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The nature of goodness has concerned human beings for millennia. In philosophy, the questions over what is goodness, what it is grounded in, and how it relates to humans are metaethical questions. Metaethics is wholly distinct from normative ethics, which prescribes how we should morally behave. The former is descriptive and the latter is prescriptive. The ancient Greeks, specifically Socrates, discussed and argued over the nature of goodness. In the Euthyphro, Socrates and Euthyphro discuss the nature of piety – or goodness – and how it relates to the gods. In the dialogue Socrates incessantly questions Euthyphro about what the pious is. He wants to know the nature of piety because he is about to be put on trial. Socrates’ philosophical method is based around dialoguing with others and trying to establish definitions. He poses the dilemma to Euthyphro: “is the pious loved by the gods because it’s pious? Or is it pious because it is loved?” (Euthyphro 9e 11-12) This dilemma is not only problematic for the polytheist but it is also problematic for the Christian. This dilemma is applicable to monotheism. John 1:1-3 states that, “[I]n the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not anything made that was made.” This is my ontological commitment and will be the principle when analyzing the horns of the Euthyphro Dilemma. I want to present my view that is theologically consistent with what the Bible says. For this argument I will be defining God as He has been defined in classical Christian theism: a wholly good, all knowing, all loving, necessary being. By saying that God is a necessary being, I mean that God exists in all possible worlds. God must exist and He cannot not exist. These attributes of God along with His divine aseity are the assumptions I will be working with when discussing the dilemma. My presupposition is that there are grounds for objective moral values. Moral relativism or moral nihilism is something that the Christian is unable to affirm. In this paper I will argue that the Euthyphro dilemma is not a problem for the Christian theist because there is a third option – that God’s moral commands are determined by His good nature. The dilemma is extremely important in philosophy of religion because it can shape one’s metaethics.
In the dialogue, Euthyphro explains to Socrates that he is going to prosecute his own father for murder. Euthyphro explains to Socrates that his action is pious and he appeals to the Greek gods as his proof to support his concept of piety. Socrates presses him on his knowledge of the definition. Euthyphro tells Socrates that “what’s pious is precisely what I am doing now: prosecuting those who commit an injustice, such as murder…” and that “not prosecuting them, on the other hand, is what’s impious” (Euthyphro 5d9-5e3). Again, Euthyphro appeals to the divine and Socrates exposes a contradiction because the Greek gods do not all agree on what is pious. The problem arises because the gods love what is pious and impious at the same time. Socrates wants to get to a pure definition of piety (Euthyphro 6a8-9e10). He asks two questions: “is the pious loved by the gods because it’s pious? Or is it pious because it’s loved?” (Euthyphro 10a2-3). The first question makes piety outside of the gods’ opinion. Piety is a standard of morality that the gods adhere to and hence they love it. Piety in this sense is outside of the gods. It is the Platonic form of piety. The Platonic forms are immaterial, unchangeable, and eternal. They are also universals. The second question of the dilemma has the gods determine what is pious. The mere love the gods have with certain moral actions makes them pious. The gods are the creators of piety under the second question. We can call both of these the horns of the dilemma. This dilemma applies not only to monotheism in general but more specifically it applies to Christian theism. We can restate the horns this way: The good is loved by God because it is good or the good is good because God loves it. The problem that applied to the Greeks still applies to believers today
The first horn of the dilemma is that the good is loved by God because it is good. Goodness is outside of God. The goodness as described by this horn is objective. It is outside of all opinion including God’s opinion. This objective goodness is typically thought of as being an abstract object. We can think of goodness as an immaterial substance that is separate from God. Goodness is just as necessary as God is and is at least the source of some moral obligations. In his book The Coherence of Theism, Oxford philosopher of religion Richard Swinburne argues for why he thinks the first horn – at least in most respects – is correct. He explains that this horn “seems to place a restriction on God’s power.” He says that God cannot do what is logically impossible (203). If it is necessary that a certain action is wrong then God cannot change the ethical status of that action. Swinburne says that this horn limits what God can command us to do. Goodness is independent of God’s will. Swinburne thinks that the Christian could “take different horns for different actions” (204). If God commands an action, then that action would be morally obligatory. The reason for this is that God is the creator and we depend on Him for our existence. Swinburne uses parents as an example to demonstrate this point. Our parents brought us into this world, raised us, and sustained us. We have a moral duty to obey them. God is far greater than our parents and has done much more to keep humanity alive. Thus, we have an even greater obligation to Him. A second reason would be that God created not just humans but the whole universe itself out of nothing. The obligation we owe Him is infinitely more than our parents. But Swinburne still thinks that it would be impossible for God to remove our obligation to keep a promise or to not torture the innocent. Therefore, Swinburne argues that there are some necessary ethical obligations that we must follow even if God did not command them. His “argument suggests that commands sometimes make acts right or wrong and make acts which are right or wrong anyway right or wrong in a new respect” (Swinburne 208-9). Swinburne is motivated to hold to necessary moral propositions. He grounds the necessary propositions outside of God’s commands. Is Swinburne’s argument satisfactory for the Christian when thinking about this dilemma? I think it falls short of the ontological commitment. To say that there are necessary ethical obligations that exist whether or not God commands them seems to make them outside of God. But the Apostle John says that all things came through God. God is the Logos, or Word, and the creator of everything other than Himself. If these ethical obligations necessarily hold whether God commands them or not, it seems to contradict this verse. The Christian is justified in rejecting this horn as a metaethical alternative. Let’s look to the second horn to see if the Christian can accept that one.
The second horn of the dilemma is that the good is good because God loves it. This horn falls under what we call divine command theory which many philosophers and theologians accept. Under this view, our moral obligations stem from what God commands. Goodness is grounded in God’s commands. God determines what is good and our moral obligations. Rene Descartes was a proponent of this horn. John J. Blom writes that Descartes thought that God is “the first principle of created truths, including the ‘necessities’ of mathematics and substance” (74). In Descartes’ view everything is created by God including “necessary” truths. This seems baffling since God could have created a different set of these pseudo-necessary truths. Necessary moral propositions would also fall under this category. God could have willed that murder or theft is objectively good. Descartes writes, “You ask me by what kind of causality God established the eternal truths. I reply: by the same kind of causality as he created all things, that is to say, as their efficient and total cause” (Cunning). God has created any and all types of eternal, necessary, and objective truths by Descartes’ belief. This puts him on the second horn of the dilemma. These truths are not necessary though. Descartes affirms a logical contradiction. These moral truths are contingent since they are dependent. God can easily change them in Descartes view. William of Ockham also accepts the second horn of the dilemma. Michael W. Austin, writer for Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy says that, “William of Ockham states that the actions which we call ‘theft’ and ‘adultery’ would be obligatory for us if God commanded us to do them.” Ockham grounds the goodness of a moral obligation in God’s commands. It seems that Descartes and Ockham are grounding goodness in God’s commands because they see God as being all-powerful and as being our moral lawgiver. Are either of these views about the Euthyphro dilemma presented by Ockham and Descartes true and can the Christian theist comfortably hold to this horn of the dilemma without facing any tension? One advantage to the divine command theory is that we don’t have to appeal to something outside of God. There is no abstract goodness outside of God since God commands what is good. Divine command theory is consistent with my ontological commitment from the Gospel of John. This horn does have a major disadvantage. The biggest disadvantage is that it makes morality completely arbitrary on God’s will, or commands. It seems morally obvious that one ought not to murder, which is objectively true and not arbitrary. This is true in all possible worlds with at least two moral agents. God cannot do the logically impossible. God cannot create a married bachelor or a round square. Since God is the Logos, He also cannot violate an objective grounding of morality. He cannot make murder good. It is impossible. I do agree with Swinburne here that there are objective non-arbitrary moral propositions and obligations. The second horn must be abandoned since it is impossible for morality to be arbitrary. I do not want to hold to any type of relative or contingent morality.
A clear understanding of the second horn of the dilemma evaporates the dilemma completely. It is true biblically speaking that God commands what is good. He does give us laws and moral standards to live by. A basic example is God’s giving of the Ten Commandments to Moses. He is the moral lawgiver. As I have stated above, I think both horns of the dilemma are problematic and uncomfortable. I think there is a way out of this dilemma. God commands what is good, but why does He command what is good? This is because He is good. God’s nature is goodness itself. This moral goodness is instantiated through His commands. This instantiation is contingent – He did not have to actualize a world with moral agents. An analogy is similar to Plato’s theory of Forms and the way they’re instantiated. Plato thought, for example, that the property of red is a universal that is instantiated in objects. Redness is the Form and red is the property. The property participates in the Form of redness. Similarly, our moral duties and obligations participate in the “Form” of goodness. The “Form” allows for the moral proposition to be intelligible (Melchert 130). A moral proposition such as “one ought to not murder” is an instantiation of goodness but not the complete definition of what goodness is. This analogy with the Platonic Forms is only analogous in the relationship. The relationship a Form has with the particular is the same relationship God’s goodness has with a moral command. The ontological goodness is similar to the universal, and the command and obligation are similar to the particulars. The analogy is not completely analogous. Neither God nor any of His attributes are abstract. God is a concrete person. He can enter into causal relations with other things since He is a person. Platonic Forms have no personhood and are abstract entities. They cannot enter into causal relations. Moral propositions come in the form of commands precisely because they come from a person with a will. In the following paragraphs we will look at what other philosophers have said about God being the ontological grounding of goodness.
Robert Adams, a philosopher of religion, states in his book Finite and Infinite Goods: A Framework for Ethics that, “if God is the Good itself, then the Good is not an abstract object but a concrete (though not a physical) individual. Indeed it is a person, or importantly like a person” (14). When Adams talks about the Good, he means it to be transcendent and absolute. He does not mean this in the same way how we would call our friend a good person. Adams wants to say that this is much greater than a general meaning of the word good when used to apply to human action or nature (A Modified Divine Command Theory for Ethical Wrongness” 472-3). “The Good is transcendent in the sense that it vastly surpasses all other good things, and all our conceptions of the good. They are profoundly imperfect in comparison with the Good itself” (“Finite and Infinite Goods” 50). The Good is completely valuable and that is what makes it transcendent. Adams does think that divine command theory is still a viable theory; it just needs to have the considerations he poses. It needs to be modified (“Finite and Infinite Goods” 249-250). “Roughly, Divine Command Theory is the view that morality is somehow dependent upon God, and that moral obligation consists in obedience to God’s commands” (Austin). God’s commands are still completely relevant for the metaethical theory. Adams goes on to say the following:
A main advantage of a divine command theory of the nature of moral obligation is that it satisfies the demand for the objectivity of moral requirement. Being commanded and forbidden by God are properties that actions have independently of whether we think they do, or want them to. Divine commands are more unqualifiedly objective than human social requirements, inasmuch as their factuality is independent of socially established as well as individual opinions and preferences (“Finite and Infinite Goods” 256).
God’s commanding our moral obligations gives us objective grounds because God Himself is good. We do not have to necessarily appeal to human reason or relativism for any type of ethical behavior. Reason does help us understand normative ethics but it’s problematic because the ethical theories are not as cut or dry. There seems to be validity to most ethical theories based in reason alone. If God commands morality, then we have an obligation to follow them as Swinburne proved earlier. We also cannot be agnostic as to what is moral or immoral if God commands our obligations. Adams’ modified divine command theory as a response to the second horn of the dilemma gives the Christian a way out of the dilemma. A clear understanding of what the second horn means in relation to God makes the dilemma dissolve completely.
Thomas Aquinas also argues that God is good. In the Summa Theologica, Aquinas makes clear statements about the nature of God. He says that, “God is good essentially” (Aquinas 29). This supports Adams’ theory. When Aquinas uses the word essentially he is using it in the same way that contemporary analytic philosophers use the word necessarily. A thing is good according to its perfection. He lays out three aspects of perfection. Perfection of a thing is according to its own being, in respect to any accidents being added as necessary for its perfect operation, and consists in the attaining to something else as the end. “This triple perfection belongs to no creature by its own essence; it belongs to God only, in Whom there are no accidents; since whatever belongs to others accidentally belongs to Him essentially…” (Aquinas 29). Aquinas’ insights into the nature of God further the point of God being wholly good and necessarily good. God’s good nature allows the moral facts to be instantiated for humanity. The commands flow from His necessary ontological good nature. Thomas’ view of God allows the Christian to escape the problems of the second horn. His view is consistent with objective morality and my ontological commitment.
There could be a few objections raised against the view I have presented. The first could be that God’s good nature is in need of an explanation. The objector could ask why God’s nature is good, or what makes God’s nature good. This would seem to miss the point of my thesis. God’s nature cannot be explained by an outside explanation. The explanation exists in God Himself and nothing prior to Himself. To understand His being as necessary is to understand that He needs no explanation. Another objection could be raised on epistemic grounds. I know God is good on the basis of Biblical authority. It is impossible to know the fullness of God’s nature by reason alone. Theologians divide two types of revelation from God. The first of which is general revelation. General revelation encompasses revelation about God in nature and in reason. Natural theology works with general revelation to prove God’s existence. For example, the teleological argument shows that the design of the universe points to a designer. This would be an argument based in reason and appealing to the order of nature. Special revelation, on the other hand, is the kind of revelation that is revealed specifically about God. It is special because it is revealed through the Bible which is His word. Both of these objections do not stand with these considerations in mind.
God’s nature is wholly good and allows for objective morality to be grounded in God Himself. In this paper I have shown the dilemma posed by Socrates and its relevance to philosophy of religion today. The first horn must be denied in order to avoid metaphysical Platonism. The dilemma is only problematic if one does not understand the second horn. At face value the second horn makes the divine command theory arbitrary. I have argued that the second horn is not a problem at all. The ground for goodness is in God, not His commands. The structure of God is good, and He gives humans moral obligations. God allows us to see the full scope of morality. In my view, this full scope also shows us God’s plan of salvation for humanity through the person of Jesus Christ. It also shows us our intrinsic moral value and our human nature against the backdrop of God’s goodness. The modified divine command theory is not only theologically adequate but also philosophically plausible if God exists. I have shown both to be the case. Robert M. Adams’ view is the same view I hold to. Aquinas also would hold to the same view. It is interesting how a dilemma thousands of years old is still prevalent today. The discussion between God’s nature, His commands, and human moral obligations will always be an area of debate in philosophy and theology.
Adams, Robert M. “A Modified Divine Command Theory of Ethical Wrongness.” (n.d.): n. pag. A Modified Divine Command Theory of Ethical Wrongness. Web. 12 Nov. 2014. <http://people.whitman.edu/~frierspr/A%20Modified%20Divine%20Command%20Theory%20of%20Ethical%20Wrongness.pdf>.
Adams, Robert Merrihew. Finite and Infinite Goods: A Framework for Ethics. New York: Oxford UP, 1999. Print.
Aquinas, Thomas. “Of Goodness in General and The Goodness of God.” Summa Theologica Vol. I. New York: Benzinger Brothers, n.d. 23-30. Print.
Austin, Michael W. “Divine Command Theory.” Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy. N.p., n.d. Web. 11 Nov. 2014. <http://www.iep.utm.edu/divine-c/>.
Cunning, David. “Descartes’ Modal Metaphysics.” Stanford University. Stanford University, 15 Apr. 2002. Web. 11 Nov. 2014. <http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/descartes-modal/#EteTru>.
Descartes, René, and John J. Blom. “All Other Knowledge Depends on the Knowledge of God.” Descartes, His Moral Philosophy and Psychology. New York: New York UP, 1978. 73-75. Print.
John. “Gospel of John.” The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2008. N. pag. Print.
Melchert, Norman. “Plato: Knowing the Real and the Good.” The Great Conversation: A Historical Introduction to Philosophy. New York: Oxford UP, 2011. 128-30. Print.
Reeve, C. D. C., and Patrick L. Miller. “Euthyphro.” Introductory Readings in Ancient Greek and Roman Philosophy. Indianapolis, IN: Hackett Pub., 2006. N. pag. Print.
Swinburne, Richard. “A Source of Moral Obligation.” The Coherence of Theism. Oxford: Clarendon, 1977. 203-09. Print.
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.
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.
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)
Karl Marx’s ideological system has probably had the greatest influence on modern culture than any other modern theory. Though influential it is always perceived in a negative light in American society. It is viewed as being an old system that never will work. It is also commonly associated with evil Soviet Russia. But Marx would say that these views are just rhetoric from the other side that does not want society to know what Marxism actually is. Marxism is actually an extensive economic, psychological, and philosophical system that describes human interaction through capital and labor. Marx was greatly influenced by the German philosopher, Hegel. Marx will use Hegel’s form of dialectic to form his own theory of everything. Dialectic is a type of method at arriving at the truth. It consists of a thesis, an anti-thesis, and a synthesis. The thesis is the tradition while the anti-thesis is a counter or contradiction to the thesis. The synthesis takes the best from both to discover the truth. To understand dialectic is to understand a good portion of Marxism. Marx was greatly influenced by Hegelian dialectic and thus it pervaded his whole thought. This paper will broadly analyze and argue for and against Marxist thought on ideology, class conflict, labor, capital, and communism through revolution.
Loosely defined, ideology is a type of consciousness which expresses a worldview. Marx believes that ideologies are false and are promoted by the dominant class, namely the rich class to which he calls the bourgeoisie. The upper class uses ideology to keep the proletariat suppressed and ignorant. These beliefs are metaphysically determined by one’s culture and society. For Marx all ideologies do not get at the core of reality but rather distort it. Religion, philosophy, political theories, and other ideologies have benefited the bourgeoisie throughout history either directly or indirectly. Marx says that humanity must let go and get rid of these ideologies in order to rid ourselves of suppression (Lavine 295). A common criticism to the Marxist view on ideology is that it negates itself. If Marxism in itself is an ideology or theory that is set up by the upper class or used to promote some type of class, then shouldn’t Marxism itself be rejected? (Lavine 309) This view on ideology seems to be self-defeating and thus should be rejected. Marxism itself as a whole does not need to be entirely rejected, just this one aspect.
The idea of class conflict is at the core of Marxism. The class with that owns the means of production is always in constant conflict with the working class. The owner pays the worker for the labor that the worker produces in order to make the owner money. The capitalist owner does not view the worker necessarily as having intrinsic worth but rather as a being which works for him. The capitalist treats the worker like a cog in the money making machine. They have no intrinsic worth to their system and can easily be replaced. Of course with jobs that are more specialized such as dental work, nursing, or neuroscience, exploitation is less likely to occur. Workers with extremely special and refined labor skills are seen as having much more worth within a capitalist society. Marx is against the notion of divided labor.
Marx views that labor which is specialized and divided into categories is dehumanizing. Labor places people into one specific type of creative outlet or section of society (Lavine 292). This creative power must be developed and expressed in the world but the division of labor squashes it. Marx said in The German Ideology, “for as soon as labor is distributed, each man has a particular exclusive sphere of activity which is forced upon him and from which he cannot escape” (Lavine 292). Marx sees work as enslaving. He sees it as binding. Man is not free to do whatever he wants and is also not free to be whatever he wants. Division of labor, according to Marx, is the fundamental problem with capitalism. It is the basis of all the problems associated with it. From the division of labor stems class conflict and promotion of ideology.
Capitalism is defined as few humans who own and control the major forces of the means of production as their private property and they employ workers who have nothing to sell but their own labor power, at least that’s what Marx would say (Lavine 313). But what exactly is capital? Capital is payment from the bourgeoisie to the proletariat for the work produced. Capital is given solely at the discretion of the owner and is based on the actual work. Exploitation occurs when the bourgeoisie sell the goods that the worker makes or produces or outputs. It occurs when the bourgeoisie makes an unfair surplus of capital. He would say that since the capitalist wants to make a profit and the only real way to make a profit is to pay the worker as little as possible exploitation must occur between the two classes of people (Lavine 313). A surplus can also be made by planning the obsolescence of a good being sold. If some good will break or wear out within a few years then people will have to buy new ones. The bourgeoisie can exploit the general public by giving them items that will not last very long. The bourgeoisie can create a cycle of capital with goods that fail at a determined time. With the acquiring of capital it is also possible that the bourgeoisie can overproduce and thus their business could go under. This can create an unstable and constantly changing economy. Capital sustains the existence of the business and is at the forefront of the owner’s mind almost obsessively. Marx sees this as being a huge problem. He sees this greed for capital and exploitation of the worker as being a very visible problem with capitalism.
Marx sees the ultimate way fix to capitalism is for the working class to revolt over the bourgeoisie. Marx believes that capitalism will destroy itself anyway. A revolution will bring in communism. If everything Marx has said up to this point is true, then a revolution must be necessary. The proletariat must learn the truth about exploitation and how the upper class suppresses them. The revolution consists of two stages. The first stage occurs when the proletariat overthrow the bourgeoisie through any means necessary. They must become dictators in order to make sure that the transition from the capitalistic society to a communistic one is complete. Everything must become private and owned by everyone. Everyone will own everything. All private property will be seized by the state controlled by the proletariat. The second part is more vague and idealistic. Marx says that man must realize that he is in control of what he makes and builds. He is in control of material objects. Man must also realize that economic hardships or issues are no longer a problem since everything is owned by everyone. Private property is completely meaningless at this point in the stage of the revolution (Lavine 315-317). This is purely idealistic though. Marx views this as a synthesis of primitive communism and the hardships of capitalism. Primitive communism is what humanity had before industrialization and capitalism. It is commonly explained as being a hunter and gatherer type of system. Marx dubbed his new synthesis “ultimate communism.” Here the dialectic is clearing seen as being an ultimate theory of everything.
So is Marxism actually true? Does it explain what is really going on between human relations amongst the classes? Marx was half-right. Parts of his theory are completely true and honest. Other parts are entirely false and quite evil. Marxist view on ideology is completely false because it presents a defeater for itself — namely that it destroys the whole notion of Marxism entirely. Also, all parts of determinism found within Marxism are false. Determinism is a belief that is impossible to hold because one cannot know the truth value of determinism as a belief. Determinism means that beliefs are determined by some other cause and thus belief in determinism is determined. Determinism must be rejected for anything to be remotely coherent. Marx was generally correct on how the bourgeoisie acts ethically with their workers and general society. Big corporations today act unethically whether internally or externally. They act with consequential motives. Everything is done for the sake of capital and thus it reduces all ethical motivations to rest on what makes more money. Greed is also extremely unethical yet it is promoted within capitalist thought. The love of money is the root of much evil. Capitalism is not inherently greed-driven though. One can be a capitalist and not be greedy. They do not have to focus solely on the worth of the capital they generate. Marx’s view on the nature of work is true — work is binding and limiting. This does not mean that division of labor is necessarily a bad thing. One should be free to choose an occupation and freely bind himself to it. The exploitive nature of the bourgeoisie is partly true. It is clearly seen that greed is found within many companies, especially American ones. Who’s to say that there is not any type of exploitation going on? And finally Marx’s communist revolution is not only false but evil. It is just as evil, if not more evil, than the capitalists he describes in his works. This revolution will not solve anything whatsoever. And Marx never addresses the psychological problem with all men — that men are inclined to do evil and not good. His idealistic utopia through some sort of revolution does not work in the real world. It seems to create more division.
What must then be done with Marxism? Should it be completely thrown out as being a viable theory? It should not because again, there is some truth to it. It needs to be interpreted as an ethical framework approaching economics. It also needs to be mixed with a Kantian ethic. Immanuel Kant said in his work Groundwork for the Metaphysics of Morals, “rational beings stand under the law that each of them should treat himself and all others, never merely as means, but always at the same time as an end in himself” (Kolak 480). Kant says that every person should be viewed as having intrinsic worth and should be treated as an end in themselves. With this deonlogical ethic in place, along with a cleaned out and reinterpreted version of Marxism — one without revolution and determinism — only then can one get a true system of economics and understand class relations and roles fully.
Kolak, Daniel, and Garrett Thomson. The Longman Standard History of Modern Philosophy. New York: Pearson/Longman, 2006. Print.
Lavine, T. Z. From Socrates to Sartre: the Philosophic Quest. New York: Bantam, 1984. Print.