is predicated upon mere subjective desire then one has found perhaps an equally valid obligation to abstain from it. As I stated previously, "good" ,in this sense, is a mere descriptive label. If a man desires the antithesis of "good" he is obliged to pursue it, as per the implications of your argument. How then can we judge such a man? Can we hold him accountable for his actions in any meaningful sense, if by performing acts of evil he was fulfilling his proper obligation?


theopoesis wrote:
A final note: This had not occurred to me until now, but as a result of our discussion it has helped me to see things a bit more clearly... Perhaps one consequence of how I am describing things is that one is always obligated to oneself to act as one sees fit, but some self-chosen actions are self-destructive, while others are not. Only when we desire to fulfill our purpose can we be said to be obligated also according to the plan of God. This would then all be a result of God's given human beings freedom.


Similarly only when we desire not to fulfill our purpose (regardless of the consequences, whether intuitively obvious, or concealed in ignorance) can we be said to not at all be obligated according to the plan of God. This reasoning seems to cut both ways.


theopoesis wrote:
Ionian_Tradition wrote:
I must admit your theological erudition is most impressive and your case is aptly made that a moral system can indeed be derived from the nature of God. However I must maintain that this system would carry with it no objective obligation for men to observe its precepts. Again, given that subjective desire is the means by which a rational obligation to adopt this system is established, an objectively binding moral obligation for all men to conform to their divinely ordained purpose is effectively made forfeit as a result. The subjective nature of desire allows for an equally valid obligation to form which would prompt one to reject a moral system derived from God's nature. It is this fact which demonstrates the deficiency of the logical form you've presented in establishing an objective moral "ought" derived solely from God's nature.


Can I ask you to rephrase the objection? Here's how I interpret what I'm doing with Hume and MacIntyre. Maybe it will be helpful in clarifying what I am thinking, so you can explain the objection in another way.



Christians: God has given the world a specific purpose, which includes conforming to some extent to the character of God. This is the objective moral standard of the universe.



David Hume: Even if there is an objective moral standard, we cannot move from the existence of the standard, the fact that it is, to a logical argument for why we ought to follow that standard. Since we can't move from is to ought, there doesn't seem to be any obligation.



Alasdair MacIntyre: Though the standard itself is objective, the obligation is subjectively derived from a human rationale for adopting that standard. It is subjective, communitarian, covenental. But there is still a way to move from the objective standard to an obligation: If a person desires outcome O, he ought to do X. If O is linked in some way to the moral standard, then a person can be subjectively obligated to fulfill that standard by his own subjective choice.



Me (Adding to MacIntyre): Coupled with Augustinianism, we should be able to construct the subjective obligation so that: (1) the outcome of subjectively choosing to covenentally fulfill one's purpose is such that it should be universally appealing; (2) ultimately only one self-selected course of action will objectively be moral: that which corresponds to our purpose; and (3) when choosing freely to not conform to that standard, one is choosing hell and is objectively not good.



I certainly may have claimed in an earlier post that there was an objective ought, but I don't see where I did so, nor do I remember doing so. I also didn't intend to do so. I'll happily retract that formulation of my argument if I misspoke. Otherwise, I can't see where your objection relates to my above summary.




My objection is not issued in regard to what you've summarized rather it is made in reference to what necessarily follows from your argument. When "good" and "evil" are reduced to descriptive labels, and moral obligation is predicated upon the whims of desire and preference, the statements "He is a good man" & "He is a wicked man" are then reduced to mere truisms. Neither man holds the "moral high ground" because there is no "higher ground". Both men stand equally justified in their actions by virtue of the obligations which form from their respective desires. Therefore the wicked man, though immoral by definition alone, can never justly receive our scorn or censure, given that whatever his sin, he merely did that which he was properly obligated to do, as per the dictates of your argument.


theopoesis wrote:
theopoesis wrote:


What of those who do not desire existence, goodness, beauty, and truth? They are then objects of God's wrath, which many Christians interpret to mean that they are given over to their desires (This is the language of Romans 1:24 for example). If they do not want existence, goodness, beauty, or truth, they are without a law, free to do anything, but destined to receive what they desire: hell, a place of evil and darkness, ugliness and suffering, deception and falsehood. Perhaps even a place of annihilation. The judgment towards those outside of the covenant is different than the judgement of those within the covenant, according to Biblical terms. The former are anomos, without a law. "Their destiny is destruction, their god is their stomach, and their glory is in their shame. Their mind is on earthly things" (Philippians 3:19). The later are paranomos, transgressors of the law. They are unable to fulfill their purpose despite their desire to fulfill their moral obligation, and they are dependent on God's grace.

Ionian_Tradition wrote:
Indeed, such may very well be the fate of those whose desires are antithetical to that which has been purposed by God. Yet it stands, none the less, that their desires (though ultimately destructive) do provide them with a valid obligation to act in a manner which is deleterious to the actualization of their teleological purpose, as per the logic upon which you've built your argument. You seem to be focusing on the "is" when the discussion calls for a consideration of the "ought". The man who's desires are in opposition to the will of God may suffer a terrible fate, this I do not dispute, but if obligation is rooted in subjective desire (which your argument requires), this fact is more or less irrelevant.


My intention here was to focus on the "is" in order to demonstrate that what I was saying was not just invented out of thin air. One interpretation of the Bible would make sin teleological. It is relevant insofar as it demonstrates that Christianity can be interpreted as having traditionally linked the content of good moral action or evil immoral actions with fulfilling one's purpose.



When I speak of covenants, however, I am speaking of the "ought." I am referring to that part of Christian tradition which has interpreted obligation as subjectively based on the mutual desires of God and His people. I do that also to show that this interpretation can fit with the history of Christian thought, and isn't something I make up.


You are a well learned theologian Theopoesis. Never have I once assumed any facet of your argument was pulled from thin air. Just the same, I appreciate the added clarity.


theopoesis wrote:
Ionian_Tradition wrote:
It might be argued that a man would never desire the fate that surely awaits him if he rejects his teleological purpose in life, therefore all men are obligated to act in accordance with God's purpose because all men desire the preservation of both their life and their joy. But I believe such a response betrays a lack of appreciation for the complexity of human desire. Often our desires for immediate gratification supersede our desires for the long term benefits derived through delayed gratification. Consider the smoker, it is well known to smokers that smoking is detrimental to their long term, and perhaps even immediate, health. Yet this fact does not deter the avid smoker from partaking of yet another cigarette. Why? Often what we desire most is not in the best interest of our long term benefit. Sometimes, we desire something so intensely that the obvious long term consequences are accepted for the sake of gratification in the now. Thus it is quite possible that a man could know that acting in opposition to his divinely ordained purpose will result in his destruction, yet still his desires could remain in stark opposition to that which has been purposed for him. (This is all under the assumption that all men know, with relative certainty, that acting in opposition to their teleological purpose will prove destructive. We would be hard pressed to demonstrate that all men possess such knowledge. Given that desire is informed by knowledge, it is possible that men could desire what is contrary to their purpose by virtue of a lack of knowledge regarding the consequences).


A well reasoned argument.



It would contradict a universalist view of my argument. However, I'll just stick to the claim that obligation is covenental, not universal.



Just so the reader is aware, the early church in particular wrote huge, elaborate discussions of desires and discussed the ways that they were corrupted by sin. I'm not competent to explain these things at the moment, but I suspect Gregory of Nyssa or Maximus the Confessor has developed a system that could overcome this objection. Since I can't reproduce the argument and it might not even work anyway, so I'll cede that your point is correct Ionian_Tradition. But in case anyone wants to dig deeper, just thought I'd mention those sources. Could make for a good future dialogue.


Indeed, sources I shall endeavor to avail myself to as well. Thank you Theopoesis.






theopoesis wrote:
theopoesis wrote:
Orthodox theology would, in fact, make things more complicated than this even. First, orthodox theology, in claiming that Father, Son, and Spirit are all Persons, would claim that each would have three wills as three divine Persons. To complicate things more, in the incarnation, Jesus took on the fullness of human nature. To quote a rather famous patristic maxim from Gregory of Nazianzus: "That which he did not assume, he did not redeem." Thus, contrary to the later heresy of monothelitism (Greek for "one will"), Jesus had two wills: a human and a divine. Thus, we have four wills to consider. The question remains whether it is possible for these four wills to will something different, and thereby to create several teloi, or purposes, for human kind.

Ionian_Tradition wrote:
One thing regarding the incarnation has puzzled me and it is the notion of one person (Jesus) possessing two wills (one human and one divine). Will is predicated upon knowledge, which is seated in the mind. Therefore if Jesus wills divinely, this will emanates from a divine mind. Similarly, if Jesus wills in his humanity then this will emanates from a human mind. Thus the paradox ensues of one person possessing two minds simultaneously. Personhood is the product of a singular mind, therefore the singular person of Jesus Christ cannot exist simultaneously as two separate and distinct minds. By dictates of logic, either the mind of Jesus is human, or it is divine. If we maintain that it is both human and divine, in the same way that a man can be both tall and skinny, then we cannot say that Jesus possesses two separate and distinct wills. But I suppose this is a bit of a departure from our discussion.


Orthodox theology would also claim that Jesus has two minds (against Appollinarianism). However, the patristic idea of a person does not require a single mind per person, but I'll go more in depth into the idea of person below. For now I'll suggest to you the book by Thomas Morris: The Logic of God Incarnate. Morris suggests that Jesus had two ranges of consciousness, the divine accessing the human, but the human not the divine. It is an interesting read addressing these questions, and I do not find that your objections necessarily hold true as a result of it.


It would seem I have some reading to do then. Again, I thank you.




theopoesis wrote:

theopoesis wrote:
I will respond to the three divine wills in two ways. First, I will point out the theological category that theologically resolves the challenge, and then I will note some philosophical points that may validate the theological claim.







Theologically, one way that the unity of the Trinity is described is called perichoresis (in Greek), or circumincessio (in Latin). There's not a great English translation, but Ive heard "mutual interpenetration" comes close. I'll just stick with perichoresis. Anyway, the doctrine claims that all three Persons of the Trinity work in perfect harmony in everything they do. To cite a few brief examples, we see the scriptures attribute activity to the Father, Son and Spirit in creating. Likewise, Jesus claims he was sent by the Father, by the Spirit, and by his own will. The Spirit is sent by the Father, by the Son, and it goes where it wishes. And so forth. The basic doctrine would declare that, by virtue of being the Trinity, the three Persons and the three wills are going to act in agreement, and therefore there can't be a conflicting telos in the same way that there could be with polytheism.







How would we philosophically justify the doctrine of perichoresis? The first thing to note is that the doctrine has an ontological basis. The Three Persons are eternal hypostasizations of One Being. There is One God, who is Tri-Personal. The unity is then based not just in their shared activity, but in their shared nature and being. That's already a step above polytheism.



Ionian_Tradition wrote:
As I stated previously, personhood is the product of a singular mind. One mind can no more express three persons simultaneously then three minds can simultaneously express one singular person. The three minds of the trinity, might possess an identical essence (divinity) but they remain separate and distinct entities. 3 entities cannot truly be 1 entity lest a violation of the law of non-contradiction result. As such, I believe naming the three members of the trinity "one being" is somewhat misleading. They share one divinity as we human beings share "one humanity ", but they cannot exist as one singular being lest we abandon logic.


Greek thought is unlike our modern conception of the person. Today, when we say "person" we mean something close to "individual." Thus, by our definition, when you say that the three minds "remain separate and distinct entities" you argue well. However, we must make some effort to uncover the patristic idea of the person, which was not equivalent with an entity. Furthermore, since it was this idea of the person that was in mind when the formula "one being eternally subsisting in three persons" was formulated, if "persons" does not mean entities, we can avoid the "one entity cannot be three entities" problem so often thrown at the doctrine of the Trinity today. It seems your objection is a more sophisticated version of this objection. I'll note several important ideas here:



(1) Partly as a result of materialism replacing dualism, when we think of a person today we think of a body, a material thing, an entity, with certain properties that make it a "person." It has a mind (i.e. a brain), emotions (i.e. glands), language and the ability to communicate (which themselves arise from the brain, ears, and voice box). Therefore, one set of mind, glands, and communicative biological aparatus yields one person. In antiquity, dualism and especially theological discussions of God painted a different picture. God is considered immaterial, so God's properties do not derive from specific concrete organs or anything. Personhood is not defined as having a brain, but as being self-conscious and other-conscious. To be a person is to have the property of being conscious in this way and thus of being able to relate to others and to one's self as other. It is not to possess certain material organs, etc. It is rather to possess a certain capacity as transcendent to this ontological nature.


I believe a dualistic or idealistic approach to the philosophical usage of the term "mind" makes provision for the consideration of "mind" as an entity which is not contingent upon the usual material trappings. Therefore I do not consider it necessary that a mind need be synonymous with the physical brain. Entities in general need also not be material in nature to be named such. The term entity is merely an appellation ascribed to beings which possess an existential quality. While it may be true that objects consisting of many constituent parts can be defined as "one entity", the term may also refer to abstract entities which are not comprised of constituent parts but none the less exist. Often the immaterial mind is posited by both idealists and dualists as such an entity.


theopoesis wrote:
(2) For patristic theologians, being was an ontological category, and personhood was an existential category. "Being" refers to what a thing is, its quiddity. "Person" refers to how a thing is, its subsistence. Thus, oxygen has eight electrons and eight protons. The protons are essential properties which an atom must have to be oxygen. The electrons are accidental, which in some instances may not all be present if an atom of oxygen has a charge. This is the being of oxygen. However, these properties, this being, exists in a certain way at a certain time, and this existence is described by a number of mathematical formulas that attempt to calculate where the subatomic particles are, how fast they are moving, what their energy level is, etc. This same being or nature of oxygen has a specific existence in which this being manifests itself through time and space. The patristic claim is that one single being, one entity, exists in such a way that it is tri-personal. The being of God refers to a single entity with specific capacities which eternally manifest themselves in a tri-personal way.


I believe personhood varies significantly from protons and electrons in that personhood is itself a product or expression of mind, not a set of independent properties which together form the amalgamate mind.. Atoms are ontologically prior to Oxygen, but personhood is not ontologically prior to the mind. In the absence of mind, there is no person. In the absence of Oxygen, there is still the atom. With that said, the contingency of personhood upon a singular mind (and a mind must be singular if it is to be truly indivisible) to me denotes that personhood must itself be an expression of that which is indivisible. Therefore it cannot exist as three distinct properties which together somehow comprise a mind indivisible.


theopoesis wrote:
(3) Patristic doctrine claimed that God was simple, i.e. indivisible. Partly this was an appeal to Neo-platonism, but partly it was a recognition that an immaterial thing cannot be divided, only material things are divisible. In this way, the tri-personal subsistence of the Godhead did not divide the Godhead into three beings because the Godhead was indivisible and must eternally exist as one Being.


Then it seems clear that a mind cannot be tri-personal given that a mind indivisible cannot be comprised of 3 distinct properties which are divisible in the same way that protons and electrons are divisible from oxygen. As I stated previously, personhood is an expression of mind and is entirely contingent upon it. Just as the number one, at its most fundamental level, is an expression of a singular entity, and is therefore entirely singular, personhood, being an expression of an immaterial, indivisible mind, is itself entirely singular and indivisible. Therefore, I do not believe a mind can be tri-personal in the manner patristic thought would suggest.




theopoesis wrote:

theopoesis wrote:
We must then consider the divine nature. If the nature has the attribute "omniscient", then the three Persons all know all things. If each Person is also a perfect hypostasization of the divine character, and thereby of goodness, then the three will all know the course of action that is most good in a situation and will thereby perfectly do the course of action which is most good because of the divine character. All three will therefore cooperate.

Ionian_Tradition wrote:
Would not performing the action which is "most good" simply be whatever is performed by God, given that the nature and character of God is intrinsically good? The necessity for recognizing what is "most good" by way of omniscience seems somewhat superfluous...Unless of course you're implying that there is a standard of ultimate good which exists beyond God's nature by which God's goodness is measured and which God himself refers to in his omniscience when determining a course of action intended to be "most good"...But then this would falsify your argument entirely.



With that said, I fail to see why this could not apply to Polytheism as well.


Traditionally, Christian thought has suggested that what happens existentially can have ontological ramifications. In other words, what we do in space/time can effect our nature and essence. So at the time of the fall, a turn away from God in history existentially resulted in an ontological depravation of our nature. Or to use another example, an atomic reaction in oxygen in space/time/history can change its nature to that of another element. In this way, God's omniscience is relevant. God's persons hypostasize the divine nature, but in doing so they have the capacity to influence the divine nature, to change it so to speak. However, by virtue of omniscience, the persons know they will never change this nature but will always perfectly manifest it, and therefore will be perfectly good in nature and in existence, in quality and in action.


I’m having difficulty following this line of reasoning. Are you claiming that the divine nature is subject to change and that it is omniscience which prevents this from actually occurring? The change in “nature or essence� that occurs within objects which exist within space and time is due to the fact that such objects are comprised of constituent parts which possess the ability to shift in both state and position (A leaf decays, a child becomes an adult, a liquid becomes a solid, oxygen converts to carbon dioxide, etc) . This shift results in changes to the entity as a whole which would constitute what we consider to be a change in nature. However, God being both indivisible and immaterial, is not comprised of constituent parts, therefore his nature stands immutable. If you maintain that the nature of God can change by virtue of his 3 persons then you’re implying the existence of constituent properties of God which possess the capacity to alter his nature in its totality…In which case, God cannot be said to be immaterial ( lacking constituent parts).



If however, you are asserting that God possesses the capacity to change by virtue of a less than perfect act, I would contend that this is impossible given that the moral quality of God’s actions are, per the dictates of your argument, “morally perfect� so long as they are conducive with his nature and character. Given that God can only act according to his nature and character, any action committed by God will therefore be a “morally perfect� act, thus negating the possibility of a change in essence.


theopoesis wrote:



theopoesis wrote:
But, one might object, does this mean that God does not have the free will to act sinfully, and thereby be an imperfect hypostasization of the divine nature, and thereby break up the doctrine of perichoresis? The answer given by the philosophy of religion is that, since God is omniscient, and since God has foreknowledge, then God already knows, or more precisely, the three persons already know, what course of action they will take in all future events. If God ever will take a less than perfect course of action, God already knows. And if God already knows this but has not changed it, God already is less than morally perfect. But we claim that God is already morally perfect, which would suggest (even entail?) that God will always be morally perfect. Therefore, the doctrine of perichoresis stands.

Ionian_Tradition wrote:
Again, how could God sin if goodness is rooted solely in his nature and character? How then is God's omniscience relevant? How could God take a "less than perfect course of action" when any action committed by God is by definition "morally perfect"? How is God's knowledge relevant to his moral quality in the absence of a standard of perfection (point of reference) which might serve to measure the moral quality of his actions?


God could take a less than perfect course of action if in doing so God no longer manifested the divine character, but rather diminished it through the action.


If such is the case then are we not appealing to an external standard of perfection by which to measure the quality of God’s actions? We cannot have it both ways. Either the nature of God is the standard of moral perfection by which we measure the qualities of any given action (which would then render any action committed by God morally perfect by definition) or there is an external standard of moral perfection by which God’s actions are measured and shown to be absolutely perfect (in which case the nature and character of God is not the objective standard of moral perfection). To maintain that God is even theoretically capable of performing a less than perfect act, is to affirm the negation of your argument.


theopoesis wrote:

theopoesis wrote:
Now, I do believe that this would make Trinitarian monotheism different from polytheism in several ways. First, surveying the polytheistic religions I am aware of, I see none of them claiming a doctrine similar to perichoresis. Even if they philosophically could claim this, it seems they don't and therefore they risk multiple teleologies in a way that Christianity doesn't.

Ionian_Tradition wrote:
If we claim that the nature and character of divinity is both omniscience and moral perfection then I fail to see how your argument above could not be made in support of Polytheistic Gods...Though I believe in order for it to be made valid, in either case, your initial argument must first be abandoned.


I think I have shown that my claims are in line with my initial argument.



The end conclusion of this, by the way, is that if the Trinity exists as I have claimed, and one Person of the Trinity takes a course of action which diminished the divine character, the two other Persons of the Trinity, who draw on the identical being (numerically and essentially), would assume the same new, diminished character instantiated by the First person. In this way, the Trinity has an existential unity unparalleled by any polytheistic religion in general.


The problems I find with this conclusion have been issued above.


theopoesis wrote:


I think, though, rather than discussing polytheism in general, a legitimate counterexample would be a specific polytheistic religion. Is there a polytheistic religion which would posit such a degree of unity in diversity? One which, doctrinally, would virtually guarantee the impossibility of two purposes/teloi? I am unaware of one.


I also am unaware of any specific Polytheistic theologies which would serve to answer your question directly. However, I need not demonstrate that such a system of belief actually exists in order to demonstrate that no logical contradiction exists within the system of polytheism I have depicted. Though I lack a living example to offer you, this does not imply that such a polytheistic theology is logically untenable. This will be enough to demonstrate that a Trinitarian system of morality need not be the only system through which a logically coherent system of morality can be derived.


theopoesis wrote:

theopoesis wrote:
Second, I see no philosophical basis for a doctrine similar to perichoresis in polytheistic religion. It seems the different Gods are just that: different. They have different natures (and in the case of dualistic religions, they have opposite natures). Therefore, it would seem that they would instantiate persons with very different modes of existence. They certainly would not draw on a single identical nature to form a single being in the way the Trinity does.

Ionian_Tradition wrote:
Different in person perhaps but not in essence. If we define divinity as possessing at least moral perfection and omniscience, then it is not impossible that a set of separate and distinct Gods could , by virtue of their nature and character, contrive one identical theological purpose for man kind through a mutually shared consensus. In fact, given what I've argued above, I would contend that, if the trinity wills anything, it must be done through this very method if logic is to be preserved.


I think how you have defined person, mind, and will above is not the way that the doctrine of the Trinity defines person, mind, and will. As such, it is a straw man of sorts.


I certainly have no desire to mischaracterize your position. I merely do not believe that it presents an accurate depiction of person, mind , and will for reasons I’ve stated previously.


theopoesis wrote:


Furthermore, even if the members of the polytheistic pantheon all embody moral perfect consensus, is there any example of a polytheistic religion that actually claims this?


Again, not to my knowledge. But I do not find this problematic for my argument. My purpose was only to show that Trinitarian theology need not hold exclusive rights to a coherent moral system.






theopoesis wrote:


And finally, can we really say that the moral character of the polytheistic gods is identical if the gods themselves aren't identical? Either they are identical and therefore one, or they aren't and therefore we maintain the possibility of division.


Division is indeed possible as is mutual consensus.


theopoesis wrote:



theopoesis wrote:Let's say that it is a moral truth that "if one is omniscient, and perfectly good, one is qualified to judge." Human beings are not omniscient, nor perfectly good, therefore they would not be qualified to judge.

Ionian_Tradition wrote:
I think you've more or less underscored my point. The act of vengeance is conducive with the nature and character of God, if we say that God's attributes render him fit to enact vengeance while maintaining that human beings are not fit to enact vengeance then we will have demonstrated that what is fit for God to perform is not fit for a human beings to emulate. Therefore what is fit for God (what is conducive with his attributes...or nature and character) is not the standard which instructs human behavior. Given that you affirmed previously that any action which reflects the nature and character of the Christian God is by definition moral, this argument seems self defeating.


You have skipped the bulk of my response. You have also misrepresented what I affirmed earlier. In post 4 you asked, "Would you say that human beings 'do good' when they reflect the glory and beauty of God which is seated in his Nature?" I wrote in post 5: "A more precise way to phrase it might be that they are good when they reflect the glory and beauty of God."



God's nature is the standard for defining what people are good, and what people are not. However, people are not created God, they are created in the image of God. They are good insofar as they reflect his character (glory and beauty), but only God maximally instantiates the character of God, and therefore only God is maximally good, and does the things which a maximally good being does. Humans will always be less than maximally good, and so cannot do the things which only a maximally good being can do, such as judge.

What do you mean when you say that men cannot judge? Are you implying that men are bereft of the capacity to form judgements which are true? If so, our entire conversation seems quite superfluous given that neither of us would then seem to be able to determine the tenability of the other's position. Or are you implying that men lack entirely the ability to formulate moral judgements? In which case the necessity for a coherent moral system becomes illusory given that man would be unable to formulate moral judgements that would further serve to instruct moral behavior....Rendering morality itself unattainable. 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. It follows then that an act of vengeance could be arrived at by way of an accurate judgement regarding the moral quality of the actions performed by one issuing an offense, as well as a moral decision regarding how best to respond in light of their offense. The only remaining question is "Can a man morally respond to an offense through a deliberate act of vengeance?". Certainly the fact that men can perform acts of vengeance is without question. But what of the moral quality of the action itself? According to your argument, the moral quality of a given act is seated in the nature and character of God. Therefore any act which is conducive with the nature and character of God is, by definition, "moral". Is there an act of vengeance which is conducive with the nature and character of God? Acts 5:1-11 tells of two lives that were vengefully terminated for crimes of embezzlement. It is obvious therefore that it is conducive with the nature and character of God to terminate the life of one found guilty of embezzlement. If indeed the moral system you posit is true, we must conclude that this act of vengeance was by definition a "moral" act. If then for any reason, we conclude that it is moral for God to terminate the lives of those guilty of an offense by way of embezzlement but immoral for man to do the same, then the nature and character of God is not the standard by which human morality is measured. Luke 6:27-31 would seem to suggest this very thing.

With that said, it was never my intention to misrepresent your argument. Rather, my intention was to convey that the emphasis of my argument is placed upon the moral quality of actions alone. So long as these actions can be emulated by men, what follows from their moral quality cannot be ignored. If vengeance is an act, then it has a moral quality. If certain acts of vengeance are conducive with the nature and character of God they are, by definition, "moral" acts. If men can perform these acts (and they certainly can), then it is moral for men to do so. If we maintain that it is not moral for men to perform these acts, then the source from which these actions derive their moral quality (the nature and character of God) is not the moral standard which defines the moral quality of human behavior.

theopoesis
Guru
Posts: 1024
Joined: Mon Sep 13, 2010 2:08 pm
Location: USA

Post #13

Post by theopoesis »

Hello Ionian_Tradition:

Thank you for your response. I feel that I should warn you that my time is running short. In just a few weeks, I am going to move into a new apartment. After that, I'll be traveling for a month on business, and then in August I'll be reading for entrance exams. All that to say that I may only have one more response in me before my other commitments force me to conclude the debate. It has been enjoyable and has helped me clarify my thinking in many areas, but I do believe the time we've had was sufficient to cover many of the key points, so hopefully my departure won't cause too much of a problem.
Ionian_Tradition wrote: I believe the problem lies in the absence of a moral imperative to pursue that which is "good" and abstain from that which is "evil". While it may be true that your moral system, granting for the moment its veracity, does provide an objective definition of the terms "good" and "evil", it lacks the means to provide a universal obligation for all men to mold their actions in conformance with one and not the other. As such, its ability to establish a coherent framework of moral imperatives through which the actions of men can be measured and judged renders both terms mere descriptive labels which denote potential avenues of behavior which men might model, provided they possess a subjective desire to do so. The implications of this, in their extreme, prove quite problematic in that (forgive my candor) we can imagine a scenario emerging from your moral system in which the rapist stands justified in his objectively wicked act by virtue of the fact that, according to the system you posit, he possessed an obligation to act in this manner by virtue of a subjective desire to do so. Thus, though it can be said that the act of rape itself is objectively "evil" by definition, the rapist remains justified in that he fulfilled his obligation to act in a manner which is conducive with his desires. How then can we judge such a man? According to your system, can it be said that he ought not have committed such an act? Can it truly be said that he was morally obligated to suppress his decidedly wicked desires for the purpose of pursuing the greater good? If moral obligation is rooted in subjective desire alone, it most surely cannot. And this is where I believe the force of your argument begins to wane....It serves to rationally justify the actions of both the sinner and the saint. For my part, I believe that when a moral system is predicated upon subjective preference at the expense of moral imperative, the system itself plummets into incoherency.
I went back to the sources to find a better way to articulate what I was trying to say. This part of the argument is pretty much Alasdair MacIntyre's After Virtue. I have several things to offer that will hopefully clarify. These points do reflect a modification of my position.

First, not all obligations are moral obligations. So, even from within the subjective formula I have presented: "If agent A wants O, A ought to do X", the obligation is only a moral obligation if outcome O is the teleological purpose of the individual. So the rapist, to use your example, who wants an outcome O which is contrary to the moral purpose of humanity, can never be morally "justified", to use your term. The "ought" which the rapist followed in this sense is merely that derived from free will: a person's actions are supposed to follow his or her will. It is not the "ought" of moral obligation, which can only be fulfilled if the outcome is also the teleological purpose. Thus, the subjective way to move from moral "is" to moral "ought" is still rooted in teleology.

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.

MacIntyre also offers a formula to explain "the good" in a way that fits with what I have said. X is good if "it is the kind of X which someone would choose who wanted an X for the purpose for which X's are characteristically wanted" (After Virtue, 59). I think I'd offer a few minor alterations of MacIntyre's words here.

So let us, for the sake of clarity, suppose that there are three kinds of obligation:
(1) teleological obligation is that which arises from the designed purpose of a thing: "scissors ought to cut"
(2) volitional obligation is that which arises from the need to act a certain way to fulfill one's will or desires: "if you want to live, you ought to drink something every day"
(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."

In this way, a violation of a covenantal moral obligation is to transgress one's purpose and to transgress one's will. The will is good because it is desiring to fulfill the teleological purpose, and the teleological purpose is good because it is in accordance with the character of God, the standard of goodness. 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. But it is even worse to transgress this and to transgress one's volition once one is in covenant, which is why it was common belief that it would have been better for the sinner if he or she had never been a part of the covenant at all.

Also, given these points, it is important to note what makes one morally praiseworthy. To be morally praiseworthy, one must not just fulfill his or her purpose. One must also voluntarily do so.

This entire system is rooted in teleology, God's design for a thing. To quote MacIntyre, apart from teleology, "such sentences (as moral claims) become available as forms of expression for an emotive self which, lacking the guidance of the context in which they were originally at home, has lots its linguistic as well as its practical way in the world." Hume's objection was made because the teleological possibility of connecting the "is" with the "ought" no longer seemed viable in his eyes or in his culture. And the moral relativism we face today is due to the loss of a universal teleology.

I do recognize that this position is a modification of my original one, but I think most of my original claim is still contained within it, and most of your objections are thereby overcome. I suppose I should have read up on MacIntyre again before I began the debate. Sorry for not having done so, but thank you for causing me to return to the sources and remember the second half of the argument which I had forgotten.
theopoesis wrote: (2) For patristic theologians, being was an ontological category, and personhood was an existential category. "Being" refers to what a thing is, its quiddity. "Person" refers to how a thing is, its subsistence. Thus, oxygen has eight electrons and eight protons. The protons are essential properties which an atom must have to be oxygen. The electrons are accidental, which in some instances may not all be present if an atom of oxygen has a charge. This is the being of oxygen. However, these properties, this being, exists in a certain way at a certain time, and this existence is described by a number of mathematical formulas that attempt to calculate where the subatomic particles are, how fast they are moving, what their energy level is, etc. This same being or nature of oxygen has a specific existence in which this being manifests itself through time and space. The patristic claim is that one single being, one entity, exists in such a way that it is tri-personal. The being of God refers to a single entity with specific capacities which eternally manifest themselves in a tri-personal way.
Ionian_Tradition wrote: I believe personhood varies significantly from protons and electrons in that personhood is itself a product or expression of mind, not a set of independent properties which together form the amalgamate mind.. Atoms are ontologically prior to Oxygen, but personhood is not ontologically prior to the mind. In the absence of mind, there is no person. In the absence of Oxygen, there is still the atom. With that said, the contingency of personhood upon a singular mind (and a mind must be singular if it is to be truly indivisible) to me denotes that personhood must itself be an expression of that which is indivisible. Therefore it cannot exist as three distinct properties which together somehow comprise a mind indivisible.
I think you misunderstand my analogy. I merely used atoms to point to how one set of descriptors (atomic mass) explains the quiddity, the "whatness" of an atom. Another set (mathematical formulas like Schroedinger's) explain the "howness" of an atom, the way that it exists in the world with specific charge, etc.

Furthermore, I am saying that God's "quiddity", his "whatness" is one entity, but his "howness", his "existence" is three persons. You say that "three distinct properties" (i.e. persons) cannot "together comprise a mind indivisible." That is correct. However, the Three Persons of the Trinity, according to Trinitarian doctrine, do not comprise a single mind, but rather three. These three minds, these three Persons, are the way in which the One God eternally exists.

theopoesis wrote: (3) Patristic doctrine claimed that God was simple, i.e. indivisible. Partly this was an appeal to Neo-platonism, but partly it was a recognition that an immaterial thing cannot be divided, only material things are divisible. In this way, the tri-personal subsistence of the Godhead did not divide the Godhead into three beings because the Godhead was indivisible and must eternally exist as one Being.
Ionian_Tradition wrote: Then it seems clear that a mind cannot be tri-personal given that a mind indivisible cannot be comprised of 3 distinct properties which are divisible in the same way that protons and electrons are divisible from oxygen. As I stated previously, personhood is an expression of mind and is entirely contingent upon it. Just as the number one, at its most fundamental level, is an expression of a singular entity, and is therefore entirely singular, personhood, being an expression of an immaterial, indivisible mind, is itself entirely singular and indivisible. Therefore, I do not believe a mind can be tri-personal in the manner patristic thought would suggest.
Again, patristic thought does not claim that one mind is three persons. It claims that one God, one Perfect Being, exists in three Persons with three Minds.
theopoesis wrote: Traditionally, Christian thought has suggested that what happens existentially can have ontological ramifications. In other words, what we do in space/time can effect our nature and essence. So at the time of the fall, a turn away from God in history existentially resulted in an ontological depravation of our nature. Or to use another example, an atomic reaction in oxygen in space/time/history can change its nature to that of another element. In this way, God's omniscience is relevant. God's persons hypostasize the divine nature, but in doing so they have the capacity to influence the divine nature, to change it so to speak. However, by virtue of omniscience, the persons know they will never change this nature but will always perfectly manifest it, and therefore will be perfectly good in nature and in existence, in quality and in action.
Ionian_Tradition wrote: I’m having difficulty following this line of reasoning. Are you claiming that the divine nature is subject to change and that it is omniscience which prevents this from actually occurring? The change in “nature or essence� that occurs within objects which exist within space and time is due to the fact that such objects are comprised of constituent parts which possess the ability to shift in both state and position (A leaf decays, a child becomes an adult, a liquid becomes a solid, oxygen converts to carbon dioxide, etc) . This shift results in changes to the entity as a whole which would constitute what we consider to be a change in nature. However, God being both indivisible and immaterial, is not comprised of constituent parts, therefore his nature stands immutable. If you maintain that the nature of God can change by virtue of his 3 persons then you’re implying the existence of constituent properties of God which possess the capacity to alter his nature in its totality…In which case, God cannot be said to be immaterial ( lacking constituent parts).
It is true that God does not consist of constituent parts in traditional patristic theology. However, I do not think that a modification of constituent parts is necessarily the only way a thing can chance. According to Christian thought, God is the one maximal being. He is maximally good, maximally existence, maximally beautiful, maximally true. God cannot change by having a constituent part leave, or relate to the other parts differently. But God can change by making his simple being (not composed of parts) become less existent, less good, less beautiful, and less true. You address this below.
Ionian_Tradition wrote: If however, you are asserting that God possesses the capacity to change by virtue of a less than perfect act, I would contend that this is impossible given that the moral quality of God’s actions are, per the dictates of your argument, “morally perfect� so long as they are conducive with his nature and character. Given that God can only act according to his nature and character, any action committed by God will therefore be a “morally perfect� act, thus negating the possibility of a change in essence.
Perhaps I miss-spoke in the past, but I think that orthodox theology says that God does perfectly act in accordance with His character by perfectly hypostasizing the divine nature. It does not unanimously teach that God cannot act contrary to his nature and character. The latter claim has been made, but it is disputed. God's omniscience indicates that God will only act in accordance with his character forevermore, but this reality is predicated upon one eternal decision of the Persons of the Trinity to hypostasize the divine nature perfectly.

Ionian_Tradition wrote: Again, how could God sin if goodness is rooted solely in his nature and character? How then is God's omniscience relevant? How could God take a "less than perfect course of action" when any action committed by God is by definition "morally perfect"? How is God's knowledge relevant to his moral quality in the absence of a standard of perfection (point of reference) which might serve to measure the moral quality of his actions?
theopoesis wrote: God could take a less than perfect course of action if in doing so God no longer manifested the divine character, but rather diminished it through the action.
Ionian_Tradition wrote: If such is the case then are we not appealing to an external standard of perfection by which to measure the quality of God’s actions? We cannot have it both ways. Either the nature of God is the standard of moral perfection by which we measure the qualities of any given action (which would then render any action committed by God morally perfect by definition) or there is an external standard of moral perfection by which God’s actions are measured and shown to be absolutely perfect (in which case the nature and character of God is not the objective standard of moral perfection). To maintain that God is even theoretically capable of performing a less than perfect act, is to affirm the negation of your argument.
If God's character and nature are the standard of morality because they are maximally existent, good, beautiful, and true, and an action of one of the Persons of the Godhead diminished this character so that it was no longer maximally existent, good, beautiful, and true, then this new divine character produced by this new action would still be measured as less than perfect against the standard of God's original maximal nature. I think the question here is whether God's actions must necessarily be in accordance with His character, or whether they only are in accordance with His character but need not be so.
theopoesis wrote: I think, though, rather than discussing polytheism in general, a legitimate counterexample would be a specific polytheistic religion. Is there a polytheistic religion which would posit such a degree of unity in diversity? One which, doctrinally, would virtually guarantee the impossibility of two purposes/teloi? I am unaware of one.
Ionian_Tradition wrote: I also am unaware of any specific Polytheistic theologies which would serve to answer your question directly. However, I need not demonstrate that such a system of belief actually exists in order to demonstrate that no logical contradiction exists within the system of polytheism I have depicted. Though I lack a living example to offer you, this does not imply that such a polytheistic theology is logically untenable. This will be enough to demonstrate that a Trinitarian system of morality need not be the only system through which a logically coherent system of morality can be derived.
So we are agreed that we do not know a polytheistic religion that actually claims these things, and that the lack of an actual alternative need not entail the impossibility of any future alternative.

I suppose I will grant that if a polytheistic religion has its gods share a single ontology, manifesting this ontology perfectly, claiming that this shared ontology is the single standard of goodness, acting in perfect agreement through a doctrine similar to perichoresis, and omnisciently knowing all of their future actions will be in agreement with one another and according to this single ontology, that this polytheism would be logically able to establish a logically coherent system of morality.

Ontological unity is necessary (and not just a sharing of essential characteristics) or else one god, by action or choice, could diminish his nature but not the other gods' natures, rendering multiple teleologies. This ontology must be the single standard of goodness to avoid multiple teleologies or moral standards. A doctrine similar to perichoresis is required to ensure that the gods do not act in disagreement, destroying the unified teleology. And omniscience is required to know that no future act will destroy the unified teleology and the possibility of a single moral standard.

However, two points:
(1) Any polytheistic religion which met these requirements would essentially be Trinitarian (or quaternarian, or heptanarian, etc.). The metaphysics of the Trinity (or an analogous multi-personal single ontology) are still essential.

(2) Any polytheistic religion which met these requirements would be stretching the limits of the meaning of "polytheistic", as the "poly" (many) would only apply to the persons and not the beings.
theopoesis wrote: You have skipped the bulk of my response. You have also misrepresented what I affirmed earlier. In post 4 you asked, "Would you say that human beings 'do good' when they reflect the glory and beauty of God which is seated in his Nature?" I wrote in post 5: "A more precise way to phrase it might be that they are good when they reflect the glory and beauty of God."

God's nature is the standard for defining what people are good, and what people are not. However, people are not created God, they are created in the image of God. They are good insofar as they reflect his character (glory and beauty), but only God maximally instantiates the character of God, and therefore only God is maximally good, and does the things which a maximally good being does. Humans will always be less than maximally good, and so cannot do the things which only a maximally good being can do, such as judge.
Ionian_Tradition wrote: What do you mean when you say that men cannot judge? Are you implying that men are bereft of the capacity to form judgements which are true? If so, our entire conversation seems quite superfluous given that neither of us would then seem to be able to determine the tenability of the other's position. Or are you implying that men lack entirely the ability to formulate moral judgements? In which case the necessity for a coherent moral system becomes illusory given that man would be unable to formulate moral judgements that would further serve to instruct moral behavior....Rendering morality itself unattainable.
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).
Ionian_Tradition wrote: 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.
Ionian_Tradition wrote: It follows then that an act of vengeance could be arrived at by way of an accurate judgement regarding the moral quality of the actions performed by one issuing an offense, as well as a moral decision regarding how best to respond in light of their offense. The only remaining question is "Can a man morally respond to an offense through a deliberate act of vengeance?". Certainly the fact that men can perform acts of vengeance is without question. But what of the moral quality of the action itself? According to your argument, the moral quality of a given act is seated in the nature and character of God. Therefore any act which is conducive with the nature and character of God is, by definition, "moral". Is there an act of vengeance which is conducive with the nature and character of God? Acts 5:1-11 tells of two lives that were vengefully terminated for crimes of embezzlement. It is obvious therefore that it is conducive with the nature and character of God to terminate the life of one found guilty of embezzlement. If indeed the moral system you posit is true, we must conclude that this act of vengeance was by definition a "moral" act. If then for any reason, we conclude that it is moral for God to terminate the lives of those guilty of an offense by way of embezzlement but immoral for man to do the same, then the nature and character of God is not the standard by which human morality is measured. Luke 6:27-31 would seem to suggest this very thing.
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.
Ionian_Tradition wrote: With that said, it was never my intention to misrepresent your argument.
Of course not. I hold you in high regard, and would never imagine you doing such a thing. Please forgive me if it seemed I said that. Nonetheless, I think you missed a very important part, addressed below.
Ionian_Tradition wrote: Rather, my intention was to convey that the emphasis of my argument is placed upon the moral quality of actions alone. So long as these actions can be emulated by men, what follows from their moral quality cannot be ignored. If vengeance is an act, then it has a moral quality. If certain acts of vengeance are conducive with the nature and character of God they are, by definition, "moral" acts. If men can perform these acts (and they certainly can), then it is moral for men to do so. If we maintain that it is not moral for men to perform these acts, then the source from which these actions derive their moral quality (the nature and character of God) is not the moral standard which defines the moral quality of human behavior.
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.

User avatar
Ionian_Tradition
Sage
Posts: 736
Joined: Thu Jun 09, 2011 6:46 pm
Been thanked: 13 times

Post #14

Post by Ionian_Tradition »

theopoesis wrote: Hello Ionian_Tradition:

Thank you for your response. I feel that I should warn you that my time is running short. In just a few weeks, I am going to move into a new apartment. After that, I'll be traveling for a month on business, and then in August I'll be reading for entrance exams. All that to say that I may only have one more response in me before my other commitments force me to conclude the debate. It has been enjoyable and has helped me clarify my thinking in many areas, but I do believe the time we've had was sufficient to cover many of the key points, so hopefully my departure won't cause too much of a problem.
Not at all, I too have been quite busy (hence my delayed response) so it would seem a departure from this discussion may prove agreeable for us both. With that said, I've thoroughly enjoyed our dialogue and look forward to potential future correspondence, should the opportunity arise.
theopoesis wrote:
Ionian_Tradition wrote: I believe the problem lies in the absence of a moral imperative to pursue that which is "good" and abstain from that which is "evil". While it may be true that your moral system, granting for the moment its veracity, does provide an objective definition of the terms "good" and "evil", it lacks the means to provide a universal obligation for all men to mold their actions in conformance with one and not the other. As such, its ability to establish a coherent framework of moral imperatives through which the actions of men can be measured and judged renders both terms mere descriptive labels which denote potential avenues of behavior which men might model, provided they possess a subjective desire to do so. The implications of this, in their extreme, prove quite problematic in that (forgive my candor) we can imagine a scenario emerging from your moral system in which the rapist stands justified in his objectively wicked act by virtue of the fact that, according to the system you posit, he possessed an obligation to act in this manner by virtue of a subjective desire to do so. Thus, though it can be said that the act of rape itself is objectively "evil" by definition, the rapist remains justified in that he fulfilled his obligation to act in a manner which is conducive with his desires. How then can we judge such a man? According to your system, can it be said that he ought not have committed such an act? Can it truly be said that he was morally obligated to suppress his decidedly wicked desires for the purpose of pursuing the greater good? If moral obligation is rooted in subjective desire alone, it most surely cannot. And this is where I believe the force of your argument begins to wane....It serves to rationally justify the actions of both the sinner and the saint. For my part, I believe that when a moral system is predicated upon subjective preference at the expense of moral imperative, the system itself plummets into incoherency.
I went back to the sources to find a better way to articulate what I was trying to say. This part of the argument is pretty much Alasdair MacIntyre's After Virtue. I have several things to offer that will hopefully clarify. These points do reflect a modification of my position.

First, not all obligations are moral obligations. So, even from within the subjective formula I have presented: "If agent A wants O, A ought to do X", the obligation is only a moral obligation if outcome O is the teleological purpose of the individual. So the rapist, to use your example, who wants an outcome O which is contrary to the moral purpose of humanity, can never be morally "justified", to use your term. The "ought" which the rapist followed in this sense is merely that derived from free will: a person's actions are supposed to follow his or her will. It is not the "ought" of moral obligation, which can only be fulfilled if the outcome is also the teleological purpose. Thus, the subjective way to move from moral "is" to moral "ought" is still rooted in teleology.

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 you’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).

theopoesis wrote: 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 intruders… 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.



theopoesis wrote: MacIntyre also offers a formula to explain "the good" in a way that fits with what I have said. X is good if "it is the kind of X which someone would choose who wanted an X for the purpose for which X's are characteristically wanted" (After Virtue, 59). I think I'd offer a few minor alterations of MacIntyre's words here.

So let us, for the sake of clarity, suppose that there are three kinds of obligation:
(1) teleological obligation is that which arises from the designed purpose of a thing: "scissors ought to cut"
(2) volitional obligation is that which arises from the need to act a certain way to fulfill one's will or desires: "if you want to live, you ought to drink something every day"
(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."

In this way, a violation of a covenantal moral obligation is to transgress one's purpose and to transgress one's will. The will is good because it is desiring to fulfill the teleological purpose, and the teleological purpose is good because it is in accordance with the character of God, the standard of goodness. 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. But it is even worse to transgress this and to transgress one's volition once one is in covenant, which is why it was common belief that it would have been better for the sinner if he or she had never been a part of the covenant at all.
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.

theopoesis wrote:
theopoesis wrote: (2) For patristic theologians, being was an ontological category, and personhood was an existential category. "Being" refers to what a thing is, its quiddity. "Person" refers to how a thing is, its subsistence. Thus, oxygen has eight electrons and eight protons. The protons are essential properties which an atom must have to be oxygen. The electrons are accidental, which in some instances may not all be present if an atom of oxygen has a charge. This is the being of oxygen. However, these properties, this being, exists in a certain way at a certain time, and this existence is described by a number of mathematical formulas that attempt to calculate where the subatomic particles are, how fast they are moving, what their energy level is, etc. This same being or nature of oxygen has a specific existence in which this being manifests itself through time and space. The patristic claim is that one single being, one entity, exists in such a way that it is tri-personal. The being of God refers to a single entity with specific capacities which eternally manifest themselves in a tri-personal way.
Ionian_Tradition wrote: I believe personhood varies significantly from protons and electrons in that personhood is itself a product or expression of mind, not a set of independent properties which together form the amalgamate mind.. Atoms are ontologically prior to Oxygen, but personhood is not ontologically prior to the mind. In the absence of mind, there is no person. In the absence of Oxygen, there is still the atom. With that said, the contingency of personhood upon a singular mind (and a mind must be singular if it is to be truly indivisible) to me denotes that personhood must itself be an expression of that which is indivisible. Therefore it cannot exist as three distinct properties which together somehow comprise a mind indivisible.
I think you misunderstand my analogy. I merely used atoms to point to how one set of descriptors (atomic mass) explains the quiddity, the "whatness" of an atom. Another set (mathematical formulas like Schroedinger's) explain the "howness" of an atom, the way that it exists in the world with specific charge, etc.

Furthermore, I am saying that God's "quiddity", his "whatness" is one entity, but his "howness", his "existence" is three persons. You say that "three distinct properties" (i.e. persons) cannot "together comprise a mind indivisible." That is correct. However, the Three Persons of the Trinity, according to Trinitarian doctrine, do not comprise a single mind, but rather three. These three minds, these three Persons, are the way in which the One God eternally exists.
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.

theopoesis wrote:
theopoesis wrote: You have skipped the bulk of my response. You have also misrepresented what I affirmed earlier. In post 4 you asked, "Would you say that human beings 'do good' when they reflect the glory and beauty of God which is seated in his Nature?" I wrote in post 5: "A more precise way to phrase it might be that they are good when they reflect the glory and beauty of God."

God's nature is the standard for defining what people are good, and what people are not. However, people are not created God, they are created in the image of God. They are good insofar as they reflect his character (glory and beauty), but only God maximally instantiates the character of God, and therefore only God is maximally good, and does the things which a maximally good being does. Humans will always be less than maximally good, and so cannot do the things which only a maximally good being can do, such as judge.
Ionian_Tradition wrote: What do you mean when you say that men cannot judge? Are you implying that men are bereft of the capacity to form judgements which are true? If so, our entire conversation seems quite superfluous given that neither of us would then seem to be able to determine the tenability of the other's position. Or are you implying that men lack entirely the ability to formulate moral judgements? In which case the necessity for a coherent moral system becomes illusory given that man would be unable to formulate moral judgements that would further serve to instruct moral behavior....Rendering morality itself unattainable.
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).
theopoesis wrote:
Ionian_Tradition wrote: 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 “eschatological judgments� with “mortal judgments�. 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.
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 “mortal judgment�. 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 – 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 “But 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 “If 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.



theopoesis wrote:
Ionian_Tradition wrote: It follows then that an act of vengeance could be arrived at by way of an accurate judgement regarding the moral quality of the actions performed by one issuing an offense, as well as a moral decision regarding how best to respond in light of their offense. The only remaining question is "Can a man morally respond to an offense through a deliberate act of vengeance?". Certainly the fact that men can perform acts of vengeance is without question. But what of the moral quality of the action itself? According to your argument, the moral quality of a given act is seated in the nature and character of God. Therefore any act which is conducive with the nature and character of God is, by definition, "moral". Is there an act of vengeance which is conducive with the nature and character of God? Acts 5:1-11 tells of two lives that were vengefully terminated for crimes of embezzlement. It is obvious therefore that it is conducive with the nature and character of God to terminate the life of one found guilty of embezzlement. If indeed the moral system you posit is true, we must conclude that this act of vengeance was by definition a "moral" act. If then for any reason, we conclude that it is moral for God to terminate the lives of those guilty of an offense by way of embezzlement but immoral for man to do the same, then the nature and character of God is not the standard by which human morality is measured. Luke 6:27-31 would seem to suggest this very thing.
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 “moral� or “good� act. Given that the nature of God is “maximally good�, any action which is conducive with that nature is by definition “maximally good�. Moreover, I’m not sure you’ve clearly demonstrated that there are “degrees� of goodness which would serve to lend the term “maximally good� 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 “good� or “moral� 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 men’s actions are measured.

theopoesis wrote:
Ionian_Tradition wrote: Rather, my intention was to convey that the emphasis of my argument is placed upon the moral quality of actions alone. So long as these actions can be emulated by men, what follows from their moral quality cannot be ignored. If vengeance is an act, then it has a moral quality. If certain acts of vengeance are conducive with the nature and character of God they are, by definition, "moral" acts. If men can perform these acts (and they certainly can), then it is moral for men to do so. If we maintain that it is not moral for men to perform these acts, then the source from which these actions derive their moral quality (the nature and character of God) is not the moral standard which defines the moral quality of human behavior.
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.
I’ve addressed this in my post above. Your argument makes no provision for “degrees of goodness� 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. Therefore in order to make moral assessments one must consider actions in juxtaposition with God’s nature and character. If the action is an action conducive with the nature of God (performed by God), and can be emulated by man, then it is a "moral act". If the action is not conducive with the nature and character of God, it is a "immoral act". If the action is an action which can only be performed by God (I.E. eschatological judgment) the action is of no moral consequence to man for the simple reason that the action in question is not an action which man is equipped to perform.

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 I’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.

theopoesis
Guru
Posts: 1024
Joined: Mon Sep 13, 2010 2:08 pm
Location: USA

Post #15

Post by theopoesis »

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.
Ionian_Tradition wrote: 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 you’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.

Given that,

(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 doing so.

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 moral code.
theopoesis wrote: 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.
Ionian_Tradition wrote: 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 intruders… 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.



theopoesis wrote: (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."
Ionian_Tradition wrote: 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.

Ionian_Tradition wrote: 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).

theopoesis wrote: 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).
Ionian_Tradition wrote: 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.
theopoesis wrote:
Ionian_Tradition wrote: 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.
Ionian_Tradition wrote: 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 “eschatological judgments� with “mortal judgments�. 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.
Ionian_Tradition wrote: 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 “mortal judgment�. 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 – 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 “But 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 “If 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.
theopoesis wrote: 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.
Ionian_Tradition wrote: 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 “moral� or “good� act. Given that the nature of God is “maximally good�, any action which is conducive with that nature is by definition “maximally good�.
I don't think this is what I have argued at all...
theopoesis wrote: 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).
theopoesis wrote: 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.)
theopoesis wrote:
Ionian_Tradition wrote: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.)
theopoesis wrote:
Ionian_Tradition wrote: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.)
theopoesis wrote: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.

Ionian_Tradition wrote: Moreover, I’m not sure you’ve clearly demonstrated that there are “degrees� of goodness which would serve to lend the term “maximally good� 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 “good� or “moral� 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 men’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:
theopoesis 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.



theopoesis wrote: 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.
Ionian_Tradition wrote: I’ve addressed this in my post above. Your argument makes no provision for “degrees of goodness� 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 good.

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.
Ionian_Tradition wrote: 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 I’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.

Post Reply