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Ch. 3 - "The Divine Guarantee of Perfect Justice" 
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Post Ch. 3 - "The Divine Guarantee of Perfect Justice"
Value & Virtue in a Godless Universe

Ch. 3 - "The Divine Guarantee of Perfect Justice"


Discuss Ch. 3 in this thread please. ::204

Edited by: Chris OConnor  at: 12/19/05 9:29 am



Mon Dec 19, 2005 9:27 am
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Post Re: Ch. 3 - "The Divine Guarantee of Perfect Justice&qu
Major points
1. I'm not terribly sure what this chapter is intended to prove. Christianity does not assert a "guarantee of perfect justice." In fact, the orthodox doctrine of redemption by grace stands in direct contrast to the notion of justice. A universe in strict conformity with the principles of perfect justice would, according to Christian doctrine, find us all condemned, and it is only by the suspension of the law by God's grace that any humans are allowed to escape their just fate. Judaism is, so far as I can tell, no more insistent on the perfect justice of the universe than Christianity. The Book of Job is fairly insistent on its rejection of the claim that the righteous are rewarded and the wicked punished, and Job's insistence that God ought to render justice to him is met with the answer that God is under no such obligation. There may be an argument to support the idea that Islam and Buddhism present guarantees for the perfect justice of the universe. Even that is questionable. In as much as W has expressed an intention to focus on Christianity, it's also a little beside the point. He seems to be arguing against his own assumptions about theistic morality, and those assumptions seem out of keeping with the beliefs of actual theists.

2. Though there is an implied circularity in W's arguments in earlier chapters, it's here that he begins to rely most heavily on tautology and a priori claims. On page 72: "Acquiring ethically virtuous character and engaging in ethically virtuous action is a way to live one of the best kinds of lives available to humans; this is why we should be moral." But W has not demonstrated that it actually is one of the best kinds of human lives, nor why that should be so.

3. Hume's "non-theistic attack" provides no basis for the creation of ethical norms, nor for the critique of received ethical norms. All it claims is, that the received moral norms -- received from theistic moral systems, in particular -- are practical modes of self-interest. This gives us no basis for determining whether or not the moral systems that we have received are actually moral. It may be that any moral system devised along naturalistic lines to replace the old theologically inclined moral system may conflict with self-interest where the theological morality did not. See my first major note for Chapter Four for an extension of this topic.

4. Aristotle's presumed response to the "sensible knave" objection is predicated on the notion of intrinsic good, which may have a basis in Aristotle's ethics, but is as of yet direly unsubstantiated in W's naturalistic ethics. Humes' response functions by dealing only with systematic knavery; inconsistent knavery might still be more likely to produce the "best life," especially in material terms. Frankly, I'm hard-pressed to deny that a great number of people in our society have prospered by acting immorally when it served their purposes, and it doesn't strike me as at all likely that they'll get their just desserts in this lifetime. The "matching law" response changes the terms of the question by dealing rather with an "unsensible knave," that is, someone who shoots for "sensible knave" but fails; nor does the matching law argument really recommend free moral choice but rather predispositions. The "Hume/Frank response" demands of sensible knavery a perfection that we rarely demand of moral behavior. On the whole, I think W has underestimated the strength of the "sensible knave" objection, and unless he can substantiate a real, external moral obligation, I think we have to entertain the possibility that a truely sensible knave has a better chance than most at living the best kind of human life.

5. The intrinsic good argument finally comes into direct contradiction on page 96, where W writes, "sufficiently good or bad consequences can, in principle, render any type of action morally right or wrong." This flies in the face of a number of claims W has made to this point, both about the value of action and the possibility of intrinsic good.

Minor points
Pages 71-72: The first "nontheistic attack on the second premise of the moral challenge" begins by taking Aristotle far out of context. W writes, "A person who generously gives a needy friend some money loses money but 'gains' (that is, engages in) generous action -- and the generous action is the greater good." But in the passage W quoted earlier, Aristotle doesn't mention "generous action" as the good gained by charity -- his word is "nobility," which must be read in the larger context of Greek religious moral schemes. W himself does not substantiate why having engaged in the action should be a greater good than the tangible benefits gained by either the recipient or the giver.

W is also writing as though the gain were normative -- that is, as though it were, in itself, productive of more good. He seems to be treating good as though it were something that could be quantitatively increased; ie. that it's possible to produce more good in the same way that you would produce more cars or more sweat. To me, the gain seems to be largely psychological rather than normative. For the ancient Greeks, the gain was probably normative, with "nobility" reflecting the tangible goods that come of being well-regarded by those around you, on the secular level, and the goods that accrue to the souls of the dead by being honored by the living.

My point about W's misreading of Aristotle may be illustrated by W's comments on p. 72: "...Aristotle may hold a holistic view, according to which a life with one or two large spikes of virtuous activity is a better life than one with a relatively low, stable, and long-lasting level of virtuous activity -- even if the total amount of virtuous activity in the second life is greater than the amount in the first life." Why would Aristotle favor the more ostentatious display of virtue over the greater real net gain of good, unless the virtue were in being seen doing good rather than in actually doing the good. The Aristotelian virtue of "nobility" thus seems to be something conferred by public opinion rather than something intrinsic.

It's in this context that Aristotle's reconciliation of martyrdom with self-interest makes the most sense -- in W's scheme of intrinsic good, it makes little sense at all.

passim: In general, W makes a practice of cribbing elements from other philosophers with little or no concern for how those elements are deprived by their removal from context.

He's also cobbled together a number of individualistic impressions of Christian doctrine and presented them as though they were representative of the whole of the religion. C.S. Lewis may be interesting, but not all of his explanations are to be taken as orthodox. Nor is Milton a reliable guide to Christian morality and metaphysics.

And while we're at it, I may as well add that I think a great many of W's supposed insights into the literary and philosophical texts he cites demonstrate a rather distorted appraisal of their actual meaning or worth. I've already mentioned what I take to be misreadings of Milton and Aristotle. He also distorts Lewis, and I can only assume that he's guilty of the same with other writers he's quoted. (Calling "The Problem of Pain" an outstanding book is probably a distortion in itself.)

p. 79: "To the question 'why be moral?' a perfectly acceptable answer is 'because it is moral.' This might seem odd until one notices that to the question 'why do what is in one's interest?' a perfectly acceptable answer is 'because it is in one's interest.'" Here, W is tending towards sophistry. We know that our own interests exist, and we know their source. Not so with a naturalistic account of morality. Nevermind the fact that W's argument here provides no basis for choosing between morality and self-interest.




Tue Dec 27, 2005 4:11 pm
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Post Re: Ch. 3 - "The Divine Guarantee of Perfect Justice&am
great points mad, i can not find anything i really disagree with in your analysis, most especially point five:

Quote:
5. The intrinsic good argument finally comes into direct contradiction on page 96, where W writes, "sufficiently good or bad consequences can, in principle, render any type of action morally right or wrong." This flies in the face of a number of claims W has made to this point, both about the value of action and the possibility of intrinsic good.

i also noted that the author specifically implies certain "absolute evil" acts such as even slavery (the example used) can be not only justifiable, but would be the only morally correct action available in certain situations. this is a direct contradiction to the intrinsic suggestions made earlier in the text. also, i noted that the author contradicted intrinsic evil by example but not intrinsic good. i certainly hope that is not a precursor of what is to come...

i would also like to point out that the author largely omits a psychological point of view from his discussion on ethics. once in the chapter he quotes a psychologist of some sort, but for the large part has completely omitted any discussion on social psychology and most specifically altruism. granted this is a philosophy text and not a psychology text, but i think the text could have benefitted from a brief study of altruism and whether or not altruism is genuine or "selfish." i actually wrote a paper in college as a psych major regarding the distinction::03 ::80 . in reference to doing acts of kindness for others selflessly or with loss of personal gain, it can not be stressed enough the unconscious ramifications of NOT doing good for others (i.e. guilt, lack of self worth, shame, etc.). when considering selfless acts in a moralistic sense, i think it is imporant and was not adequtely addressed that it is not often the "what" but the "why" something is done that understates it's moral value and virtue.

Quote:
passim: In general, W makes a practice of cribbing elements from other philosophers with little or no concern for how those elements are deprived by their removal from context.

mad, i couldn't have said it better than myself. it is as if the author made up a list of points and then found carefully selected soundbites to verify his arguements regardless of their original context. the author thus far has relied heavily on select works of others instead of logically reasoning out his points of view. that said, his depth of research and notation is impressive and commendable.

Edited by: riverc0il at: 1/1/06 11:58 am



Sun Jan 01, 2006 11:54 am
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Post Re: Ch. 3 - "The Divine Guarantee of Perfect Justice&am
Chapter 3 was weaker than the previous chapters.

The first half of the chapter explored an important question: why be Moral? There are 3 possible answers, whether or not you believe in God --

1) Being moral is in your personal best interest.
2) Being moral make sense, even if it isn't in your best interest.
3) There's no reason to be moral.

E.W. claims that Christian theology implies 1), though as MadArchitect says that's not clear. E.W. mainly explored the possibilities in a naturalistic universe.

For atheists, I don't buy 1), even though people are often happier when they obey their ethical principles. When someone does something reprehensible, such as a murder or rape, my moral condemnation doesn't arise because their action went against their best interest.

Option 2) strikes me as plausible at an intuitive level. However, E.W.'s justifications for 2) were circular arguments: you should be good because that's what good people do.

The second of the chapter rebutted arguments from people like Kant and Gordon Graham. However, since I didn't understand E.W.'s presentation of Kant's and Graham's ideas, the rebuttal was worthless to me.

Edited by: JulianTheApostate at: 1/8/06 3:47 pm



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Post Re: Ch. 3 - "The Divine Guarantee of Perfect Justice&am
JulianTheApostate: 1) Being moral is in your personal best interest.

In regards to the first possibility, I'd say that it's important to ask two questions. The first is, does it seem like being moral is in your personal best interest because you've failed to consider certain moral claims? The second is, Does it seem like being moral is in your personal best interest because we've geared our own specific morality to coincide with our personal interest.

The first is the question of whether or not we're ignoring parts of morality that conflict with the self-serving hypothesis. The second is the question of whether or not we're being deluded by our own cultural context.

Either way, nice summation of that part of the book, Julian.




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Post Re: Ch. 3 - "The Divine Guarantee of Perfect Justice&am
I agree with Wielenberg completely that doing what is right because it is right is the best moral reason. To assert, however, that people are actually going to do so is a good theistic argument. It appears to me that "lets just do what's right" is not an evolutionary stable strategy, while "sensible knave" is. Once again we have a philosopher ignoring science and producing absurdity.

To simplify my argument, consider a world where everyone is honest. When the random dishonest person pops up in such a world, he or she is going to do extraordinarily well. "Everyone honest" is not stable because it creates selection pressure for dishonesty. An argument could be made, then, that only the power of a deity could sustain such a world; because nature could not.

Wielenberg introduces a supporting argument based on human nature. Supposedly, the clever knave is predestined by human nature to fail. But I must ask again, how? Why? Does Wielenberg think that human nature is random? If God didn't make it that way, how did it come about?

Fortunately for the naturalist position most people, most of the time, are in fact clever knaves. Your sweet, caring next door neighbor does not report income from her yard sale on her income tax, and everyone you know drives exactly as much over the speed limit as he thinks he can get away with. And self-interest we can deal with.


If you make yourself really small, you can externalize virtually everything. Daniel Dennett, 1984




Wed Jan 11, 2006 9:38 pm
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Post Re: Ch. 3 - "The Divine Guarantee of Perfect Justice&am
pp 93-94
Quote:
In light of the previous discussion we can make a further criticism of the argument. The further criticism is that the presence of God in renders the type of admirable sacrifice discussed earlier impossible.
Have I completely misunderstood, or has our atheist author made a claim about the nature of God? It appears to me that to make this argument one must accept the theistic assertion that Existence of god = necessity of perfect justice.


If you make yourself really small, you can externalize virtually everything. Daniel Dennett, 1984




Wed Jan 11, 2006 9:49 pm
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Post Re: Ch. 3 - "The Divine Guarantee of Perfect Justice&am
E.W. often explores the consequences if God exists, especially when countering the arguments of religious believers. It's irritating that E.W.'s reasoning sometimes make assumptions about the nature of God.

He often presumes that the only possibilities are a Christian universe and a naturalistic universe, ignoring other conceivable worldviews.




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Post Re: Ch. 3 - "The Divine Guarantee of Perfect Justice&am
Quote:
He often presumes that the only possibilities are a Christian universe and a naturalistic universe, ignoring other conceivable worldviews.

at least he states this in his introduction and is upfront about it. i made a comment in the introduction thread that i was disappointed to read this. since he uses so many religious examples of value, i think the book is seriously hurt by not looking at other points of view. considering how short the book is, the author certainly could have included more views from different religions. this would have added a lot of depth to the text since the author desired to discuss religious values so much despite the book's title.




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Post Re: Ch. 3 - "The Divine Guarantee of Perfect Justice&am
Jeremy1952: I agree with Wielenberg completely that doing what is right because it is right is the best moral reason.

Perhaps, provided that you can determine what is right in the first place, or indeed, that there is any objective right at all.

Once again we have a philosopher ignoring science and producing absurdity.

Well, try not to sound so exasperated by it. Do you see this sort of thing a lot? Personally, most of my philosophical reading lately has suffered from philosophers paying too much attention to science.

Does Wielenberg think that human nature is random? If God didn't make it that way, how did it come about?

Good point. I think the idea that you're getting at here is, that without the notion of a plan for human nature, there's no solid foundation for supposing that human nature is a stable, consistent phenomenon.

Have I completely misunderstood, or has our atheist author made a claim about the nature of God?

He makes all sorts of claims about the nature of God, not all of them paraphrases of doctrinal positions on God.




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