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Thread: A shared challenge regarding the foundation of ethics

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    Quote Originally Posted by Jin-roh View Post
    Okay so reading Leibneiz, his argument is not just about God's will, but also the potential arbitrariness of God's will. Meaning, why praise God for doing what is 'good' because he could have done anything else and it would be 'good.'

    I finally dug up Descartes Meditations. In meditation three he goes over God. After wondering how he can think about God at all, and arguing that God can't be simple extension of his own hoped for perfection, or from his parents, or from his senses... and finally concluding that God exists. He writes:



    God cannot deceive, according to Descartes. It seems then, that God could not call deception 'good.'

    So while Descartes might've believed that goodness depended on God's will, I don't think he meant the kind of arbitrariness that was implied. There are things that God, in principle, cannot will or declare 'good'.
    Interesting points. Once again we suffer from Leibniz not pointing to the source, so we do not know in what context Descartes made those claims and if they are presented accurately. However I do not think it changes anything regarding the main subject matter of this thread. I mean we could basically replace "Descartes" with "anyone" and the points would remain. We could even keep it in the form that instead of saying "Descartes said" we would say "if anyone said". The philosophical point would be the same. In the context of the history of philosophy what you point to is very interesting. And no matter Leibniz's source, you at least point to something that puts Descartes in a different light.
    Last edited by Charles; 06-13-2017 at 08:59 PM.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Charles View Post
    All I have done so far is to claim that we all need to find or identify objective values no matter if we are religious or not. I have pointed to quite many reasons as to why that is the fact. You claim that we can somehow bypass this challenge. But apart from hearing you say you don't believe we will be able to find objective values, I am yet to see how your God is the solution to the problem of the founding of ethics. Even if I wont find any objective vaules, it would not prove you right, you'd be in the same boat. If you do not think so, then please give us arguments instead of claims.
    Charles this is the problem as I see it. You don't believe that God is a sufficient ground for ethics, but why would your objective standard (if you could demonstrate it) be a sufficient grounding for ethics? Why would we assume that? Look, use Kant as an example, be believes that lying is always wrong (no matter the consequences). Let's assume that that is a universal moral truth. Where does that leave us? What happens if one violates this maxim and lies for personal gain? Well he my get in trouble, people may distrust him, but these consequences would be the same whether the objective standard existed or not. The standard itself carries no moral authority and makes no difference in practical application.
    "Heaven offers nothing that the mercenary soul can desire. It is safe to tell the pure in heart that they shall see God, for only the pure in heart want to. There are rewards that do not sully motives. A man's love for a woman is not mercenary because he wants to marry her, nor his love for poetry mercenary because he wants to read it, nor his love of exercise less disinterested because he wants to run and leap and walk. Love, by definition, seeks to enjoy its object.” C.S. Lewis

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    Quote Originally Posted by Charles View Post
    Interesting points. Once again we suffer from Leibniz not pointing to the source, so we do not know in what context Descartes made those claims and if they are presented accurately. However I do not think it changes anything regarding the main subject matter of this thread. I mean we could basically replace "Descartes" with "anyone" and the points would remain. We could even keep it in the form that instead of saying "Descartes said" we would say "if anyone said". The philosophical point would be the same. In the context of the history of philosophy what you point to is very interesting. And no matter Leibniz's source, you at least point to something that puts Descartes in a different light.
    The water is further muddied by the fact that terms like "perfect" and "infinite" and other words had technical meanings that are kind of lost.

    I wouldn't call myself an advocate of Divine Command Theory, but it's worth noting that "God commands" doesn't necessarily entail arbitrariness, or scary hypotheticals.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Charles View Post
    You could try to make it clearer why your God is the solution.
    Charles because there is no better solution. Especially against an "objective standard" that has no inherent authority or practical application - in what rational world is that a sufficient ground for ethics? And that is one of the reasons why Kant, as referenced in the other thread, found it necessary to finally appeal to God.


    In his Critique of Practical Reason, Immanuel Kant, who has traditionally not been seen as an advocate of Divine Command Theory (for an opposing view see Nuyen, 1998), claims that morality requires faith in God and an afterlife. According to Kant, we must believe that God exists because the requirements of morality are too much for us to bear. We must believe that there is a God who will help us satisfy the demands of the moral law. With such a belief, we have the hope that we will be able to live moral lives. Moreover, Kant argues that “there is not the slightest ground in the moral law for a necessary connection between the morality and proportionate happiness of a being who belongs to the world as one of its parts and is thus dependent on it” (p. 131). However, if there is a God and an afterlife where the righteous are rewarded with happiness and justice obtains, this problem goes away. That is, being moral does not guarantee happiness, so we must believe in a God who will reward the morally righteous with happiness. Kant does not employ the concept of moral faith as an argument for Divine Command Theory, but a contemporary advocate could argue along Kantian lines that these advantages do accrue to this view of morality.
    "Heaven offers nothing that the mercenary soul can desire. It is safe to tell the pure in heart that they shall see God, for only the pure in heart want to. There are rewards that do not sully motives. A man's love for a woman is not mercenary because he wants to marry her, nor his love for poetry mercenary because he wants to read it, nor his love of exercise less disinterested because he wants to run and leap and walk. Love, by definition, seeks to enjoy its object.” C.S. Lewis

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    Dear Seer

    I will try to answer your two latest posts in this one reply. I hope that is going to work (not saying I expect us to agree :-)).

    Still impossible to see how pointing to God is an answer
    Starting with the “negative” points. You claim that your God is a better solution, because my solution will not work. However, apart from the points about Kant, you are yet to provide us with some kind of reason to believe in that God’s moral character as being the one we should go for. I mean, how do we know that this is the good God if we have no idea about goodness apart from the one that we should take from “his nature” or “moral character”? Even if my ideas about objective values are wrong, I am yet to see you provide any reason that yours is any better or how you can avoid the challenges that Leibniz pointed to. I think it would be interesting if you would try to address this stuff. Like I pointed out initially there is a tendency to think that religious belief constitutes a clear answer in a muddy world. But unless one goes through the exact same line of reasoning that anyone else would have to go through, you are just providing claims and dogma without further reason.

    As I see your line of reasoning - and correct me if I am wrong - it goes along these lines:
    - God constitutes moral values through his perfect nature
    - Man has to abide by those rules
    - Even if we do not do so in this life, there is an afterlife in which justice will prevail.

    My commeńts to each of these points would be:

    God constitutes moral values through his perfect nature
    You have given no account as to why this is good. If it was of a very different kind, you would also just take that to be good, because you have made yourself dependent on a God. So, by accident, you believe in this God and the Muslim believes in another God. No one of you can give any reasonable explanation of what goodness is. You just blindly follow.

    Man has to abide by those rules
    Again, since the foundation is perfectly unclear we have to ask ourselves why. This line of reasoning is causing some of the biggest problems of modern day society… Just to mention

    Even if we do not do so in this life, there is an afterlife in which justice will prevail.
    First of all it is a great step to think it exist. Next, even if it does, it does not in itself constitute a right or wrong, so why are the rewards and the punishments fair? I have personally talked to Christians who believe that if a baby dies and it has not been baptised it will go to Hell. So in some people’s minds what we are talking about here is what they find to be a praiseworthy, namely eternal pain for a baby because of a fact over which it had no influence. This is all caused by the erroneous approach accounted for at the first point. There is no reasoning in the definition of “moral character”. It is just a claim that is, at its root, extreme.

    So you claim there is no better solution. I would claim you have not even come up with something that resembles a solution.

    Kant's points
    You claim that an objective standard would have no inherent authority or practical application. It is a quite big conclusion to draw after writing a few lines and pointing to a short presentation of Kant’s thinking in that regard which differs from the thinking in his deontological ethics by the way. But let us examine further. It seems Kant wants to solve two problems:

    1 “According to Kant, we must believe that God exists because the requirements of morality are too much for us to bear.”

    This hardly seem to change the facts about what moral truth is. It does not alter the moral facts but it helps human beings because they suffer under the pressure. So no changing of the content of morality in that regard. No changing of the nature by which it exists.

    2 “Moreover, Kant argues that “there is not the slightest ground in the moral law for a necessary connection between the morality and proportionate happiness of a being who belongs to the world as one of its parts and is thus dependent on it” (p. 131). However, if there is a God and an afterlife where the righteous are rewarded with happiness and justice obtains, this problem goes away.”

    This makes the case that you could live a moral life but not having any reward. You could actually get into deep trouble, and it could cost you fame, money or whatever to do the right thing. I have yet to see anyone denying that. However, I see no changes in the content of morality in that approach either. The content is the same, and the foundation does not seem to be changed either, however an afterlife will help some people suffering the consequences of doing what is good in moral terms. I do not see how God suddenly changes the facts about what is wrong and wright in the quote you provided.

    Keeping things straight
    I have no problem that you are mentioning those points by Kant. However I think your approach makes stuff muddy because you want to talk about practical implication before we have even come to the point of what morality is. As is the case with civil law, it still exists even if we do not follow it. There is no contradiction in saying that something can be morally wrong and then go on to say that it may not have consequences doing it. I do not even see that Kant points to that. He acknowledges that it is a fact and then he goes on to find a solution to that but it does not alter the content of morality. Then, of course, you are free to ask what use it is for. But that question could belong in a different category.

    If we go to some of the founding principles behind Kant’s line of reasoning we will see that an important factor is the fact that man has the ability to reason. This has some similarities with Aristotle’s description of human beings as “political animals”. We distinguish ourselves by this ability and it is a virtue, they would claim. Kant then goes on to try to establish a moral line of reasoning accounting for what our moral obligation is. The fact that some are not going to act accordingly does nothing to alter the truth (or falseness) of the theory.

    You seem to forget that moral philosophy is concerned with the question about what (if anything) is good or bad. It is a fact finding mission, one could claim (it gets a littel simplified, I know) on this and it aims at giving an account of this, even if the accounts comes to the conclusion that no such thing exists. Whether people abide or not is a question of a given person’s moral integrity. Not irrelevant at all. But a question that does not necessarily belong in the first category. The content of civil law is also the same, whether we follow or not.

    You wrote: “Look, use Kant as an example, be believes that lying is always wrong (no matter the consequences). Let's assume that that is a universal moral truth. Where does that leave us? What happens if one violates this maxim and lies for personal gain? Well he my get in trouble, people may distrust him, but these consequences would be the same whether the objective standard existed or not. The standard itself carries no moral authority and makes no difference in practical application.”

    I have already pointed to the fact that the failure of human beings to comply makes no difference as to what they ought to do. I do not even see Kant making that point, his aim is to solve a problem regarding practical application, but it does not change what we need a practical application of. You are messing things up a bit in factual terms, though the question is fair enough.

    Deontological ethics
    If we look at the deontological ethics it aims at providing reason to believe that there are moral truths that one ought to follow, or rahter it states that it follows from reason that such obligations exist. You have called it subjective. The line of reasoning can of course be debated (as opposed to yours because you have provided none). What it is build upon, however, is logical statements. The reason you cannot lie is not because someone points to a God whose “nature” or “moral character” it is against, but whose nature at times (at least we are told) is ok with eternal punishments of babies, the killing of innocents and so on… The reason in Kant’s line of thinking is a logical one. If you claim “you can always lie” you have made a statement that undermines itself. If people have no reason to believe what you are actually saying (and that follows from the statement) you cannot even lie because they would not believe you in the first place. The same goes for the statement “you can always steal”. If the statement is correct, no one actually owns anything, and thus, you cannot even steal it since it was never their belonging anyway.

    It is interesting to note that the content of the categorical imperative “Act only according to that maxim whereby you can, at the same time, will that it should become a universal law.” resembles that of the golden rule which we find in its positive form in Christianity, you should, and in its so called negative (I dislike the word negative in this context) form in Confucius’ thinking in ancient China “One should not treat others in ways that one would not like to be treated.” In this context the justification is rather a sociological one. The question of right and wrong arises at least partly due to the fact that we have to live among other human beings. And if we are to do so in a successful way, there are certain basic principles that must apply, if we are to expect them agree on a set of “rules of the game”.

    Of course the fact that the idea is present in ethical reasoning throughout history in cultures who, at the time, had no or an extremely limited knowledge of each other, is interesting. Though it is not a philosophical proof, it is rather an indication that along these lines of thinking we are moving closer to something that is very hard to ignore. That is important in the context of Kant since a basic line of his reasoning is that reason sets ultimate commandments which we have already touched upon and seen some of the logical reasoning behind.

    Of course it is very easy to point to the fact that others could always think different. The question, however, rather seems to be if they can argue and provide better reasons. You seem to have made the point that because more ethical opinions exist we need some kind of entity above them to determine which one is right. I simply see no logic in that approach. What we need to do is to examine the logic and further content of those theories. And that is another important point. While moral philosophy goes through line of reasoning and provides logical statements and rational foundation in order to support a specific view you seem to think it is only “opinion”. Logic, however, is not an opinion. It is a rational line of reasoning that takes your own consideration.
    Last edited by Charles; 06-14-2017 at 09:31 AM.

  6. Amen Tassman, shunyadragon amen'd this post.
  7. #26
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    Charles I'm going to break this up a bit, we will start here. Though I thank you for the well thought out response.

    Quote Originally Posted by Charles View Post
    Deontological ethics
    If we look at the deontological ethics it aims at providing reason to believe that there are moral truths that one ought to follow, or rahter it states that it follows from reason that such obligations exist. You have called it subjective. The line of reasoning can of course be debated (as opposed to yours because you have provided none). What it is build upon, however, is logical statements. The reason you cannot lie is not because someone points to a God whose “nature” or “moral character” it is against, but whose nature at times (at least we are told) is ok with eternal punishments of babies, the killing of innocents and so on… The reason in Kant’s line of thinking is a logical one. If you claim “you can always lie” you have made a statement that undermines itself. If people have no reason to believe what you are actually saying (and that follows from the statement) you cannot even lie because they would not believe you in the first place. The same goes for the statement “you can always steal”. If the statement is correct, no one actually owns anything, and thus, you cannot even steal it since it was never their belonging anyway.
    First Charles, one could make a logical argument yet be completely wrong, utilitarian ethics is very logical, and consistent yet you or I who hold to deontological ethics would see utilitarianism as deeply mistaken in its premises and conclusion. These theories Charles are men's ideas on how we should live, yes they are subjective and logical. Moral error theory or moral anti-realism are also logical and consistent. So mere logic can't be the driving consideration to whether a moral theory is correct or not.

    But Kant's view does not work on other grounds, he says that lying is always wrong (consequences be damned) - So would lying to the Nazis to save the Jews hidden in your basement be wrong? So if you lie to save a life it does not follow that you always lie, but lying, even to save a life, breaks the maxim.


    It is interesting to note that the content of the categorical imperative “Act only according to that maxim whereby you can, at the same time, will that it should become a universal law.” resembles that of the golden rule which we find in its positive form in Christianity, you should, and in its so called negative (I dislike the word negative in this context) form in Confucius’ thinking in ancient China “One should not treat others in ways that one would not like to be treated.” In this context the justification is rather a sociological one. The question of right and wrong arises at least partly due to the fact that we have to live among other human beings. And if we are to do so in a successful way, there are certain basic principles that must apply, if we are to expect them agree on a set of “rules of the game”.
    Here is the next problem; men have known the golden rule for centuries in various forms, yet men, often for a large part, don't follow it, or follow only superficially. Nothing that Kant says is going to change that. In other words deontological ethics have no real world consequences, consequences would be there, or not, despite Kantian ethics. There is no inherent authority in these theories, no consequences when violating them, that don't already exist.

    Of course the fact that the idea is present in ethical reasoning throughout history in cultures who, at the time, had no or an extremely limited knowledge of each other, is interesting. Though it is not a philosophical proof, it is rather an indication that along these lines of thinking we are moving closer to something that is very hard to ignore.
    Yes God and his moral law...; )

    That is important in the context of Kant since a basic line of his reasoning is that reason sets ultimate commandments which we have already touched upon and seen some of the logical reasoning behind.
    And again logic is no guarantee of truthfulness or rightness, never mind the fact that practically these theories have little effect - though if any theory has had an effect I would say that utilitarianism or pragmatism has had an effect over the past century - for the worse in my opinion.

    Of course it is very easy to point to the fact that others could always think different. The question, however, rather seems to be if they can argue and provide better reasons. You seem to have made the point that because more ethical opinions exist we need some kind of entity above them to determine which one is right. I simply see no logic in that approach. What we need to do is to examine the logic and further content of those theories. And that is another important point. While moral philosophy goes through line of reasoning and provides logical statements and rational foundation in order to support a specific view you seem to think it is only “opinion”. Logic, however, is not an opinion. It is a rational line of reasoning that takes your own consideration.
    As we have seen logic alone can not be the defining piece of the puzzle since each of these differing theories can and do offer logical justifications with internal consistencies. So now what?
    "Heaven offers nothing that the mercenary soul can desire. It is safe to tell the pure in heart that they shall see God, for only the pure in heart want to. There are rewards that do not sully motives. A man's love for a woman is not mercenary because he wants to marry her, nor his love for poetry mercenary because he wants to read it, nor his love of exercise less disinterested because he wants to run and leap and walk. Love, by definition, seeks to enjoy its object.” C.S. Lewis

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    Quote Originally Posted by seer View Post
    So now what?
    Thank you for your reply. I will get back to it and give you an answer.

    What I find interesting, however, is that you only comment on the part in which I describe lines of reasoning to support my view. I also spend quite a lot of time arguing that your line of reasoning gives no answer at all. That part of it is something that you completely ignore. You can hardly claim I have not done something to describe my view (and its completely fair to disagree). However I find it a bit strange for you to completely ignore the part about your view, giving no answers, and then ask me to provide even more after I have already written quite much to explain my view. So let me ask you your own question: So now what?

    And bear in mind that the topic is "a shared condition". If you find that wrong, please give us something to work with.

  9. Amen Tassman amen'd this post.
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    Quote Originally Posted by Charles View Post
    Thank you for your reply. I will get back to it and give you an answer.

    What I find interesting, however, is that you only comment on the part in which I describe lines of reasoning to support my view. I also spend quite a lot of time arguing that your line of reasoning gives no answer at all. That part of it is something that you completely ignore. You can hardly claim I have not done something to describe my view (and its completely fair to disagree). However I find it a bit strange for you to completely ignore the part about your view, giving no answers, and then ask me to provide even more after I have already written quite much to explain my view. So let me ask you your own question: So now what?

    And bear in mind that the topic is "a shared condition". If you find that wrong, please give us something to work with.
    See Charles, if I have this correct, what we are discussing here is what offer a firm foundation for ethics. You know what God and all that includes entails, what we need to discover is there any theory that can even come close. But...

    God constitutes moral values through his perfect nature

    You have given no account as to why this is good. If it was of a very different kind, you would also just take that to be good, because you have made yourself dependent on a God. So, by accident, you believe in this God and the Muslim believes in another God. No one of you can give any reasonable explanation of what goodness is. You just blindly follow.
    Here we are not deciding between Gods, only if a moral god would offer a foundation for ethics. If goodness is God's nature then lining up with that nature or following His commands is what is good. Look at it this way, God as a Creator has an ethical teleology for the human person. He created us for a purpose and to live in a specific fashion. No such moral purpose exists if materialism is true, our ethical inclinations are at bottom the by product of the forces of nature - that have no moral intent or purpose - in other words it was by chance that we developed this way, it could have been quite different. And as far as blindly following I will admit that the teaching of Christ strongly resonates with me. Why do I need more than that? After all why does Kant's moral theory resonate with you more than the other ones which are equally logical and consistent?

    Man has to abide by those rules

    Again, since the foundation is perfectly unclear we have to ask ourselves why. This line of reasoning is causing some of the biggest problems of modern day society… Just to mention
    No Charles, clarity is not the question. The question is about ontology.

    Even if we do not do so in this life, there is an afterlife in which justice will prevail.

    First of all it is a great step to think it exist. Next, even if it does, it does not in itself constitute a right or wrong, so why are the rewards and the punishments fair? I have personally talked to Christians who believe that if a baby dies and it has not been baptised it will go to Hell. So in some people’s minds what we are talking about here is what they find to be a praiseworthy, namely eternal pain for a baby because of a fact over which it had no influence. This is all caused by the erroneous approach accounted for at the first point. There is no reasoning in the definition of “moral character”. It is just a claim that is, at its root, extreme.
    Here again, you are bringing in your subjective reasoning, what is fair what isn't, what is just or not. But if such a God did exist your sense of morality could no more rise above His than a stream could rise above its source. And it also means that we do live in a just and moral universe, not an indifferent and amoral universe.
    Last edited by seer; 06-14-2017 at 02:16 PM.
    "Heaven offers nothing that the mercenary soul can desire. It is safe to tell the pure in heart that they shall see God, for only the pure in heart want to. There are rewards that do not sully motives. A man's love for a woman is not mercenary because he wants to marry her, nor his love for poetry mercenary because he wants to read it, nor his love of exercise less disinterested because he wants to run and leap and walk. Love, by definition, seeks to enjoy its object.” C.S. Lewis

  11. #29
    tWebber Tassman's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by seer View Post
    See Charles, if I have this correct, what we are discussing here is what offer a firm foundation for ethics.
    Your argument is conditional upon God’s existence. If you cannot show he exists then your argument has no "firm foundation for ethics"; it has no foundation at all.

    You know what God and all that includes entails, what we need to discover is there any theory that can even come close. But...
    Irrelevant! See above.
    “He felt that his whole life was a kind of dream and he sometimes wondered whose it was and whether they were enjoying it.” - Douglas Adams.

  12. Amen Charles amen'd this post.
  13. #30
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    Quote Originally Posted by Tassman View Post
    Your argument is conditional upon God’s existence. If you cannot show he exists then your argument has no "firm foundation for ethics"; it has no foundation at all.



    Irrelevant! See above.
    Tass, are you stalking me? Perv!
    "Heaven offers nothing that the mercenary soul can desire. It is safe to tell the pure in heart that they shall see God, for only the pure in heart want to. There are rewards that do not sully motives. A man's love for a woman is not mercenary because he wants to marry her, nor his love for poetry mercenary because he wants to read it, nor his love of exercise less disinterested because he wants to run and leap and walk. Love, by definition, seeks to enjoy its object.” C.S. Lewis

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