Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Oderberg on natural law

Over at his website, David Oderberg has posted his important recent paper “The Metaphysical Foundations of Natural Law.”  (Bonus: If you scroll to the bottom of the main website, you’ll find video of Oderberg’s presentation of an earlier version of this paper at Catholic University of America back in 2005, followed by a Q&A session.)

33 comments:

Maolsheachlann said...

"Now order is a kind of being additional, or better superadded, to things that would otherwise be in a state of chaos".

I don't understand why that is so. Why does order have to be explained anyway? I mean, intuitively, I feel that it has to be, but I don't see why it does in purely philosophical terms.

machinephilosophy said...

Thanks for bringing this up. My kind of question for sure. And I've asked a similar question about why there is a need to explain the origin of abstract objects. I would say off the top of my head that order is a necessary assumption of all thought, since thought is itself an order, uniting as it does a subject with a predicate according to a system of fixed relations.

But of course that's still not an explanation of why it has to be explained. The question is a good one, and an explanation is necessary to understand order itself and it's place among other equally primitive notions.

If the question itself is requesting an explanation in the form of an argument or a set of reasons (even atomic ones) for the necessity of an explanation of order, then again I think explanation is itself yet another necessary component of all possible thought, as the question itself thereby illustrates, but I'm with you in seeking a better understanding of the necessity of explanation as well as order in general.

Maybe Dr. Feser or someone else here will know of some resources that delve into these kinds of meta-theoretic issues.

This reminds me of a couple of remarks by Nietzsche to the effect that everything that goes without saying must be thoroughly questioned and taken to court.

Dirichlet said...

Now that's one long, dense paper.

But it looks good, really good.

Anonymous said...

I don't understand why that is so. Why does order have to be explained anyway? I mean, intuitively, I feel that it has to be, but I don't see why it does in purely philosophical terms.

What's wrong with Oderberg's explanation of that in terms of the PSR? It seems to me he's saying "We could have had chaos. But we have order. So why order rather than chaos?" If someone admits that order doesn't exist by necessity, they've set the grounds for an explanation.

If you're asking "Why can't order be a brute fact?", then what's doing the work is the rejection of the PSR, not some detail about order itself.

Maolsheachlann said...

Anonymous, I take your point. I see I am going to have to read up on the principle of sufficient reason and understand why it applies to the fundamental structure of reality. Thank you.

Tony said...

I thought that he makes it clear: the fact that order is better than chaos is what gives us a reason to insist on an explanation for it. If order were just a different way of being than chaotic, then it would not require an explanation in this way.

machinephilosophy said...

I am grateful for Germain Grisez's superb explanation of the meaning and implications of self-referential inconsistency in his book Beyond the New Theism, and his reference in that work to Joseph Boyle's 1969 doctoral dissertation, "Self-Referential Analysis: The Current Discusssion", which I am now studying very closely.

However, their (along with John Finnis) quoted statement in Dr. Oderberg's paper, namely: "the moral ought cannot be derived from the is of theoretical truth" seems itself to contain a self-referential inconsistency.

Now I have not read Dr. Oderberg's paper any farther than that statement, so here's my criticism prior to reading more:

The key issue lies in the word "cannot". This seems to imply an ought. And it's not just an intellectual ought, because the statement, being a universal, applies to all moral oughts. The question of course that comes to mind is: Ought I believe that that statement is a fact about moral obligation, specifically that moral obligation "cannot" be derived from theoretic facts?

Consequently, there is an assumed morality already operating in that supposed theoretic fact itself, not only about the fact-relational status of morals, but also a morality of all thought per se.

Cannot? But they just did, by means of that prohibition itself.

Jonah Bennett said...

How fortuitous! This is almost exactly what I'm writing my current term paper on--what a resource!

Geoffrey said...

I am not sure what Dr. Oderberg is after when he describes order as "a kind of being additional, or better superadded, to things that would otherwise be in a state of chaos." I am under the impression that 'things' are intelligible because they are substances. Why should we expect substances--organic or inorganic--to be chaotic?

Michele Arpaia said...

Great paper, great contents! I read it twice on my flight to Chicago (from Sydney) and would do it again. Thanks for that Dr. Feser.
As an aside, I started to watch the video the other night and, frankly, I found it so boring that I stopped after 10min. Nothing to do with Dr. David surely (excellent philosopher and good speaker), but it seems to me that metaphisics needs to be taught in a more mundane way...I apologize if this sounds heretical.
Can you imagine St. Thomas giving a lecture, reading a script and try to throw in some comments just to break its monotony?

Domini Canes said...

@Michele:

Actually, Oderberg (at least in that paper) seemed to me pretty accessible and non-jargon laden. At least he didn't try to make himself look super-duper sophisticated by peppering his writing with numbered premises, variables, and awkward neologisms.

Anonymous said...

Dr. Feser, it would be great to read your promised post on the "argument from eternal truth" as developed by Augustine and Leibniz.

David said...

I don't think machinephilosophy's refutation of Oderberg is successful.The "cannot" in Oderberg's statement is a cannot of logic: his claim is that no moral ought can be deduced from a non-moral theoretical proposition. This is a claim about moral oughts but it is not itself a moral claim. Oderberg is not saying that you are morally wrong to try to derive an ought from an is. He is claiming that any such derivation is logically infirm.

machinephilosophy said...

David, I think you're right, given the way I worded that. What I was trying to say was that there's an implicit moral claim that I "ought" to believe that no-ought-from-is claim.

In the same way---and more basically---"ought" I be logical? If the answer is yes, then the next question is: What is it that obligates me? If the answer involves an argument, then that's a fallacy, since being logical is precisely what is in question. But the question remains as to what exactly it is that obligates, regardless of the previous point.

Leo Carton Mollica said...

@David:

Oderberg is not saying that you are morally wrong to try to derive an ought from an is. He is claiming that any such derivation is logically infirm.

What are you talking about??

Tony said...

machine, I don't think that "ought I be logical" is an implicit prior question that needs to be answered first in order to discuss the other moral foundations. Trying to start the discussion there is all bass-ackwards and goofy. Like trying to teach physics to grade schoolers by starting with general relativity and quarks. The order in which we come to knowledge is not the same order as the order of the principles of being. We come to knowledge of God after (and on account of) coming to knowledge of other being, even though other being comes to be on account of God.

machinephilosophy said...

The question is why it's being stated to other people as something presumably having some kind of agreed-on intellectual propriety, if there's no implicit obligation to believe it, given uncontroversial commonly-accepted premises and rules, and a valid argument.

Such propriety, when analyzed, turns out to be a morality of mind. If the mind is not obligated, then one can simply, as a mere matter of mind (or at mind level), dismiss all moral theorizing and consequently dispense with first-order morality as anything more than personal preference, wish, groundless legalism, will to power, meaningless talk, and so on.

machinephilosophy said...

"The order in which we come to knowledge is not the same order as the order of the principles of being."

I agree that there is a difference between existential order and logical order (assuming that's what is meant by "the order of the principles of being". But I don't believe anyone has an obligation to be rational. Unless one buys into rationality as some kind of package deal, which includes valuing it as well as agreeing to at least mentally act according to its rules, then all one has is a set of conditional implications to go by, based on some kind of hierarchy of values. Each act is a preference of one option to the exclusion of all other possible ones (for that moment, sense, and so on), and therefore the expression of a value.

Now I have expectations given a core agreement about reason, in discussing issues or remodeling a building, but obligation I have a problem with if that means anything beyond a set of conditionals and values.

machinephilosophy said...

"Oderberg is not saying that you are morally wrong to try to derive an ought from an is. He is claiming that any such derivation is logically infirm."

I see what this refers to, but is there anything morally wrong with being logically infirm?

If not, then we could be logically infirm about morals per se (which includes moral theorizing) to the point of dismissing their very possibility.

Tony said...

But I don't believe anyone has an obligation to be rational.

You mean a _moral_ obligation, right? In other words, a person is free to be rational or not, morally speaking. If he decides to be irrational, then certain consequences will follow, such as everyone will laugh at him instead of taking him seriously. But if he is fine with that (or even if not), he may still be irrational. Is that what you are suggesting?

This might be so, but a person is not free to determine the natural consequences of being irrational. The natural consequence of being an eagle in the wild and refusing to fly is death. The natural consequences of being irrational may also be equally definitive: death, or possibly just being totally frustrated about how poor your bed is because it has rocks and thorns, and how your food tastes because some of it is worms, some is raw and other parts burned, or about how much your skin hurts because when you put your hand in flame you then click the remote control 400 times instead of removing the hand from the flame. In other words, a person does not have the power to decide BOTH to be irrational and to be happily fulfilled in human capabilities. The science of ethics asks "what makes men happy." If you take trying to be happy off the table, then there is no point in even pursuing ethics. But if you take trying to be happy off the table, then why even ask about the rational or irrational?

It is possible that men have an obligation to ask and consider morality that is imposed as an "ought", not merely from their own minds, but from outside themselves. If, for example, it is an obligation on rational creatures to rationally worship the creator, being irrational is contrary to your obligations. No choice to reject "buying into rationality" would dispense that from obligation.

machinephilosophy said...

I don't believe there is such a thing as obligation except in the contractual sense of an already-existing agreement between parties. But I believe that---in-effect---a set of conditionals amounts to the same thing in terms of the possible consequences. If God exists and if God demands X on pain of some kind of ultimate negative consequence, then I face the same motivations and possibilities without any need for the notions of obligation, morality, ethics, duty, and so on.

Tony said...

I don't believe there is such a thing as obligation except in the contractual sense of an already-existing agreement between parties.

Do you believe that a person has an obligation to fulfill their contracts? Why? Whence arises the obligation to follow through?

Or, more generally, do you believe a person has an obligation to DO the thing that they said that they will do? Is that a subset of a larger sphere of obligation, to speak the truth? If a person has an obligation to mean what he tells others, whence arises that obligation? He cannot acquire an obligation to "tell the truth" by contract if the contract he forms to "tell the truth" is, itself, a lie. You have created a circular formula for obligation.

machinephilosophy said...

Any obligation is simply something agreed to in the contract. There are no other kinds of obligations, only expectations on the part of the contractors.

machinephilosophy said...

There is simply no obligation beyond a contract with penalties, a requirement with consequences if they are not met. As I said before, it's just a set of conditionals.

Tony said...

There is simply no obligation beyond a contract with penalties, a requirement with consequences if they are not met. As I said before, it's just a set of conditionals.

So I set up a contract with you: I will fix your busted water heater, you will pay me $200. If you don't fix, I don't pay. I make the water heater look like it's fixed for real, but what I do is a band-aid "fix" that does nothing to repair the underlying problem. You pay me $200. It gives hot water for 6 days, then gives out again.

You say, give me back the $200, or fix the heater properly. I say, well, golly, gee whiz, your water heater broke AGAIN? Sure, I'll fix it again if you pay me $200 again.

Are you seriously proposing that I have no obligation whatsoever to actually fulfill the repair I promised the first time, other than being subject to the explicit penalties actually stated in the original contract? What if, after I agree to the contract, I figure out a way of pre-empting the penalties from being applied, and still don't fulfill the terms. Is the meaning of "morally upright" limited to "willing fulfill the contract terms or be willing to pay the explicit penalties, except when you can get out of the penalties by wit and cunning maneuvers?"

machinephilosophy said...

I believe the obligation extends to being circumspect, but it still seems to be merely dependent on the contract, even if it extends to the spirit and not just the letter of such agreement, similar to Rand's addition of *rational* to the notion of self-interest.

In the case of atheists, the same thing applies to living in God's world. The atheist takes on rule-based living but loses out in terms of ultimate consequences by truncating inference relations arbitrarily to get out of believing in God.

I don't think there is any diminishing of responsibility in preferring to speak of consequences and conditionality, but I have a problem with the connotations of terms such as morality, faith, duty, etc. People do things for reasons, and I try to stick with that instead of needlessly going into a set of terms that imply something outside of what I can already easily work with and which in the final analysis does the exact same thing concerning the existence of God and all things beyond that.

machinephilosophy said...

A similar point can be made about the notion of obligation per se. I look up the term and see only the notion of requirement in relation to motives, agreements, and penalties. In the case of whether or not to believe in God, I am motivated to believe in God because of an extension of my basic agreement about the ultimacy and adequacy of reason and because I want to avoid the negative consequences or penalties of not believing. In the final analysis I've already assumed a God-level arbitration scheme in reason itself, but up until the time I believed had simply not connected the dots but suppressed either the ultimate implications or any consideration thereof.

Tony said...

I believe the obligation extends to being circumspect, but it still seems to be merely dependent on the contract, even if it extends to the spirit and not just the letter of such agreement,

I don't begin to see that. For one thing, there is no way in the world to make explicit all the things we typically assume goes on in the background of contracting: law, order, and an obligation to speak truthfully, for example. For implicit conditions, all a person has to say is "you assumed that it was present, I did not, so I fulfilled my agreement" in order to get out of anything implicit. Further, it is impossible for a man to realistically state imposable penalties on non-performance for all agreements, and it would make life impossible to try anyway. What about the marriage contract: I promise to love my wife. There is no internal "penalty" if I don't, but the obligation still exists.

Secondly, there is no way of rooting the "spirit" of the contract in anything real, unless there is an obligation that exists outside of the express terms of the contract. Without a prior obligation, the unexpressed spirit of the contract is just a failure to express the contract you actually intend, the "expectations" you really expect.

In the case of whether or not to believe in God, I am motivated to believe in God because of an extension of my basic agreement about the ultimacy and adequacy of reason and because I want to avoid the negative consequences or penalties of not believing.

Do you mean that you have a contract with God to believe in Him? That's a puzzler? How do you contract with someone whom you do not yet believe exists? Or is your contract "with reason". I just can't make it add up. What if God really says "I will reward only belief that supercedes contractual agreement"? And in any case, what penalties did you stick in the contract to prevent God's non-performance, and how do you expect to enforce them? Seems a lot like Pascal's wager, but sparer.

I cannot agree that "morality" can be dispensed with merely by speaking in terms of motives, agreements and penalties. A child of 7 has an obligation to obey his parents even if he is willing to accept a given stated penalty for non-obedience. Nor can one say that I am free to murder whomever I have a sufficient motive to murder if I accept the consequences - especially because an intelligent murderer can often avoid consequences (in this life). That's ridiculous. Throwing "rational" into the motive wouldn't change the picture, because without there being any kind of pre-existing standard, there is no basis for saying _these_ motives are unreasonable and _those_ are reasonable. Further, haven't you just said that there is no obligation to be rational?

Motive is important to morality, but is not sufficient to express the content of "obligation," and agreement pre-supposes prior obligation.

machinephilosophy said...

I don't believe I said motive was the only factor.

Assumption would have been a better word for the context in which the atheist contemplates the possible existence of God.

Again, if you delve into the meaning of obligation, it just does not rise any farther than requirement, agreement, penalties, expectation, assumption, motivated participation, and related terms. Anything beyond that seems to be an unnecessary factor, a blik of sorts, much like the common notion of faith entailing some kind of intellectually insulated blik factor, which is unnecessary and counterproductive. One either believes in God or one does not, and as soon as faith is introduced, the discussion might as well be over, since the beyond-reason factor implies this. If faith really is beyond reason, it's a wonder believers who use the term don't simply *not* reason about it instead of going on and on and on with rational predications about it as if to have one's cake and eat it too.

Tony said...

Again, if you delve into the meaning of obligation, it just does not rise any farther than requirement, agreement, penalties, expectation, assumption, motivated participation, and related terms.

Well, dang, how did you manage to leave off "requirement" in your earlier comments? If I had a knowed that "requirement" was part of your picture, I would have backed off. Because, of course, requirement is pretty much a re-phrasing of the root concept of obligation: you are required to do that which you have an obligation to do.

And your idea of "agreement" seems to be a lot larger than most people's: you either agree to obey the murder law that was written without your consent, or you accept the consequences of not obeying that law even when the consequences were determined without your input: your "agreement" is not whether you shall be subject to the law, but which of the 2 options (determined independently of your suggestions) you will be constrained by. That's a very large notion of agreement.

machinephilosophy said...

In other words, although I'm not *against* the use of moral terms such as ought or obligation, I think it's premature when discussing the question of God's existence or issues that are logically preliminary to belief in God, in the same way that using the term faith as most people construe the term is, as stated on pages 7-8 of The Last Superstition, buying into secularist propaganda, and I would say needlessly so.

I do acknowledge that there is some notion of ought or obligation or a kind of intellectual morality in merely theorizing, but this seems to be within an already-accepted valuation of reason as the ultimate arbiter of everything including value itself, and even that prior valuation is loaded with unresolved problems that may indicate that value is as basic as rationality and that the two are somehow equally basic.

machinephilosophy said...

In the case of God's requirements, that does not need an agreement because of God's ultimacy (as well as the ground of our very existence), but it's still adjudicated by me in terms of some kind of rational circumspect self-interest determination (including my own interest in seeing to the welfare of various others---Rand's rationality qualification is of course woefully inadequate, although correct against her stereotyping detractors in the Virtue book).

I think I emphasized agreement too much, when assumption would have done just fine. But yes, I either conform to the law or else risk the consequences, whether accepting them or not, assuming by acceptance you mean simply resigning myself to them.

In circles of people who believe in morality based on belief in God, I don't have any problem with the vocabulary and there is no reason to make an issue of it (unless they are interested in the subject philosophically), but when it comes to atheists, I avoid using such terms and question their use if the atheist brings them up.

I've already raised the question about intellectual morality in the process of theorizing, but I don't think even that is relevant to an atheist in discussing arguments for the existence of God. I don't believe I have to know that God is good to know that God exists, even though there is this implicit notion of universal goodness already operating in evaluating the issue. That goodness, like reason, is another aspect of God's being, but strategically unnecessary unless the atheist happens to bring it up in the course of the discussion.

In fact, even if I did not believe in such goodness, I would still believe in God, and probably dismiss the notion applied to my reasoning to God as some kind of necessary heuristic or pragmatic primitive. In the end I would have to rethink that reduction, but in logical order it seems to be the cart before the horse. Necessary assumptions > criteria > personhood > God > goodness > salvation principle is a rough summary of the logical sequence as I see it.

machinephilosophy said...

"It is possible that men have an obligation to ask and consider morality that is imposed as an "ought", not merely from their own minds, but from outside themselves."

There does seem to be a kind of good already built into the preferential process of thinking and knowing.