Moral/Transcendental Argument Mashup


Zach: Well, try this.

P1 If moral facts exist, then God exists.
P2 Moral facts exist.
C God exists.

Anne: I see the truth of the syllogism– but what are your reasons for the first premise?  Couldn’t there be objective, transcendent moral facts without a personal God?

Zach: But think about the… call it the flavor of moral facts; they have a distinctive character to them– they are not like other facts; they intend things of you, they ask things of you, they say that you are intended for things and that you have duties that are unchosen. They are inherently relational. They act like a person, and like a person you already have a relationship with– not like a stranger.  That this lemonade is here doesn’t demand something of you; chlorophyll making sugar doesn’t demand something of you; two plus two doesn’t ask you to make it four.  But if you steal, something asks you to return the thing you stole, and to ask forgiveness.  

Anne: It’s limeade, not lemonade.  And what if these “facts” are just the subjective deliverances of evolutionary advantageous psychological states– there might not be any connection between them and truth, even though I admit that I and most other people in the world and all cultures experience them as true.

Zach: But if you say that you must say the same about both reason and observation– both the inductive and deductive ways of getting at reality. We have no more reason to believe that our reason –by which we just know that two plus two equals four, or by which we just know that if A entails B; A exists, therefore B– is a source of reliable insight, than that our conscience– by which we just know that it is wrong to punish someone for something he did not choose, or for something morally arbitrary like having red hair– is a source of reliable insight. We have no more reason to believe that our senses, by which we investigate the natural world, deliver us reality, than that our moral sense does. But it is our senses and our reason on which naturalism depends to build up its grand evolutionary denial of morality. Such a denial saws off the branch of the tree on which it’s resting, because the basis on which it is making its denial would be the same basis on which one could deny its own validity as a scientific discovery. This isn’t exactly the transcendental argument– although that’s a good one too– and it’s not exactly the moral argument. It’s kind of a mashup, and I think it’s sound. Skepticism is still open (except that it has its own Cartesian defeater)– but not a decided nihilism.

There are really two kinds of wrong that we perceive, although they are related– call them violations of justice and of love. Both are immediately perceived, like reason, but the justice one is more like the experience of reason, while the love one is stranger.

Tom stole a loaf of bread, and so we forced Charles to pay a fine and that was fair: we see this as wrong as surely and in a similar way to how we see a syllogism to be false, but it has an ingredient of disapprobation which a syllogism lacks. We don’t think that A is violating it’s duty if it tries to be the same as Not-A; we don’t say it’s unfair. But we do say that the involuntary punishing of Charles for the theft of Tom is both incorrect and unfair. (Charles might, of course, volunteer to pay Charles’ fine, but that gets into the next area– into love.)

Anne: And what about love?

Zach: Oh, well, love… love is that which is desired as well as that which desires, and so in a way we seek it by definition, we live in it by definition, we need it by definition. It’s sort of an analytic truth. But it’s also an analytic good, if you can put things that way: it’s not just the case that you seek love and seek to love others, but it’s the case that you SHOULD seek love and seek to love others. You both need it and should need it and should have it and should give it.

To deny any of this is a self-defeater, and it’s related to the self-defeat of logical positivism/verificationism: “only those things which can be proved scientifically or are true by definition count as true” can neither be proved scientifically, nor is it true by definition.

Anne: I– I have to think about it, but… Look, I have to be at this lecture in twenty minutes at Cooper Union…

Zach: Listen, what are you doing later?

Refs:  Lots of podcasts I’ve been listening to lately; Alvin Plantinga’s evolutionary argument against naturalism (haven’t read the paper but listened to an interview), this guy Glenn Peoples who is wrong about some stuff and right about some stuff; probably C.S. Lewis.


One response to “Moral/Transcendental Argument Mashup

  1. Nagel’s _Mind & Cosmos_ a pretty good fit in here too, if you’ve got time for one more slim volume. His review of Plantinga in 2012 also nice:

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