Answers for Nick

As I mentioned before, I’m not shutting down this blog completely, and we have a new guest in the comments, with some interesting questions. Since Nick asks such good questions, I’m promoting them to a post of their own, so that I can answer them more completely.

DD: What I have is not so much a definition of goodness as an objective approach to discerning goodness. One of the major flaws I see in Lewis’ reasoning is a tendency to assume that “goodness” is defined by a list somewhere, and that’s not really realistic or workable, as I’ve discussed extensively in my discussion of the “Book 1″ portion of Mere Christianity.

Reply: So let me get this straight. You don’t have a definition of goodness, but yet you’re basing your argument on what goodness is. C.S. Lewis was a Thomist. Do you know how Thomism describes goodness? Do you know how Aristotle did? Do you know how that relates to the central doctrine of Thomistic thought, the doctrine of being?

If you do not believe goodness can be described (A more accurate word than defined) then there’s no point in you going on about it and the privation of it, evil.

Hello, Nick, and welcome once again. I’m afraid that you do not quite have things straight yet, but perhaps I can explain myself a bit better. What I’m saying is that Good (as in Good vs. Evil or Right vs Wrong) is not a singular standard with a singular definition. Moral standards are a cultural convention arrived at through a combination of factors including (a) accumulated experience of the consequences of certain things, (b) natural human empathy and (c) sentient self-interest, as they relate to the group in question. There may be other factors as well, but these are the big three.

The reason I did not give you the definition of goodness that you asked for is because your question was too vague. You did not specify any particular social/historical/cultural context, and that’s an important prerequisite for any such definition. Trying to define “Good” without reference to any particular social group is like trying to define marriage without any reference to either of the spouses: it’s not strictly impossible, but it leaves undefined a number of significant variables without which your definition is going to have problems. (More on that below.)

As for Thomistic thought and Aristotle and such, my critique of Lewis is based specifically on the job he does explaining his concept of Moral Law to the average layman, which is why I’m speaking in layman’s terms instead of invoking technical philosophical jargon. If you are suggesting that Lewis’ explanation is misleading, or that it fails to properly explain the topics he is discussing, such that the layman must first master Aquinas and Aristotle before he can properly understand Lewis (!), then perhaps we ought to warn people not to read Mere Christianity, as it will only confuse them.

And lastly, if all you want is a description of goodness, that’s a bit easier. I apologize for the brevity of my first reply, but I’ve got a bit more free time today, so perhaps I can go into more detail. In particular, I’d like to discuss how my understanding of the source of morality is different from (and better than) Lewis’.

The flaw I see in Lewis’ explanation, and in the concepts of natural law and eternal law which underlie it, is that it attempts to reduce the difficult question of Right vs. Wrong down to a relatively simple rule of fiat: somewhere “out there” is a list of things that are always Right/Good, and a list of things that are always Wrong/Evil, and thus morality is merely a matter of finding which list contains the thing you are trying to judge. (For purposes of this discussion it doesn’t matter as much whether this list springs from God’s mind or His will or His nature; the main problem is that it is there at all, by whatever means.)

There is a strong, naive appeal to such a notion. People are always hoping to find an easy, sure-fire way to lose weight, to get rich, to enhance their (*ahem*) “personal characteristics,” and they feel pretty much the same way about any system that offers an easy, sure-fire way to know what’s right and what’s wrong. Screw up morality, and you screw up your life, and people know it, so they’re eager to “buy.” The problem with the “rule of fiat” approach to morality, as it is with other such nostrums, is that it doesn’t actually work in real life.

For example, if there were, somewhere, an eternal law that enumerated all the things that are Good and all the things that are Sin, then that would be an absolute, eternal, and universal constraint. A thing is either right for all people, at all times, in all circumstances, or it is wrong for all people, at all times, in all circumstances. Its moral quality is defined, not by the circumstances attendant on it, but by an independent and extrinsic standard or ideal to which it must relate, and that standard must be arbitrary (i.e. not dependent on circumstances or consequences) or else it is reduced to merely relaying some other, more fundamental source of morality based on circumstances and consequences.

Thus, if genocide is a sin, then it’s a sin even when the Israelites do it; conversely, if it was ok then, it must also be ok now. If suicide is a sin, then it’s a sin for everyone, including those who commit suicide by provoking the Pharisees until they arrange a crucifixion. The rule of fiat is a fixed and absolute morality, not a kind of moral relativism, so it cannot and indeed must not modify its demands to suit some contemporary circumstance or other. But that causes theological problems, because sooner or later God Himself ends up doing something immoral like, say, getting another man’s fiancee pregnant.

The only way to “fix” this hypothetical law is by modifying it so that it becomes contingent upon circumstance: genocide is wrong IF you’re wiping out this group of people rather than that one; suicide is wrong UNLESS you are doing it to benefit someone else, it’s ok to impregnate an unmarried woman IF you are Almighty, etc. In other words, the “eternal law” approach fails unless it is reduced to merely relaying some higher moral standard based on real-world considerations—what we might call the “rule of consequences” as opposed to the rule of fiat. That’s an oversimplification, of course, but like I said, layman’s terms.

In other words, “absolute” goodness sounds good and is easy to sell, but it’s not the ultimate answer. There’s an even deeper and more fundamental source of morality, by which we can judge whether or not the Moral Law needs to be fixed to make it come out right. It’s the difference between theory and practice. In theory, Moral Law is natural law (in the Thomistic sense), but in practice, it is relativism, and we judge the rightness or wrongness of God’s actions by a more flexible standard so that things that would be sin for anyone else are fine for Him. Circumstances and contingencies, and not the inherent rightness or wrongness of the act itself, are the final measure believers use to get God’s conduct to come out “right.”

Lewis’ Moral Law argument suffers from many other, similar flaws, as I’ve discussed over the course of the past several weeks. And it’s not just that Lewis’ argument (and the philosophy behind it) fails to fit the facts, it’s that there exists an alternative that does describe human morality as we observe it in the real world, even among Thomists and other believers, without the caveats and twists and rationalizations that Lewis’ approach requires.

That description, of course, is the one I’ve already alluded to above. Right and Wrong, Good and Evil are social conventions that arise within a certain group based on their perception/consensus regarding which set of consequences they want to encourage and which they want to avoid. It’s complex, changeable, and often results in conflicts between different groups with different moral standards (with one or both sides trying to promote their standard as Eternal and Immutable Law), as we see in action in real life every day.

That’s not a popular description (people like their diet pills and their Ten Commandments) but it’s the objectively accurate one. Like it or not, that’s the way the real world is. Moral standards evolve within particular groups at particular times, and are tied to those groups but not necessarily to others. That’s why, for example, slavery is evil today, and eating pork is not, whereas in Old Testament Israel it was the other way around. Circumstances change, social conventions change, and morality changes right along with them. So you see, I can describe how morality works, but I cannot give you a specific definition of what “good” is, because that definition can be different for different groups at different times. All I (or anyone else) can do is to describe how it works—and my description, unlike Lewis’, accurately matches the way we see real morality function in real life.

DD: As to your second question, I have a feeling you’re leading up to something by the reference to “goodness in relation to being,” but I’m not sure what exactly you have in mind.

Reply: Correct. If you are not sure what I have in mind, then it’s time to learn. If you do not know this concept, then it’s really difficult to take the account seriously. Of course, if you want to learn an accurate description, I’m ready to give it.

I’m sure I and my readers would be glad to hear it. Share, by all means, what you know.

DD: I do have a few decades of experience as an evangelical, Bible-believing conservative Christian, so I am fairly comfortable with my understanding of how Christians see “goodness.”

Reply: No you’re not. I’m not talking about how Christians see goodness. It’s irrelevant to me. Goodness is what it is regardless of if Christians see it and goodness had an ontology before Christianity came along. I’m talking about what it is and I don’t need the Bible for that or the revelation of God at all.

Good for you! I don’t need the Bible either, with the caveat that we are entitled to examine any book that claims to be inspired by the Author of that ontology, to see if its claims are consistent with itself and with the real world evidence. As I’m sure you would agree.

By the way, I apologize for misunderstanding which group you were thinking of when you said “Lewis and others,” but you’ll have to admit you were a bit vague there. I’m glad to see that you’ve been more specific in your response.

DD: No doubt you could find a point or two to quibble over, but I daresay you could do the same with any number of believers as well, so I’m not worried about falling outside the mainstream.

Reply: You bet I could because sadly, most Christians don’t even know this due to the dumbing down of the church that leads to the apostasy you’ve just described yourself as fulfilling. You didn’t know about goodness then and you still don’t now.

I’m afraid you have jumped to a false conclusion there; I hope that was unintentional. If you can address the points I’ve raised, then I would encourage you to do so. Anyone who merely wishes to indulge in innuendo and premature boasting, without demonstrating an awareness and understanding of opposing arguments, would risk coming across as ignorant and obstinate. That applies to me as much as to you, naturally.

I think the most productive approach would be for each of us to attempt to address the points under discussion as they are raised, and if there is any relevant argument or information that has not yet been raised, we should raise it, and actually see if the other party is familiar with it before drawing any conclusions about their level of knowledge. Fair enough? I have addressed the points raised by Lewis in his book, just as you are free and welcome to address the points I raise in my posts. And if you feel like there’s anything Lewis said in the first several chapters that I’ve overlooked, and/or that I’ve incorrectly omitted in order to make spurious claims of ignorance on Lewis’ part, feel free to point those out as well, and I will gladly correct any errors that warrant correction.

DD: If you think I’ve missed anything important, feel free to share.

Reply: Just the big picture and an education on what you’re talking about. You don’t have a working idea of what goodness is and you aren’t interacting with the metaphysics that C.S. Lewis held to, which would be a good Thomistic metaphysics.

You seem to have rather strong feelings on the subject. Are you by any chance letting these feelings bias your conclusions? That would explain why you seem to think you’ve plumbed the full extent of my knowledge even before we’ve started, as it were. And that would indeed be a shame. Still, I’m glad you showed up and gave me the opportunity to explore the topic a little further. The Lewis book was very disappointing, and you’ve made the discussion a lot more lively. Thanks much.

 
1 Star2 Stars3 Stars4 Stars5 Stars (1 votes, average: 5.00 out of 5)
Loading...Loading...
Posted in Atheistic Morality, Comment Rescue, Unapologetics. 61 Comments »

61 Responses to “Answers for Nick”

  1. Nick Says:

    DD: Hello, Nick, and welcome once again. I’m afraid that you do not quite have things straight yet, but perhaps I can explain myself a bit better. What I’m saying is that Good (as in Good vs. Evil or Right vs Wrong) is not a singular standard with a singular definition. Moral standards are a cultural convention arrived at through a combination of factors including (a) accumulated experience of the consequences of certain things, (b) natural human empathy and (c) sentient self-interest, as they relate to the group in question. There may be other factors as well, but these are the big three.

    Reply: You are confusing moral values with a moral standard. How one reaches a conclusion is not as important at this point as if there is a true conclusion to be reached. Is there an ontology of goodness.

    DD: The reason I did not give you the definition of goodness that you asked for is because your question was too vague. You did not specify any particular social/historical/cultural context, and that’s an important prerequisite for any such definition. Trying to define “Good” without reference to any particular social group is like trying to define marriage without any reference to either of the spouses: it’s not strictly impossible, but it leaves undefined a number of significant variables without which your definition is going to have problems. (More on that below.)

    Reply: Not at all. Aristotle did it. Aquinas did it. Are you not familiar with what they said on the topic? You should be since Lewis definitely was.

    DD: As for Thomistic thought and Aristotle and such, my critique of Lewis is based specifically on the job he does explaining his concept of Moral Law to the average layman, which is why I’m speaking in layman’s terms instead of invoking technical philosophical jargon. If you are suggesting that Lewis’ explanation is misleading, or that it fails to properly explain the topics he is discussing, such that the layman must first master Aquinas and Aristotle before he can properly understand Lewis (!), then perhaps we ought to warn people not to read Mere Christianity, as it will only confuse them.

    Reply: No. Lewis is appealing to the goodness that people all recognize as part of the Natural Law theory taught by Aristotle and Aquinas. Lewis did not need to go in-depth on that to explain to people how they know what goodness is. They already know it. Of course, he has writings elsewhere for those who claim to not know such.

    DD: The flaw I see in Lewis’ explanation, and in the concepts of natural law and eternal law which underlie it, is that it attempts to reduce the difficult question of Right vs. Wrong down to a relatively simple rule of fiat: somewhere “out there” is a list of things that are always Right/Good, and a list of things that are always Wrong/Evil, and thus morality is merely a matter of finding which list contains the thing you are trying to judge. (For purposes of this discussion it doesn’t matter as much whether this list springs from God’s mind or His will or His nature; the main problem is that it is there at all, by whatever means.)

    Reply: I have never heard anyone defending Lewis or Aquinas or anyone else in this field present it that way. All of them agree there are moral truths and at the same time agree there are some hard questions. Do you know the three criteria that must follow for a moral action in total to be considered good?

    DD: There is a strong, naive appeal to such a notion. People are always hoping to find an easy, sure-fire way to lose weight, to get rich, to enhance their (*ahem*) “personal characteristics,” and they feel pretty much the same way about any system that offers an easy, sure-fire way to know what’s right and what’s wrong. Screw up morality, and you screw up your life, and people know it, so they’re eager to “buy.” The problem with the “rule of fiat” approach to morality, as it is with other such nostrums, is that it doesn’t actually work in real life.

    Reply: The straw man you’ve created doesn’t. That’s not Lewis’s approach and it wasn’t Aquinas’s either. They recognized moral difficulties and so they debated them. They based goodness on more than just a rule.

    DD: For example, if there were, somewhere, an eternal law that enumerated all the things that are Good and all the things that are Sin, then that would be an absolute, eternal, and universal constraint. A thing is either right for all people, at all times, in all circumstances, or it is wrong for all people, at all times, in all circumstances. Its moral quality is defined, not by the circumstances attendant on it, but by an independent and extrinsic standard or ideal to which it must relate, and that standard must be arbitrary (i.e. not dependent on circumstances or consequences) or else it is reduced to merely relaying some other, more fundamental source of morality based on circumstances and consequences.

    Reply: The problem is you’re basing the morality on just fiat rules. Aquinas did not do it. Morality was based on the essences of things first and the “rules” flowed out from that much like the “laws” of nature do.

    DD: Thus, if genocide is a sin, then it’s a sin even when the Israelites do it; conversely, if it was ok then, it must also be ok now. If suicide is a sin, then it’s a sin for everyone, including those who commit suicide by provoking the Pharisees until they arrange a crucifixion. The rule of fiat is a fixed and absolute morality, not a kind of moral relativism, so it cannot and indeed must not modify its demands to suit some contemporary circumstance or other. But that causes theological problems, because sooner or later God Himself ends up doing something immoral like, say, getting another man’s fiancee pregnant.

    Reply: So much nonsense. So little time.

    First off, what do you know about the conquests in the Israelite period. Do you know what exactly they were commanded to do? Do you know about the civilizations that they waged war against. Do you know about the ones they didn’t?

    Also, there was no provoking the Pharisees to arrange a suicide by Christ. I really would like to know who advances such a bizarre theory.

    Finally, there was nothing immoral in getting Mary pregnant. If God is Lord of all and someone is willing to do this, then what is the problem? God cannot even act as a moral agent technically. That puts him under morality.

    DD: The only way to “fix” this hypothetical law is by modifying it so that it becomes contingent upon circumstance: genocide is wrong IF you’re wiping out this group of people rather than that one; suicide is wrong UNLESS you are doing it to benefit someone else, it’s ok to impregnate an unmarried woman IF you are Almighty, etc. In other words, the “eternal law” approach fails unless it is reduced to merely relaying some higher moral standard based on real-world considerations—what we might call the “rule of consequences” as opposed to the rule of fiat. That’s an oversimplification, of course, but like I said, layman’s terms.

    Reply: You’re confirming to me my suspicions about you and natural law theory. The three parts considered in evaluating any action already deal with this. Read some Budziszewski sometime to see how.

    DD: In other words, “absolute” goodness sounds good and is easy to sell, but it’s not the ultimate answer. There’s an even deeper and more fundamental source of morality, by which we can judge whether or not the Moral Law needs to be fixed to make it come out right. It’s the difference between theory and practice. In theory, Moral Law is natural law (in the Thomistic sense), but in practice, it is relativism, and we judge the rightness or wrongness of God’s actions by a more flexible standard so that things that would be sin for anyone else are fine for Him. Circumstances and contingencies, and not the inherent rightness or wrongness of the act itself, are the final measure believers use to get God’s conduct to come out “right.”

    Reply: Natural Law already takes into account circumstances and contingencies which you would know if you had read anything on natural law. A standard that is flexible is not a standard at all. How can you measure the length of something if the ruler keeps changing?

    DD: That description, of course, is the one I’ve already alluded to above. Right and Wrong, Good and Evil are social conventions that arise within a certain group based on their perception/consensus regarding which set of consequences they want to encourage and which they want to avoid. It’s complex, changeable, and often results in conflicts between different groups with different moral standards (with one or both sides trying to promote their standard as Eternal and Immutable Law), as we see in action in real life every day.

    Reply: Sorry. Can’t work. You can’t get from an idea that something is good to that that object possesses goodness in reality. You can only tell something is good by examining the something in question. Opinion polls can’t tell you that.

    DD: That’s not a popular description (people like their diet pills and their Ten Commandments) but it’s the objectively accurate one. Like it or not, that’s the way the real world is. Moral standards evolve within particular groups at particular times, and are tied to those groups but not necessarily to others. That’s why, for example, slavery is evil today, and eating pork is not, whereas in Old Testament Israel it was the other way around. Circumstances change, social conventions change, and morality changes right along with them. So you see, I can describe how morality works, but I cannot give you a specific definition of what “good” is, because that definition can be different for different groups at different times. All I (or anyone else) can do is to describe how it works—and my description, unlike Lewis’, accurately matches the way we see real morality function in real life.

    Reply: It describes the way people see things, but does that describe the way things are? That is the question. Reality is not up for a popular vote. If all the world sees the Earth as flat, that does not make it so. You cannot even tell me if your view is better in fact unless you can tell me what good is, which is something your view denies.

    DD: I’m sure I and my readers would be glad to hear it. Share, by all means, what you know.

    Reply: Aristotle gave it in the Nicomachean Ethics starting with “Goodness is that at which all things aim.” All things aim at perfection. They aim at being and goodness is being.

    DD: Good for you! I don’t need the Bible either, with the caveat that we are entitled to examine any book that claims to be inspired by the Author of that ontology, to see if its claims are consistent with itself and with the real world evidence. As I’m sure you would agree.

    Reply: Of course. Natural Law theory has never depended on Scripture. Again, Budziszewski in “The Line Through The Heart.” This is why the new atheists consistently fail in any examination of the moral argument saying that we don’t need divine revelation to be good or know what goodness is. I agree that we don’t need special revelation, but we need a real ontology and that is only found in God.

    DD: I’m afraid you have jumped to a false conclusion there; I hope that was unintentional. If you can address the points I’ve raised, then I would encourage you to do so. Anyone who merely wishes to indulge in innuendo and premature boasting, without demonstrating an awareness and understanding of opposing arguments, would risk coming across as ignorant and obstinate. That applies to me as much as to you, naturally.

    Reply: No. I reached a true conclusion intentionally. I can tell you haven’t read on Natural Law theory or any of the great thinkers and you don’t know the rich heritage Lewis drew from. If you think I don’t understand the opposing arguments, I have done a number of debates on if morality is objective. You’re free to challenge if you wish.

    DD: I think the most productive approach would be for each of us to attempt to address the points under discussion as they are raised, and if there is any relevant argument or information that has not yet been raised, we should raise it, and actually see if the other party is familiar with it before drawing any conclusions about their level of knowledge. Fair enough? I have addressed the points raised by Lewis in his book, just as you are free and welcome to address the points I raise in my posts. And if you feel like there’s anything Lewis said in the first several chapters that I’ve overlooked, and/or that I’ve incorrectly omitted in order to make spurious claims of ignorance on Lewis’ part, feel free to point those out as well, and I will gladly correct any errors that warrant correction.

    Reply: I would start out with going back to the forefront and seeing that Lewis is drawing inevitably on the fourth way and how that way works to reach the concept of God. Not necessarily the Christian God at this point, but a deity that does not contradict the Christian God.

    DD: You seem to have rather strong feelings on the subject. Are you by any chance letting these feelings bias your conclusions? That would explain why you seem to think you’ve plumbed the full extent of my knowledge even before we’ve started, as it were. And that would indeed be a shame. Still, I’m glad you showed up and gave me the opportunity to explore the topic a little further. The Lewis book was very disappointing, and you’ve made the discussion a lot more lively. Thanks much.

    Reply: Feeling doesn’t exist here. Just that truth really matters to me and I can tell when someone is not well-read on what they talk about. I’ve given my objections and from you, I really haven’t seen anything new.

  2. Hunt Says:

    Reply: Aristotle gave it in the Nicomachean Ethics starting with “Goodness is that at which all things aim.” All things aim at perfection. They aim at being and goodness is being.

    That’s a start for a moral system, but by following it you have to conclude that a rattlesnake is good. When it strikes, it is pursuing its aim at being and goodness. You on the other hand are pursuing your aim at goodness when you shotgun it. At some point you have to return to how being and aims are ranked, and by whom. You return to a system where certain imperatives are given more or less shrift.

    I’m with DD insofar as I agree that moral systems are artifacts of social convention, however I’m also believe in moral objectivity, and I don’t think the social convention idea conflicts with it. I think almost everyone can now see that postmodern moral relativism is utterly bankrupt and was from the start. Born in academia, it was a terrible misstep. For instance, female circumcision can in no justifiable way be called “good,” simply because has been the product and endorsed by a culture. However, this is again conflating description with prescription. What DD says is true, moral systems grow out of cultural norms. The problem is, the cultures themselves are wrong, and objectively wrong. I have some recommended reading for you too: Sam Harris’s The Moral Landscape.

  3. Harvey Says:

    In fact, the Aristotelian argument that “All things aim at perfection. They aim at being and goodness is being.” must hold true for both individual humans and all of their societal groups, as well. In this sense, “moral” rules arrived at by family groups/tribes/states/nations/etc. seem to me to be evolutions of those activities that have been shown to have survival benefits to the people involved. i.e. “Do unto others….” simply expresses a means to keep others in any particular group from excluding an individual from the group.
    Although it is abundantly clear that societal “norms” sometimes support behaviors that can be destructive to those not “in the group”, so can strict adherence to the Ten Commandmnets under explicit circumstances. Therefore, that activity which can be defined as “good” can always run afoul of circumstances. In any event, since that which is “good” must always be defined in its relationship to some living thing(s), I am unable to see the need for a “natural law” or any deity to define it.

  4. ThatOtherGuy Says:

    Dunno… some of what Nick’s saying smacks of a Leprechology smokescreen as explained by Dawkins. Throw big-sounding philosophical terms at a layman’s objection to make it go away.

  5. Nick Says:

    Hunt: That’s a start for a moral system, but by following it you have to conclude that a rattlesnake is good.

    Reply: No. Not at all. You’re confusing moral goodness with ontological goodness. I do conclude a rattlesnake is good insofar as it has being. I also do not conclude the actions of the snake are good or evil. They just are. Animals are not moral agents in the sense that they possess rational souls. They act on instinct.

    Hunt: When it strikes, it is pursuing its aim at being and goodness. You on the other hand are pursuing your aim at goodness when you shotgun it. At some point you have to return to how being and aims are ranked, and by whom. You return to a system where certain imperatives are given more or less shrift.

    Reply: Correct. There are degrees of goodness and humans are of a higher degree than animals since humans have a rational instead of just an appetitive soul or a vegetative soul. It is not based on an imperative but it is based on being.

    Hunt: I’m with DD insofar as I agree that moral systems are artifacts of social convention, however I’m also believe in moral objectivity, and I don’t think the social convention idea conflicts with it. I think almost everyone can now see that postmodern moral relativism is utterly bankrupt and was from the start. Born in academia, it was a terrible misstep. For instance, female circumcision can in no justifiable way be called “good,” simply because has been the product and endorsed by a culture.

    Reply: You are correct with that. The goodness is not determined by the society but is rather discovered by the society. Is there goodness in the universe to discover or not?

    Hunt: However, this is again conflating description with prescription. What DD says is true, moral systems grow out of cultural norms.

    Reply: False. Cultural systems arise based on an assessment of reality. Reality governs morality. Not opinion polls.

    Hunt: The problem is, the cultures themselves are wrong, and objectively wrong. I have some recommended reading for you too: Sam Harris’s The Moral Landscape.

    Reply: I read atheist material regularly. I have his book right here in fact. Got it for Christmas, but I have a few before it, such as The Portable Atheist that I’m going through now.

    However, Sam Harris in a work such as The End of Faith is not a good researcher. In arguing against Christianity, his bibliography and index are incredibly sparse when it comes to Christian resources. He’s actually worse than Richard Dawkins.

    I’ll be reading Harris in the near future, though I do have class to read for. I recommend a reading of Budziszewski meanwhile.

  6. Nick Says:

    Harvey: In fact, the Aristotelian argument that “All things aim at perfection. They aim at being and goodness is being.”

    Reply: Except that’s not what Aristotle said. Go back and look at what’s in quotations. I gave a further synopsis afterwards which is in line with Thomistic thought on the doctrine of being and especially goodness as a transcendental.

    Harvey: must hold true for both individual humans and all of their societal groups, as well. In this sense, “moral” rules arrived at by family groups/tribes/states/nations/etc. seem to me to be evolutions of those activities that have been shown to have survival benefits to the people involved. i.e. “Do unto others….” simply expresses a means to keep others in any particular group from excluding an individual from the group.

    Reply: In an ancient society, the good of the group mattered more than the individual and the individual got his identity from the group. The question to ask is “How is this good?” You say it benefits someone. What is meant by beneficial? That’s a moral judgment right there. It also treats survival as if it was a good. Says who? The Voluntary Human Extinction Movement doesn’t think so.

    Harvey: Although it is abundantly clear that societal “norms” sometimes support behaviors that can be destructive to those not “in the group”, so can strict adherence to the Ten Commandmnets under explicit circumstances.

    Reply: Correct. Ancient laws would have understood that as well. We have a law against speeding. By and large, that’s a good law. If you have a pregnant wife in the front seat, no police officer would give you a ticket for speeding to the hospital. That’s the beauty of a didactic system. Meanwhile, go look at some of our laws today and just one explanation of a law can be longer than the works of Moses entirely.

    Harvey: Therefore, that activity which can be defined as “good” can always run afoul of circumstances.

    Reply: It would be good if someone would mention the three aspects that make an act moral.

    Harvey: In any event, since that which is “good” must always be defined in its relationship to some living thing(s), I am unable to see the need for a “natural law” or any deity to define it.

    Reply: Goodness depends on a teleology and an ontology. The only reason to call something good is because of its aim towards perfection, a final cause. My standard for goodness is rated on perfect goodness in the perfect being based on the doctrine of simplicity. What is your standard?

  7. Nick Says:

    Thatotherguy: Dunno…

    Reply: Certainly true.

    Thatotherguy: some of what Nick’s saying smacks of a Leprechology smokescreen as explained by Dawkins.

    Reply: Sorry, but Dawkins is just lazy in this regard. Instead of actually studying theology, he just thinks being a scientist qualifies him to comment on it. As a non-scientist, I don’t write books trying to speak as an authority on science. Dawkins writes trying to be an authority on philosophy and theology, and he’s not. I can tell you as a Thomist that Dawkins has not read the Summa Theologica for instance nor does he understand the arguments of Aquinas. No Thomist would be convinced by any of his argumentation.

    And unlike Dawkins, I study belief systems I disagree with, such as reading atheists, Mormons, Muslims, etc.

    Thatotherguy: Throw big-sounding philosophical terms at a layman’s objection to make it go away.

    Reply: That must be why I told DD that I am open to debate on this topic. I happen to debate regularly at a web site and I’ve debated on this several times.

    I love the contrast here however. First, Christians are portrayed by the new atheists as believing things without evidence. We are so opposed to reason.

    Then, when we argue from the philosophers themselves, as Aquinas taught us to do, we’re using too many big terms.

    Also, I could note scientists also use scientific talk. Should we invalidate that?

    If you don’t understand the terms, the proper solution is to read and understand them.

  8. ThatOtherGuy Says:

    You’re missing the point, dude. My work-study job during my sophomore year of college was teaching engineering principles to kindergarteners. We couldn’t talk about coefficients of friction or viscosity or gear trains, because we weren’t talking to experts or engineering students. It wasn’t that sort of class.

    Likewise, this discussion, as DD pointed out a few times, is NOT THAT SORT OF DISCUSSION. Lewis’s book is not that sort of book, and DD’s comments on it are not those sorts of comments. Read again:

    “As for Thomistic thought and Aristotle and such, my critique of Lewis is based specifically on the job he does explaining his concept of Moral Law to the average layman, which is why I’m speaking in layman’s terms instead of invoking technical philosophical jargon. If you are suggesting that Lewis’ explanation is misleading, or that it fails to properly explain the topics he is discussing, such that the layman must first master Aquinas and Aristotle before he can properly understand Lewis (!), then perhaps we ought to warn people not to read Mere Christianity, as it will only confuse them.”

    Also, your statement here: “I love the contrast here however. First, Christians are portrayed by the new atheists as believing things without evidence. We are so opposed to reason.

    Then, when we argue from the philosophers themselves, as Aquinas taught us to do, we’re using too many big terms.”

    You seem to think that big words = reason. I’d been reading discussions before about the intelligent design movement trying desperately to co-opt the trappings of science, the labcoats, the test tubes, the big words… I had no idea Theology (a non-subject since its inception) did it too.

  9. pboyfloyd Says:

    “But if you wish to debunk him[Lewis], you should be able to argue from an academic level.”

    So, that’s just ‘perfect’. If someone quotes Mere Christianity, they’re not constrained to know Lewis’ philosophy, but if I dispute their Lewis quote, I DO?

    And exactly WHY, Nick, isn’t DD allowed to criticise Mere Christianity from the same perspective that it was written, are all ‘real’ Christians necessarilly Thomists now?

    If I recall correctly the purpose of Mere Christianity, according to Lewis himself, didn’t have anything to do with imposing ‘Thomist goodness’ on everyone, did it?

    If it were, one might have thought Lewis would have mentioned that at least in passing.

  10. Hunt Says:

    “Reply: False. Cultural systems arise based on an assessment of reality. Reality governs morality. Not opinion polls.”

    That’s kind of true, but reality governs opinion polls, which often determine morals. What is deemed good or bad is often determined by expediency and power politics. That’s not what should determine morals, but in practice it often does. You’re probably aware of the Catholic bull Inter caetera, which gave Spain explicit permission to colonize and convert the Native American population the year after its discovery. In so doing, of course, perhaps millions of New World people died either in by murder, disease or slavery. The point being that in a sane world, particularly one directed by a morally infallible leader, such would never have happened. It’s clear that what is called “good” has truly, up to now, been in the eyes of the most powerful beholder. Until we arrive at something that isn’t a “fiat” morality, as DD has called it, either by divine fiat or fiat based on the most powerful opinion, we will not have even a vague approximation to a moral world.

  11. David D.G. Says:

    Nick: “Sorry, but Dawkins is just lazy in this regard. Instead of actually studying theology, he just thinks being a scientist qualifies him to comment on it. As a non-scientist, I don’t write books trying to speak as an authority on science. Dawkins writes trying to be an authority on philosophy and theology, and he’s not. I can tell you as a Thomist that Dawkins has not read the Summa Theologica for instance nor does he understand the arguments of Aquinas. No Thomist would be convinced by any of his argumentation.”

    I have never seen a better example of The Courtier’s Reply.

    ~David D.G.

  12. Nick Says:

    Thatotherguy: You’re missing the point, dude. My work-study job during my sophomore year of college was teaching engineering principles to kindergarteners. We couldn’t talk about coefficients of friction or viscosity or gear trains, because we weren’t talking to experts or engineering students. It wasn’t that sort of class.

    DD: Correct. There is a total background study behind it and you don’t have to share it all. Thanks for confirming my point!

    Thatotherguy: Likewise, this discussion, as DD pointed out a few times, is NOT THAT SORT OF DISCUSSION. Lewis’s book is not that sort of book, and DD’s comments on it are not those sorts of comments. Read again:

    DD: But if DD wants to say he’s debunked Lewis, he needs to understand Lewis’s worldview. I see no reason to think he has. Amazing how much defense is given for ignorance.

    DD:“As for Thomistic thought and Aristotle and such, my critique of Lewis is based specifically on the job he does explaining his concept of Moral Law to the average layman, which is why I’m speaking in layman’s terms instead of invoking technical philosophical jargon. If you are suggesting that Lewis’ explanation is misleading, or that it fails to properly explain the topics he is discussing, such that the layman must first master Aquinas and Aristotle before he can properly understand Lewis (!), then perhaps we ought to warn people not to read Mere Christianity, as it will only confuse them.”

    Reply: No. DD bit off more than he could chew by attacking Lewis’s doctrine without properly understanding it implying that Lewis was ignorant of such facts. Lewis, however, is speaking from his worldview where he does have a definition of good and because he does not give it exactly does not mean he did not have one.

    Thatotherguy: You seem to think that big words = reason.

    Reply: No. You seem to think so. Mortimer Adler would dispel that notion.

    Thatotherguy: I’d been reading discussions before about the intelligent design movement trying desperately to co-opt the trappings of science, the labcoats, the test tubes, the big words… I had no idea Theology (a non-subject since its inception) did it too.

    Reply: It’s not theology. It’s philosophy. Philosophy will get into theology and studies it to a degree, but all I am saying at this point is philosophy.

  13. Nick Says:

    pboyfloyd: So, that’s just ‘perfect’. If someone quotes Mere Christianity, they’re not constrained to know Lewis’ philosophy, but if I dispute their Lewis quote, I DO?

    Reply: Anyone who argues a position should know it. If a Christian gets stumped, they need to study more. If an atheist gets stumped, they need to study more. You ought to know your opponents’ worldview enough that you see the objections he will bring to your argument. It is apparent that DD does not.

    pboyfloyd: And exactly WHY, Nick, isn’t DD allowed to criticise Mere Christianity from the same perspective that it was written, are all ‘real’ Christians necessarilly Thomists now?

    Reply: Why? Because he gives a picture of ignorance on Lewis’s part as if Lewis had not considered such a point. He had. If you speak against someone, you need to know their position. Are all real Christians necessarily Thomists? No. We can keep hoping and praying that they will be however. I have no idea how you made a connection between Lewis being a Thomist and all real Christians being Thomists.

    pboyfloyd: If I recall correctly the purpose of Mere Christianity, according to Lewis himself, didn’t have anything to do with imposing ‘Thomist goodness’ on everyone, did it?

    Reply: There is not Thomistic goodness. There is the Thomistic concept of goodness. No. Lewis was not speaking at that level. Keep in mind these were radio talks at first. DD is making a point that Lewis’s moral argument doesn’t work. He’s not making it well because he’s assuming Lewis was ignorant. He wasn’t.

    pboy: If it were, one might have thought Lewis would have mentioned that at least in passing.

    Reply: No. He is not teaching to an audience to make them Thomists. He is teaching to make them Christians.

  14. Nick Says:

    Hunt: That’s kind of true, but reality governs opinion polls, which often determine morals.

    Reply: Wrong on all counts. Reality does not govern opinion polls. People with concepts of reality do. Suppose you did an opinion poll and everyone by chance happened to be an orthodox Christian. Does that mean morality will immediately be that same-sex marriage, abortion on demand, and sex outside of marriage will be wrong? No. Morality is not determined by people. It’s determined by the external world.

    Hunt: What is deemed good or bad is often determined by expediency and power politics. That’s not what should determine morals, but in practice it often does.

    Reply: Correct. And yet interesting. You say that should not determine morals. Why? Because that’s not a good way to get to moral truth? If so, then do you not admit the existence of moral truth in that there are better ways to reach it? If there is moral truth, where does it reside? Does it change constantly with opinion? Does it submit to us or do we submit to it?

    Hunt: You’re probably aware of the Catholic bull Inter caetera, which gave Spain explicit permission to colonize and convert the Native American population the year after its discovery. In so doing, of course, perhaps millions of New World people died either in by murder, disease or slavery.

    Reply: I am not a Catholic actually. Not all Thomists are. However, I would like the source on “millions dying.” I suspect it could be just as baloney as millions dying in the Inquisition.

    Hunt: The point being that in a sane world, particularly one directed by a morally infallible leader, such would never have happened.

    Reply: If you mean the Pope, I don’t see him as morally infallable and even if he was, he is not the omnipotent ruler of the world. If you mean God, God has all knowledge past and future and does allow evil if he sees it will work for a greater good.

    Hunt: It’s clear that what is called “good” has truly, up to now, been in the eyes of the most powerful beholder.

    Reply: No. That’s a position that would have been held by Protagoras, but denied by Plato, Aristotle, and Plotinus. They all believe good was an objective reality outside of them and they were to aim for it. In fact, your pointing to a papal bull is with the implicit message that I should not see this as good, which implies that it is objectively not good. Also, you say such would not happen under a morally infallable leader, which implies that a morally infallable leader will choose good, which I would take to be a reality.

    Hunt: Until we arrive at something that isn’t a “fiat” morality, as DD has called it, either by divine fiat or fiat based on the most powerful opinion, we will not have even a vague approximation to a moral world.

    Reply: Or we could just study some philosophy. I note thus far no one has told me the three criteria for a moral act nor has anyone tried to grasp the Thomistic understanding of goodness in relation to being.

  15. Nick Says:

    David D.G.:I have never seen a better example of The Courtier’s Reply.

    Reply: Ah yes. The Courtier’s reply! A great attempt to justify ignorance. Here’s how I know he hasn’t.

    First off, Aquinas does not assume an infinite regress. In fact, he believes an infinite regress per accidens is entirely possible, a point I disagree with him on. It’s one per se that says involves a contradiction.

    Second, Dawkins argues that Aquinas does not get to the Christian God. Aquinas would say that wasn’t his point. His point was to establish what can be established by God from philosophy alone. He later works out the attributes of God in the later chapters starting with God’s simplicity.

    Third, Dawkins later uses his ultimate 747 Boeing argument, which simply boils down to “Who made God?” In reality, Aquinas had answered that in the very next chapter after the chapter on God’s existence.

    Fourth, Dawkins says the fifth argument is the argument of intelligent design. This is false. The fifth way is not about intelligent design as understood today but about teleology which can stand or fall without the ID movement. Many Thomists are against ID even. The fifth way is a metaphysical argument. It’s not a physical one. You can accept macroevolution entirely and this argument is untouched.

    Fifth, Dawkins thinks the fourth argument would include aspects like smelliness. This is false. Aquinas is only speaking of the transcendentals. It should be obvious since he uses the sun as an analogy and since Aquinas holds that there is no matter in God, he would not consider heat a divine attribute.

    I have written about all of these on my own blog and I do debate regularly on TheologyWeb. There are better atheist books to read than those of the New Atheists. Dawkins can write about science, but he does not understand philosophy and/or theology.

  16. Tacroy Says:

    Nick: do you understand the TimeCube guy’s worldview well enough to refute it, or do you dismiss it out of hand because it clearly has no grounding in reality?

  17. g Says:

    Nick, you’ve repeatedly characterized C S Lewis as a Thomist. Could you say a bit more about (1) what you mean by that (he’d read some Aquinas? he’d read the whole of the Summa Theologica? he was somewhat influenced by Aquinas? Aquinas was one of the main forces shaping his thinking? he consciously based his theological opinions on Aquinas? … the possibilities are endless) and (2) how you know he was, in whatever sense you’re using, a Thomist?

  18. Nick Says:

    Tacroy. Give me his worldview and I’ll see if I agree or disagree and if I disagree, I’ll say why based on actual study. Unlike the new atheists, I actually believe it helps to study an opponent’s view.

  19. Nick Says:

    G. Good questions. Some with substance.

    It would be impossible for me obviously to say how much of Aquinas he had read. Probably not all. Even the commentary on Pseudo-Dionysus is being translated today, though there’s some debate as to whether Aquinas wrote that or not. Aquinas wrote around 80 books in his lifetime. Few people would have read them all.

    What it means is that he was a follower to some degree of Aquinas’s teachings on philosophical matters. He was not a Catholic just as I am not. However, Aquinas was the one who Christianized Aristotle’s philosophy and showed how it can work with Christianity, although he didn’t agree with all Aristotle said of course.

    The main contribution of Aquinas was his doctrine of being. He beautifully answered the objection of Parmenides long ago and stated that everything hinges on the doctrine of existence. It is a philosophy that begins with sense experience and the view that all knowledge proceeds from there. Knowledge of realities that cannot be detected from the senses are inferred from them. For instance, we can all see triangles, but no one can see triangularity itself, and triangularity is only actualized in a triangle.

    Other aspects include the transcendentals, the four causes (The medievals added two), the five ways, and hylemoprhism. An excellent guide for those wishing to learn about Thomism is Edward Feser’s “Aquinas.”

    As for Lewis being a Thomist, I recommend the following link with some information on that.

    http://books.google.com/books?id=1E-P1OIgdAUC&pg=PA14&lpg=PA14&dq=Was+C.S.+Lewis+a+Thomist%3F&source=bl&ots=AQgKnrqVQJ&sig=CETSN3n9tqPsZB6P7bCKIV1iR4Q&hl=en&ei=gBcpTf3DFIKB8gaq4pTlAQ&sa=X&oi=book_result&ct=result&resnum=3&ved=0CBwQ6AEwAg

    Note also that one of Lewis’s favorite writers was Chesterton, who was certainly a Thomist as a devout Catholic and wrote one of the best biographies of the great thinker ever.

  20. Hunt Says:

    “Reply: Correct. And yet interesting. You say that [expediency and power politics] should not determine morals. Why? Because that’s not a good way to get to moral truth? If so, then do you not admit the existence of moral truth in that there are better ways to reach it? If there is moral truth, where does it reside? Does it change constantly with opinion? Does it submit to us or do we submit to it?”

    Yes, and yes. I don’t think of it as a truth as in “one equals one” or a law of gravity, but I do believe it is objective in that it is something on which we could all agree if we think correctly — at very least we would recognize and rank better solutions when we saw and experienced them. A scientific valuation of what constitutes moral and immoral acts (op. cit.) based on the utility function of human well-being would immediately offer a better solution. My opinion, of course. I’m sort of stretching terminology here, but the form of “plutocratic morality” that has been operant throughout much of history has had a very dismal record. It wouldn’t be hard to beat it.

    Even if a scientific valuation of morals was an unattainable goal in theory, the pursuit of it in practice would probably provide a better system than we have seen. It might be informative to contemplate how setting course on a fictional bearing would bring better results than one provided by theology and religion.

    For a rather vivid portrayal of the slaughter that ensued in the New World, I recommend Howard Zinn’s A People’s History of the United States.

    “They all believe good was an objective reality outside of them and they were to aim for it. In fact, your pointing to a papal bull is with the implicit message that I should not see this as good, which implies that it is objectively not good. Also, you say such would not happen under a morally infallable leader, which implies that a morally infallable leader will choose good, which I would take to be a reality.”

    You’re not saying anything I haven’t already endorsed, since I said I believe in objective morality, (but not absolute morality). Nowhere in the laws of nature are you going to find something about being kind to strangers. Formally, I think this would constitute moral realism in the minimalist sense.

  21. pboyfloyd Says:

    Nick, you say, “You ought to know your opponents’ worldview enough that you see the objections he will bring to your argument. It is apparent that DD does not.”

    But C.S.Lewis doesn’t have a worldview, does he? All we have here now, is your worldview.

    So, all we’re left with is your diversion away from the words of C.S.Lewis, the one’s that DD can criticize all he wants to, as they will be read by anyone picking up that book, to your ‘Thomist goodness’ thang, which is actually neither here nor there as far as Mere Christianity is concerned.

    All you seem to really be saying is that Lewis didn’t express himself very well and that’s hardly DD’s fault, is it?

  22. pboyfloyd Says:

    Sorry for the double post.

    Given Nick’s criteria, we might imagine a book titled, ‘Everything’, by Alvin Plantinga, with 340 blank pages. Given a ‘shrug?’ for a review, Nick could be expected to comment, “Ah, but you really have to dig into Mr. Plantinga’s worldview before you shrug off this book.”, followed by an extensive list of Plantinga’s influences, credentials etc. etc.

  23. g Says:

    Nick, the link you offered takes me to a Google Books page that doesn’t (for me, at least) display any content at all from the book. Perhaps that contains your reasons for saying that Lewis was a Thomist; certainly the rest of what you’ve said gives little reason to think he was.

    If I’m correctly understanding your objection to DD’s comments, it goes something like this: DD, on the basis of his reading of “Mere Christianity”, reckons that CSL was there putting forward a naive and simplistic account of ethics, and criticizes him on that basis; but really CSL was a Thomist and therefore shared TA’s understanding of ethics, which was not at all naive or simplistic; therefore DD is treating CSL unjustly.

    But surely for that argument to work, you need something more than “CSL was to some degree a follower of Aquinas’s philosophy”. You’d need, first of all, to show that CSL shared TA’s approach to ethics. And then you’d need to show that what CSL says in “Mere Christianity” is actually an expression of Thomistic ethics, which is not the same thing: otherwise it could be, say, that he was a sophisticated Thomist but wrote a shoddy book that assumed a system of ethics much less adequate than the one he really held. (This is basically the same as pboyfloyd’s point.)

    It may be that you have excellent reasons for thinking that “Mere Christianity” is an expression of a sophisticated Thomistic ethical position to which DD’s criticisms don’t apply. But, so far as I can tell, you haven’t given any such reasons here. Did I just miss them?

  24. Nick Says:

    Hunt: Yes, and yes. I don’t think of it as a truth as in “one equals one” or a law of gravity, but I do believe it is objective in that it is something on which we could all agree if we think correctly

    Reply: First off, that’s not the definition of objective. Everyone can still agree and everyone be wrong. It used to be universally thought that the sun went around the Earth. Now most everyone thinks the other way. Did the truth change? No.

    Note also you say that if we think correctly. Is not the goal of thinking correctly to get to the truth? If there is no moral truth, what does it matter if we “think correctly.”?

    Hunyt: — at very least we would recognize and rank better solutions when we saw and experienced them.

    Reply: Better implies a standard whereby you are judging an action. That is what is being denied.

    Hunt: A scientific valuation of what constitutes moral and immoral acts (op. cit.) based on the utility function of human well-being would immediately offer a better solution.

    Reply: Science cannot tell you that. Science can tell you what happens in an abortion. It cannot tell you if that is moral or immoral. It can tell you what happens when a starving man is given good food to eat. It cannot tell you if that is moral or immoral. If you say you’re looking at the results, then you are assuming some results are good and some are bad without a standard yet given.

    I’m still waiting to hear the three aspects of a moral action.

    Hunt: My opinion, of course. I’m sort of stretching terminology here, but the form of “plutocratic morality” that has been operant throughout much of history has had a very dismal record. It wouldn’t be hard to beat it.

    Reply: Again implying a standard. You say this has been throughout history. Really? When did the medievals appeal to the wealthy to determine morality? When did the Greek philosophers?

    Hunt: Even if a scientific valuation of morals was an unattainable goal in theory, the pursuit of it in practice would probably provide a better system than we have seen.

    Reply: There’s that better word which implies a moral judgment.

    Hunt: It might be informative to contemplate how setting course on a fictional bearing would bring better results than one provided by theology and religion.

    Reply: You do know that morality was around before Christianity. Right? Where did people get this silly idea that when Christianity came about, all of a sudden people discovered there was a reality called morality? Now people began living it better I agree, but much of moral theory was rooted in Plato and Aristotle as well. I believe it’s ontological foundation is deity, but the knowledge of it does not require one believe in a deity. I also do not believe “X is moral” because the Bible says so. The Bible says “X is moral” because it is.

    Hunt: For a rather vivid portrayal of the slaughter that ensued in the New World, I recommend Howard Zinn’s A People’s History of the United States.

    Reply: Even if true, I do not see what difference it would make to my ontological foundation of morality. That people who should know better do not live out moral teachings does not affect the truth of those teachings.

    Hunt: You’re not saying anything I haven’t already endorsed, since I said I believe in objective morality, (but not absolute morality). Nowhere in the laws of nature are you going to find something about being kind to strangers. Formally, I think this would constitute moral realism in the minimalist sense.

    Reply: I would love to know the difference you see between objective and absolute morality.

  25. Nick Says:

    pboyfloyd: But C.S.Lewis doesn’t have a worldview, does he? All we have here now, is your worldview.

    Reply: Everyone has a worldview. Even if they do not know it, they have a worldview. Do you even know what a worldview is?

    pboyfloyd: So, all we’re left with is your diversion away from the words of C.S.Lewis, the one’s that DD can criticize all he wants to, as they will be read by anyone picking up that book, to your ‘Thomist goodness’ thang, which is actually neither here nor there as far as Mere Christianity is concerned.

    Reply: “Thomist goodness thang.” Dang. I’m dealing with a real intellectual here. Lewis was a great reader who drew upon many traditions. The idea of goodness he would have got from the great Christian thinkers of the pass and his indebtedness to Plato and Aristotle is well known.

    pboyfloyd: All you seem to really be saying is that Lewis didn’t express himself very well and that’s hardly DD’s fault, is it?

    Reply: No. I’m saying DD doesn’t know his opposition well. That is DD’s fault.

    pboyfloyd: Given Nick’s criteria, we might imagine a book titled, ‘Everything’, by Alvin Plantinga, with 340 blank pages. Given a ‘shrug?’ for a review, Nick could be expected to comment, “Ah, but you really have to dig into Mr. Plantinga’s worldview before you shrug off this book.”, followed by an extensive list of Plantinga’s influences, credentials etc. etc.

    Reply: I’m sure you think you’ve said something brilliant here, but you’ve said nothing of the sort. A book with nothing contains no argument and therefore no refutation. He could have been arguing for something. He could have been writing his biography. We wouldn’t know.

    Such an argument will keep me laughing for awhile. Thanks!

  26. Nick Says:

    g: Nick, the link you offered takes me to a Google Books page that doesn’t (for me, at least) display any content at all from the book. Perhaps that contains your reasons for saying that Lewis was a Thomist; certainly the rest of what you’ve said gives little reason to think he was.

    Reply: It does. I do not know why it doesn’t work for you.

    g: If I’m correctly understanding your objection to DD’s comments, it goes something like this: DD, on the basis of his reading of “Mere Christianity”, reckons that CSL was there putting forward a naive and simplistic account of ethics, and criticizes him on that basis; but really CSL was a Thomist and therefore shared TA’s understanding of ethics, which was not at all naive or simplistic; therefore DD is treating CSL unjustly.

    Reply: Even if he wasn’t a Thomist, he would be treating him unjustly. Lewis does unpack his thinking in other writings, such as The Abolition of Man. There are also writings in such works as “God in the Dock” and “Christian Reflections.”

    g: But surely for that argument to work, you need something more than “CSL was to some degree a follower of Aquinas’s philosophy”. You’d need, first of all, to show that CSL shared TA’s approach to ethics. And then you’d need to show that what CSL says in “Mere Christianity” is actually an expression of Thomistic ethics, which is not the same thing: otherwise it could be, say, that he was a sophisticated Thomist but wrote a shoddy book that assumed a system of ethics much less adequate than the one he really held. (This is basically the same as pboyfloyd’s point.)

    Reply: I do not believe he wrote a shoddy book. Keep in mind Mere Christianity is also based on radio talks. Lewis wrote this work for those who would have heard his program and wanted the argument for themselves in the days before downloads and such.

    g: It may be that you have excellent reasons for thinking that “Mere Christianity” is an expression of a sophisticated Thomistic ethical position to which DD’s criticisms don’t apply. But, so far as I can tell, you haven’t given any such reasons here. Did I just miss them?

    Reply: No. I don’t. I think Mere Christianity is a great place to start, but for a fuller look at the moral argument, I would point to writers like Kreeft and Budziszewski, and of course the ancients and medievals themselves.

  27. g Says:

    Nick, I found what I think is the same book on Amazon, where the “search inside” feature is available. It finds only one page with the word “Thomist” on, which offers no evidence that CSL was a Thomist. (It says a bit about Jacques Maritain and says that he “worked out of a general Thomist philosophical orientation”; and then says that Lewis “while not so fully Thomist as Maritain, also drew heavily on medieval texts of Christian literature and philosophy” and did a couple of other things that have nothing to do with being or not being a Thomist. Of course no one would deny that CSL drew heavily on mediaeval texts of Christian literature and philosophy, but that is not at all the same thing as taking the same view of ethics as Aquinas.)

    DD is criticizing “Mere Christianity”, not Lewis’s thinking generally except in so far as “Mere Christianity” is indicative. (I agree with you that “Mere Christianity” is a rather informal book for a general audience and that it would be rash to assume that it’s an adequate account of CSL’s best thinking on any topic.)

    I was not suggesting that you think “Mere Christianity” is shoddy. I was giving one example to demonstrate that from “Lewis’s thinking about ethics was sophisticated” it doesn’t follow that it can’t be right to criticize “Mere Christianity” for taking a simplistic view of ethics. To refute such a criticism you’d have to say something about “Mere Christianity”, not just about what a clever and well informed chap Lewis was.

  28. Hunt Says:

    In the way I’m using the terms, absolute morality is what you think is reality, unless I’m grossly misunderstanding you. Morals have truth values that are assigned by the creator of the universe. They are fixed and woven into the fabric of our reality. This is also the manner Lewis views them and tries to convince us.

    Objective morality is best defined as the opposite to subjective morality. It’s a moral system that we as humans can see merit in. Perhaps this is a looser definition than you use, and perhaps you use “objective” when I would use “absolute.” If I were to change “human” in the sentence above to “group” then you would have moral relativism, but my distinction from relativism is the position that we, as humans, can find a universal objective morality that we can all be convinced is meritorious. It isn’t, however, necessarily unique. My views (at the moment) are fairly closely aligned with Sam Harris’s so you may be more receptive after you’ve read his book.

  29. Hunt Says:

    One slight caveat that will serve, unfortunately, to complicate things further is that I also don’t fully discount subjective morality because I believe we have the capacity for moral intuition. At first this may appear to excuse the monstrous acts of psychopaths, and indeed psychopaths have dysfunctional moral intuition. The interplay between subjective and objective morality is complex, and I don’t pretend to understand it enough to be able to describe it exactly, but I claim that they are both required in practical morality.

    Objective morality in this sense is not tethered to the structure of reality, which is probably what terrifies religious people so much. It’s just “hanging there” as an artifact of reason (or unreason, as the case may be). It’s also dependent of the evolutionary emotional responses of our brains.

    Incidentally, I can see how you as philosopher could be totally turned off by this formulation. It’s an interdisciplinary view that relies as much on biology and neurochemistry as philosophy.

  30. Nick Says:

    G: Nick, I found what I think is the same book on Amazon, where the “search inside” feature is available. It finds only one page with the word “Thomist” on, which offers no evidence that CSL was a Thomist. (It says a bit about Jacques Maritain and says that he “worked out of a general Thomist philosophical orientation”; and then says that Lewis “while not so fully Thomist as Maritain, also drew heavily on medieval texts of Christian literature and philosophy” and did a couple of other things that have nothing to do with being or not being a Thomist. Of course no one would deny that CSL drew heavily on mediaeval texts of Christian literature and philosophy, but that is not at all the same thing as taking the same view of ethics as Aquinas.)

    Reply: Correct, though the autobiographer does make a point that he did hold to that position.

    G: DD is criticizing “Mere Christianity”, not Lewis’s thinking generally except in so far as “Mere Christianity” is indicative. (I agree with you that “Mere Christianity” is a rather informal book for a general audience and that it would be rash to assume that it’s an adequate account of CSL’s best thinking on any topic.)

    Reply: Correct

    G: I was not suggesting that you think “Mere Christianity” is shoddy. I was giving one example to demonstrate that from “Lewis’s thinking about ethics was sophisticated” it doesn’t follow that it can’t be right to criticize “Mere Christianity” for taking a simplistic view of ethics. To refute such a criticism you’d have to say something about “Mere Christianity”, not just about what a clever and well informed chap Lewis was.

    Reply: Which I believe I have. DD is saying the argument doesn’t work. I am saying it does. Of course, I have cast the gauntlet down to him. It is up to him if he responds.

  31. Nick Says:

    Hunt: In the way I’m using the terms, absolute morality is what you think is reality, unless I’m grossly misunderstanding you.

    Reply: That’s also what objective morality is so again, what is the distinction you see between the two?

    Hunt: Morals have truth values that are assigned by the creator of the universe. They are fixed and woven into the fabric of our reality. This is also the manner Lewis views them and tries to convince us.

    Reply: No. Mainly, I am not a divine command theorist which seems to be the only position most are familiar with. My idea of morality is based on essences and the relation between goodness and being.

    Hunt: Objective morality is best defined as the opposite to subjective morality. It’s a moral system that we as humans can see merit in. Perhaps this is a looser definition than you use, and perhaps you use “objective” when I would use “absolute.” If I were to change “human” in the sentence above to “group” then you would have moral relativism, but my distinction from relativism is the position that we, as humans, can find a universal objective morality that we can all be convinced is meritorious. It isn’t, however, necessarily unique. My views (at the moment) are fairly closely aligned with Sam Harris’s so you may be more receptive after you’ve read his book.

    Reply: Perhaps not. What I’ve read of Harris is weak. The End of Faith is not even worth the paper it’s printed on. Harris is not familiar in that one with his opponents at all. Meanwhile, the question again is do we find morality or do we create it? If we find it, it exists independently of us. If we create it, we can make it whatever we want.

    If we find it, then tell me, what are the material properties of goodness?

    As for morality being based on just intuition, why should I believe an accident of biology and neurology can give me information about the external world that is accurate, especially that which is not immediately detectable with the five senses?

    You really think you can get from having a subjective moral idea to having an objective moral reality? Then I suggest you start agreeing with the ontological argument right away.

  32. Hunt Says:

    Whether we find or create morality is almost as tricky a question as whether we find or create mathematics. Are mathematical structures the products of elementary axioms and then deductive inference or do they preexist as Platonic forms? I don’t know, but you can view it either way without introducing a divine source.
    I think you’re giving too much weight to my mention of moral intuition, however, it is true that I think there is an organic capacity in our brains that allows it that, say, lizards, lack. Other things being the same, if lizards suddenly gained the capacity to reason symbolically, form and shape ideas, they would not be able to form civil society due to an inherent biological deficit.

  33. EdW Says:

    Nick said: “If we create it, we can make it whatever we want”

    — Sure, and you can make the value of the stock market whatever you want as well. Go ahead. I’m waiting. It’s beyond you. It’s an immaterial, separate, real entity that is controlled by societal construct. Just like morality.

    How about this?

    I reject that there are ANY moral standards beyond the whims of human beings, their wants and desires, and their collective self-interest.

    Why assume that there even IS such a thing as Good? “Good” is a label we place on actions with desirable personal consequences.

    Because we are rational beings with a capacity for empathy, we can extend these desirable consequences to that of our kin, our clan, our nation, and our planet.

    Where I differ from the postmodernists is that I believe that there are optimum pathways of moral action — moral “absolutes of necessity”. For instance, I think there are no scenarios in which the murder of innocents leads to mutually desirable outcomes (especially for said innocents).

    Sure, my ideal of maximizing wellness for all creatures may not be “Good” based on whatever your Three Aspects of Goodness are, but it sounds pretty good to me.

    And don’t bother attacking my academic credentials, I have none. Aquinas had no better raw material in his observations than I in mine.

  34. Nick Says:

    Hunt: Whether we find or create morality is almost as tricky a question as whether we find or create mathematics.

    Reply: It’s as simple as asking if we create laws of physics or discover them and merely formulate them.

    Hunt: Are mathematical structures the products of elementary axioms and then deductive inference or do they preexist as Platonic forms?

    Reply: Why must it always be this idea of Platonic forms? There are other ways for them to exist without having Plato’s forms floating about.

    Hunt: I don’t know, but you can view it either way without introducing a divine source.

    Reply: Really? Then give your basis for goodness.

    Hunt: I think you’re giving too much weight to my mention of moral intuition, however, it is true that I think there is an organic capacity in our brains that allows it that, say, lizards, lack.

    Reply: That’s because we have a rational soul unlike animals which have a locomotive soul.

    Hunt: Other things being the same, if lizards suddenly gained the capacity to reason symbolically, form and shape ideas, they would not be able to form civil society due to an inherent biological deficit.

    Reply: They would also not be lizards so the point would be moot.

  35. Nick Says:

    Ed: — Sure, and you can make the value of the stock market whatever you want as well. Go ahead. I’m waiting. It’s beyond you. It’s an immaterial, separate, real entity that is controlled by societal construct. Just like morality.

    Reply: No. The stock market is an entity that resides on the material for its being. Goodness does not, although it can be expressed through matter. Morality is used by material beings but is in no way dependent on them. Morality would exist if matter did not.

    Ed: I reject that there are ANY moral standards beyond the whims of human beings, their wants and desires, and their collective self-interest.

    Reply: Then I am reminded of the early American who said after you leave I should make sure I have all my silverware still.

    Ed: Why assume that there even IS such a thing as Good? “Good” is a label we place on actions with desirable personal consequences.

    Reply: You win an award for consistency at least, but indeed. Let’s do that. Let’s not say anything is really good. Well as soon as you do that, you’ve got nihilism ultimately. You’ve got no reason to do anything whatsoever. In fact, why even continue this debate?

    Personally, I don’t make an assumption. I make an argument and it will be based on Aristotle. I argue that goodness is what he said it is.

    Ed: Because we are rational beings with a capacity for empathy, we can extend these desirable consequences to that of our kin, our clan, our nation, and our planet.

    Reply: Desirable? Who says they are? Suppose I don’t think they are. Upon what grounds will you convince me that they are?

    Ed: Where I differ from the postmodernists is that I believe that there are optimum pathways of moral action — moral “absolutes of necessity”. For instance, I think there are no scenarios in which the murder of innocents leads to mutually desirable outcomes (especially for said innocents).

    Reply: Why should the outcomes be viewed any better if desires are fulfilled than if they are not if goodness has no meaning?

    Ed: Sure, my ideal of maximizing wellness for all creatures may not be “Good” based on whatever your Three Aspects of Goodness are, but it sounds pretty good to me.

    Reply: So it sounds like a word you just said is a label. Do you really listen to yourself? You also admit you don’t know the three aspects but still speak anyway? Ignorance is no excuse I see.

    Ed: And don’t bother attacking my academic credentials, I have none. Aquinas had no better raw material in his observations than I in mine.

    Reply: It was self-evident you have none. Also, Aquinas had an education in the great thinkers of his time. That’s something far better than Wikipedia.

  36. EdW Says:

    Since I lack the academic background you have, I really would like to know what these Aristotelian or Thomistic Three Things are.

    And I’m very interested in this claim that morality is independent of matter… I’d love to hear a definition of morality that doesn’t require any material causes or effects. I really am curious – surely essences require some material basis?

  37. Hunt Says:

    “Reply: Really? Then give your basis for goodness.”

    I’ve already sketched the basic idea I have for their origins, and I think mine is fairly close to DD’s, is fairly close to Sam Harris’s, moral origin. They are human social constructs, they are “objective” in sense that they can be objectively measured for better or worse outcomes as applied to human well-being. That may not be solid enough for you, but I think it’s as solid as it’s going to get. There’s probably not one single, unique, optimal moral system. The best that is probably going to be achieved is to find local maxima in the “landscape” of possible moral systems.

    Here’s an example that might lend some intuitive traction to the scope of this problem.

    Do you agree with capital punishment or do you think instead that incorrigible criminals should be locked away from society, perhaps for their entire lives? What about if we lobotomized criminals so they no longer desired criminal activity. Do you think this would be immoral? Most people would probably find this appalling. What if a prisoner agreed to lobotomy instead of spending a life in prison? Most people will probably still think it’s morally impermissible. What if some kind of new science or technology arose so that a prisoner could undergo a procedure or take a drug that would leave them completely uninterested in criminal activity. Furthermore, let’s say that a criminal fully agrees to the process, and he will be reintroduced into society immediately afterward. Now is it permissible to do the procedure? On the flip side, is it morally permissible to instead insist that the prisoner be killed or incarcerated for life even though there is this alternative?

    I’m just trying to give you a brief scenario sketch, perhaps unrealistic and perhaps just around the corner in terms of feasibility, where morality may shift depending on the circumstance.

    Now let me ask you a question. Why do you think absolute (or, “objective” in the sense you mean it) morality is the correct way to view morals?

  38. Nick Says:

    EdW: Since I lack the academic background you have, I really would like to know what these Aristotelian or Thomistic Three Things are.

    Reply: Then I suggest you pick up a book and read.

    EdW: And I’m very interested in this claim that morality is independent of matter… I’d love to hear a definition of morality that doesn’t require any material causes or effects. I really am curious – surely essences require some material basis?

    Reply: No. Not at all. Matter is how you individuate between essences. For instance, all of us are fully human, and thus, we share human essence, but we are differentiated by our matter.

    An illustration would suffice for how these realities are expressed through matter. Suppose you draw me pictures of a scalene, an isosceles, and an equilateral triangle. You tell me all three are triangles. I say “Okay. I see all three are triangles, but I want to know what triangularity itself looks like. Can you draw me a picture of just triangularity?

    It could not be done. Of course, triangularity can only be actualized through matter. You cannot understand triangularity without having some material image.

    Goodness is not like that in my philosophy due to the relation of goodness to being. For instance, Aquinas and I would say God is good and therefore since God is not material that goodness does not depend on the material. We can also say morality exists since there are beings who can be good or evil and do not depend on material, namely angels.

    Goodness is not material since goodness has no material properties. How much does it weigh? What is its chemical makeup? Can you take a picture of it? The answers to each of these should be obvious.

  39. Nick Says:

    Hunt: I’ve already sketched the basic idea I have for their origins, and I think mine is fairly close to DD’s, is fairly close to Sam Harris’s, moral origin. They are human social constructs, they are “objective” in sense that they can be objectively measured for better or worse outcomes as applied to human well-being.

    Reply: Better or worse indicates something outside of the actions themselves whereby they are judged. Also, you can say that you think this produces good ends, but what is that based on? How do you get from the idea of goodness to the external reality of goodness? If you think such a move is possible, then upon what grounds could you dismiss the ontological argument?

    Hunt: That may not be solid enough for you, but I think it’s as solid as it’s going to get. There’s probably not one single, unique, optimal moral system. The best that is probably going to be achieved is to find local maxima in the “landscape” of possible moral systems.

    Reply: Optimal would imply that there is something outside of the moral standards whereby you judge them. If all moral systems are human constructs then each one is really just play acting. We are acting like morality is real when really, we’re making it up. In Aristotlean and Thomistic thinking, goodness are realities and some things really are good and some are evil. You can say “X is good” or “X is evil” and make true statements.

    Hunt:Do you agree with capital punishment or do you think instead that incorrigible criminals should be locked away from society, perhaps for their entire lives? What about if we lobotomized criminals so they no longer desired criminal activity. Do you think this would be immoral? Most people would probably find this appalling. What if a prisoner agreed to lobotomy instead of spending a life in prison? Most people will probably still think it’s morally impermissible. What if some kind of new science or technology arose so that a prisoner could undergo a procedure or take a drug that would leave them completely uninterested in criminal activity. Furthermore, let’s say that a criminal fully agrees to the process, and he will be reintroduced into society immediately afterward. Now is it permissible to do the procedure? On the flip side, is it morally permissible to instead insist that the prisoner be killed or incarcerated for life even though there is this alternative?

    I’m just trying to give you a brief scenario sketch, perhaps unrealistic and perhaps just around the corner in terms of feasibility, where morality may shift depending on the circumstance.

    Reply: And the answer I have to all of this is at this point, if you think you have a moral dilemma, then you are reinforcing my views. Are there hard questions? Yes. Moral realism realizes this. My method is the same. I never discuss questions of what actions are moral until I get it settled what morality is.

    Hunt:Now let me ask you a question. Why do you think absolute (or, “objective” in the sense you mean it) morality is the correct way to view morals?

    Reply: One reason. It’s true. It’s the way we’ve thought for years and it makes sense with the proper doctrine of being. If there is no objective goodness, there’s no reason to do anything.

  40. EdW Says:

    Very interesting — It seems like “essence” to you is what most of us would call “category” or “definition” — what we would say differentiates matter instead of the other way around.

    And what book contains these Three Things? It would seem easy enough for you to enumerate them, but you seem loathe to do so.

  41. g Says:

    Nick, it was not an “early American” who made the remark about counting spoons; it was Samuel Johnson. And he said it about someone who “maintained that there was no distinction between virtue and vice”; EdW is not saying that there is no such distinction, merely that it arises from social convention or something of the kind. (There is a distinction between good etiquette and bad etiquette, at least in any given context, even though etiquette is purely a matter of convention; that someone says etiquette is purely a matter of convention is little reason to expect him or her to start spitting in public and sitting on the dinner table. Similarly, that someone thinks morality is a matter of convention is little reason to expect him to steal your spoons.)

  42. g Says:

    (Emerson did make a similar remark, but (1) he was merely quoting Johnson and (2) he applied it not to people who are skeptical about morality but to people who make a big deal about “honour”.)

  43. Arthur Says:

    EdW: Since I lack the academic background you have, I really would like to know what these Aristotelian or Thomistic Three Things are.

    Reply: Then I suggest you pick up a book and read.

    This is more and more cl all the time.

  44. Hunt Says:

    “Reply: One reason. It’s true. It’s the way we’ve thought for years and it makes sense with the proper doctrine of being. If there is no objective goodness, there’s no reason to do anything.”

    I’m assuming you can see why that’s a horrible answer. “It’s true” is a baseless assertion. “It’s the way we’ve thought for years” is irrelevant to its truth value. “it makes sense with the proper doctrine of being” is vague at best, and “If there is no…there’s no reason to do anything.” is only meaningful in the motivational system you have constructed for yourself, so it begs the question. What you really mean is if there is no absolute morality, you have no reason for doing anything.

    I suggest you take another run at the problem.

  45. Nick Says:

    Edward: Very interesting — It seems like “essence” to you is what most of us would call “category” or “definition” — what we would say differentiates matter instead of the other way around.

    Reply: An essence refers to what a thing is. What makes it the thing that it is? An Aristotlean would refer to it as the form of the thing.

    Ed: And what book contains these Three Things? It would seem easy enough for you to enumerate them, but you seem loathe to do so.

    Reply: Yes I am, because I prefer people do their own homework before speaking on subjects they don’t know. Kreeft has a Socratic Dialogues book called “The Best Things In Life” that contain them. Even going to some Thomistic web sites should get you the information.

  46. Nick Says:

    g: Nick, it was not an “early American” who made the remark about counting spoons; it was Samuel Johnson. And he said it about someone who “maintained that there was no distinction between virtue and vice”;

    Reply: Quite good. I can easily concede error on that point.

    g: EdW is not saying that there is no such distinction, merely that it arises from social convention or something of the kind. (There is a distinction between good etiquette and bad etiquette, at least in any given context, even though etiquette is purely a matter of convention; that someone says etiquette is purely a matter of convention is little reason to expect him or her to start spitting in public and sitting on the dinner table. Similarly, that someone thinks morality is a matter of convention is little reason to expect him to steal your spoons.)

    Reply: Why shouldn’t it be? If he thinks morality is just a matter that can be created or not, then I see no reason why he would not bend the rules if he thought he could get away with it.

    No. I will still contend that morality tells us something about the world because some things in the world are actually good.

  47. Nick Says:

    Hunt: I’m assuming you can see why that’s a horrible answer. “It’s true” is a baseless assertion.

    Reply: Not at all. It’s just the way it is. The reason I believe in objective morality is because I believe it describes the world as it is. Now if you want to know why I think that, that’s another question.

    Hunt:“It’s the way we’ve thought for years” is irrelevant to its truth value. “

    Reply: Not at all. If you wish to take down a fence, find out why it was put up in the first place. If civilizations have believed this for years, find out why before saying they were wrong.

    Hunt: it makes sense with the proper doctrine of being” is vague at best,

    Reply: Only because you haven’t bothered to learn anything beyond what the new atheists tell you.

    Hunt: and “If there is no…there’s no reason to do anything.” is only meaningful in the motivational system you have constructed for yourself, so it begs the question.

    Reply: False. It’s good Aristotlean metaphysics and rather than interacting with it, you choose to just dismiss it as false.

    Hunt: What you really mean is if there is no absolute morality, you have no reason for doing anything.

    Reply: Which is also true. If there is no objective goodness, there’s no reason to do anything.

    Hunt: I suggest you take another run at the problem.

    Reply:

    Translation: Your answers are spoken in terms I do not understand and rather than learn them, I’d rather you just give a different answer.

  48. g Says:

    Nick, do you disagree with my statement that someone who says etiquette is a matter of convention is not therefore particularly likely to ignore it? It seems to me that saying morality is a matter of convention is rather similar.

    (For the avoidance of doubt: someone who believes, and bothers to say, that something is a matter of convention is probably more likely to ignore the convention than someone who doesn’t. But “more likely than some other people to do X” is a different matter entirely from “quite likely to do X”.)

    And, actually, EdW isn’t saying that morality is a matter of convention. At least, I don’t think he is. He’s saying that it is determined by human nature: not in the sense that morality is whatever anyone says it is, but that the qualities that make something good or bad are determined by what people are like. People generally dislike pain; therefore things that cause a lot of pain are, ceteris paribus, bad, etc.

    Now, this may or may not be right; but it seems obvious to me that it doesn’t give the slightest reason to think that Ed is likely to steal your spoons. Sure, he might decide — perhaps wrongly and/or insincerely — that stealing your spoons would maximize the universe’s overall level of desire-satisfaction. But then, a Thomist might decide — perhaps wrongly and/or insincerely — that the theft of the spoons is desirable (to him, at least); that it would be useful and pleasant and that any defect in virtue is outweighed by those factors; and, having stolen them, that the theft of the spoons is actual whereas their non-theft is purely hypothetical, and therefore that the theft is good. Or a divine command theorist might convince himself that God required that the spoons be stolen. So far as I can tell,no metaethical theory provides any sort of guarantee against self-interested self-deception.

  49. Hunt Says:

    Nick, I was considerate enough to flesh out Harris’s argument, though you’ve informed me you haven’t read his book. You aren’t interested in discussion, so I’ll bow out of this conversation, thanks.

  50. Nick Says:

    G: Nick, do you disagree with my statement that someone who says etiquette is a matter of convention is not therefore particularly likely to ignore it? It seems to me that saying morality is a matter of convention is rather similar.

    Reply: Actually, they can be quite likely to ignore it. It depends more on the person. The more society moves away from an ontological basis for morality, the more it will become less and less relevant. If you want to see this, just consider societies like those of Stalin, Mao, Pol-Pot, etc.

    Personally, I don’t care for a lot of etiquette since it’s social convention to me and I do ignore it.

    G: And, actually, EdW isn’t saying that morality is a matter of convention. At least, I don’t think he is. He’s saying that it is determined by human nature: not in the sense that morality is whatever anyone says it is, but that the qualities that make something good or bad are determined by what people are like. People generally dislike pain; therefore things that cause a lot of pain are, ceteris paribus, bad, etc.

    Reply: But the problem with such an approach is that we all know that there are times when inflicting pain is good. All you need to do is go see a dentist. When you do that, you are looking at something else besides just one part of the equation, and remember, I’ve said that there are three parts to a moral action.

    Also, this does imply that there is such a thing as human nature and I would like to see how that is established. What do all humans possess that make them human if they are all purely material beings?

    G: Now, this may or may not be right; but it seems obvious to me that it doesn’t give the slightest reason to think that Ed is likely to steal your spoons. Sure, he might decide — perhaps wrongly and/or insincerely — that stealing your spoons would maximize the universe’s overall level of desire-satisfaction. But then, a Thomist might decide — perhaps wrongly and/or insincerely — that the theft of the spoons is desirable (to him, at least); that it would be useful and pleasant and that any defect in virtue is outweighed by those factors; and, having stolen them, that the theft of the spoons is actual whereas their non-theft is purely hypothetical, and therefore that the theft is good. Or a divine command theorist might convince himself that God required that the spoons be stolen. So far as I can tell,no metaethical theory provides any sort of guarantee against self-interested self-deception.

    Reply: A Thomist could not decide that since they hold to natural law theory and it’s not just about what is desired but about what all things aim at. What all things aim at is perfection according to their mode of being. Hence, I’ve based my argument on the relationship between goodness and being.

    And remember, I’ve left my challenge for DD. I have not seen a response from him yet.

  51. Nick Says:

    As for Hunt, I see he doesn’t like to play when someone doesn’t follow his song and dance. That will be his problem.

  52. g Says:

    Nick:

    You say “It depends more on the person”. That is exactly my point: the fact that someone is or isn’t a moral realist tells you very little about how likely he is to steal your spoons; what matters much more is his character. (And, if his character should happen not to be so good, his incentives.)

    I’m not at all convinced that anything so broad as a human society ever has an “ontological basis for morality”. That would require much more thought about metaethics than most people ever put in. And what was most loathsome about Stalin’s USSR, Mao’s China, etc., was not any defect in the *society’s* morals (though defects there may have been) but the callousness and brutality of their *leaders*. It’s possible that those leaders were moral nonrealists and that that’s part of why they felt able to do the things they did; but I find that unconvincing in view of the Not-Very-Nice-ness of, for instance, Franco (Catholic), Pinochet (Catholic), Ahmadinejad (Muslim), and the Tsars (Russian Orthodox).

    Of course I’m aware that there are times when pain is necessary or even good. That’s why I said “generally”. (But your example is a poor one. When I see a dentist and they have to do something drastic, the first thing they do is to arrange for me *not* to feel the pain it would otherwise entail.) And I don’t see any reason why there needs to be any sort of universally-identical human nature in order for the approach I think EdW is taking to be viable. (The claim is not “Right and wrong are the way they are because of a universally-identical human nature”. It’s more like “Right and wrong are the way they are because of what the people involved are like”; on such a theory, in cases where the people involved are unusual, right and wrong may also be unusual.)

    A sufficiently perverse Thomist could, I am absolutely sure, convince himself (say) that what spoons aim at is to be used for eating, and that he would eat more or better with your spoons than you would. Or that for a person to attain perfection according to their mode of being requires that they have an environment in which their human life can flourish, and that he needs your spoons to provide such an environment. Or any number of other things. And yes, my examples are unconvincing to normal moral people who don’t have strong inclinations to steal your spoons, whether they’re Thomists or not; that’s the point. Most people, in fact, won’t steal your spoons.

    I don’t think it’s accurate to say that you’ve based your argument on the relationship between goodness and being, since you’ve said essentially nothing about that relationship other than to assert that there is one and it underpins Thomist (meta)ethics. Your argument so far has been all about how CSL is allegedly a sophisticated Thomist and DD is being unfair by not treating him as one. Whether that is true is entirely independent of whether goodness and being are actually related in the way you say they are — or, rather, the way you decline to say they are, since you seem awfully reluctant to actually set out your position as opposed to saying that you have one and it’s very clever and CSL had it too.

    This discussion would be much more interesting if you were to take the trouble to (1) sketch the (meta)ethical position you are talking about, for the benefit of those who happen not to have read the Summa theologiae, and (2) explain briefly how it relates to what CSL actually wrote in “Mere Christianity”, a work which on the face of it neither states nor uses any such (meta)ethical theory.

  53. Deacon Duncan Says:

    If someone believes that social convention defines which side of the road you should drive on, are they more likely to die in a head-on collision?

  54. Nick Says:

    G: You say “It depends more on the person”. That is exactly my point: the fact that someone is or isn’t a moral realist tells you very little about how likely he is to steal your spoons; what matters much more is his character. (And, if his character should happen not to be so good, his incentives.)

    Reply: For the non-realist in morality, the only reason they wouldn’t is some self-interest, in which case they become a realist of some sort. No one can function without affirming the objectivity of goodness somehow.

    Also, I believe our society has been Christianized. What we see as moral today would not have been seen as moral in the Roman world pre-Christ. There is a background of Christianity influencing even non-Christians.

    G: I’m not at all convinced that anything so broad as a human society ever has an “ontological basis for morality”. That would require much more thought about metaethics than most people ever put in.

    Reply: People usually rely on the intelligentsia. In an ancient society, they would have formed groups and got their identity from followers of Aristotle or Plotinus or Epictetus or some moral teacher, including Christ, although for them He would have been more than a moral teacher.

    Aristotle and Plato believed in ontological goodness. They just didn’t have a place for it as they never tied in their religion with their morality.

    G: And what was most loathsome about Stalin’s USSR, Mao’s China, etc., was not any defect in the *society’s* morals (though defects there may have been) but the callousness and brutality of their *leaders*. It’s possible that those leaders were moral nonrealists and that that’s part of why they felt able to do the things they did; but I find that unconvincing in view of the Not-Very-Nice-ness of, for instance, Franco (Catholic), Pinochet (Catholic), Ahmadinejad (Muslim), and the Tsars (Russian Orthodox).

    Reply: Ah yes. “Well they did bad things, but so did some Christians.” The difference is the Christians did evil, and that is condemnable, in contradiction to the teachings of Christ. Tell me. What tenet of atheism did Stalin and others violate? Not a one. All that’s required is that you deny that God exists. The Communist Manifesto was quite clear. Religion is the enemy. Stalin was picked by Lenin for his hatred of things religious.

    Atheists in one century murdered far more than Christians ever had in nineteen.

    G: Of course I’m aware that there are times when pain is necessary or even good. That’s why I said “generally”. (But your example is a poor one. When I see a dentist and they have to do something drastic, the first thing they do is to arrange for me *not* to feel the pain it would otherwise entail.)

    Reply: Rather, they try to prevent it. Mine does the same, but it is not perfect. However, the point is you look outside the pain or pleasure to determine if it is good. This was what concerned Mill with his theory. He would say that appreciating fine poetry, learning Greek, and seeking knowledge for its own sake were higher pleasures. However, most men today will go with sex, gluttony, watching sports all day long, etc.

    G: And I don’t see any reason why there needs to be any sort of universally-identical human nature in order for the approach I think EdW is taking to be viable. (The claim is not “Right and wrong are the way they are because of a universally-identical human nature”. It’s more like “Right and wrong are the way they are because of what the people involved are like”; on such a theory, in cases where the people involved are unusual, right and wrong may also be unusual.)

    Reply: You base morality on human nature. Which human nature? Which ones are considered human? You do realize that is how totalitarian societies begin don’t you? They start by characterizing one group as non-human. It could be Jews. It could be blacks. It could be children in the womb.

    G: A sufficiently perverse Thomist could, I am absolutely sure, convince himself (say) that what spoons aim at is to be used for eating, and that he would eat more or better with your spoons than you would. Or that for a person to attain perfection according to their mode of being requires that they have an environment in which their human life can flourish, and that he needs your spoons to provide such an environment. Or any number of other things. And yes, my examples are unconvincing to normal moral people who don’t have strong inclinations to steal your spoons, whether they’re Thomists or not; that’s the point. Most people, in fact, won’t steal your spoons.

    Reply: Most won’t because they do know the natural law, and in fact a Thomist says all do. That is, all know the first principles, although the second principles can be wiped out. This is our claim. Those who cite moral relativism do not live it out. They are absolutists when it impinges on them. They are relativists when they want to justify themselves.

    G: I don’t think it’s accurate to say that you’ve based your argument on the relationship between goodness and being, since you’ve said essentially nothing about that relationship other than to assert that there is one and it underpins Thomist (meta)ethics.

    Reply: Then you would be wrong. The problem is not that I am not explaining enough but that people are not asking enough.

    G: Your argument so far has been all about how CSL is allegedly a sophisticated Thomist and DD is being unfair by not treating him as one. Whether that is true is entirely independent of whether goodness and being are actually related in the way you say they are — or, rather, the way you decline to say they are, since you seem awfully reluctant to actually set out your position as opposed to saying that you have one and it’s very clever and CSL had it too.

    Reply: Simply because I do not do my thinking for my opponents. I prefer that they be willing to follow along for themselves. If you are to argue against a view, you need to know all the counter-arguments that you can. When you read the great philosophers like Aquinas, Scotus, Hume, Kant, and others, they not only know their position, but they know the first objections you’ll raise and how they’ll answer them.

    G: This discussion would be much more interesting if you were to take the trouble to (1) sketch the (meta)ethical position you are talking about, for the benefit of those who happen not to have read the Summa theologiae, and (2) explain briefly how it relates to what CSL actually wrote in “Mere Christianity”, a work which on the face of it neither states nor uses any such (meta)ethical theory.

    Reply: I told DD where he could go to find more information.

  55. Nick Says:

    DD: If someone believes that social convention defines which side of the road you should drive on, are they more likely to die in a head-on collision?

    Reply: What side of the road we drive on is a principle based on instrumental use. We don’t drive on X side of the road because it’s moral. We do it because we have agreed on it for a good of saving lives. We do realize there are rules of convention as moral realists.

    When we make the rules, we can change them. Do you think we create the rule “Do not murder” or discover it?

    Are you willing to accept my challenge?

  56. Deacon Duncan Says:

    So you’re saying that a person’s behavior can be motivated by concerns other than ontological goodness, and that a mere lack of ontological goodness does not necessarily imply a person’s willingness to violate the principle in question? Fair enough. Now then, what if, in fact, all morality consists of principles based on instrumental use? Would the results be objectively any different than what we see in the world today?

    As for challenges, I’m not really interested in appeals to emotional arguments. I believe you yourself have expressed similar convictions, have you not?

  57. g Says:

    Nick, it is simply not true that the only options are moral realism or self-interest. What makes you think those are the only options?

    (A caveat: One can argue that *everyone*, *always*, does what they want to do — by definition: if they do it, that shows that they want it — and thereby claim that what they may prefer to describe as altruism, concern for truth, commitment to their religious obligations, etc., is all really a matter of “self-interest” in the sense that they are doing what, all things considered, *they* choose to do. But that applies equally to everyone, moral realist or not.)

    Sure, our society has been Christianized. And Romanized. And Utilitarianized. And all-sorts-of-other-things-ized. For that matter, Soviet Russia and Nazi Germany had also been Christianized. How’s that relevant?

    It is entirely reasonable to say “yes, they did bad things, but so did some Christians” in response to an argument of the form “see how bad atheists are: these atheists did bad things”. Yes, you are quite correct that doing awful things doesn’t violate any “tenet of atheism” because atheism has scarcely any tenets. Likewise, doing awful things doesn’t violate any tenet of theism. It does, however, violate tenets of (for instance) Christianity, or of any number of non-religious ethical systems. What’s your point here? That atheism doesn’t do all the things Christianity does? No one ever claimed it does: atheism (like theism) is only only one part of anyone’s worldview. So what? Nothing about atheism (any more than about theism) requires you to have no other beliers or values.

    It is beyond me how anyone can say with a straight face “The Communist Manifesto is quite clear. Religion is the enemy”. The *ruling classes* are the enemy; the CM portrays religion as an irrelevant distraction, not as The Enemy.

    Yes, of course there are other things that matter besides pleasure and pain. I never said or suggested otherwise. If you wish to argue instead with Jeremy Bentham, I believe there’s a waxwork of him in one of London’s universities. (Personally, I wouldn’t want to be without poetry *or* sex.)

    It’s very mystifying that I remark about EdW’s position (which is not mine; I’ve said nothing about mine) that it doesn’t (as you claimed it does) involve an appeal to a fixed human nature — and then you respond by saying “You base morality on human nature”. First, I haven’t been talking about what, if anything, *I* base morality on. Secondly, I’d just attempted to explain how EdW’s position, as I understand it, is *not* based “on human nature”. (And then you segue into some irrelevant stuff about declaring some groups non-human. Bah.)

    Your comments about everyone knowing that natural law, etc., amount to this: “Deep down, everyone thinks the same as I do, but the Other Guys are insincere and dishonest, unlike me”. I don’t think there’s anything useful to be said in response to that, especially as you’ve offered no sort of evidence or argument to justify your claims about what everyone allegedly knows and how moral nonrealists (I wish you wouldn’t keep saying “relativists”; that means something different) allegedly behave.

    It is not merely a matter of not wishing to do your opponents’ thinking for them. You apparently wish them to do your thinking for you. You are of course entitled to want that, and not to deign to engage with anyone unless they first prove their worthiness by stating your position for you; but if you don’t get a lot of takers, you should be aware that there are plenty of possible reasons other than that your “opponents” are stupid and ignorant and lazy.

    I do not find that the objections considered and rebutted by the great philosophers are always the same as mine. Sometimes they appear to be straw men (though of course it’s possible that those really were the best objections at the time). Sometimes they’re just coming at things from a direction quite different from mine (e.g., the objections considered by Aquinas in the Summa theologiae often presuppose a particular sort of religious or philosophical position that I don’t share). Sometimes it just happens that my notion of what arguments are strongest differs from theirs.

    And if *they* don’t always anticipate their readers’ objections correctly, why on earth should you expect anyone here to anticipate your position correctly? — And if, as seems obvious to me, it’s likely that even a very intelligent and well-read person making a serious attempt to guess what you might say will guess wrongly a lot of the time, why on earth should you expect anyone to do so when instead you could simply say what your position actually *is*?

    (I can think of some answers, but they’re all rather unflattering.)

  58. Nick Says:

    DD: So you’re saying that a person’s behavior can be motivated by concerns other than ontological goodness, and that a mere lack of ontological goodness does not necessarily imply a person’s willingness to violate the principle in question? Fair enough. Now then, what if, in fact, all morality consists of principles based on instrumental use? Would the results be objectively any different than what we see in the world today?

    Reply: To begin with, everything is based on ontological goodness whether we know it or not. Some practices are instrumental but they are instrumental for a good end and unless there is a good end, it makes no sense.

    Would the world be different if everything was instrumental? Yes. We would treat everything not based on what it is, but based on what ends it serves. The end something serves is important, but only one part of the question.

    DD:As for challenges, I’m not really interested in appeals to emotional arguments. I believe you yourself have expressed similar convictions, have you not?

    Reply: I have, and I do not use emotional arguments. I have issued you a challenge. If you think that goodness can be explained apart from God, then by all means come and challenge.

  59. Nick Says:

    G: Nick, it is simply not true that the only options are moral realism or self-interest. What makes you think those are the only options?

    Reply: Nor have I said such. I say we only do things because we perceive that there is some good that will come of it.

    G:(A caveat: One can argue that *everyone*, *always*, does what they want to do — by definition: if they do it, that shows that they want it — and thereby claim that what they may prefer to describe as altruism, concern for truth, commitment to their religious obligations, etc., is all really a matter of “self-interest” in the sense that they are doing what, all things considered, *they* choose to do. But that applies equally to everyone, moral realist or not.)

    Reply: Correct. That’s my stance. Everyone does something because they perceive some good will come of it.

    G: Sure, our society has been Christianized. And Romanized. And Utilitarianized. And all-sorts-of-other-things-ized. For that matter, Soviet Russia and Nazi Germany had also been Christianized. How’s that relevant?

    Reply: Actually, Russia and Germany were being moved away from that Christianization and the further one moves away from it, the worse the society will become. Today, you can rip apart a live baby in the womb of a mother and society calls that a moral right.

    G: It is entirely reasonable to say “yes, they did bad things, but so did some Christians” in response to an argument of the form “see how bad atheists are: these atheists did bad things”. Yes, you are quite correct that doing awful things doesn’t violate any “tenet of atheism” because atheism has scarcely any tenets. Likewise, doing awful things doesn’t violate any tenet of theism. It does, however, violate tenets of (for instance) Christianity, or of any number of non-religious ethical systems. What’s your point here? That atheism doesn’t do all the things Christianity does? No one ever claimed it does: atheism (like theism) is only only one part of anyone’s worldview. So what? Nothing about atheism (any more than about theism) requires you to have no other beliers or values.

    Reply: The point is that when Christians do evil, they are acting in direct contradiction to Christianity. When the atheist societies did evil, they were not violating atheism. In fact, granting what Nietzsche said, it’s the logical outworking of the Uberman. Atheistic societies have wanted to eliminate God and put man in his place. Which man will it be?

    G: It is beyond me how anyone can say with a straight face “The Communist Manifesto is quite clear. Religion is the enemy”. The *ruling classes* are the enemy; the CM portrays religion as an irrelevant distraction, not as The Enemy.

    Reply: It also sees it as part of the style used to dominate over people by holding them under power. Karl Marx hated it for a religion and Lenin hand-picked Stalin for his hatred of the religious.

    g:Yes, of course there are other things that matter besides pleasure and pain. I never said or suggested otherwise. If you wish to argue instead with Jeremy Bentham, I believe there’s a waxwork of him in one of London’s universities. (Personally, I wouldn’t want to be without poetry *or* sex.)

    Reply: Then the question comes by what standard do you determine what pleasures are good or evil and what pains are good or evil and for that, you need to look outside of pleasure and pain to something beyond them by which you judge them.

    g:It’s very mystifying that I remark about EdW’s position (which is not mine; I’ve said nothing about mine) that it doesn’t (as you claimed it does) involve an appeal to a fixed human nature — and then you respond by saying “You base morality on human nature”. First, I haven’t been talking about what, if anything, *I* base morality on. Secondly, I’d just attempted to explain how EdW’s position, as I understand it, is *not* based “on human nature”. (And then you segue into some irrelevant stuff about declaring some groups non-human. Bah.)

    Reply: If that’s not your view, feel free to give your view. What are you going to base morality on?

    g: Your comments about everyone knowing that natural law, etc., amount to this: “Deep down, everyone thinks the same as I do, but the Other Guys are insincere and dishonest, unlike me”. I don’t think there’s anything useful to be said in response to that, especially as you’ve offered no sort of evidence or argument to justify your claims about what everyone allegedly knows and how moral nonrealists (I wish you wouldn’t keep saying “relativists”; that means something different) allegedly behave.

    Reply: Feel free then to explain what you think the difference is and how you justify morality. Again, I state what I say because that is what the evidence says. All societies condemn the murder of innocent human beings, cowardice in war, and approve of such practices as honoring parents.

    G: It is not merely a matter of not wishing to do your opponents’ thinking for them. You apparently wish them to do your thinking for you. You are of course entitled to want that, and not to deign to engage with anyone unless they first prove their worthiness by stating your position for you; but if you don’t get a lot of takers, you should be aware that there are plenty of possible reasons other than that your “opponents” are stupid and ignorant and lazy.

    Reply: Nope. I go by what my opponents show me. I’ve stated before that I think you’re above a lot of the others here. However, most that I see really have not studied the other side.

    G: I do not find that the objections considered and rebutted by the great philosophers are always the same as mine. Sometimes they appear to be straw men (though of course it’s possible that those really were the best objections at the time). Sometimes they’re just coming at things from a direction quite different from mine (e.g., the objections considered by Aquinas in the Summa theologiae often presuppose a particular sort of religious or philosophical position that I don’t share). Sometimes it just happens that my notion of what arguments are strongest differs from theirs.

    Reply: Which objections of Aquinas do you have in mind?

    G: And if *they* don’t always anticipate their readers’ objections correctly, why on earth should you expect anyone here to anticipate your position correctly? — And if, as seems obvious to me, it’s likely that even a very intelligent and well-read person making a serious attempt to guess what you might say will guess wrongly a lot of the time, why on earth should you expect anyone to do so when instead you could simply say what your position actually *is*?

    Reply: Because the position I’m given can be found by doing some basic reading, that is, if you refer to the three parts of an action that constitute its morality. Unfortunately, the generation I speak of relies on the computer to do all their thinking for them.

    However, if DD doesn’t want to accept my challenge to come to TheologyWeb, I could just move on. I haven’t come by due to lack of time and if he doesn’t want to back his position against me on TWeb, I shall just move on.

    (I can think of some answers, but they’re all rather unflattering.)

  60. g Says:

    Nick, you said “For the non-realist in morality, the only reason they wouldn’t is some self-interest”. And now you indignantly deny saying that the only options are moral realism and self-interest. May I suggest that you might want to express yourself a bit more clearly?

    If all you’re saying is that everyone does what they choose to do, and that you choose to call that “self-interest”: why, then, you’ve just declared that the only option is self-interest, full stop. Which is doubtless true, if you adopt that particular definition, but only because it’s tautological. Personally, I think it better to give “self-interest” a less broad meaning, not least because using it so broadly pretty much guarantees being misunderstood.

    (Inflammatory rhetoric about the irrelevant topic of abortion: ignored.)

    Yes, as I already agreed, doing (some kinds of) evil things contravenes principles of Christianity but not of atheism; for the same reasons, it contradicts principles of humanism, and none of theism. What bearing does that have on whether Christianity is preferable to secular humanism, or theism to atheism? (Of course humanism in this sense is not the only alternative to Christianity, any more than Christianity is the only alternative to humanism. It’s just an example.)

    I deny, or at least decline to accept without actual evidence, your claim about what “atheistic societies” have wanted to do. Not least because “atheistic societies” could mean all kinds of things, some of them entirely irrelevant (in case you hadn’t noticed, no one here is advocating Soviet communism) and different sorts of “atheistic society” presumably have different aims. Also, it looks like you’re equivocating on “man”.

    I don’t see what Lenin’s or Stalin’s attitude to religion has to do with what the “Communist Manifesto” says; I repeat that it simply does not present religion as the enemy. (I would, just out of curiosity, be interested to know your source(s) for the assertion about why Lenin picked Stalin; also, picked him for what? Lenin didn’t pick Stalin as his successor; he didn’t pick anyone as his successor.)

    Yes, obviously any position that values and disvalues things other than pleasure and pain has to make reference to things other than pleasure or pain. It sounds as if you think there’s some problem with that, but it’s not clear why. And I’m not sure why you’re asking about *my* views on morality; we were talking about EdW’s.

    It is not true that all societies condemn the killing of innocent humans; some societies have practiced infant sacrifice. I’m sure, though, that there are things that just about every society approves of, and things that just about every society disapproves of; but of course that isn’t at all the same thing as saying that everyone deep down acknowledges the Natural Law.

    Which objections in the Summa? Huge numbers of them. Picking at random (really truly at random) I find the question: Whether an effect of law is to make men good? and the first objection runs as follows: “It seems that it is not an effect of law to make men good. For men are good through virtue, since virtue, as stated in Ethic. ii, 6 is “that which makes its subject good.” But virtue is in man from God alone, because He it is Who “works it in us without us,” as we stated above (Question 55, Article 4) in giving the definition of virtue. Therefore the law does not make men good.” Well, (1) I am not an Aristotelian and see no reason why I should accept Aristotle’s definition of “virtue”, especially if it’s interpreted as Aquinas’s hypothetical opponent seems to be doing as saying that *nothing other than virtue* can make anyone good by definition; and (2) I do not believe that “virtue is in man from God alone” (nor even that Christians ought to believe that). So the first objection Aquinas considers to this proposition is founded on philosophical and religious assumptions that I don’t share.

    I repeat that this example was chosen at random; if I picked another proposition at random from the Summa I think there’s at least a 25% chance that at least one of Aquinas’s objections would be based on entirely different presumptions I don’t share.

    I think this “three parts of an action” thing is extremely silly. Here’s one reason. DD has offered one answer: “object, intention and circumstance”. One can support this by quoting, say, IIa.18.2-4 (note: I don’t guarantee that this is the standard notation for Summa references) where Aquinas argues that the goodness or badness of an action is derived from each of these things. Or one could say that what matters is whether a thing is virtuous, useful and pleasant, and support this on the basis of I.5.6. Or one could say that goodness is to be analysed into mode, species and order, on the basis of I.5.5. (I’m not sure whether one could plausibly make these out to be *the three parts of an action that constitute its morality*, I suppose. But, if it comes to that, I’m not sure one could with the other proposals I’ve mentioned either: e.g., the circumstances or the virtuousness of an action are not *parts* of it.) And we haven’t even got into answers that (in line with your expressed preferences) make “being” or “actuality” central to goodness. In other words: Aquinas says lots and lots of things about goodness, including *multiple* triplets into which the goodness of an action could perhaps be analysed; demanding that others here come up with whatever particular triplet you happen to have in mind amounts to demanding that they play some silly guessing game with you. Which they have, so far as I can see, no particular reason to do. You might as well ask them to pronounce “Shibboleth” and see if they do it the way you prefer.

    (Note: As I’ve already said, I am not an Aquinas expert. It would not astonish me if some details of the previous paragraph were wrong. If you’re inclined to say that this invalidates my point, consider: Do you really want to say that only Aquinas experts are worth talking to? And, if so, what on earth are you doing here?)

  61. Deacon Duncan Says:

    @Nick

    I do not use emotional arguments. I have issued you a challenge. If you think that goodness can be explained apart from God, then by all means come and challenge.

    Splendid. So the actual substance of the challenge is to address the specific issue. The matter of where I happen to post my response is an irrelevant triviality of circumstance that has no bearing on whether or not I have responded to your challenge. Agreed?