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.