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A Metaethics for Rossian Deontology

I have titled this paper A Metaethics for Rossian Deontology. I will be doing four things in this talk. First, I will be giving a few reasons as to why deontological theories are superior to utilitarian theories. Secondly, I will be presenting Kant’s arguments from the Groundwork to the Metaphysics of Morals and showing that they leave out important moral considerations. Thirdly, with this Kantian backdrop in mind, I will show why Ross has advantages over Kant. And finally my overall aim is to give Ross a foundation for his ethical theory which will be grounded in God.

Utilitarianism is the view that an action is good if and only if it maximizes happiness. It looks forward to the consequences of actions in order to determine their moral value. There are two problems for a utilitarian ethical theory. The first is that it has problems of predictability. It is hard to have knowledge of the future and all the outcomes a given action will bring about. You can bring forth an action thinking that it will have good consequences but it might turn out to have negative consequences. You can also bring about an action that you think will have bad consequences but it in fact promotes a good outcome. There seems to be a problem of having knowledge of future contingent events for utilitarianism. The second problem is that it leaves out intrinsic human dignity. We can think of an example of a woman in a coma who gets raped by a man. From a utilitarian perspective the man’s action has only produced a good outcome – that of pleasure. The woman is unconscious so his actions do not affect her. He is clearly violating her dignity as a human regardless of the outcomes. It is for these two reasons why I see we have grounds to reject utilitarian theories and favor deontological ones.

Deontology is the view that an action is right only if we fulfill our duty for that action. Immanuel Kant, in the first section of the Groundwork to the Metaphysics of Morals, makes an argument that our morality must be based in duty and reason and not in wants or inclinations. He argues that the good will is one that is good in itself, namely, that it is intrinsically good (740). The good will must have reason central to its nature. Kant thinks that our moral reasoning must be a priori. This is because we need moral certainty and deductive reasoning is the only thing that can give us certainty (741). A will is good if it acts on the basis of duty. Kant uses the example of a philanthropist that has sorrow and probably does not feel like being charitable. This person still gives to others not on the basis of his feelings but on the basis of his duty to help others. His action has genuine moral worth (742). Emotional reactions cannot give us a genuine moral standard on how to live. Following the rules out of duty allows us to act morally regardless of how we feel. Kant wants us to abandon our emotions in regard to moral reasoning and cling solely to reason. Kant says the following in respect to our emotions and how they relate to moral worth:

“An action done from duty derives its moral worth, not from the purpose which is to be attained by it, but from the maxim by which it is determined, and therefore does not depend on the realization of the object of the action, but merely on the principle of volition by which the action has taken place, without regard to any object of desire” (743).

Kant argues that not only should desire be disregarded when one is producing an action of moral significance but also that our actions are good or bad in itself regardless of the outcome. This is in stark contrast to any utilitarian theory. Kant argues that we should will that our maxims become a universal law (744). This is what is called the universalizability principle and is fundamental to the categorical imperative as we will see later.

For Kant moral statements come in the form of commands or also these could be understood as ought-statements. You ought to be honest is an example of a moral statement. These statements are called imperatives. There are two types of imperatives: hypothetical imperatives and categorical imperatives. If the action is good as a means to some end then that imperative will be hypothetical. Conversely, if the action is good in itself then that imperative will be categorical (Kant 749). Kant has two main formulations of the categorical imperative. The first is, “act as if the maxim of thy action were to become by thy will a universal law of nature” (Kant 753). This is a more concise statement of the universalizability principle. It is the base formulation for the categorical imperative. When we think of our maxims becoming universal laws we should not think of it in a pragmatic sense. For example, if I universalize the maxim “one ought to steal from others” it seems that the world would become chaotic because everyone would be stealing from everyone and thus I should not act upon that maxim. This is not a correct interpretation of Kant’s first formulation. Kant says something much stronger. He thinks of this imperative as being something that is logically coherent. He uses the example of a hypothetical maxim of “one ought to lie.” This cannot be universalized because it leads to a logical contradiction. The maxim would be a lie and therefore violate itself (Kant 753). Another way Kant wants us to think of this first formulation of the categorical imperative is that “every rational being must act as a universally legislating will” (757). We must view ourselves as the moral legislators – the supreme lawgivers. Kant wants us to think of ourselves as autonomous rational agents.

The second formulation of the categorical imperative is to “act as to treat humanity whether in thine own person or in that of any other, in every case as an end withal, never as means only” (Kant 756). Human dignity is a central formulation of the categorical imperative. We should never use people as only a means to an end. Kant uses the example of suicide to show how this formulation could be understood. A person who is contemplating suicide should not act upon it because they would be using themselves as only a means to some end namely death (Kant 756). In the same way lying is always wrong because it involves using people as mere means (Kant 757). It is trying to intentionally deceive people into thinking something other than the truth. This duty we have for humanity must also harmonize with our duty to care for ourselves (Kant 757). We need to treat all persons as ends in themselves with intrinsic value and dignity. Kant tells us that we need to “always regard [ourselves] as giving laws either as a member or as a sovereign in a kingdom of ends which is rendered possible by the freedom of the will” (758). He expands the initial formulation to have us view it with the scope of humanity. We do not just treat people as ends in themselves; we treat humanity as an end in itself.

While Kant’s view is an incredibly rich and thought out theory, it has some major problems. One problem is that Kant reduces morality down into this emotionless acting upon the maxims. This is effectively the same as Stoicism (Kant’s Ethical Theory 92). By getting rid of emotion, Kant gets rid of a key feature of what it means to be a human being. Another problem is that you can never lie because by doing so it would be violating the categorical imperative and you would be treating someone as a mere means. This seems problematic in cases in which it seems not only morally permissible to lie but morally mandatory to lie. If a murderer comes to my door and is looking for my friend who I know is in my house, am I ethically mandated to tell him where he is? Kant would say that we would have to tell the murderer where he is if he asks us. For Kant, we are rational agents and we cannot make other agents act in compliance with the categorical imperative. Our concern ultimately should rest upon how we act and not how others act. Lying is not the right course of action. If we lie for our friend we are looking at the outcomes of the action rather than the intrinsic rightness or wrongness of lying. But it seems clear that we have an obligation and a duty to protect our friend from harm. Ross avoids this problem because he allows for the prima facie duties of non-maleficence and justice. We have an obligation to prevent the harm and also an obligation to punish vice and give the murderer his just deserts. Given these problems we must abandon Kant’s view. His view is too narrow and does not explain other ethical considerations.

20th century British philosopher W.D. Ross is in the deontological tradition of ethical theory. He is fundamentally rooted in the deontological camp because he rejects the idea that actions are moral merely on the basis of their outcomes. When a man fulfills his promise he is looking to the past rather than to the future. At the same time, it seems reasonable for Ross that one could break their promise in order to save the life of a person (The Right and the Good 17-18). Ross is an ethical pluralist and a non-absolutist. He thinks that there is more than one fundamental moral rule. Furthermore, these rules can be broken under the appropriate circumstances (Shafer-Landau 220). This gives him a philosophical edge in the normative ethical theory debate. In his work The Right and the Good, Ross calls the plurality of rules prima facie duties. He lists seven of them: fidelity, reparations, gratitude, justice, beneficence, self-improvement, and non-maleficence. He thinks that this might not be a complete list but that these duties he puts forth have to be on the list (Shafer-Landau 221). “There is nothing arbitrary about these prima facie duties. Each rests on a definite circumstance which cannot seriously be held to be without moral significance” (The Right and the Good 20). But, he does not take the meaning of these duties as Kant thought. These duties are strong permanent moral reasons rather than absolute, unbreakable, moral rules (Shafer-Landau 221). Ross thinks that we know these duties intuitively in their prima facie state. They are so fundamental and known so clearly in a similar fashion to how we know the axioms of mathematics (The Right and the Good 29-30). These duties are basic to our belief structure. For a belief to be basic means that it does not depend on evidence or argument in order to be held.

Let’s examine some problems for the Rossian ethical framework. Ross says that one objection could be an Ockham’s Razor objection to ethical pluralism. Ockham’s Razor is more of a methodological critique rather than a knock-down objection to any system. It’s generally stated in two different ways. One way to think of Ockham’s Razor is that we should not multiply entities excessively. This places a methodological limit on our ontological commitments. Ockham’s Razor can also be stated that when we’re confronted with two explanations, the simplest explanation is the best. This means that if a theory can explain the set of facts in the most minimalist way we should favor that theory over theories that require more explanations or commitments. This is an objection to Ross’s ethical theory because his theory isn’t as simple as Kantian ethical monism or any other monistic theories. Ross’s theory has more duties. But Ross says that this really shouldn’t be a problem. He says that “it is more important that our theory fit the facts than that it be simple, and the account we have given above corresponds (it seems to me) better than either of the simpler theories…” (The Right and the Good 19). Theories which are factual seem to be more important than theories which are simple. Another objection to Ross’s view is the problem of choosing when to break moral rules (Shafer-Landau 225). If the duties are not absolute then we can break them. Ross does not rank the rules in a hierarchal structure; they are all on an equal footing (Shafer-Landau 225-226). But maybe our moral reasoning can come into play when there is a moral conflict amongst the duties, for example, by intuitively knowing which duties to break and which to fulfill. We need to weigh the justification for acting upon one duty over another when moral conflict arises. This could be a plausible counter to the objection that has been raised. The greatest problem the Rossian view has is that there is no foundation for these prima facie duties. Ross just thinks we know them intuitively. This presents a gap in Ross’s framework. Kant gave us a ground in our rational faculties but Ross does not present any reason as to how the duties are intuitive. I hope now to give Ross a metaethical grounding in God.

Ross argues that the prima facie duties and intrinsic moral values must have a non-natural basis. His metaethics, which is foundational for his normative theory, is wholly non-natural. Ross says the following in regards to this point:

“Contemplate any imaginary universe from which you suppose mind entirely absent, and you will fail to find anything in it that you can call good in itself. …the value of material things appears to be purely instrumental, not intrinsic” (The Right and the Good 140-141).

There are two options for how one can ground an objective Rossian ethical theory. The first is to hold to a form of ethical naturalism and the second is to hold to a form of ethical non-naturalism. I will argue against the former in favor of the latter.

An ethical framework cannot be grounded in an evolutionary and naturalistic account. I think this type of account is fraught with problems. The first and I think biggest problem is that believing evolution and naturalism together is irrational. In his book, Where the Conflict Really Lies: Science, Religion, and Naturalism, Alvin Plantinga argues that belief in evolution and naturalism together leads to the belief that our cognitive faculties are unreliable and thus one cannot rationally affirm evolution and naturalism. This is known as his Evolutionary Argument Against Naturalism. Our cognitive faculties are our belief producing faculties. They are said to be reliable if they produce more true beliefs than false ones, say 75%. Plantinga defines naturalism as the belief that there is no such person as God or nothing like God. Naturalism is a stronger position than atheism. Physicalism is also a necessary condition for naturalism (Plantinga 319). By evolution, we mean change in species over time by way of natural selection and genetic drift. Plantinga argues that the probability of the reliability of our cognitive faculties in regards to naturalism and evolution is low. Evolution only rewards behavior that is adaptive for survival and beliefs for the most part do not influence our adaptation. Patricia Churchland says that the essentials of “a nervous system enables the organism to succeed in the four F’s: feeding, fleeing, fighting, and reproducing” (Plantinga 315). Just because evolution rewards adaptive behavior does not mean that the beliefs are true. Our body parts can be in the correct places for survival irrespective of our beliefs about many things. “All that’s required for survival and fitness is that the neurology cause adaptive behavior; this neurology also determines belief content, but whether or not that content is true makes no difference to fitness” (Plantinga 327). Consider the following example Plantinga uses: Let’s say you have a hominid named Paul. When Paul comes into contact with tigers he runs from them. But the beliefs as to why he runs from them is wholly independent of the fact that he runs from them. There might be many belief-desire pairs that lead to the same action. For example, he might run from tigers because he believes them to be an illusion and runs from them to keep his weight down. Maybe Paul thinks he’s taking part in a race with the tigers and wants to win. All these beliefs are false but still get his body parts in the correct places for survival. There is no basis for thinking that his cognitive faculties are reliable. If this is true then the probability that our cognitive faculties are reliable is low. This produces a defeater for the reliability for our cognitive faculties. A defeater is a belief that causes one to give up another belief. For example, pretend I have the belief that Mt. Whitney is the tallest mountain in the world. My friend John, who also happens to be a geologist, tells me that Mt. Everest is actually the tallest mountain in the world. I consider John a reliable source on things in his field. Therefore, I have a defeater for my belief that Mt. Whitney is the tallest mountain in the world. So, if we have a defeater for the reliability for our cognitive faculties then we have a defeater for every belief we hold including beliefs about ethics and more importantly naturalism and evolution. Thus, naturalism and evolution cannot be rationally affirmed. If this argument is successful then we must reject naturalism and evolution. Any metaethical framework must have a correct epistemic framework.

Another problem for a naturalist ground for moral values is the is/ought fallacy. How do we derive ought-ness from is-ness? Just because it is the case that we’ve evolved to respect persons with dignity does not at all mean that we ought to respect persons with dignity. It is impossible to see the fact of the matter and derive an ought from it. At best, these ought’s would be arbitrary and dependent on a society. This is a secondary problem for materialist accounts of the universe. If moral realism is a logically necessary feature of a world containing personal moral agents then what is it that makes it necessary? Thus, it seems to me that we’re only left with a non-natural explanation to account for our prima facie duties.

I believe the only other option we’re left with is to ground the prima facie duties in God. When I talk about God I am talking about a person. I am also thinking of God in the same way Anselm thought about God as the greatest possible being. God’s commanding our prima facie duties gives us objective grounds because God Himself is good. Because we are all made in God’s image, we can grasp His moral law and trust it to be accurate. God has also guided history and ensured the reliability of our cognitive faculties. A divine command theory is compatible with Ross’s prima facie duties. This is also a solution to the is/ought problem. We allow the commands to come from God rather than the material universe. We derive the commands from God. This theological account seems to me to be the only solution to fit the state of the moral facts. .

The Rossian ethical framework is superior to the Kantian framework. I have presented arguments against utilitarianism and have shown why we need to hold a deontological view. I have shown and explained Kant’s theory in the Groundwork to the Metaphysics of Morals and why it is lacking. I have presented the Rossian theory and the central idea of the prima facie duties from The Right and the Good. I have argued that this theory is the correct one and defended it against objections. Given the non-natural source of these prima facie duties, I have presented my own theological explanation as to why they are intuitive and how they are grounded. Ethical theory is something the human condition longs for. We long for answers on how to act and how to be moral. By having a correct ethical foundation we hopefully can see real world ethical dilemmas clearer and become better people through our principles.

*Originally delivered at the CSUB philosophy undergrad conference on May 15, 2015.

Evolutionary Argument Against Naturalism

* P= Probability, R=Reliability, N=Naturalism, E=Evolution

  1. P(R/N & E) is low.
  2. Anyone who accepts (believes N&E and sees that P(R/N&E) is low has a defeater for R.
  3. Anyone who has a defeater for R has a defeater for any other belief she thinks she has, including N&E itself.
  4. If one who accepts N&E thereby acquires a defeater for N&E, N&E is self-defeating and can’t rationally be accepted.
  5. ■ N&E can’t be rationally accepted. (Plantinga 344-45)

 Works Cited

Hare, John E. The Moral Gap: Kantian Ethics, Human Limits, and God’s Assistance. Oxford: Clarendon, 1996. Print.

Kant, Immanuel. “Groundwork for the Metaphysics of Morals.” Classics of Political and Moral Philosophy. Ed. Steven M. Cahn. New York: Oxford UP, 2002. 740-75. Print.

Plantinga, Alvin. “The Evolutionary Argument Against Naturalism.” Where the Conflict Really Lies: Science, Religion, and Naturalism. New York: Oxford UP, 2011. 307-50. Print.

Plantinga, Alvin. “An Evolutionary Argument Against Naturalism.” YouTube. YouTube, n.d. Web. 13 May 2015.

Ross, W. D. Kant’s Ethical Theory: A Commentary on the Grundlegung Zur Metaphysik Der Sitten. London: Oxford UP, 1965. Print.

Ross, W. D. The Right and the Good. Oxford: Clarendon, 1930. Print.

Shafer-Landau, Russ. “Ethical Pluralism: Prima Facie Duties and Ethical Particularism.” The Fundamentals of Ethics. New York: Oxford UP, 2010. 220-39. Print.


G.K. Chesterton’s Orthodoxy: The Maniac

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.

The Argument from Contingency

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:

  1. Everything existing has an explanation of its existence, either in the necessity of its own nature or in an external cause.
  2. If the universe has an explanation of its existence, that explanation is God.
  3. The universe is an existing thing.
  4. 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.

Works Cited

“Cosmological Argument (Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy).” Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. 11 Sept. 2008. Web. 24 Mar. 2011. <;.

“Fallacy: Composition.” The Nizkor Project. 2009. Web. 24 Mar. 2011. <;.

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.

An Overview and Analysis of Marxism

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.

Works Cited

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.

Kant’s Categorical Imperative

Immanuel Kant’s ethics focuses on libertarian free-will and intrinsic value in human persons. Kant is going to argue against consequentialism in favor of non-consequentialism or what he calls the categorical imperative.

Morality is broken down into three subsets. There is an agent (the person who does the willing), there is an action (the means), and there is the consequence (what Kant calls effects, or ends). In ethics, consequentialism says that all morality is based around the consequences of an action. People do not murder because they will go to jail. People do not smoke because it causes cancer. Consequentialism basically says that the ends justify the means. This means that whatever end is obtained completely justifies whatever means were used to get that end. An example of this could be applied to the issue of torture during wartime. Some have said that we should torture terrorists in order to achieve some end (which is the information regarding the terrorist’s plots and so forth). This end, if obtained, justifies torture because it served the greater good of humanity. This may be justified because the terrorist is making threats on other persons. Another example could be laws that prohibit alcohol. During the prohibition, the United States banned alcohol because it served a greater good and the consequences of drinking were bad. In short, consequentialism focuses on the ends (or consequences to an action) rather than the means to an end. Kant will show how consequentialism ultimately fails under his ethical framework.

Kant sees morality not as just doing the right thing but also doing it for the right motive. What he focuses on is the motives (or means) of an action rather than the end itself. Something justifies our actions other than ends. Kant sets up what he calls the categorical imperative. This is a universal command in which we have to obey. The categorical imperative is basically this: Always treat humanity as an end in itself, never as a mere means. Kant says that humans are rational beings and that this rationality is what makes them have worth. Humans are autonomous and can make up their own minds about actions and their will. Human persons should always be treated as persons and not as mere means to some end. There is a distinction between “means” and “mere means.” To use an example, suppose one were to go to a restaurant and order some food from the waiter. It would be right in saying that the person ordering the food would be using the waiter as a means to obtain food and to satisfy hunger. But the waiter can still be treated as an end in himself — with dignity and respect from the person ordering. The categorical imperative is violated when the person treats the waiter as an object. That person is viewing the waiter as a “mere means” rather than any type of end (namely a rational being).

This categorical imperative is set up to test our maxims or wills. It places great worth on the human and on the individual. Also, this imperative only works if libertarian free-will is true. Any type of determinism would call into question Kant’s ethical system.

What if for the theist that the categorical imperative is something greater than just one universal moral command? What if it is God Himself which is the imperative and standard for all humanity? The Christian can use Kant’s arguments and semantics to argue for a more absolute position which is in God.

Ontological Arguments: Problematic Versions and a Victorious One

The ontological argument was formed by Saint Anselm in 1077. It is commonly recognized as being one of the most popular proofs for God’s existence. Descartes also brought the argument back in a different (and more simpler) form as well. Ontology is a branch of metaphysics that deals with the study of existence or being. Thus, the argument is rightly called the ontological argument.

Anselm’s version of this argument go as follows:
(1) Suppose that God exists in the understanding alone.
(2) Given our definition, this means that a being than which none greater can be conceived exists in the understanding alone.
(3) But this being can be conceived to exist in reality. That is, we can conceive of a circumstance in which theism is true, even if we do not believe that it actually obtains.
(4) But it is greater for a thing to exist in reality than for it to exist in the understanding alone.
(5) Hence we seem forced to conclude that a being than which none greater can be conceived can be conceived to be greater than it is.
(6) But that is absurd.
(7) So (1) must be false. God must exist in reality as well as in the understanding.

Now, (3) and (4) have many problems associated with them. The biggest problem is this: Does the fact that one can conceive of something make it true? To conceive means to form thoughts and ideas. I can conceive many things that do not exist. I can also conceive of them existing in reality. Also, in regards to (4), is existence in reality greater than in the understanding alone? Kant would attack this premise. He said that existence is not a predicate. This means that ideas that exist in the understanding (meaning the mind) are equal to ideas that exist in reality.

As a theist, I would have to accept this criticism against this argument. Our conceptions are only in our minds. Because we can think of things existing in reality does not make them real nor does it make them greater. Ideas with existence as a predicate are still ideas which exist in the understanding.

Descartes’ argument goes like this:
(1) God is a being that has all perfections.
(2) Existence is a perfection.
(3) Therefore, God exists.

Kant would again attack (2). Existence as the predicate to a subject (namely God in this case) does not warrant reality. Also, this version seems to reek of circular reasoning. (2) has the same truth value as the conclusion and thus it is circular. Even if (2) were true, it would be hard to really prove that it‘s true.

Alvin Plantinga has formed a new version of the ontological argument using modal logic.

(1) It is possible that a maximally great being exists.
(2) If it is possible that a maximally great being exists, then a maximally great being exists in some possible world.
(3) If a maximally great being exists in some possible world, then it exists in every possible world.
(4) If a maximally great being exists in every possible world, then it exists in the actual world.
(5) If a maximally great being exists in the actual world, then a maximally great being exists.
(6) Therefore, a maximally great being exists.

A possible world is a way the whole of reality could be and not a set of possible planets. For instance, there could be some possible world in which my name is actually Jim instead of Jesse. There could be a possible world in which McCain is elected President instead of Obama. This concept of possibility applies to this argument. The actual world is defined as the presently existing world. Also simply put, a being which is maximally great is a being with the properties of omniscience, omnipotence, and moral perfection.

This argument really hinges on (1) being true. If (1) is not true then the argument falls flat on its face. If (1) is true (even the mere possibility) then it follows from that that (6) is true. The possibility of maximally great being existing is not impossible. It seems logically coherent unlike say, a married bachelor or a triangle with 18 sides. If this argument succeeds, then it is victorious and actually has more power than former ontological arguments. The reason why the modal version is better is because it does not assume existence is a predicate for perfection. It merely hinges on possibility.

I might revisit this argument in more detail once I study modal logic in the future.