Morality by Reason

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T.A.G.

Puritan Board Freshman
The book and lectures that I am having about morality shut down the Morality is relative theory pretty well, but it endorses a theory that morality is reason. What ever seems most reasonable is right. For example if we were to all lie the society would fall in general.

What would some of the things you would state against this?
 

nate895

Puritan Board Freshman
Whose reason? Lots of people have different premises, so that would lead back to a moral relativism in the end anyway because some people's premises would lead them to the idea that sometimes the most "logical," "rational" action is to murder someone. In economics, sometimes the most "rational" thing to do (at least in the agnostic economic systems) is to steal money if you won't get caught. Since it was the "rational" decision, does that make it right?
 

Philip

Puritan Board Graduate
Nathan, the view here is that "reason" means "right reason." It's a natural law theory where if you come up with something that contradicts it, then you obviously weren't reasoning rightly. This theory stands behind the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, and all post-enlightenment moral philosophy until the 20th century.
 

nate895

Puritan Board Freshman
Nathan, the view here is that "reason" means "right reason." It's a natural law theory where if you come up with something that contradicts it, then you obviously weren't reasoning rightly. This theory stands behind the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, and all post-enlightenment moral philosophy until the 20th century.

I understand, but it is possible that given true premises it is logical in certain situations, minus the God factor, to do what most people would consider immoral. Take, for instance, the economic situation of not getting caught stealing. Why, if you know you aren't going to get caught, and you will be better off if you take the money, should you not take the money? Here, you either have to say the "moral" thing to do, if morality is based on logic and reason minus God, is to take the money, or borrow from Christian concepts of property and morality.
 

Philip

Puritan Board Graduate
Excuse me, but even asking the question proves that you aren't reasoning rightly, according to a natural law theorist. The laws of morality are self-evident and autonomous and those who don't reason rightly are mere children who need to be educated and tutored in right reason. This is all Ciceronian theory, with a nice dose of Platonism. The view is independent of any religious system.
 

Peairtach

Puritan Board Doctor
There is no basis for reason in a godless universe.

Anyway the basis for reason is morality, as John Frame shows in "Apologetics to the Glory of God".

If a person reasons illogically and breaks the laws of logic/reason, the astute atheist will point that out and say "You ought not to have reasoned in that way. You ought not to break the laws of logic."

It is in some sense immoral to not follow logical laws.
 

nate895

Puritan Board Freshman
Excuse me, but even asking the question proves that you aren't reasoning rightly, according to a natural law theorist. The laws of morality are self-evident and autonomous and those who don't reason rightly are mere children who need to be educated and tutored in right reason. This is all Ciceronian theory, with a nice dose of Platonism. The view is independent of any religious system.

Which just demonstrates the total arbitrariness of natural law theory. I happen to know about natural law theory plenty myself, having once been an advocate of it before I became Reformed and theonomic. The laws of morality are not "self-evident" and "autonomous," that doesn't even make any sense. For all the natural law theorist knows, other people could have entirely different systems of morality be "self-evident." Furthermore, no view can be independent of any religious system. Can it fit into multiple religious systems? Do people from a variety of religious backgrounds hold to what can be called "natural law?" Sure on both counts, but it still fits in with certain religious/philosophical systems and simply doesn't with others.
 

Philip

Puritan Board Graduate
Ah, but the natural law theorist points out that all these other religious systems belong to primitive cultures, therefore they are obviously less adequate. This is the whole case for colonialism in the past, BTW.

I would hold to a sort of natural law theory based on general revelation. It's not completely arbitrary if it's theistic.
 

nate895

Puritan Board Freshman
Ah, but the natural law theorist points out that all these other religious systems belong to primitive cultures, therefore they are obviously less adequate. This is the whole case for colonialism in the past, BTW.

I would hold to a sort of natural law theory based on general revelation. It's not completely arbitrary if it's theistic.

Well, the natural theorist is just guilty of what CS Lewis would call "chronological snobbery" at that point. That isn't a reason, it's an insult to our elders.

If it's theistic, I'd argue it is even more arbitrary. It is assigning certain morality that God "implanted" in nature without having revealed any such thing in Scripture. God's morality is revealed in Scripture, not in nature; although, general revelation demonstrates His morality and makes man without excuse.
 

Philip

Puritan Board Graduate
If it's theistic, I'd argue it is even more arbitrary. It is assigning certain morality that God "implanted" in nature without having revealed any such thing in Scripture. God's morality is revealed in Scripture, not in nature; although, general revelation demonstrates His morality and makes man without excuse.

What if it's revealed both in nature and in Scripture, as Aquinas taught? Romans 1 would seem to confirm this.
 

Peairtach

Puritan Board Doctor
also how would you argue against the utilitarian approach?

See John Frame here on teleological ethics:-

PERSPECTIVES ON THE WORD OF GOD

From the above:

Quote from John Frame
Indeed, some have criticized the principle of “the greatest happiness for the greatest number” as a quite wicked idea. Might not a racist nation one day derive its maximum happiness from inflicting terrible cruelties upon a despised minority? Teleological ethics seems far too open to the principle that the end justifies any means whatsoever.
 

nate895

Puritan Board Freshman
What if it's revealed both in nature and in Scripture, as Aquinas taught? Romans 1 would seem to confirm this.

What's more important: special or general revelation? Special revelation is much clearer and corrects what could be false interpretations of general revelation.
 

cih1355

Puritan Board Junior
The book and lectures that I am having about morality shut down the Morality is relative theory pretty well, but it endorses a theory that morality is reason. What ever seems most reasonable is right. For example if we were to all lie the society would fall in general.

What would some of the things you would state against this?

What is considered to be the most reasonable? Utilitarianism? Kantian ethics? Ethical Egoism?
 

Reformed Thomist

Puritan Board Sophomore
also how would you argue against the utilitarian approach?

By arguing against one or more of its three main features or components: consequentialism (the rightness/wrongness of an act is measured only by its consequences; an act is only as good as its effect), hedonism (the only instrinsic good is pleasure; only instrinsic evil, pain), and impartiality (not valuing the good of any one person over another, for instance, your child over a stranger, or yourself over a friend; one cannot reasonably/morally distinguish in this manner).
 

Ask Mr. Religion

Flatly Unflappable
Morality requires something that says we "ought" to do this or "ought not" to do that. This "oughtness" cannot be derived from something impersonal, like the impersonal machinations of the universe, for no impersonal structure can create obligation. Obligatory moral standards presuppose absolute moral standards, which in turn presuppose an absolute moral personality, that is, God Almighty.

Truly objective moral values require something personal that defines what is good and what is not good and necessarily implies an accountability to one's actions. Moral accountability, if there is no God, merely implies morality become vain, since our fate is irrelevant to moral behavior.

Now the non-believer will counter that the theist believes either something is good because God wills it or else God wills something because it is good. They will then claim that the first alternative is unacceptable, since it makes what is good or evil an arbitrary distinction, and the second alternative implies that the good is independent of God. Hence, they will claim moral values cannot depend on God, but instead something outside of God.

Actually this is a false dilemma. God wills something because He is good. God’s nature determines what is good, hence the good is not independent of God, and His nature necessarily expresses itself toward us in the form of His commandments such that they are not arbitrary.

AMR
 

Reformed Thomist

Puritan Board Sophomore
Now the non-believer will counter that the theist believes either something is good because God wills it or else God wills something because it is good. They will then claim that the first alternative is unacceptable, since it makes what is good or evil an arbitrary distinction, and the second alternative implies that the good is independent of God. Hence, they will claim moral values cannot depend on God, but instead something outside of God.

Actually this is a false dilemma. God wills something because He is good. God’s nature determines what is good, hence the good is not independent of God, and His nature necessarily expresses itself toward us in the form of His commandments such that they are not arbitrary.

Excellent. I wrote a short paper a couple of months ago arguing the exact same. Actually, here it is...

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THE EUTHYPHRO DILEMMA

Plato’s Euthyphro famously provides a challenge to the view that morality and religion (or divine revelation) are inextricably linked. In this paper I outline and comment upon that view and its challenge from the Platonic-Socratic context, upon which I argue that while Socrates' 'dilemma' may appear to be a serious threat to 'God-based' ethics, it and its related dangers may be avoided by the 'hard' theological ethicist with some clarification of her position. To this end I will focus on two main areas: (I) the Euthyphro dilemma; and (II) God the Lawgiver. Together they provide a corrective measure against a popular secular meta-ethical presumption.

I. The Euthyphro Dilemma

We meet the view proper at 7a with the title character’s definition of 'piety' at the behest of Socrates: "... what is dear to the gods..." ('impiety' being what is “... hated by the gods...” ). Let us translate the object and its definition to a perhaps more relevant monotheistic framework, substituting 'right' for 'piety' (and 'wrong' for 'impiety') and 'what is commanded by God' for 'what is dear to the gods' (and 'what is forbidden by God' for 'what is hated by the gods'). The basic view, then, is that what is right and wrong is what God commands and forbids respectively; if God commands P then it is right to do P, and if God forbids Q then it is wrong to do Q, always and in every case. The celebrated challenge to this view rears its head at 10a with Socrates' question to the religious authority: "Is the pious loved by the gods because it is pious, or is it pious because it is loved by the gods?" Let us likewise alter this to 'Does God command what is good because it is good (and forbid what is bad because it is bad), or is what is good good (and bad bad) because God commands (and forbids) it?' This double-horned query is what has come to be known as the 'Euthyphro dilemma', which has concerned thinkers of many ages and has even been utilized by some to 'destroy' God-based ethics. Does it, in fact, do this?

If Euthyphro's definition is correct, then, it seems, one of the two Socratic 'horns' must follow: Either God commands X because X is right and forbids Y because Y is wrong, or X is right just because God commands X and Y is wrong just because God forbids Y (the latter being what is called the 'Divine Command Theory'). How should our hard theological ethicist respond? If she chooses the former the problem is immediately clear: Morality is independent of God, a subsistent phenomenon -- something which God follows just as human beings do and passes on to us (instead of God giving the Law), and this is hardly an adequate portrait of the sovereign Lord, or of morality, for the hard theological ethicist. But if she opts for the latter more problems become apparent. First, it implies that what is right and what is wrong is the result of an arbitrary fiat on God's part; had God happened to command that raping our children is the right thing to do and that loving our children is the wrong thing to do, then these would be right and wrong actions respectively. A second implication, given the 'arbitrariness' of morality, is that calling God 'good', as she is wont to do, makes little sense; there is no 'objective' moral standard (morality here being subjective) with which to make such a judgment about God. There are other problems with the latter -- for instance, the 'naturalistic fallacy' of G.E. Moore also appears to be at work -- but it is clear that following either horn of the question leads to conclusions which are unacceptable for the hard theological ethicist, which casts serious doubt upon her definition, which, in turn, many think, spells doom for a robust God-based ethics.

II. God the Lawgiver

Is the hard theological ethicist necessarily resigned to answering the Euthyphro dilemma and thus hitting its walls? An integral component of Socrates' challenge is that it is keyed to a specific kind of divine revelation, which we may call the 'Scriptural'. This is because the basic definition seems to imply that in order to find out whether an action is right or wrong one needs to 'look up' where God has 'spoken' on that matter (entailing, in keeping with our monotheistic framework, reading the Bible), and this is the end of the story. This is one, 'surface-level' way of conceiving of God the Lawgiver in God-based ethics. Another way of looking at divine moral commands, more profound and the classical/traditional theistic way (from Augustine and Thomas Aquinas to John Calvin and J.I. Packer), is above all concerned with God's nature and character -- right and wrong is what is commanded and forbidden by God respectively, but, lest we forget, what God commands and forbids is the natural result of the divine essence. Applied to the dilemma, God does not simply command P and forbid Q because P is right and Q is wrong, but, moreover, P is right and Q is wrong (and God commands P and forbids Q) because the respective rightness and wrongness -- and the moral law generally -- is grounded in Who or What God is. Similarly, P and Q are not right and wrong just because God commands P and forbids Q, but rather, primarily, because the rightness and wrongness correspond to the nature and character of God. In this framework God is absolutely the source and final arbiter of morality -- perfectly in line with the definition 'what is right and wrong is what God commands and forbids respectively' -- but the clarification of the definition shows the Socratic challenge to be a false one, based on the 'secular' supposition that the hard theological ethicist has no reason for believing such other than that God has apparently said so, or, following from this, that morality is independent of God or that morality is exclusively contingent on the divine command.

There is, of course, the matter of whether the clarified definition is, in fact, true. This may or may not be the case, and opponents of it may come up with some other quagmire for it. (For the record, this 'form' of divine revelation, traditionally, has not been defended by appeal to Scripture, but through philosophical or natural theological demonstration, arguing for the divine existence and the divine attributes by way of empirical observation -- from creation to Creator, and from Creator to moral corollaries. An ambitious avenue to be sure, but well-travelled.) At issue here is just that, given the clarified definition, the Euthyphro dilemma no longer applies; Socrates' challenge, in a sense, stems from his misunderstanding of what the hard theological ethicist -- in the classical tradition, anyway; and actually, the Divine Command Theory is a fringe/minority position at best, even among conservative evangelical Protestants -- means by her words. She is comfortable with pointing to commands and prohibitions in Scripture to define rightness and wrongness (as a kind of 'shorthand'), for she believes that this is the Word of God, but she moreover believes that there is something larger behind those commands and prohibitions: God, from Whom all flows according to Who He is. From this follows neither divine inferiority (to morality) nor moral arbitrariness. The question, in fact, should not even come up.

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Skyler

Puritan Board Graduate
The book and lectures that I am having about morality shut down the Morality is relative theory pretty well, but it endorses a theory that morality is reason. What ever seems most reasonable is right. For example if we were to all lie the society would fall in general.

What would some of the things you would state against this?

So what if society falls? What if I don't care?

Reason cannot give an "ought", only an "is"--it can tell us that society will fall if we all lie, but it can't tell us that that's bad. It doesn't have any moral imperative.
 

Reformed Thomist

Puritan Board Sophomore
Excellent. I wrote a short paper a couple of months ago arguing the exact same. Actually, here it is...

Great job. I read through the Platonic dialogues last year and remember having very similar thoughts.

Thanks Charlie. My T.A. for the Ethics course (an atheist who supports the Dilemma as devastating to God-based ethics) graded the paper a solid A, so I'm pretty happy.
 

T.A.G.

Puritan Board Freshman
What do yall say when they respond well God is not immutable because He changes the Laws from Leviticus ex)women after their birth must leave etc.
 

Skyler

Puritan Board Graduate
What do yall say when they respond well God is not immutable because He changes the Laws from Leviticus ex)women after their birth must leave etc.

I don't recall him changing any laws... I know the nation of Israel was disbanded, but that's way different from changing the laws. The moral law never changed, nor did the ceremonial law(it was fulfilled in Christ). The civil law was part and parcel of the nation of Israel.
 

Peairtach

Puritan Board Doctor
What do they say when a father stops spanking his child (penal law) and reading him picture books (ceremonial law)? They don't say that the law has changed, but they say that the child has grown up.

Same principle on a larger scale with God and the Church. The WCF says that the Old Covenant people were a "church under age" i.e. an underage Church.

The last 2,000 years has been the rebellious adolescence. Come on maturity :amen:
 
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