Thursday, February 01, 2007

Reply to exapologist on evil

Exapologist wrote: Thanks for that link. Although I never quite make it to atheism, I see in Alan's post this curious link between atheism and some reductionistic kind of materialism that apologists often link together. So there's this sort of implicit conditional:

If atheism is true, then reductive materialism is true.

Or some similar claim lurking in its neighborhood. Does this seem right? If so, then I wonder what sort of reason one might offer on its behalf. I assume it wouldn't be something to the effect that it would be weird if there were necessary truths if the God of classical theism didn't exist.

It seems to me that the atheist is only commited to something along the following lines:

Whatever turns out to be on the catalogue of things there are, a theistic god isn't in it.

But this sort of claim is compatible with lots of things that go beyond reductionistic accounts of materialism. In fact, it's totally compatible with the view that, e.g., there are necessary truths (including necessary moral truths).


EXAP: I'm not at all sure that the claim that atheism entails reductive materialism is required for this argument. One could argue that nonreductive materialism has difficulty fitting moral truths into the world as well. Even if you admit that such truths can be admitted into one's ontology wihtout compromising naturalism, you still have the problem of how it is possible to come to believe that such and such is a necessary moral truth, at least in part in virtue of the fact that such and such is a necessary moral truth. That is, in my view, what it would be for us to know that something was a necessary moral truth, and all forms of naturalism undercut this possibility.

I happen to believe that if there are objective moral values, the theistic God is the best explanation for why these exist.

Many people do want to use the existence of evil as a reason for preferring naturalism to theism. However, if the statement "There is evil" is part of the argument (as opposed to just saying "there is something the theist is going to call evil), then this argument might raise a problem for theism, but on my view it is logically incompatible with naturalism.

The argument from evil, used as a stick to beat the theist over the head with, can easily turn into a rattlesnake that bites the atheist on the hand.

32 comments:

exapologist said...

Grant the atheist Platonism about properties, and I think she can get the necessary moral truths (just as she can get the necessary logical and mathematical truths in such a manner). One could just say that it's an essential constituent of the property of torturing babies for fun that it's morally wrong (in a way similar to how the property of being colored is an essential constituent of the property of being red). Then "torturing babies for fun is wrong" is a necessary truth whose necessity logically supervenes on that platonic property structure. So far, God hasn't entered the picture. Necessary truths and necessarily existent abstracta don't need an explanation of something beyond themselves -- indeed, this account satisfies the Principle of Sufficient Reason.

You're epistemological argument looks interesting. Is it something like an argument from the capacity of apriori knowledge to the existence of God? That would be interesting to pursue. I'd like to think about that for a while before commenting, except to say that it reminds me of Ch. 3 from Moreland's Scaling the Secular City -- something to the effect that (i) the mind has these special properties and capacities, (ii) naturalism doesn't have the resources to account for them, and that therefore, (iii) we need a theory that does have the resources, and that theory is theism. My initial inclination is to want to survey the relevant literature before making a judgement either way. But for now I'll just say that even if naturalism can't cut it, does it follow that classical theism is the only view that can? Why not some dual-attribute view of substance, for example? If that entails classical theism, then I suppose we can say that Spinoza, Russell (at least at one point in his career) and Stoljar are classical theists.

Re: God and morality again: if moral truths are necessary truths, which in turn are grounded in platonic propery structures in the way sketched above, then the necessity of moral facts are grounded in the necessity of their own nature. What need is there, then, to bring in God? Perhaps you hold to some version of divine command theory? If so, then I imagine that you answer the Euthyphro Dilemma by the standard route of going through the horns and saying that God's commands aren't arbitrary, but neither are they independent of God -- rather, God's nature is the standard of goodness (getting around the "independent of God" horn) and his commands are in accordance with it (getting around the "arbirtrary" horn)? If so, then I worry that a new version of the Euthyphro Dilemma arises:

1. Either God is good because God has the properties that constitute moral goodness, or the properties are good because God has them.
2. If God is good because God has the properties that constitute moral goodness, then the moral properties are the standard of goodness -- not God.
3. If the properties are good because God has them, then the view in question is mysterious and unparsimonious -- and thus not an expanatory advance over the view that morality is grounded in property structures.
4. Therefore, either moral properties are the standard of goodness (and not God), or the view in question is mysterious and unparsimonious (and thus not a real advance over the view that morality is grounded in property structures).

(this is my take on one of Wes Morriston's arguments in his "Must There Be a Standard of Moral Goodness Apart From God?").

stunster said...

Morality, like mathematics (and maybe properties too) seem to be either inherent in, or be essentially related to, mind (as objects or contents of the latter). We simply don't encounter free-standing Platonic moral or mathematical abstracta existing outside or independently of minds.

The non-naturalist Platonizing route of avoiding theism has always struck me as contrived, in that it tries to have all the bathwater (mental objects and contents) it wants while throwing out the baby (mind).

I think we see a similar anti-mind animus at work in debates over the argument from design.

Someone could always claim that the apparently designed appearance of, say, the Empire State building, is an illusion, and that in fact its construction happened entirely through the interaction of various natural material organisms (human brains, hands, etc), acting solely in accordance with the laws of physics. Indeed, a thoroughgoing materialism is committed to such a reductionist account. For materialists, mind is just a particular configuration of matter, and the 'intelligent design' of the Empire State building is nothing more than an aggregation of purely natural motions of matter and energy. Ditto the emergence of species, the building of the pyramids, manned spaceflights, etc.

It strikes me, therefore, that the denial of intelligent design of the Empire State building is no more observationally falsifiable than its assertion. In other words, the denial of ID isn't science either. Both claims are literally metaphysical.

Merely adducing evidence of common genetic descent among biological species does not falsify the claim that the whole biological (and cosmic) order is designed, any more than examining an architect's brain and noting that its physical properties and operations can all be explained without reference to an invisible designing mind falsifies the claim that the Empire State Building was designed.

I've written some more critical thoughts on these matters here:

http://www.dailykos.com/comments/2006/4/1/75340/35560/120#120

and here:
http://www.dailykos.com/comments/2006/4/1/75340/35560/99#99

and here:
http://www.dailykos.com/comments/2006/3/31/62728/5492/188#188zl

stunster said...

I think Kant says somewhere that the only thing that is good without qualification is a good will.

There may be an argument derivable from this notion that favors theism as more explanatorily adequate than either materialism or (impersonally construed) Platonism when it comes to accounting for the existence of moral value, or indeed value generally.

exapologist said...

Hi Stunster,

It seems to me that I see "free standing" properties in the world (in your sense of existing outside of minds) all day long: shapes, sizes, etc. So I don't see a good inductive basis for the sort of mentalistic account of properties you mentioned.

I'm afraid that I don't see this sort of realism about properties or universals as contrived at all. I can't speak for others here, but in my case, it's just a matter of where the arguments push me. Various arguments push me to realism about properties and universals. Problems like the Euthyphro Dilemma and what I called the New Euthyphro Dilemma (in my previous post), plus problems with theistic actualism and theistic conceptualism in general, push me away from such views (for further elaboration of such problems, see e.g., Matthew Davidson's "A Demonstration Against Theistic Activism", and Plantinga's Does God Have a Nature? for helpful overviews of some of the problems here).

Issues involving design arguments and ID are interesting, but I think too far afield for the present discussion.

Paul Manata said...

"Grant the atheist Platonism about properties, and I think she can get the necessary moral truths"

Don't think that impersonal platonic forms can provide for the normative features of necessary moral truths. How do impersonal forms obligate me to do anything? How do impersonal forms have a normative characteristic? This besides the fact of how my brain (on certain physicalist understandings of man) gets into contact with these universal and unchaning forms.

stunster said...

I wrote "(and maybe properties too)...".

I think I'm a realist about properties in the sense of believing in their human mind-independence, but not in the sense of believing in their divine mind-independence.

Either way as regards properties and universals of a physical kind, I'd be surprised if you encountered free-standing moral or mathematical abstracta all the time. So, yes, moral and mathematical Platonic anti-mentalism does strike me as lacking inductive support.

exapologist said...
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exapologist said...

Well, I think that both theist and non-theist come at least very close to agreeing that at least *some* normative properties are basic. Thus, consider Robert Adams' account of divine command theory (see esp. his book, Finite and Infinite Goods). There, he comes awfully close to taking the normative property of goodness or excellence as primitive and basic. On his view, God's essence is roughly identified with Plato's form of the Good. Thus, certain actions and state of affairs are good in virtue of bearing some resemblance (however remote) to the goodness or excellence that is the divine nature.

I haven't read the book for a couple of years, but I believe he uses God's goodness to derive the other normative properties of the badness, rightness, and wrongness. Thus, (and very roughly) some action or state of affairs is bad to the degree that it doesn't resemble God (or the Good); an action is morally right iff (i.e., if and only if) it is good (i.e., resembles God) and God commands it; and an action is morally wrong iff it's bad and God forbids it.

Thus, on this account, the normative properties of rightness and wrongness are not derived from non-normative properties; rather, they're derived from something basic and irreducible normative -- God's essential goodness or excellence (which is -- let's just come out and say it -- a *property*).

In my view, Adams is pretty close to the truth. I think that we can take goodness as basic and normative. I part company with Adams' on (i)identifying the property of goodness with God's nature, and (ii) with his making right and wrong depend on God's commands.

My complaint re: (i) is that this is unparsimonious and mysterious-- if we have the necessarilly existent property of goodness/excellence (i.e., the properties that constitute God's essence), then isn't it really just the properties *themselves*, and not God, that are doing all the work? If so, then I can agree that goodness is a basic and normative -- it's just that it's the property that's doing all the work.

My complaint re: (ii) is that it makes the rightness and wrongness of actions to be properties that are unacceptably extrinsic to those actions (the wrongness of bringing about a bad state of affairs depends on God commanding it? Nah, it's *intrinsically* wrong).

I think theist philosopher Richard Swinburne is closer to the truth when he says that moral propositions about right and wrong are necessary truths. If I remember correctly, Swinburne relates God to morality by saying that God gives his endorsement and backing to these propositions. It then becomes more heinous to do wrong, since a perfectly good being, who is our supreme benefactor, tells us to do these independent, necessarily true moral propositions.

Paul Manata said...

EA,

I don't see how the *atheistic naturalist* can allow for normativity, even in a basic way. If every thing is capable of descriptive accounts, whence ariseth norms? That something has the charactersitic of normativisty seems totally unacceptable in a naturalist worldview. Furthermore, how is a impersonal platonic form normative. I can at least see how a view where there's a abslute universal *person* can account for norms, but impersonal platonic forms? I don't find it compelling to just tell me that it's basic that an impersonal form provides for norms and obligations, especially given naturalism. Non-persons don't obligate us.

That's my two-cents, anyway.

Anonymous said...

It's hard to see how normativity can exist in the absence of intellect and will. It seems to be essentially the proper functioning thereof.

exapologist said...
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exapologist said...

Paul,

My sympathies are with you about extremely reductionistic views that deny the existence of anything not material -- even abstracta. I worry that you could even get mathematics, let alone goodness, on such a view.

Still, if even contemporary divine command theorists like Adams take a normative property like goodness to be independent of the will of God, then both theists and non-theists (at least those who allow for the existence of universals or properties) have some common ground.

What about other normative properties, like rightness and wrongness? Doesn't the non-divine command theorist have an advantage over the divine command theorist? For divine command theory makes these properties out to be extrinsic to good and bad actions.

Maybe I'm wrong though. If I remember correctly, Adams holds that obligations depend on communities (where people rely on each other for various things) and a communal practice of commanding. If so, then I start to worry that communities and communal practices are both necessary *and sufficient* to generate obligations. And if that's right, then again, we can get obligations without God -- we just need human communities. So I wonder what explanatory work God is really doing when it comes to morality. It seems to me that theists have an easy way out of this issue by adopting the Swinburne account I mentioned previously.

Drew said...

The idea that any particular metaphysical commitment gets us any closer to a convincing justification of "objective" moral values is, I think, the primary falsehood here.

I've never heard a theist explanation of "absolute" moral value that's in least recommended itself over the naturalist versions. That's not to say that any have been particularly satisfying. Naturalist versions, at the very least, are a lot less obscure and seem more directly concerned with things like suffering, while theist justifications tend to flail around a lot.

But the reality is that we're all in the same boat. Most of all feel that there is some meaning to the idea that rape IS wrong, and yet we cannot really put our finger on why that view is more than a conviction.

I find that theists, as in so many other questions, advertise some special insight or solution, but in practice they deliver nothing above what anyone else can.

You can insist, for instance, that the natural world alone is limited in some way for the things necessary to explain moral truths. But justifying that claim really requires explaining, coherently, exactly what IS required (and thus what the natural/material world lacks). And of course, no such explanation is ever forthcoming.

It's much like the free will debate. When I demand to know what the core concept is: what exactly this "Free Will" quality is doing, what functional role it plays in a choicemaking, I'm told that the natural world cannot explain it. But I'm really not a stickler for the limitations and apparent laws of the natural world if you have some thoughtful explanation! But none, unfortunately, is forthcoming.

It seems to me that this point that a failure to explain, period, is being used as a backhanded way to try to de-legitimize methodological or default naturalism... but the goods of this attack are never delivered.

stunster said...

But justifying that claim really requires explaining, coherently, exactly what IS required (and thus what the natural/material world lacks). And of course, no such explanation is ever forthcoming.
....
I'm really not a stickler for the limitations and apparent laws of the natural world if you have some thoughtful explanation! But none, unfortunately, is forthcoming.


If I ask a materialist to explain the fundamental concepts of materialism, eventually the materialist will stop explaining and simply aver that the bottom-line concepts of the theory are basic and not further explainable.

I think that theists are in the same boat when it comes to their bottom-line concepts. Personhood, mindhood, free will, moral and rational normativity, intellect-stuff, etc are to the theist what matter, energy, motion, space-stuff, etc are to the materialist. Basic....fundamental....the end of the explanatory road.

Paul Manata said...

Ex Apologist,

I'm not really even talking about strict phsyicalists, but about those who seek to ground norms in impersonal forms (or whatever). It seems to me that if there are ethical norms, obligations, then a worldview that ends in the impersonal can't give us this. Non-persons don't obligate us.

You may try to ground the norms in persons by saying that groups of persons, communities, give us these norms. If human communites provide the norms, then it appears we end in cultural relativism.

You may think that these persons can generate 'obligations' - and as I said above, only persons can obligate us. Well, fine. But I'm looking for absolute moral obligations. I worry that finite, non-absolute persons cannot provide us with that, whereas *the* absolute person, God, can provide an account for absolute moral obligations.

best,

~PM

exapologist said...

Paul,

This is the beauty of Adam's divine command theory. In response to the Euthyphro Dilemma, he grants that God's commanding something is not sufficient, by itself, to make it right or wrong -- after all, torturing babies for fun can't be made right just by commanding it to be so. Thus, Adams adds the further requirement that the commanded actions be in confomity with God's goodness -- which pretty much amounts to the property of goodness. Thus, theists can avoid the arbitrariness of will-generated norms that applied to older versions of DCT.

Now the communal practice theorist who is not a theist can make the same move, but without reference to God. They can say that a communally-generated norm is legitimate iff the commanded action is in conformity with what is good. Thus, they can avoid the arbitrariness associated with relativism by the same basic means that the modified DC theorist avoids the arbitrariness associated with "will alone" accounts of DCT, viz., by adding the "conforms with what is good" condition to the "command" condition.

Best,

exapologist

stunster said...

I think there's an epistemic gap between communally generated commands and what is good, whereas there isn't one between divinely generated commands and what is good. Communities can be systematically mistaken as to the good. God, being omniscient, cannot.

Paul Manata said...

EA,

But the good for the theist is grounded in God's peronal character, hence making sense of universal, absolute ethical obligations.

It does no good for the cummunal tactic to ground them in the nature of some impersonal good. So we have the same problem. And, if "the good" is then gounded in a community, we have relativism.

Hence the beauty of the theistic program.

exapologist said...

Paul,

Goodness doesn't seem to need a ground. Nothing *makes* the property of goodness good, besides its own nature. Indeed, God himself is good just to the extent that his character and being instantiate the property of goodness. This was the problem I raised with Wes Morriston's New Euthyphro Dilemma:

1. Either God is good because God has the properties that constitute moral goodness, or the properties are good because God has them.
2. If God is good because God has the properties that constitute moral goodness, then the moral properties are the standard of goodness -- not God.
3. If the properties are good because God has them, then the view in question is mysterious and unparsimonious -- and thus not an expanatory advance over the view that morality is grounded in property structures.
4. Therefore, either moral properties are the standard of goodness (and not God), or the view in question is mysterious and unparsimonious (and thus not a real advance over the view that morality is grounded in property structures).


Thus, in my view, God doesn't help us to explain the nature of goodness; if not, then tacking on God is superfluous, and no advance over straight platonism.

Again, as long as we have the property of goodness, we aren't stuck with the problem of relativism. The problem with relativism and the problem with DCT is the same: whether norms are generated from human or divine will, there's the problem with arbitrariness: merely willing or commanding P doesn't seem to make it the case that doing P is right. Thus, *both* accounts have to get objectivity by something "external" -- goodness. The theist tries to make God the basis of morality by just sticking the property in God's essence. The non-theist sees this as superfluous -- if the property of goodness is what solves the moral problem of arbitrariness all by itself, then God is really just an add-on: he plays no explantory role. Properties are necessarily existent abstracta, and thus need no further explanation.

DCT can be made *consistent* with morality, but it does no *explanatory* work that platonism doesn't already do all by itself.

Stunster: I'd like to say a few things about your interesting point, but for now I'm just happy that you're granting that God isn't playing the role of *grounding* morality, but rather jsut helping us to *know* it.

Best,

exapologist

stunster said...

Exap wrote:

The theist tries to make God the basis of morality by just sticking the property in God's essence. The non-theist sees this as superfluous -- if the property of goodness is what solves the moral problem of arbitrariness all by itself, then God is really just an add-on: he plays no explantory role. Properties are necessarily existent abstracta, and thus need no further explanation.


Aristotelianism denies the independent reality of Platonic properties, insisting instead that their reality is contingent upon their instantiation in something concrete.

Theism provides a perfect and everlasting instantiator of goodness.

Evolutionary naturalism plus an Aristotelian view of properties provides for an ever imperfect and ever changing 'property of goodness'.

I think this may be a well motivated source of concern about naturalism's ability to provide a solid metaphysical basis for an objective morality.

exapologist said...
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exapologist said...

Hi Stunster,

On an Aristotelian account of properties (here I don't necessarily mean to refer to just Aristotle's own account, but rather any contemporary account descended from his that shares the basic ideas of (i) the immanence of universals and (ii) their dependence on concreta) , it isn't as though, say, the instantiation of the universal redness by an apple depends upon its *also* being instantiated by some *other* concrete entity (such as, let's say, The Supremely Red Being). Rather, the particular concrete apple is all you need in order for redness to exist.

Similarly, on an Aristotelian account of properties, it's not as though the instantiation of the universal goodness in an action or state of affairs depends upon its *also* being instantiated by some *other* concrete entity (sucs as, let's say, the Supremely Good Being). Rather, the particular action or state of affairs is all you need in order for goodness to exist.

Also, Aristotelianism doesn't imply that universals change over time; so a naturalist who was also an Aristotelian wouldn't be commited to saying that the universal goodness changes over time.

Best,

exapologist

stunster said...

Rather, the particular action or state of affairs is all you need in order for goodness to exist.


Yes, for goodness of some sort, or degree, to exist. The sort or degree that we humans happen to will and enact.

The worry is that this doesn't establish the reality and objectivity, beyond human willing and acting, of the normative standard of goodness by which we believe we are in fact obligated.

For perfect goodness to exist, you need a perfect goodness instantiator (at least if you're an Aristotelian).

I think the theist's real objection is not that naturalism can't provide any objective source of moral value, but that it can only provide a necessarily deficient source that does not do justice to our ethical intuitions and requirements.

Platonism would get round this specific problem of deficiency, if Platonism were true....

exapologist said...

Hi Stunster,

First, I'll start with a tangential point: comparing the virtues and vices of various theories of properties and universals is a bit of a rocky road, but you might worry that an Aristotelian theory of the sort you're advancing can't account for necessarily uninstantiable properties, such as being a round square. So this and other sorts of worries might push one to adopt a theory that allows for uninstantiated properties.

But in any case, I don't see how an Aristotelian theory of properties and universals would help even if it were true. Whether one is a platonist or Aristotelian about properties, when when a good state of affairs obtains, however imperfect, the universal of Goodness itself -- the good without qualification -- is present. This is true even if goodness is a genus property and there are various species of goodness, for the genus property is a constituent of the species property. So on either account, we have a metaphysic where the the F-without-qualification (where you substitute any arbitrary universal for F) is present.

What about the epistemological side. Well, that's even messier. But at least the metaphysical picture puts us in a position to say that the F-without-qualification is present in (or "participates in", as Plato would say) the action or state of affairs. For example, on Aristotle's own view, when I am in the present of a human, the form or universal of humanness itself enters into my mind and is grasped by (what Aristotle called) the active intellect.

If so, then on either account of properties, we don't need a concrete entity functioning as a perfect exemplar of Fness in order to put us into contact with the F-without-qualification.

So again, I don't see how DCT makes an advance over straight platonism (or pick your favorite theory of properties and universals).

Best,

exapologist

stunster said...

Hold on, exap...

Your argument seems to imply that if, say, a good mousetrap exists, then goodness exists, and this is sufficient to ground morality.

But that can't be right, can it?

exapologist said...

No. That would only be sufficient for the instantiation of a normative property -- not necessarily a morally normative one. As I'm analyzing it here, goodness per se is a genus property, and moral goodness is a species of it. Adams analyzes goodness as excellence. Plato's account of the Good in the Republic seems a little less informative, but he comes close to saying the same thing there. Thus, there can be excellent mousetraps, excellent rosebushes, excellent states of affairs, excellent persons, etc. All such species are called 'good' or 'excellent' because they all instantiate or participate in the universal or form of goodness -- the good-without-qualitification.

But the instantiation of the genus isn't sufficient for the instantiation of a particular species. Thus, we would need a particular human action -- a good action -- to intuit the species, good/excellent actions.

exapologist said...

Oops: not just to intuit it, but even to *instantiate* it.

stunster said...

Ok, but what I'm thinking is that

1. We ought to be morally perfect

2. This was true before anyone was morally perfect

3. Hence it was true before the morally normative property in question (that humans ought to be morally perfect) existed

4. But 3 is incoherent, since the truth of 1 depends on the existence of the morally normative property in question

5 Hence Aristotelian property-existence conditions combined with facts about humans cannot account for the truth of 1. Whereas theism does the job quite nicely.

One could get round this by being a dogmatic Platonist and insist that the morally normative property exists eternally.

But for my money, if one is prepared to go that far, one may as well just plump for theism.

exapologist said...

Stunster,

Your argument is confused and confusing. It's not worth the trouble of trying to standardize the argument if you don't know how to do it properly, and if you don't take the time explaining the content of ambiguous premises.

But let me here just mention one problem; we can discuss others later if you like. In your reasoning from (1) to (4), you conflate commands with the actions commanded, and the "rightness" of the command with the "rightness" of the action commanded. On our current analysis of right and wrong, an action is right iff (i) it is commanded, and (ii) it is good. On this analysis, there is no third clause requiring that the relevant normative property is instantiated anywhere. Thus, a type or token action can be appropriately commanded before it's ever instantiated.

stunster said...

an action is right iff (i) it is commanded, and (ii) it is good. On this analysis, there is no third clause requiring that the relevant normative property is instantiated anywhere. Thus, a type or token action can be appropriately commanded before it's ever instantiated.

This is just a statement of the Platonist view, is it not? You're predicating goodness of an action (-type or -token) without goodness necessarily being instantiated in any concretum.

I never denied that if one grants a platonic view of morally normative properties, one can get, er, morally normative properties.

But Platonism of this sort does strike me as a pretty big departure from naturalism as normally conceived. Certainly it's a big departure from materialism.

In any case, one worry I have is that I think of moral goodness as being what I would term 'self-commending' (that's commending with an 'e') with regard to persons. And if what was self-commending with regard to persons was merely an impersonal eternal platonic property of moral goodness--that is, something essentially action-guiding for persons--it is hard to see why this should have existed long before and quite independently of persons.

exapologist said...

Again, you're conflating the *command* to act in a certain way with *the act itself*. There's a difference between a *concept* of a property and *the property itself*. The former is a constituent of the *command*; the latter is a constituent of the *act*. Thus, the command can exist prior to the act, since the property of goodness is only instantiated in the latter.

As for naturalism and materialism: There are "hardcore" materialists who deny even the existence of abstract objects. Thus, e.g., they're nominalists about universals. I'm not in that camp. I'm persuaded by, e.g., One Over Many arguments, indispensability arguments, etc., that abstract objects exist. I'm also convinced -- especially by the infinity and the necessity of mathematical objects and their properties -- that abstract objects are timeless, necessary existents. So, since necessary existents don't need a further explanation (even if you're an adherent of a strong version of The Principle of Sufficient Reason), I don't see what the big deal is. There's nothing weird, or crying out for explanation, when you're talking about beings that can't fail to exist (let's leave out arguments about the necessary father necessarily willing the son and spirit -- I'm not talking about how a necessary being *could* have an explanation, but rather why we should have any positive reason to think we need one).

Is theistic conceptualism or theistic activism the answer? No. I beg you to read the literature on that one -- it doesn't come out in the theistic activist’s/conceptualist’s favor. The best you get from that literature (and I don't think that you can even get that), is that such a view can be made *consistent* with the existence of necessily existent abstracta. Read Plantinga's Does God Have a Nature; Google and read Matt Davidson's "A Demonstration Against Theistic Activism.

I'm having a hard time seeing why you think that moral propositions -- say, "torturing babies for the fun of it is wrong" -- isn't intrinsically action-guiding. But if you admit that it is, then we're back to my original position that things are *intrinsically* right and wrong, and not made so (not even partially so) by acts of commanding -- whether by God or man; they’re just among the necessary truths (such as those of mathematics).

But if you still want to hold to a theory that requires commanding -- the theistic version of the one I’ve discussed with you here -- then, again, I still don't see that it's an advance over the non-theistic one I've mentioned. Now I *think* your main point on this score is that some things were right and wrong prior to human commands about them, correct? But is this really so – for acts about which the relevant community has given no command? Now remember, the account here doesn't entail that *no* normative properties apply to such actions - they are still normatively and objectively *good* and *bad*. It's just that they haven't been commanded or prohibited in a way to make them *obligatory* or *prohibited*. In fact, this is almost exactly Robert Adams' view in Finite and Infinite Goods (who happens to be the most sophisticated contemporary proponent of a divine command theory). So the account I've defended here is more or less materially equivalent in its implications to Adams’ – although I think that mine is a bit more theoretically parsimonious.

Now if you press this point that, no, the actions were right and wrong prior to community practices of commanding (as opposed to just good and bad), then I'm going to push it further and say that they're right or wrong independently of *any* will -- even God's. And the reason why is that the rightness and wrongness of the actions is *intrinsic* to them, whereas DCT makes them *extrinsic*, dependent on acts of commanding. And then we're right back to my original non-command view that moral propositions about right and wrong are necessary truths (which is, again, also Swinburne's).

Why do so many theists have a problem with truths that are independent of the will of God? Do they think that, say, 1+1 would not be the same as 2 if God didn’t command it? If not, then why think so when it comes to moral truths? I thought they were the ones who said that morality isn’t arbitrary.

Best,

exapologist

stunster said...

I'd like to carry on this conversation by email.

If you care to, send the whole of your last post in this thread to me at stunney7@yahoo.com