Thursday, November 12, 2009

Sartre on theism and morality

If God is dead, is everything permitted? Yes and no. There is a connection between the existence of God and the possibility of morality, but it is not as direct as many religious believers – and some atheists – think it is. Take Jean-Paul Sartre, about whom Bill Vallicella has been writing a series of interesting blog posts this week. Sartre was an atheist, and he held, famously, that in a Godless universe there can be no objective standards of moral value. Why did he think this? First of all, because standards of moral value presuppose, Sartre maintained (correctly, in my view), that there is such a thing as human nature. But in a Godless universe there can be no such thing as human nature. Why not? As Bill reconstructs Sartre’s argument:

The argument seems to be:

There is no God
Essences or natures are divine concepts
-----
There is no human nature.

Another argument Sartre may have in mind is this:

Man has a nature only if man is a divine artifact
There is no God and hence no divine artifacts
-----
Man has no nature.

But as Bill goes on to point out, a problem with this argument is that it is not as clear as Sartre thinks it is that there being such a thing as human nature presupposes that essences are divine concepts or that we are divine artifacts. For example, Aristotle held that there is such a thing as human nature, but (despite his belief in an Unmoved Mover of the universe) did not think of us as divine artifacts.

What is going on here, I surmise, is that Sartre has uncritically bought into the modern notion that to attribute purposes to natural objects and processes is ipso facto to commit oneself to a divine designer a la William Paley. And as I have been pointing out in a series of posts on teleology, Paley, and related matters, that is an error, at least from an Aristotelian-Thomistic (A-T) point of view. For A-T, the natures and final causes of things are immanent to them. Natural objects are not like machines, the parts of which have no inherent ordering to the end they serve, so that the parts cannot even be made sense of as serving a common end apart from a “designer” who forces them into their machine-like configuration. Rather, that a heart (for example) is “directed toward” or “ordered to” the end of pumping blood is something true of it simply by virtue of its being a heart at all, and would remain true of it whatever its cause or even if (per impossibile) it had no cause. For A-T, the natures of things can be known, at least in principle, entirely apart from questions about their origins, and human nature would still be what it is whether or not we were created by God. Sartre would need an additional argument against views like Aristotle’s, then, before he could make the case that in a Godless universe there could be no such thing as human nature and thus no objective source of value.

Does that mean that there is no connection between theism and morality? By no means. For whatever Aristotle believed, Aquinas and his followers argue (e.g. in Aquinas’s Fifth Way) that the existence of final causes, and thus of things having the natures that natural objects do in fact have, must ultimately be traced to the divine intellect. It’s just that the inference is not as direct as Paley, Sartre, and other moderns think it is. As I have pointed out before (following an observation made by Christopher Martin) modern philosophers tend to think that it is easy to get from the existence of purposes in nature to the conclusion that God exists, but frightfully difficult to show that there really are any purposes in nature. Classical philosophers, by contrast, tend to think that it is obvious that there are purposes in nature, and that where the real philosophical work comes in is in showing that these purposes entail the existence of God. It can be done, but a middle stage is required between the premise “Final causes exist” and the conclusion “God exists.” (For an exposition of how this will go, see the section on the Fifth Way in The Last Superstition, and, especially, the longer exposition in the relevant section of Aquinas.)

So, one way in which morality does depend on the existence of God is that morality presupposes (as Sartre correctly recognizes) the existence of essences and final causes, and these in turn must ultimately be explained in terms of God (but only via arguments that are less obvious and direct than Sartre supposes). That is, it depends on God in the way everything depends on God. Is there any special dependence of morality on God, though – some way that it depends on theism in the way other aspects of the natural world do not? Yes, in two respects: First, for moral imperatives to have the force of law in the strict sense (and not merely as the course of action wisdom recommends if we seek to fulfill our nature) ultimately requires that they be understood as having in some sense been issued by an authoritative lawgiver. Since the existence of God can (according to A-T) be proved by rational arguments, so too (for that very reason) can the existence of such a lawgiver. There is no appeal here to “blind faith,” and to bring God into the picture is perfectly consistent with the imperatives of natural law being natural (as opposed to resting on special divine revelation). Still, there is an irreducible theological component to morality when it is understood in its totality, even if much of it can be known completely apart from God. (See the “Ethics” chapter of Aquinas for the complete story.)

Second, given that the existence of God can in fact be rationally established (as, again, A-T maintains), a complete system of morality is inevitably going to make reference to our distinctively religious obligations. Furthermore, there are requirements of the natural law that would, at least as a matter of psychological fact, be very difficult for us to live up to if we had no hope of a reward in the hereafter for injustices and hardships suffered here and now. Religion thus serves as a practically indispensible aid to morality. (Again, see Aquinas, and the section in TLS on natural law, for more.)

Now if there is a sense in which morality does ultimately rest on the existence of God, does that not entail that my criticism of Sartre is mere quibbling? It does not, for this reason. If the A-T view of morality is correct, then even if morality ultimately depends on God, we could nevertheless discover a great deal about our moral obligations even if we did not know that God exists. Compare: We can discover a great deal about the way the natural world works via empirical scientific research, without making any direct reference to God and His purposes. To know about the periodic table of elements, for example, does not require that we first prove God’s existence, even if God’s existence is the ultimate explanation of the periodic table (because it is the ultimate explanation of everything). Similarly, we can to a large extent understand human nature even if we bracket off the question of God’s existence. And for that reason, we can know a great deal about what fulfills our nature – and thus about the content of our moral obligations – even if we do not think of that nature as given to us by God.

Hence when Sartre finally met his Maker and was asked to account for (say) his notorious sexual immorality, or his support for communism, we can be confident that said Maker would not have been impressed had Sartre replied: “But Lord, I honestly did not know that You existed!” We can imagine God responding: “Even if I were to grant you that dubious proposition, how is it relevant? You didn’t need Me around to tell you that promiscuity and mass murder are evil. Your knowledge of human nature was enough to tell you that.” And were Sartre to reply: “But I honestly didn’t believe in human nature either!” perhaps God might say: “Oh, please. Next you’ll tell Me that you weren’t certain that the empirical world was anything other than a dream!” For it takes an enormous amount of self-deception to get oneself to doubt that there is such a thing as human nature, just as it would take an enormous amount of self-deception to get oneself seriously to believe that one’s entire life is only a dream. In particular, and in both cases, it takes the sort of self-deception only intellectuals are capable of – the sort embodied in bizarre revisionist systems of metaphysics of the kind rife in modern philosophy.

Be all that as it may, the point is that the A-T view of things does not, as the careless reader might have supposed, make things easier for the secularist, morally speaking. On the contrary, it makes things much harder on him. For, contra the implications of a Paley-style view of God’s relationship to the world, ignorance of the Author of nature does not excuse ignorance of the nature of things, and thus it does not excuse ignorance of the demands of the natural law. You can know that things have natures and final causes – and thus you can know what morality requires of you at least in general terms – whether or not you know that there is a God. And that is one reason why it is a more than academic matter to point out where Sartre goes wrong in his claims about the relationship between theism and morality.

Bonus observation: As Bill notes, Sartre took the bizarre view that to believe in an objective source of morality somehow entails looking for an “excuse” to avoid taking “responsibility” for one’s actions. Bill notes some of what is wrong with such a view. But why would Sartre think it at all plausible in the first place? Here, I speculate, we see the malign influence on modern moral theorizing of Kant – in particular, of all the Kantian stuff about heteronomy versus autonomy, and about how our moral dignity requires that we be conceived of as “self-legislators” and “ends in ourselves.” On this view, unless the demands of morality can be interpreted as in some sense self-imposed – as something we bind ourselves to, by virtue of being rational agents – then morality could only be a restriction on our freedom and dignity. In particular, human dignity requires (on this view) that morality not be seen as imposed on us from outside – by nature, say, or God. If you believe such blasphemous liberal modernist tosh, then perhaps Sartre’s characterization of the idea of an objective moral standard as an “excuse” to avoid taking “responsibility” for one’s freedom might seem halfway plausible. If not, then you might consider Sartre’s view as (possibly) yet one more decadent riff on this poisonous Kantian theme.

Here endeth the rant about Kant. But more later.

30 comments:

Anonymous said...

For it takes an enormous amount of self-deception to get oneself to doubt that there is such a thing as human nature, just as it would take an enormous amount of self-deception to get oneself seriously to believe that one’s entire life is only a dream. In particular, and in both cases, it takes the sort of self-deception only intellectuals are capable of – the sort embodied in bizarre revisionist systems of metaphysics of the kind rife in modern philosophy.

But what about the enormous self-deception required to accept the idea of the God as perfectly, good, just, and all powerful in the face of the existence of evil? And how can evil even exist if all things have their cause in God?

Mike Flynn said...

And how can evil even exist if all things have their cause in God?

Because evil is not a thing. It is a defect in a thing, a lacking. Consider that life if a good. Death, then is an evil, a defect in the good. It is possible to conceive of life without death; but it is impossible to conceive of death without life, for death is defined as a lacking of life. Even if we were to imagine a completely inanimate universe, there would be no death: a rock is not dead; it just is.

Similarly, for other goods and their lackings. Evil is not a created thing with an independent existence; the good is the created thing and the evil is parasitic upon it.

For example, one of the natural goods, as IIRC Ockham mentioned, is the inalienable right to liberty. (The prince may take your liberty, but he cannot take your right to that liberty.) Similarly, it is an evil to cut a man open with a knife.

However, we often imprison vicious or predatory criminals, accepting one evil for the sake of a greater good of peace and security in the community. Likewise, the surgeon may cut a man open with a knife - and all the physical trauma that entails - accepting one evil for the good of restoring health or hale.

These are examples of defects in goods that are tolerated by us, and are mentioned because we understand why the evil was permitted. This is not always the case. A child may not understand why he is deprived of the good of unlimited bags of candy by his mean, wicked parents. She may not understand why the pain of a spanking was necessary to prevent her playing in traffic. But the child's lack of understanding is not a refutation of the action. Someday, when they grow up and achieve the age of reason, they will understand.

Jime said...

even if morality ultimately depends on God, we could nevertheless discover a great deal about our moral obligations even if we did not know that God exists.

I think a similar point has been made by philosophers like Peter Williams and others with their distinction between moral ontology and moral epistemology.

As far I understand their arguments, the issue at stake is if moral values are ontologically objective or subjective, regardless of how we can know them.

As consequence, if moral values are objective (in the sense of moral realism), and given that they're abstractions, they provide evidence for God's existence. But this is an ontological point (with theological implications) about moral values.

Epistemologically, an atheist could agree that values are objective too. He doesn't need to believe in God to believe in objective moral values.

So the assertion "morality depends on God" is a little bit equivocal, because by itself it doesn't clarify if the "dependence" is on ontological or epistemological (i.e. we need God revelation or influence to "know" moral values) or both.

Perhaps it explains Kant's position on morality. We can know morality without any reference to God's commands; so moral epistemology doesn't depend on God.

But, ontologically, morality depends on God (Kant argued that God was a necessary postulate of practical reason).

Anonymous said...

The first step is to imagine what God would do if he were as theism imagines him to be. If he were good and just and all powerful, what would be the consequences? I propose that if He were as theists propose, then he would create a perfect world without suffering, a world that reflects His perfection. He would remove all lacking and all errors. His children would not be like the children of man that they would have to grow and mature - God would simply create adult beings who know all things since he has such power. This is the only just outcome, for why create something less, why allow a lack, if to do so is to deprive the creation of the ultimate good?

Now let us consider our world. Clearly there is suffering in it. There are many imperfections. There is evil or lack as you say. What does that imply? It implies that God is not all powerful at very least. His goodness and justice are resisted by something.

Therefore the God of theism does not exist and theism is false.

Jack said...

Ed
Would you say then that when drawn out the conclusions of your post would short-circuit Dr Craig's moral argument? its just tha when reading his works I sometimes have problems deciding whether he is a thouroughly modern metaphysian or not:)

Mike Flynn said...

Anon, you are simply wrong on the facts of history. Do not suppose that the "classical theists" failed to consider the problem of evil. A-T starts with the world as it is, not with some theoretical construct of how you think the world should have been if you had been God.

I don't know why you conclude that material existence, being mutable, is in any way perfected. This seems a weird sort of insistence; but I guess it's on the talking points list. Free will means the possibility of choosing badly, so as soon as you have one you have the other. The God of classical theology is not a Leftist, insisting that all choices be controlled by an Authority so that only the Correct Choices can ever be made.

You may have only "proven" that your understanding of classical theology is simply wrong.

Another possibility is that you have proven that there was a primordial Fall from grace. In which case, Sauwohl! But I don't think that was your intention.

Anonymous said...

Different anon here just admitting that a pic of Sartre with a lazy eye (please tell me that is not real) made me laugh.

Anonymous said...

Just another anon, would you kindly elaborate: "For A-T, the natures of things can be known, at least in principle, entirely apart from questions about their origins, and human nature would still be what it is whether or not we were created by God."

And yes, that's the picture of Sarte, he is not that easy on the eyes...

Anonymous said...

If you consider the world as it is, Mike, then it is reasonably a sample of a larger reality. If so, then evil and error is only greater in the larger set of which this world is a subset, no? So, if we argue that there is a necessary being, the first cause of the entirety of existence, then that being is both perfectly good and perfectly evil.

1. the world (w) is both good and evil.
2. the world (w) is a subset of a larger structure, W
3. a subset always reflects the properties of the larger set, but on a smaller scale
4. therefore the W contains all attributes of w, and in larger measure.

1. A necessary being (N) created the entirety of existence, W
3. N's creation, W, reflects N
2. N is the ultimate being in all of its respects.
2. W contains good and evil
3. N is good and evil in their ultimate measure

Now,

1. A being cannot contain two opposite qualities
1a a being can only exist if it is whole
1b a being that contains two opposite qualities is not whole but divided
2. N is both good and evil in ultimate measure of these qualities
3. N cannot exist as a being

The Deuce said...

Rather, that a heart (for example) is “directed toward” or “ordered to” the end of pumping blood is something true of it simply by virtue of its being a heart at all, and would remain true of it whatever its cause or even if (per impossibile) it had no cause.

There's one difference I notice between things like hearts and things like morality.

Correct me if I'm wrong, but when A-T says that the end of a heart is to pump blood, what it means is that, by virtue of its nature, a heart does pump blood, and it pumps blood specifically. You couldn't have a heart that thinks, or filters waste, or digests food, because by its nature it doesn't (and can't) do any of those things but rather pumps blood.

When it comes to doing what is morally good, however, we don't simply do it by virtue of our natures. Unlike the heart, which will pump blood by virtue of its nature, and can't do some other thing, we won't do good most of the time, and are quite capable of the opposite.

Unlike the heart, you can't infer the end of a human just by observing what he does, but at the very least you have to look further to see which things that he does result in him flourishing and being fulfilled on the one hand, or destroying himself on the other.

So it seems to me that it can't be the end of man to do good in the same sense that it's the end of a heart to pump blood.

George R. said...

Ed,

I have to disagree in the strongest possible terms with the things you have said in this post.

Once again, you are making the charge (without evidence) that Aristotle denied the inference of supernatural intelligence from the existence of purpose in nature. Where does he do this? Cite the passages. What you are saying, in effect, is that Aristotle and Aquinas used the term “purpose” in an equivocal fashion: for Aquinas it was something implying intelligence; for Aristotle it was not.

Also, you write, “Rather, that a heart (for example) is “directed toward” or “ordered to” the end of pumping blood is something true of it simply by virtue of its being a heart at all, and would remain true of it whatever its cause or even if (per impossibile) it had no cause.”

A couple of comments on this.

First of all, it seems somewhat hypocritical of you to have argued last week that the IDers ought not to assume for the sake of argument that the elements could exist without final causes, lest they assume an absurdity; and here you are assuming “per impossible” that something exists without any cause whatsoever.

Moreover, unlike the assumption of the IDers, yours involves an internal contradiction; for you’re assuming, for the sake of argument, that the heart has no cause. But the final cause is a cause. So if the heart has no cause, it has no final cause. So what you’re essentially saying is that if the heart has no final cause, it has a final cause.

I’ll have more to write on this later.

Mike Flynn said...

you’re assuming, for the sake of argument, that the heart has no cause. But the final cause is a cause. So if the heart has no cause, it has no final cause.

You may be confusing "cause" in the Aristotelian sense of aitia, which is better translated as "a because" with the modern term "cause" which means a certain kind of efficient cause.

Edward Feser said...

Oh brother, George. This again. "Please tell me where Aristotle doesn't say such-and-such." Huh?

Look, that Aristotle does not argue to God from final causes -- but rather only from motion -- is just the standard understanding of him. It isn't something I made up. Why you think otherwise I have no idea, but the burden is on you to show that all the Aristotle commentators are wrong, not on me to show they are right.

Re: things having no cause, I obviously meant efficient cause, not final cause. And I said "per impossibile" -- obviously I do not really think it is possible even in principle that things could exist without an efficient cause. The point was just that from an A-T point of view the purposes of things can be known apart from questions about their origins.

Edward Feser said...

Deuce,

The claim isn't that we just inevitably do what is good by nature. Obviously we don't. The claim is that our nature determines what it is good for us to do. If a heart had a will, then if it wanted to be a good heart, it would will to pump blood, and if it willed not to do this it would be morally bad. Same with us: Because we have wills, we can choose whether or not to do what is good for us. But it is our natures, and not us, which determine what is in fact good for us.

Edward Feser said...

Anon,

Yes, that is how Sartre really looked. Enjoy!

Earlier anon,

Yes, I think I've heard of the problem of evil. But thanks for the update. Anyway, it has no force, at least not against the classical theistic conception of God. See The Last Superstition for the reasons. Or Brian Davies' book The Reality of God and the Problem of Evil, for a thorough account. I'm a little busy now to re-type the whole discussion in a combox.

George R. said...

Ed,

You wrote in TLS, p. 116:

"It is not just unlikely, but conceptually impossible that there could be genuine final causation without a sustaining intellect. [emphasis yours]"

Are you suggesting that Aristotle did not understand this? Or are you saying that he did understand it, and just did not conclude that this “sustaining intellect” was God?

You wrote above,

Oh brother, George. This again. "Please tell me where Aristotle doesn't say such-and-such." Huh?

That would be pretty funny if I really did ask you where Aristotle didn’t write something. But since I really asked you where he did write something, it’s not quite so hilarious.

But if it is true, as I suspect, that Aristotle never explicitly denied that final causation implied a Supreme Intelligence, on what grounds do these commentators conclude that he held that opinion?

Edward Feser said...

George,

Yes, Aristotle did not understand it. Even Jove nods.

But if Aristotle did in fact present something like the Fifth Way, I'm sure you'll give us the reference.

I would have to check the relevant texts from Aristotle to give you some pertinent references, which I can't do at the moment since I'm at work. But if you're really curious about why the commentators take the position they do, why don't you just read some of them?

thomism said...

Doc F,


I agree with the substance of the post, but I think the secondary dispute about Aristotle and final causes is one that we've had before. I just can't square the idea that Aristotle didn't see some notion between final causality and the divine with De Anima 2.4:

"the most natural act is the production of another like itself, an animal producing an animal, a plant a plant, in order that, as far as its nature allows, it may partake in the eternal and divine. That is the goal towards which all things strive, that for the sake of which they do whatsoever their nature renders possible."

The goal of the living is to reproduce, and the reason why it has this goal is that the goal of every natural thing is to strive to partake in the eternal and divine.

Nor can I square this with Aristotle's account of the first mover in Metaphysics XII c. 7, which says that the unmoved mover moves as an end. It is the beauty of the unmoved mover that moves all things.

James Chastek

Edward Feser said...

Hello James,

Yes, the Unmoved Mover moves all things precisely by being their final cause. No one disputes that. What is at issue is something different: Is the fact that things have final causes at all -- including being drawn to the Unmoved Mover as as ultimate final cause -- something that is true because the Unmoved Mover Himself has ordained that they have these causes? Aristotle never says that. The (true) statement "Aristotle held that the Unmoved Mover is the final cause of things" does not entail the (false) statement "Aristotle held that the Unmoved Mover orders things to their final causes." Aquinas certainly held that God does so, but Aristotle did not.

George R. said...

Ed,

I had provided you in the post from last month two quotes from the Physics that support my thesis. The first shows that Aristotle understood that the final cause implies intelligence:

It is clear then that chance is an incidental cause in the sphere of those actions for the sake of something which involve purpose, Intelligent reflection, then, and chance are in the same sphere, for purpose implies intelligent reflection.

This one you rejected because you said that Aristotle was referring to human actions when he made that statement; but notice Aristotle did not say “intentional human actions [which imply human intellect] imply intelligence;” but rather “purpose,” which is common to both human actions and nature.

The second quote shows that Aristotle understood that intelligence was the cause of the cosmos:

Now since nothing which is incidental is prior to what is per se, it is clear that no incidental cause can be prior to a cause per se. Spontaneity and chance, therefore, are posterior to intelligence and nature. Hence, however true it may be that the heavens are due to spontaneity, it will still be true that intelligence and nature will be prior cause of this All and of many things in it besides.

Now why is both nature and intelligence required to be prior to chance? Because there is purpose in nature; and purpose implies intelligence.


Ed, this is not mere quibbling on my part. What you are alleging here is a major split between Aristotle and Aquinas. Like I said above, it could suggest that the two men were using the term "final cause" in an equivocal sense, worst-case scenario anyway.

Btw, James Chastek's examples are good too.

Mike Flynn said...

Anon
If you consider the world as it is, then it is reasonably a sample of a larger reality. If so, then evil and error is only greater in the larger set of which this world is a subset, no?


No. No more than the evil of a balky fuel injector, which we find in the subset of automobiles, becomes greater in the superset that includes music, justice, and the 20-yard dash.

So, if we argue that there is a necessary being, the first cause of the entirety of existence, then that being is both perfectly good and perfectly evil.

No. If the being-that-is-existence-itself is the root cause of all goods, as can be shown, then by definition, it cannot contain evils, inasmuch as evils are a defect or lack in a good and a perfection is a fulfillment of it. A being which, for example, possesses perfect health cannot contain illness.

Anonymous said...

Dr. Feser,

I'm a philosophy major at a well-known East coast university, and I've been lurking around your blog for the past few months. This latest post interested me for a couple of reasons. One, it fleshes out a lot of what I've recently been kicking around in my head. Two (slightly off topic), I'm taking a class entitled "Morality and Rules," and the material discussed is, without a doubt, the most dry, esoteric babble I've ever encountered (save Kant's Critique of Pure Reason). All we've been doing is looking at various, deeply convoluted models of so-called Act Consequentialism, Rule Consequentialism, Intuitionism, etc., and comparing them to each other in even more convoluted, esoteric ways. There is no talk of meta-ethics whatsoever (ex. Natural Law, Divine Command Theory). Nietzsche's description of Kant as a "catastrophic spider" would fit my liberal professor equally well.

I wonder, what are your thoughts on so-called "analytic moral philosophy" (or what passes for it) today? Do you think this is a legitimate field of inquiry? To my mind, any moral philosophy that's wholly disconnected from an overarching metaphysical framework essentially amounts to nothing more than shuffling tables and chairs on the main deck of the Titanic: utterly pointless. A painful, inbred, self-referential exercise in thinking about thinking.

I confronted my professor about this and he insisted that morality can be known via "pure reason" and that I should refrain from large metaphysical commitments that prematurely brush ideas off the table. I have to ask myself then, Is there a correct way to "know" morality-- i.e. knowing it through some sort of "pure reason" vs knowing morality as deduced from Natural Law (or DCT)?

I only ask because (1)I don't want to give my atheistic liberal professors a bone they don't deserve (how can a metaphysical naturalist EVER establish morality?), and (2) I'm extremely reluctant to discuss morality philosophically in a manner totally devoid of any metaphysical grounding. Moral philosophy shouldn't exist in a vacuum.

On a similar note, let me just thank you for writing Philosophy of Mind. It has assisted me enormously in a related class, in which the lecturer only discusses positions with a distinctly materialist bias. Descartes and his version of dualism were glossed over in a week, and from there, it's been basically a serving of Skinner, Fodor, Dennett, Putnam, and Searle. There is no talk whatsoever of arguments that go fully against naturalism: no conceivability arguments, no arguments from reason, and certainly no talk of Thomistic dualism. Frankly, I am appalled that my fellow students, who are admittedly bright, have no idea about the other options that are available to them. We desperately need more influential Christian philosophers in academia.

-Manoj

9cjoen8834kjalju said...
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Edward Feser said...

Hello George,

Yes, I'm aware that you've cited those passages before, just as you are aware that I have already explained why I think they do not show what you think they do. For those readers who haven't seen our earlier exchange vis-a-vis the passages in question, they can find it in the combox to my post on "Teleology revisited."

I've also already explained why the point James makes is perfectly consistent with what I've said. Anyway, as you've no doubt seen by now, I've just put up a further post on this issue.

Edward Feser said...

Hello Anonymous,

Yes, the idea that you can "do" moral philosophy without getting much into metaphysics is too stupid for words. There's always some implicit metaphysics lurking behind the scenes, and somehow it always turns out to be something compatible with liberal moral conclusions but incompatible with (say) traditional natural law theory. What are the odds?

But people get upset when I say such arrogant things, so pretend I didn't.

Thank you for the kind words!

Anonymous said...

No. If the being-that-is-existence-itself is the root cause of all goods, as can be shown, then by definition, it cannot contain evils, inasmuch as evils are a defect or lack in a good and a perfection is a fulfillment of it. A being which, for example, possesses perfect health cannot contain illness.

But you've just argued against classical theism. Yes, if you have a perfectly healthy being it cannot contain sickness. So how is it then that the world it creates contains an instance of sickness? Where does this instance of sickness come from if there is no sickness in the being? Remember that the world is the product of the being that knows no sickness. If the being does not know sickness, where does the concept come from? It seems to appear magically for no reason, a sure sign of a logical inconsistency. My point was that the being that created a world in which there is an instance of sickness must be both healthy and sick or know both. But if so then it cannot exist as a being because a being must be whole or at the very least be able to integrate into a singularity and you cannot integrate into whole sickness and health into singularity of being. The concepts are mutually exclusive.

9i8u7y6t6t5r4e3w said...
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Frederic Kolman said...

Edward--This is not a godless universe, though people are acting as if it were. The Bible does exist. God commanded us to have faith. We were exhorted to live right. Jesus preached a gospel of love. It's clear from your blog that Sartre did not believe. He is starting thus with a whole set of atheistic premises. We can infer and deduce the human nature that we all possess. Life has gone on for a long time. The behavioral sciences have been around for a long time. Sartre's problem is that he is explaining faith away. Worse yet, he is wishing human nature away. I just don't like those assumptions. Of course, I believe theism helps morality as a basis for good behavior. It's not essential, however. A secular version of the ten commandments is just as acceptable. Objective standards are possible and do exist. The anguish we right-thinking people feel has to do with the fact that the implementation of ethical standards has met with insurmountable obstacles. They're not there, simply. We all feel chaos. Much is actual, much is poossible.

Anonymous said...

God may or may not be dead, but how do you you explain all of the slaughters that occurred in Christian Europe prior to the 20th Century.
All of which were justified by appeals to God by both sides in ALL of the wars and battles.
All of which were also supported by the ecclesiastical establishments on both sides.

How do you explain all of the wars and slaughters that raged throughout Europe during and after the Reformation and the Counter-Reformation. All of which were waged by true believers, and again enthusiastically supported by the various religious authorities.

And how do you explain the active participation in, and blessing of, the African slave trade, and all of the unspeakable suffering and cruelty that that involved.

P.B. Smith said...

Mr. Feser
thank you for your posts and your books. I am not as knowledgeable as most of your readers and I know this is an old post but I was hoping you could help me understand something a little bit better. out of the comments I could choke down I did not see this question addressed and I apologize in advance if it was and I am wasting your time.

When sartre claims that existence precedes essence I thought he was claiming that we appear on the scene absent of any preconceived order, form or essence (nature) and because of this we define ourselves and "create" our own nature (essence). I thought that in order for there to be ends, (like an acorns end as an oak tree), there had to be forethought. If someone like sartre denied forethought (God) and resigned humanity to some arbitrary individual freedom to create some subjective end how could he discover anything let alone moral obligations. what am I missing or what is sartre taking for granted?