The nature of ethics as described within the branch of ethics known as meta-ethics is incredibly important to philosophers and non-philosophers during this present age. There is much discussion as to whether cultural relativism is true or not. Cultural relativism is the view that rightness is based solely on the ideals of a culture and not objective in nature and that one culture cannot criticize another culture’s morality. Ethical objectivism says that opposite – that at least some morals are universal and unchanging and do not depend on human opinion. This dilemma as to whether ethics are culturally relative or objective can be demonstrated through the test case of female genital mutilation. Female genital mutilation is a practice most commonly found in parts of Africa and involves either amputation of the clitoris or both the clitoris and the inner lips of a woman’s vagina. “The World Health Organization estimates that overall, in today’s world between 85 and 115 million women have had such operations” (Nussbaum). This practice leads to much infection, pain during intercourse, and other severe problems in the future for the woman. It is also usually done on children as young as four years old. Now the question is: is this practice just culturally relative and can we even judge a culture different from ours? This will be the main focus of this essay.
Female genital mutilation (referred to FGM from here on) cannot just be a culturally relative practice but one that is objectively wrong. It is true that there are relative mores and norms from society to society. It is even true that some laws are completely arbitrary and relative – for instance, speed limit laws. But in the case of FGM, this practice is objectively unethical. Before I can prove this assertion, I would like to begin by showing that criticism of other cultures ethical practices is at the very least possible if not necessary and worthwhile.
Generally critics of objectivism will say that one cannot reasonably criticize another culture unless that person is part of the culture. This criticism seems to stem from the idea of tolerance. Criticism against another culture can appear to be very intolerant. It seems that if one believes that ethics are objective then ethics are culturally blind and universal. Thus, they criticize rightly because their view demands it. For example, murder is always wrong regardless of what a culture might think about it. If a culture were to consider murder right, well they would still be wrong because morals are objective. The objectivist can point this out by showing that their behavior does not fit with the way moral values are. Also, humans use reasoning and logic which are not confined by culture. It seems reasonable to think that one can criticize another culture by reasoning out the arguments for and against any position. Logic transcends any localization and Immanuel Kant would think that it is good to reason out ethics. It seems possible to be able to criticize cultures to at least some extent.
Now that it has been shown that criticism of other cultures is possible, the proposition “FGM is unethical” can be proved. At face value FGM seems unethical because it causes harm to the woman. The woman has much pain and infection throughout her life. Intuitively this seems wrong unless one is a sadist. It seems objectively wrong to cause unnecessary pain. It does not matter as to what the culture thinks or not. Under the objectivist view an entire culture could be wrong about some ethical position. Another problem for FGM would be the age at which it is generally performed. Since the child is so young there is no consent from the child. Thus, it is unethical to force a child to do something which she did not even freely choose to decide when it comes to an issue regarding the destruction of genitalia. Not only does FGM cause pain to a woman but it also deprives them of sexual pleasure. Sexual pleasure in the correct circumstances seems to be a good thing since it promotes human flourishing and growth with societies. This promotes population size and offspring. FGM takes this pleasure away from the woman. They will never experience any type of sexual pleasure but the male will. This also seems to promote a type of male domination within societies that practice FGM.
The strongest argument for FGM is that it promotes cultural continuity (Nussbaum). According to the FGM proponent, the very fact that it keeps these societies together shows that it must be in some way an ethical practice. But this seems to be a non-sequitur – it does not follow from the premises that the conclusion is true. Just because a practice is widely accepted within a culture does not make it right for that culture. That doesn’t seem to even logically follow. It seems to be employing a logical fallacy known as an appeal to common practice. This faulty reasoning seeks to prove a practice because it is common or widely accepted. This type of reasoning is wrong. It seems that even the supposed strongest argument for FGM falls flat.
Cultural relativism is seems to be false and also ethical objectivism true. It seems right that different cultures can criticize each other. And it also seems right that there are some objective moral truths that are universal and not culturally localized.
Note: This essay was written on November 30, 2011. The works cited page has been lost.
Analytic philosophy has had an incredible influence on Western philosophy in the twentieth century up til the present day. Its origins begin with a rejection of the Hegelian absolute idealism that was the prevailing philosophy in the nineteenth century in Europe and Britain. This rejection resulted in a renaissance of philosophy in language. Gottlob Frege, G.E. Moore, and Bertrand Russell were a few of the early philosophers in the analytic tradition. Their philosophy focused on language and logical analysis. Russell saw that this new philosophy was a clear rejection and abandonment of idealism (Redding). The focus on propositions, meaning, and logic was important because it let them analyze all discourse and statements in a very concise way. Aaron Preston, writer for the Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy, explains that “on the traditional view, analytic philosophy was born in this linguistic turn.” This linguistic turn in philosophy would change the history of how philosophy was done in the West. A key thinker in the analytic tradition was Ludwig Wittgenstein. Wittgenstein studied under Russell at the University of Cambridge in the early twentieth century. Russell saw much potential in him early on. Ludwig developed a philosophy of language that would have an impact on future philosophy in the mid twentieth century. Wittgenstein would later abandon his view and create a completely new philosophy. His important early work is in the Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus and his later philosophy comes in his book Philosophical Investigations. This paper will explain and analyze Wittgenstein’s early philosophy, how it influenced the logical positivists of the mid-nineteenth century, and how it compares and contrasts with his later philosophy.
Wittgenstein’s early philosophy as seen in the Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus sought to explain what language is comprised of, how it has meaning, and how it relates to the world. Wittgenstein was focused on language itself. He thought that understanding language would help one understand philosophical problems. He opens up his book with the following propositions: “The world is everything that is the case. The world is the totality of facts, not of things.” Wittgenstein’s whole philosophy is founded upon these two propositions. What he means by these two statements is that the world is inherently fact-based. It isn’t merely just things but a structure of things. The facts are the structure the world. He says “an atomic fact is a combination of objects (entities, things).” What are the things or more rightly objects that Wittgenstein is speaking of? He says in 2.02 that the object is simple. The object is so simple that is has no parts. It is the base fundamentals of the world. He goes on to say that they form the substance of the world and also that they are colorless. Wittgenstein now uses an analogy to help understand how the world relates to our language. His analogy is that of a picture. Philosophers call this the picture theory of meaning. Any picture presents a state of affairs and “presents the facts in logical space, the existence and nonexistence of atomic facts (Wittgenstein 9).” The picture shows the facts of the objects. For example, when one thinks of a picture of a cat lying on a mat, that picture inherently explains the facts of what is and what is not the case. The cat is not under the mat or to the side of the mat, but rather is lying on the mat. Wittgenstein uses this picture theory to explain how our language relates to the world. Our language works in the same way a picture works. Language gives us the states of affairs in the world. The structure of language is determined by the structure of reality. He didn’t mean ordinary language but rather elementary language that is derived from an analysis of ordinary language. Our elementary language pictures the world. In 2.223 he says that “in order to discover whether the picture is true of false we must compare it with reality.” He explains how this comparison works by giving us a rule of representation. In 4.0141 Wittgenstein again gives us a different analogy for how this representation takes place. He uses the example of a symphony and how it can be replicated or how a gramophone can replicate the sounds from the music. This second analogy helps one understand how this representation takes place. Embedded in language itself is this rule of projection and representation. It is the mechanism which makes sense of the meaning of the picture and allows the logical form of the proposition to mirror that picture. A musician can replicate a sheet of music because of its inherent rules within the structure. Wittgenstein’s final philosophical idea in the Tractatus is that of the unsayable. At the end of his work at proposition 7 he says “whereof one cannot speak, thereof one must be silent.” If we cannot speak about a fact – if there is nothing that we can verify – we must remain silent about it. Wittgenstein says at proposition 6.42 “there can be no ethical propositions. Propositions cannot express anything higher.” For him, all claims about metaphysics, ethics, and aesthetics are in the realm of the unsayable. They are plainly meaningless because they do not refer to anything in the world. Wittgenstein ironically thought these were the most important things even though they are devoid of meaning. The realms of what can be said and unsayable would influence the philosophers known as the logical positivists who were influenced by Russell and in particular Wittgenstein.
Logical positivism was a movement of the 1930s and 1940s that came out of the early analytic tradition of Russell and Wittgenstein in particular. The movement was comprised of thinkers such as A.J. Ayer, Rudolph Carnap, and Moritz Schlick to name a few (Creath). The positivists wanted to know what statements were meaningful and what statements were meaningless. They had two categories of meaningful statements. The first category was statements which were analytic. These are statements which are tautologies or contradictions. A tautology is a proposition true by the definition such as all bachelors are unmarried men. An example of a contradiction would be that a zebra is not a zebra. The second category of meaningful statements is empirically verifiable statements. The statement that the moon exists is meaningful because it can be empirically verified. The positivists adopted a view what they called the verification theory of meaning. This view encapsulated their two categories of meaningful statements. If a statement was not a tautology or verifiable then it was considered meaningless. This motivation was influenced by Wittgenstein. The positivists were against all forms of metaphysics and religious talk. They believed all of it to not be true or false but rather meaningless – on par with gibberish. Ayer held to the ethical view of emotivism. Under this view all ethical statements are merely statements of feeling. When one says that it is good to help the poor, one is merely expressing their feelings toward the poor (Macdonald). There really is no morally right and wrong under this view. It is just feelings of emotion towards one thing or another. The verification theory of meaning is clearly influenced by Wittgenstein perhaps unintentionally. Wittgenstein had a very similar view to that of the positivists which came after his publishing of the Tractatus. The positivist’s project has many problems, though. The verification theory is itself not a tautology nor can the theory be verified in nature. The whole theory is therefore meaningless and self-defeating. This view would eventually be abandoned by most philosophers and Wittgenstein himself would come up with an entirely new and revolutionary philosophy that attacks his earlier work.
Wittgenstein’s later philosophy would attack and revise ideas in his earlier work. His later philosophy is in his posthumous book Philosophical Investigations. In this work, he wants to get away from the seemingly necessary and logical claims of the Tractatus and get into ordinary language. He moved away from a philosophical explanation of how language worked and dealt with how ordinary language works in our society. In the Philosophical Investigations his most famous quote that describes his point of view is “for a large class of cases of the employment of the word ‘meaning’ – though not for all – this word can be explained in this way: the meaning of a word is its use in the language.” This later view no longer subscribes to the picture theory of meaning but rather sees language in a looser way. Language and the meaning of language are determined by its use. Language becomes a tool that we use to communicate to other people. Societies each have their own language game and there are language games within broader language games. These games are ways of using certain words. Philosophy uses words differently than psychology for example. Scientific explanations of things use different language from theological language. Wittgenstein says that “to imagine a language means to imagine a form of life.” Languages are forms of life because they come out of societies and relations among people. There is no precise essence to language games. The boundaries of the game are culturally defined and they are also blurry. They are not absolute but rather are relative to regions.
Early Wittgenstein and Later Wittgenstein are radically different but they do have some things in common with one another. Both want to analyze language as a whole and its meaning. They want to discover what language actually is and how it works. Both views think that philosophy cannot add anything new to our knowledge but philosophy can help clarify our concepts. Philosophy refines other disciplines such as science or mathematics. It is not its own discipline but acts as a handmaiden for others. The differences between the two philosophies are staggering though. The Tractarian concepts try to understand the metaphysical framework of the world and our language. The later philosophy wants to make philosophy normal. Philosophy as done in the Tractatus gets nowhere and muddles our thinking and our language. This kind of philosophy seeks to find the essences of words and their relation or connection to the respective objects. Wittgenstein says that the correct philosophy is one that explains the usage of our terms. For him, philosophy should be seen as a therapy rather than a systematic explanation of lofty ideas. Our language is ordinary, common, and does not need further confusion. In Philosophical Investigations he says that “philosophical problems arise when language goes on holiday.” What he means by this is that philosophical problems are more abundant when philosophers try to think of the word and how it is related to the object itself. They do not focus on how the word is used but rather its essence with the object it names. They focus on the mental connection of the word with the object. This seems to directly attack his previous work. Since the Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus seems deeply flawed and contradictory are the ideas presented in the Philosophical Investigations true? On a surface level it seems that Wittgenstein is correct in saying that language is use. Societies use language in different ways. Also, different spheres of discourse talk differently. Religious talk and scientific talk are different because they are using language in different ways. They are different games of language. He is opening up the door for meaning in metaphysics and religion, something that his earlier philosophy and the philosophy of the logical positivists did not allow for. It does seem that this later view has problems as well, though. In his book Language Learning in Wittgenstein’s Later Philosophy Charles Hardwick lays out some of the problems with the Philosophical Investigations. He says that Wittgenstein’s phrase “the meaning of a word is its use in the language” is vague and the word meaning can have many definitions which could undermine his philosophy. Charles lists three different uses of the word mean all which are viable options. It is unclear as to what Wittgenstein meant by his phrase (Hardwick 33-34). He also shows that there are problems with the concept of language games. Wittgenstein posits language games as separate systems but there is no inherent unifying factor in any of them. Thus, they become a convoluted mess and a plurality as opposed to any type of unity between them. Ferdinand De Saussure says that “language [as opposed to speech], is a self-contained whole and a principle of classification. As soon as we give language a place among the facts of speech, we introduce a natural order into a mass that lends itself to no other classification” (Hardwick 47-48). Language needs to have some form of unity in order to work. It has to have order and structure to it. It cannot just be a plurality of games being played. This is seemingly problematic for Wittgenstein’s later view and undermines his ideas.
Wittgenstein is an important figure in analytic philosophy because of his influence on logical positivism and because of his influential later philosophy. Wittgenstein influenced Russell, the logical positivists, and nearly everyone in the analytic tradition after that. His later philosophy, the ordinary language philosophy, influenced the Oxford school of thought. And it is interesting that Wittgenstein might even have an influence on continental philosophy. There seems to be a common theme between Wittgenstein’s later work and the French post-modern philosopher Jacques Derrida (Richter). A.C. Grayling sees his influence as being much more minimal than people make it out to be. If every philosopher accepted Wittgenstein’s views then there would be no more problems in philosophy. Graying sees that reason why Ludwig gets so much attention is because philosophers have been trying to clarify what he said and meant in his works (Grayling 126-128). Whatever the case may be Ludwig Wittgenstein’s impact on analytic philosophy and philosophy as a whole will forever remain.
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Grayling, A. C. Wittgenstein: A Very Short Introduction. Oxford: Oxford UP, 2001. Print.
Hardwick, Charles S. Language Learning in Wittgenstein’s Later Philosophy. The Hague: Mouton, 1971. Print.
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Wittgenstein, Ludwig, Gertrude E. M. Anscombe, Peter M. S. Hacker, and Joachim Schulte. Philosophical Investigations. Chichester: Wiley-Blackwell, 2009. Print.
Wittgenstein, Ludwig. Major Works: Selected Philosophical Writings. New York: HarperPerennial, 2009. Print.
After much time, I have finally started reading Chesterton’s work Orthodoxy. I kept hearing amazing things about this book from many Christians and boy were they right. This post is the first in a series of posts that will focus on summarizing Chesterton’s thoughts in his book.
The Maniac is the second chapter after the Introduction of Orthodoxy. This chapter delves into the modern rationalism that was popular back in Chesterton’s day and is still popular today. This rationalism has made men insane.
This madness of human thought begins with the denial of sin. Some theologians and modern thinkers deny original sin even though Chesterton says that it’s the only part of Christianity that can be empirically proved. Evil can be seen in the street; it’s impossible to deny this fact. He then begins to state his main thesis of this chapter: Mystery is essential for normality and sanity.
“The fairy tale discusses what a sane man will do in a mad world. The sober realistic novel of today discusses what an essential lunatic will do in a dull world” (p.g. 30)
Chesterton says the modern mind wants to negate imagination and poetry. It wants to overcome the dichotomy of faith and reason by just getting rid of faith altogether. But Chesterton demonstrates this way of thinking to be wrong by showing that it is the poet who is sane, and the pure rationalist who is insane.
“Poetry is sane because it floats easily in an infinite sea; reason seeks to cross the infinite sea, and make it finite” (p.g. 31)
He beautifully shows that the worship of human reason and intellect will ultimately cause utter chaos in all parts of the modern mind. Consider this next quote:
“The poet only asks to get his head in the heavens. It is the logician who seeks to get the heavens into his head. And it is his head that splits” (p.g. 31-32)
The modern mind wants to reduce all these spiritual thoughts into something that can be comprehended easily and rationally, yet it is impossible to do such. Chesterton gives a brilliant real life example. R.B. Suthers, a determinist, believes that free-will is impossible because it involves causeless actions. Suthers denies this because free-will cannot exist with the materialist worldview. Chesterton shows that actions of the human will can be causeless and that the lunatic needs freedom in order to state his determinist view. Chesterton says that the determinist sees too much cause in everything. The madman is purely reasonable but that’s all the madman has. The madman is wrong about everything else.
He also shows the flaws in materialism. Materialism as a theory is too simple and too limiting when compared to any form of spiritualism. The Christian can accept science and methodological naturalism. He can accept things that are not forbidden in the Bible (for example, certain mathematical theorems). The materialist on the other hand can have nothing mystical or spiritual in his theory. He cannot even think about immortality whereas the Christian is free to think about it or not. This supports the point he just made regarding Suther’s argument.
G.K. shows the ethical folly of determinism:
“Determinism is quite as likely to lead to cruelty as it is certain to lead to cowardice. Determinism is not inconsistent with the cruel treatment of criminals. What it is (perhaps) inconsistent with is the generous treatment of criminals; with any appeal to their better feelings or encouragement in their moral struggle. The determinist does not believe in appealing the will, but he does believe in changing the environment. He must not say to the sinner, “Go and sin no more,” because the sinner cannot help it. But he can put him in boiling oil; for the boiling oil is an environment” (p.g. 43)
This critique ties in nicely with Kant’s principle of humanity. It is impossible to have moral responsibility if the criminal has no will. The determinist has to change the environment to change the person for it is the environment that determines how a person will act. Chesterton continues then to show the problems of solipsism and any type of empirical skepticism.
This brings us to the last part of the chapter where G.K. gives us a look at what the rest of the book will be based upon. So far in summary he has shown that insanity “is reason without root, reason in the void” (p.g 46). What keeps men sane? Chesterton proposes it is mysticism that keeps men sane. Since the quote is too large to put here, I’ll give an excerpt of what he means.
“The whole secret of mysticism is this: that man can understand everything by the help of what he does not understand. The morbid logician seeks to make everything lucid, and succeeds in making everything mysterious. The mystic allows one thing to be mysterious, and everything else becomes lucid” (p.g. 47)
The Christian accepts God as his first axiom. While God has been revealed to us, He is spirit and is in some sense mysterious yet at the same time knowable. Once a person believes in God and heaven and hell, then everything else makes sense to him. The world is opened up. The person who just believes that reality is only natural (or made of matter) has to explain away everything seemingly spiritual or metaphysical and ironically he then makes everything mysterious and not natural at all.
Psychological egoism does not prescribe how we ought to behave but rather describes how reality really is. It says that humans can only act out of self-interest and that altruism is not possible. This would seem to greatly go against the common sense view of ethics. Any action that looks like charity has to be re-interpreted as a self-interested action. There has to be an underlying motive for a person to give to charity and that motive has to be driven by self-interest.
Psychological egoism seems to be patently false. It seems, at the very least, possible for selfless actions to take place. One can think of hypothetical situations and circumstances in which altruism is possible. One example is the possibility of someone giving a large sum of money anonymously. It would seem like this person is not giving to charity to promote himself but rather out of his own heart. This one example shows that altruism is possible and thus psychological egoism is undermined.
For many centuries and even today philosophers have been debating the question over the nature of the good life. Many people believe that ethics is subjective and solely dependent on one’s mental states and beliefs. Others believe that it is objective and that ethics are independent of what one believes or desires. This paper will examine these two views and argue against the hedonist view and in favor of an objective theistic view of ethics which is grounded in God.
One classic subjective view of ethics is hedonism. Hedonism is defined as the view which states that happiness or pleasure is the only intrinsic good. Something that is intrinsically good means that it is good within itself. This view was originally created by the Greek philosopher Epicurus (Shafer-Landau 21). At face value, this view seems correct. We, for the most part, generally want to be happy in life and we consider a life filled with happiness a good life. But the hedonist says that happiness is the only intrinsic good nothing else is intrinsically good. This view is wholly subjective because happiness depends on personal mental states. Also, happiness could be loosely defined thus allowing for multiple contradicting views. One criticism against this view is based off of a life’s trajectory. Let’s say we have two hypothetical lives both with the same amount of happiness. In the first life, seventy-five percent of the total happiness is gained within the first twenty-five percent of the person’s life. In the second life seventy-five percent of the happiness is acquired within the last twenty-five percent of the person‘s life (Shafer-Landau 34-35). It seems that when compared these lives are not of equal worth. The life that gains happiness later on is better because it has an upward trajectory. There must be something more than just happiness if this is true — the trajectory of one’s life. This argument counts against hedonism and shows its falsehood. The second criticism of hedonism comes from Aldous Huxley’s work A Brave New World. The setting of the novel takes place in a utopian society that is controlled by the elite governing forces. These governing forces prevent the society from having any type of unhappy experience and thus, they limit the decisions of humans. These people are medicated and are prevented from any new ways of thought that might cause types of harm. One character named Savage fights for the freedom and liberty to have the ability to do things that might not cause happiness. He believes freedom of choice is better than a society solely determined towards happiness (Huxley 25-30). Freedom and autonomy must also be important in having a good life. Is one happy if they are forced to be happy? If this criticism is sound then hedonism is false. A subjective view of the good life cannot be true and thus we must examine a proposal of an objective theistic view.
An objective view of the ethical life is one that is not dependent on the human mind. For something to be objective means that it must be mind-independent. An objective set of ethics are not created by society nor are they based on any type of human thought for if they were, they would be subjective. This leads us to the view that ethical moral commands and standards come from God. Since the foundation of ethics must exist outside of us, they must come from God. The common title of this view is known as the divine command theory. This theory states that “an act is morally required just because it is commanded by God, and immoral because God forbids it” (Shafer-Landau 61). This whole theory hinges on whether or not God exists, but let’s assume He does. If the divine command theory is true, then actions are good or bad depending on God’s commands. Plato created an argument against this view in his work Euthyphro. Plato asks two questions: Are ethics based on God’s commands? Or are God’s commands based on an objective ethic (Shafer-Landau 63)? If ethics are based on God’s commands that would make all ethical law wholly arbitrary for God could command anything He desired. But if the ethical standard is outside of Him God is no longer the creator of morality or ethics and thus the theist is left with a problem. Plato seems to show that the divine command theory is false. But there is another way out of this dilemma that Plato has created. If God Himself is the source or foundation of ethics it would seem to spilt the horns of this argument. In the western world, God is typically thought of as being all-good and morally perfect such that His essence is good. God’s very being or ontology is good. Thus, if His actual character is good then His commands will follow through in accordance with His character. This rids the idea of God’s commands being arbitrary while grounding the ethical standard in God Himself. God never created ethics because His being is the standard of ethics. If God’s commands are good and if they are morally binding like the divine command theory states, then in order to live a good life one must obey and follow these commands. If God, the Creator of the universe, is good Himself and commands things which are objectively good and forbids things which are morally deficient, we then must follow these commands in order to live in accordance with this standard. Again, all of this presupposes God exists and if He exists which god is He? But that question is for a different time in another paper. It seems plausible that if God exists then we would need to follow His commands in order to have a good life. Obeying His standard leads to a good life.
So what should be concluded with regards to the hedonist view and the objective theistic view of the good life? The hedonist view seems utterly false with the two criticisms brought against it. Not only just the hedonist view but it seems that all subjective views seem to lead to absurdities or some type of contradiction. Ethics must be objective and mind-independent. It seems that they must also be grounded within God Himself. One must live with God’s commands in mind in order to have a good life with human flourishing.
Huxley, Aldous. Brave New World. The Ethical Life: Fundamental Readings in Ethics and Moral Problems. New York: Oxford UP, 2010. Print.
Shafer-Landau, Russ. The Fundamentals of Ethics. New York: Oxford UP, 2010. Print.
For many centuries theistic philosophers have been formulating deductive arguments to prove God’s existence. One type of argument is called a cosmological argument. The cosmological argument “looks at chains of causes” and “asks how the existence of [the universe] could be explained” (Stairs 57). It is different from other arguments for God’s existence such as the teleological argument or the moral argument. The specific version of the cosmological argument that will be examined and discussed in this paper is the argument from contingency which deals with explanations rather than specific causes. The argument is heavily influenced by the principle of sufficient reason which the rationalist philosophers all held to. This essay will examine the principle of sufficient reason, the argument from contingency, criticisms, and counter arguments and will ultimately argue for God being sole explanation of the universe.
The principle of sufficient reason plays a tremendous role in explaining the argument from contingency. Rationalist philosopher, Gottfried Leibniz defined the principle of sufficient reason. In his writing Monadology, he says that “no fact can be real or existing and no proposition can be true unless there is a sufficient reason” (Kolak 170). This is to say that everything needs some sort of sufficient reason of its existence. This principle applies to the question, “why is there something rather than nothing?” And from this, the argument itself hinges off this principle of extrinsic or intrinsic explanation.
The argument from contingency is a formal argument and it is worded like this:
- Everything existing has an explanation of its existence, either in the necessity of its own nature or in an external cause.
- If the universe has an explanation of its existence, that explanation is God.
- The universe is an existing thing.
- Therefore the explanation of the existence of the universe is God. (Moreland 466).
This argument is different from the other cosmological arguments particularly because it does not need to appeal to a temporal universe. It can fit perfectly with an eternal universe.
The first premise appeals to the principle of sufficient reason. It seems perfectly reasonable to think that everything that exists needs some sort of sufficient reason of its existence. For something to be necessary that would mean that it could not not-exist. It must exist in every single possible world. Something that is necessary has an explanation within the necessity of its own nature – as premise one shows. If some existing thing were to have a cause outside of itself as an explanation of its existence, that thing would be a contingent thing. Something that is contingent means that it is neither necessarily true nor necessarily false. This means that its existence is solely dependent on something else. It seems reasonable to accept premise one on these grounds.
Premise two takes the first premise and says that if the universe has an explanation then it would have to be God. The universe does not seem to be necessary but rather contingent. We can imagine a world in which the universe does not exist. It also seems to be comprised of contingent things. The expansion of the universe seems to be wholly contingent based on the initial big bang. It seems that if the universe is contingent then it would need an external cause because of premise one. The explanation of its existence cannot be found in the necessity of its nature because the universe is contingent and therefore dependent on another explanation. This premise really gets to the question that was mentioned earlier: why is there something rather than just nothing? Some necessary being must exist that is the explanation of contingent things. If there is no necessary explanation, then contingency goes onto an infinite regress. This necessary being does not need an external cause because it has an internal explanation of its existence.
Premise three seems to be blatantly obvious. There is no good reason for denying the external world outside of ourselves. Solipsism seems quite absurd. The conclusion of the argument follows from the premises that followed it.
There have been some criticisms of this argument. Philosopher Bertrand Russell has responded to this argument by saying that the universe does not need an explanation. The universe is just static, eternal, and has no explanation according to Russell. He also says that because things are contingent within the universe does not mean that the whole universe itself is contingent. He believes the theist commits a fallacy of composition (Cosmological). The fallacy of composition says that because individual things have certain characteristics that does not entail that the whole group of those things have all those same characteristics. This criticism still avoids the question “why is their something rather than nothing?” and instead tries to show that the theist is merely applying his intuition to the universe based on individual contingent parts of the universe. Russell does not want to face the fact of why the universe exists at all so he does away with its need for an explanation.
Philosopher Immanuel Kant objected to the argument because he thinks it will lead to the ontological argument ultimately and since according to him the ontological argument does not work, therefore the cosmological argument does not work either (Cosmological). This seems to be a red herring – an irrelevant criticism of the current argument. The ontological argument has no bearing on this cosmological argument whatsoever. The ontological argument is a different proof meant to prove God’s existence by the definition of God Himself. Kant is trying to show that the ontological argument explains the definition of a necessary being because the ontological argument argues for a being who’s fundamental nature is existence. This does not seem to be the exact type of meaning of the word necessary that is shown in this argument from contingency. This criticism from Kant seems to fall flat on its face.
Some people have objected to the argument based on the validity of the principle of sufficient reason. If the principle is false then that might possibly undermine the argument itself. If the explanation for the universe is contingent then another explanation is needed, but if the explanation is necessary, then the universe is also necessary (Moreland 467). Christian theism says that God’s actualizing of the universe was a completely free act. That act was contingent on God’s will. God could have existed by Himself in some possible world. But if that act is contingent that would make the explanation of the universe contingent and thus in need of another explanation. William Lane Craig says that “one must ultimately come to some explanatory stopping point that is simply a brute fact, a being whose existence is unexplained” (Moreland 467). It seems that even if one were to deny the principle of sufficient reason as Leibniz formed it, one would still need to get to some sort of transcendent explanation of the universe. It also seems that these critics seem to be defining the word sufficient as something stronger than Leibniz wanted it. Leibniz might have meant sufficient in the sense of “adequate” or something weaker than what these critics think the word sufficient means.
So what is one to think of this argument? This argument seems be a tried and true argument and is ultimately convincing that God exists and that He is the necessary explanation of the universe. The principle of sufficient reason seems at the very least highly likely rather than necessarily false. And even in the general use of the word reason, the universe still needs some sort of necessary explanation. The criticisms of the argument do not work to explain the argument’s premises as being false or the conclusion itself being false. As Kant and Russell have shown, it is very easy to deny or just swerve around a certain premise of this argument.
“Cosmological Argument (Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy).” Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. 11 Sept. 2008. Web. 24 Mar. 2011. <http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/cosmological-argument/>.
“Fallacy: Composition.” The Nizkor Project. 2009. Web. 24 Mar. 2011. <http://www.nizkor.org/features/fallacies/composition.html>.
Kolak, Daniel, and Garrett Thomson. The Longman Standard History of Modern Philosophy. New York: Pearson/Longman, 2006. Print.
Moreland, James Porter, and William Lane. Craig. Philosophical Foundations for a Christian Worldview. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 2003. Print.
Stairs, Allen, and Christopher Bernard. A Thinker’s Guide to the Philosophy of Religion. New York: Pearson Longman, 2007. Print.
The Moral Argument
1. If God does not exist, objective moral values and duties do not exist.
2. Objective moral values and duties do exist.
3. Therefore, God exists.
When I speak of something being objective, I mean, something which is independent of our minds.
It seems that premise (1) is agreed upon. Atheist existentialists have for the most part denied objective moral values in the world. They are at best things which we create.
Nietzsche, for example, thought that the death of God would destroy all values and meaning in life. He says “there are no moral facts, only interpretations.” We must be our own god and create value for ourself.
Australian philosopher and atheist, J.L. Mackie has been quoted saying, “If . . . there are . . . objective values, they make the existence of a God more probable than it would have been without them. Thus, we have a defensible argument from morality to the existence of a God.”
According to Mackie, ethics and morals must be invented. They are not mind-independent.
What do the logical positivists of the early 20th Century have to say about ethical statements? The positivists believed that there are really only two types of meaningful statements – tautologies and empirical truths. These statements must be verified in order to be meaningful. Ethics is not *in* the world, though and Ludwig Wittgenstein has said that “Ethics cannot be put into words. Ethics is transcendental” (Lawhead 513).
A.J. Ayer also said, ““The statement ‘It is your moral duty to tell the truth” means nothing more than ‘I recommend you to tell the truth’”(Lawhead 509).
Richard Dawkins would agree with all these radical claims of ethics. He says, “The universe we observe has precisely the properties we should expect if there is, at bottom, no design, no purpose, no evil and no good, nothing but blind pitiless indifference.”
So it seems, that at least some atheists agree on premise (1).
What then, is the case for premise (2)? Do objective moral values actually exist in the world?
It would seem like they do at first glance. No one can hold to a subjective view of ethics, for if one did then they could not deem or judge anything as being good nor evil. Ethics itself would completely vanish. There is moral rightness and wrongness. No person would dare think that the Holocaust is just subjectively bad. The Holocaust would be wrong even if all the Nazis brainwashed everyone into believing that it was right.
Objective moral values do exist in the world. But where do we get ought-ness from is-ness? That’s where premise (3) comes in.
Moral values come in the form of commands. What we ought to do or ought not to do. It’s impossible to have abstract objects (numbers, logical truths etc) give us these values because, again, they do not stand in causal relations with us. God is the best explanation of objective moral values. Again, I’m purely talking about *where* these moral values come from.
J. L. Mackie, The Miracle of Theism (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1982),pp. 115-16.
Lawhead, William F. The Contemporary Voyage: 1900 -. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth, 2002. Print.
Richard Dawkins, River Out of Eden: A Darwinian View of Life (1995), quoted from Victor J Stenger, Has Science Found God? (2001)