December 06, 2014

The Moral Argument: Technical Stuff

Last time, we considered the concept of objective moral values. Let's look at two slightly more technical issues that come up when discussing the moral argument. If you're already comfortable with the argument, or don't care for the technical details, you can move past this.

Ontology and epistemology

Dr. Craig brings up the distinction between ontology and epistemology as part of his reply to a question about the moral argument: QA #199: Objections to the Moral Arugment.

When talking about morality, we must distinguish between ontology and epistemology. Ontology is all about realism -- what actually is.  Epistemology is about knowledge -- what we know.  So put more simply, we should distinguish between objective morality existing, and us knowing about it. We should distinguish between whether objective morality exists, and how we know about it.

Which of the two is involved in the moral argument?  Ontology.

We're not saying that God is the only way you can know morality. You don't have to believe in God to recognize moral truths.  What we're saying, instead, is that morality cannot be without God to ground it.

The Euthyphro dilemma

Dr. Kreeft briefly considers the Euthyphro dilemma in his Addendum on Religion and Morality to Argument #15 in Twenty Arguments for the Existence of God.  Dr. Craig also engages with it; for example, he answers a question about the dilemma in Q&A #44.

In the Euthyphro, Plato asks Euthyphro "Is a thing pious because the gods will it, or do the gods will it because it is pious?"  We might ask, along the same line, "is something good because God says it is good, or does God say it's good because it already is?"  Which comes first: the thing's goodness, or God's declaration?

 Plato refuted the first option. We must reject the second option, as well, for as Dr. Kreeft writes: " makes God conform to a law higher than himself, a law that overarches God and humanity alike." Nothing is greater than God.

If we reject both options - and if we're right in doing so - then there must be at least one more option. We must be able to "split the horns of the dilemma" by presenting a third possibility.  In this case, we can say that things are good because they reflect something of God's nature. That goodness is not something God declares; it is something that God is.

You can listen to Dr. Craig cover the Euthyphro dilemma very efficiently in What is the Euthyphro Dilemma?. If you have more time, he teaches an entire lesson on the dilemma in the video The Euthyphro Dilemma.

Next, we'll finish up arguments for God and move on to the next step in building up to the Catholic faith from the ground up.

November 09, 2014

The Moral Argument: Objective Moral Values

In the second premise -- the second sentence -- of the moral argument, we state that "objective moral values do exist".  What does that mean?

There are three things that make a free choice good or bad: the act, the intention, and the circumstance.  Dr. Kreeft reviews these at the beginning of his 2002 talk on Moral Theology and Homosexuality.

Three Parts

Dr. Kreeft goes on to describe these three in terms we reviewed at the very beginning: objective and subjective, and absolute and relative.

Acts are objective and absolute.  An act is objective; it isn't subject to opinion. If something happened, we may disagree on what we think we saw, but we must agree that only one thing happened. If I saw the car run a red light, and you saw them go on a green light, only one of us can be right.

Intentions are subjective and absolute.  An intention is subjective; it is subject to opinion. Two people can do the same act to the same recipient, but they can do it with different intentions. If I shove my child against the wall, it may be abuse, if I have no reason; or it may be good parenting, if I'm protecting him from a falling glass or a hot stove.

Circumstances are objective and relative. A circumstance is objective; it isn't subject to opinion. Circumstances are only one thing at a time. A circumstance is, however, relative. It may be different to different people -- what one person can afford, another can't, for example.

Objective Moral Values

There is a place for subjectivism -- in the intentions. The moral argument, however, centers on objective moral values.  What, then, is the objective part?  It's what's left: the acts and the circumstances.

Why is this important?  Well, in the moral argument, we argue that "objective moral values do exist". What do we mean by "objective moral values"?  We mean values regarding either moral acts, moral circumstances, or both.  I see no reason why it can't be both.  We're stating, in that second premise, that moral acts and moral circumstances exist.

We're stating that there are objective acts -- when a thing happens, it happens for all people and doesn't change based on opinion or preference.  We're stating, also, that there are objective circumstances -- that the situation in which that thing happens is an objective thing. Different people may react different to those circumstances, but they're there.

That seems inarguable. Things happen, and they happen objectively -- outside of personal imagination, opinion, or desire.