Sunday, January 13, 2008

Lewis's Three Arguments for Moral Objectivity

This is a redated post

C. S. Lewis’s arguments for moral objectivity in Mere Christianity

First, an account of subjective vs. objective.

Something is objective just in case there can be real disagreements in which one party or the other must be mistaken. Both sides can’t be right. If I say O. J. killed Nicole and Ron, and you say he didn’t, one of us is mistaken. Even if, as the defense argued at the trial, there wasn’t evidence to settle the question beyond a reasonable doubt, the fact is that either O. J. did it, or he did not. So the question of O. J.’s guilt is an objective, not a subjective matter.

Something is subjective just in case there are no real disagreements and no one is really right or wrong. If I think McDonald’s burgers are better than Burger King’s, and you like Burger King’s better, we both can be right for ourselves. It’s a matter of what tastes good to us, and there is no grounds for dispute. As the Romans used to say “De gustibus non est disptandum” (in matters of taste there is no disputing).

Bertrand Russell said:

“The theory which I have been advocating is a form of the doctrine which is called the “subjectivity” of values. This doctrine consists in maintaining that, if two men differ about values, there is not a disagreement as to any kind of truth, but a difference of taste. If one man says “oysters are good” and another says “I think they are bad,” we recognize that there is nothing to argue about. The theory in question says that all differences as to values are of this sort, although we do not naturally think them so when we are dealing with matters that seem to us more exalted than oysters.”

This is the position that Lewis is criticizing both in Mere Christianity and in the Abolition of Man.

Lewis's first argument is the argument from implied practice. People are, at best, inconsistent moral subjectivists. He writes:

"But the most remarkable thing is this. whenever you find a man who says he does not believe in a real right and Wrong, you will find the same man going back on this a moment later. He may break his promise to you, but if you try breaking on to him he will be complaining 'It's not fair' before you can say Jack Robinson. A nation may say treaties do not matter, but then, next minute, they spoil their case by saying taht the particular treaty they want to break was an unfair one. But if treaties do not matter, and if there iis no such ting as Right and Wrong--in other words, if there is no Law of Nature--what is the difference between a fair treaty and an unfair one? Have they not let the cat out of the bag and shown that, whatever they say, they really know the Law of Nature just like anyone else?"

1. If ethics is subjective, then we should expect people to recognize that actions which they are inclined to think of as "wrong" are only wrong from their point of view.
2. But invariably, people view wrongs against themselves as actions that are really wrong.
3. Therefore moral values are objective and not subjective.

Some examples may help:

1) A student once wrote a paper for a professor defending moral subjectivism. He made extensive use of anthopological and sociological evidence and the paper was well-written. He put the paper in a blue folder and gave it to the professor. The professor returned it with an "F" and said "I do not like blue folders." The student, of course protested, pointing out all the effort that went into the paper. the teacher replied "Your paper argues that moral values are subjective, that they are a matter of preference?" Yes, replied the student. Well, the grade is an "F" I do not like blue folders. Of course the student could say "But that's not fair," but to do so would, of course, compromise his subjectivist principles.

2) A fellow philosophy teacher, who was an opponent of abortion and relativism, was having trouble with her 14-year old daughter. The daughter said "I think abortion is OK. That's my opinion. And if you don't think so, that's your opinion." I suggested to her (this is better philosophy than parenting)that she tell her daughter, "So long as you are under my roof, you do not have a right to your own opinion on abortion. So, until you change your mind, you're grounded." Of course, the daughter can reply "But that's not fair...I have a right to my opinion" but to do so would, once again,undermine her subjectivist principles.

3) In a Calvin and Hobbes cartoon, Calvin was proclaiming that he didn't believe in ethics, that it's a dog eat dog world, that if someone is in your way you have to push them out of the way to get ahead, and that the end justifies the means. All of a sudden, Hobbes shoves Calvin to the ground. Calvin yells WHY DID YOU DO THAT? Hobbes replies, " You were in my way. Now you're not. The end justifies the means."

By the way one way of defending objective moral values, which we have discussed earlier on this blog, is from the standpoint of rights. If we have rights, that means there is an objectively binding moral obligation on the part of others to allow you to exercise those rights. Otherwise, the idea of rights makes no sense. If I have a right to life, that only makes sense if you have a moral obligation not to kill me.

Lewis’s second argument is the Argument from Underlying Moral Consensus:

1. If morality were a subjective matter, we would expect to find sizable differences of fundamental principles amongst moral codes.
2. But there is, in general, agreement concerning fundamental principles amongst moral codes.
3. Therefore, morality is objective rather than subjective.

Yes, there are differences in moral codes. However, some differences in moral codes can be explained in terms of differences about the facts. People don’t burn witches today (Lewis’s example) not because using Satan’s supernatural powers wouldn’t a serious offense against humanity to warrant severe punishment, but because we no longer believe people actually have and use such powers.

Consider also the differences concerning human sacrifice. (Ollie’s example) The ancient Aztecs thought it was right to sacrifice humans, we do not. However, the Aztecs and ourselves both believe that we have a prima facie obligation not to kill people. The Aztecs, however, believed that there were gods who had the right to demand human sacrifices, and when they are demanded, the duty not to kill is overridden by the moral requirement to do what the gods command. The Abrahamic tradition, going back to, well, Abraham, maintains that the true God does not make those sorts of demands.

Other differences can be explained in terms of how widely we expand the concept of “neighbor.” Moral codes require that we treat our neighbor with respect, but we may limit the concept of “neighbor” to one’s fellow tribe member, or countryman, or a member of one’s own race, etc. It is Jesus’s contribution (in the parable of the Good Samaritan) to our moral understanding that we ought to assess the question “Who is my neighbor” from the bottom of a ditch.

“I only ask the reader to think what a totally different morality would mean. Think of a country where people were admired for running away in battle, or where a man felt proud of doublecrossing all the people who had been kindest to him. You might as well imagine a country in where two and two made five. Men have differed as regards what people you ought to be unselfish to—whether it was only your own family, or your fellow countrymen, or everyone. But they have always agreed that you ought not to put yourself first. Selfishness has never been admired. Men have differed as to whether you should have one wife or four. But they have always agreed that you must not simply have any woman you liked.” (p. 19 in my edition).

The third argument for moral objectivity is the Argument from Reformers. There have been reformers in the history of the human race whom we believe to have improved our understanding of what is right and wrong. An example (mine) would be Rosa Parks. Parks challenged the principle that African-American people should acquiesce in being treated as inferiors and challenged the Birmingham bus system’s policy of requiring African-American riders to give up their seats. Because of her stand, and that of Martin Luther King and other leaders of the civil rights movements, laws were changed in such a way as to require equal treatment under the law.

But if you think that the laws of the state of Alabama are more just today than they were when Rosa refused to give up her seat, then you are applying an objective standard of justice. If on the other hand, you maintain that morals are just social conventions, then Rosa’s actions would have to be considered wrong, because they contravened the social convention of the time.

So the argument is:

1. If moral values are subjective, then moral codes cannot improve, since there is no objective standard by which to judge one code better than another.
2. But the work of people like Martin Luther King and Rosa Parks shows that moral codes can be made more just.
3. Therefore, moral values are objective rather than subjective.

22 comments:

Jason said...

Good summary; though I don't think I would have used the Abrahamic tradition as an example of something different from "the duty not to kill is overridden by the moral requirement to do what the gods command."

If you meant the particular demands were different (i.e. human sacrifice vs. capital punishment and war); well, actually God _did_ demand for Abraham to sacrifice his son Isaac--and Abraham showed he was willing to do it, apparently on the principle that faithfulness to God means doing something you believe was ordered by God even when it's something you otherwise wouldn't have expected God to command. True, God called it off at the last moment. But the point was still made using an example of human sacrifice on divine orders.

Otherwise, good job though. {g}

Don Jr. said...

Thanks for the summary of Lewis's moral arguments in Mere Christianity. Also, thanks for the previous links for the study guide and your notes on the first two chapters as well. (I just read the book about a month ago and was looking to makes some formal notes other than the ones I scribbled in the book's margins.) I think all of Lewis's arguments are convincing, but I find the first one to be the most useful. The second and third arguments (going by your post) are more analytical and easier for the moral relativist to simply deny or disregard. The first argument, however, can be presented in such a way that it appeals to all of our very strong moral intuitions. For instance, no one (at least no sane person) will say that child rape is morally right. Further than that, no one will concede that the child rapist's moral opinions are just as valid as the normal person. Rather, most will say that child rape is fundamentally (and objectively) wrong, no matter what any child rapist thinks. If this is admitted, then it is just inconsistent to deny moral objectivity altogether. That would be like saying 1 plus 1 equals 2 (for certain) but 3 plus 3 may or may not equal 6 (depending on how one feels at the moment). So, in order to maintain moral relativism the relativist would have to say that the child rapist's values are just as valid (at least for the child rapist), which, in my view, is rather appalling.

Symbol said...

A very interesting post about objectivism vs. relativism. I have been considering the same questions, but I arrived at a considerably different answer on my own blog.

I will admit that my ideas are still in a rough stage (and possibly not internally consistent, as they are still in the process of being formed) but I believe that so far they do a good job of refuting all three of the arguments you've mentioned here.

If you disagree, please tell me why as I’m interested in improving and revising my theory. We never learn from those that agree with us (to paraphrase Dudley Field Malone badly). The very first entry related to this topic was put up on the 15th of Novemember.
(www.in_other_words.blogspot.com)

Jason said...

I should probably add (since my comment there may have contributed to a misunderstanding elsewhere), that my identification of the data of a situation, is not the same as my conclusion about how the data should be best interpreted.

For what it's worth, I would not do something apparently ordered by God which I thought was not something God would command; _because_ I would be trying to be faithful to God (and would be worried that my perception of a new command was a misunderstanding on my part, or a deception against God.)

At the same time, I also recognize that there can be a strong faithfulness to God, accepted by God, when someone follows what they truly believe to be an order of God, even though they may have doubts about the order. The intention of the person makes all the difference.

I suspect Abram didn't really have a clear idea yet that human sacrifice would be abominable to God (he _had_ been an idolmaker in Mesopotamia, after all); consequently, he could be tested (and thus strengthened through the test) by being asked to give up something of extreme preciousness to him, even when what he was sacrificing seemed to be God's own promise to him.

Jason

Steven Carr said...

Victor writes 'People don’t burn witches today (Lewis’s example) not because using Satan’s supernatural powers wouldn’t a serious offense against humanity to warrant severe punishment, but because we no longer believe people actually have and use such powers.'

Many people certainly do believe people actually have and use such powers, and there are cases of children being killed as witches.

Are these killers correct as to morals, but sadly incorrect in their facts?

Is it morally wrong to be mistaken about a fact such as 'Child A has cursed my crops.?

They genuinely believe these children use Satan's power and a threat to humanity warranting severe punishment.

Could Lewis criticise these people for their morality in killing what they are convinced are witches?

Steven Carr said...

Victor writes ' The Abrahamic tradition, going back to, well, Abraham, maintains that the true God does not make those sorts of demands.'

You just have to read the Bible to see that the true God makes exactly those sorts of demands.

I assume Victor has read Joshua, Judges , 2 Samuel etc, so I was curious to know why he has written this.

Victor Reppert said...

On the assumption that some child is guilty of witchcraft, I suspect that I would still make a differentiation with respect to moral responsibility in the case of juveniles as opposed to adults that the court system in this country employs. Such witchcraft, if the child were guilty of it, would however be a serious offense.

Are people who use witchcraft explanations morally culpable for doing so, in other words, do we have a responsibility to form our beliefs according to the evidence; yes there are intellectual responsibilities of that sort, but it is not clear to me that everyone who uses a witchcraft explanations has violated them.

As for human sacrifice, I am familiar with the case of Jephthah. but does the Bible really say God wanted the daughter
sacrificed? (I don't happen to have a Bible on me at the moment, but I don't recall that being stated). Apart from the Jephthah case (Steven mentions four books), I think Steven is confusing a ban with human sacrifice. I wouldn't say that the Amalekites were sacrificed; they were just killed.

Steven Carr said...

God may not have wanted the child nsacrificed, but he wanted Jephthah to break his vow to God even less.

Ezekiel 23:20 is where 'God' says he allowed the Israelites to perform child sacrifices, because it ultimately led to his benefit.

As for the difference between sacrifice and the killings in Joshua 11:20, dead is dead.

Victor Reppert said...

Was Jephthah's daughter killed as a sacrifice? I always thought so, but this commentary says no. The text seems to make no specific reference as to what God might have wanted.

http://www.bethelcog.org/MOFJephthah.htm

Ezekiel 23:20 is: For she doted upon their paramours, whose flesh is as the flesh of asses, and whose issue is like the issue of horses.

I don't see how your interpretation fits.

Dead is dead, but only some people are sacrificed. The demand that Isaac be sacrificed is the last request for a human sacrifice in the Bible, unless you count Jesus.

Steven Carr said...

Sorry, I meant Ezekiel 20:25-26

I also gave them over to statutes that were not good and laws they could not live by; I let them become defiled through their gifts—the sacrifice of every firstborn —that I might fill them with horror so they would know that I am the LORD.

God allows child sacrifice in order to fill people with horror.

Something is allowed precisely because it is immoral.


Jephthah is a hero of faith, because he considered his vow to the Lord as unbreakable, even if it cost him his daughter's life.

Jason said...

Relatedly, God also allows Steven to continue bringing up an example which people have already spent multiple occasions analysing at length for him. At the very least, Victor's patience, and good will, is routinely sacrificed for the sake of Steven's intransigence (since Steven isn't even willing to progress along in his complaint by incorporating the wider context discussions provided by people who, in turn, have been apparently sacrificing their own time and energy in trying to take Steven seriously and even defending him on occasion publicly.)

It may not be as horrible as child sacrifice, but it's certainly evidence that God allows people to suffer for the sake of people who insist on doing abuse.

And far more immediately relevant as an example, too.

Jason

Jason said...

Now, for those people who didn't bother to read the link Victor so kindly went out of his way to find and post, and/or who don't know the larger story details or the various vagaries of the Hebrew language involved; here are what I consider to be the relevant aspects of the problem. (At least this _is_ an actual problem worth investigating, unlike specious claims about the nativity-story magi elsewhere for instance, which only demonstrate an intention to make the most ridiculous reaches for the sake of mere contentiousness.)

It's a lengthy post, so be advised in advance.

a.) much of the problem hinges on devout commentators working _really_ hard to make Jephthah out to be defensible at all points. In a bare reading of his story, however, (Judges chp 11 and 12 through v.7) I missed seeing any comment from God in the story on what was happening at all; nor any comment from the author regarding Jephthah's moral status at any point (save one possibly, reported below).

The author of the Book of Judges affirms that the Lord delivered so-and-so into the hands of Jephthah--which is somewhat different from opinions of _characters_ in the story--but, to put it mildly, this doesn't really mean anything one way or another, other than a recognition that God has a hand in important events. The story prologues with the Lord delivering the Israelites over into the hands of the tribe whom the Israelites--not God--subsequently petition Jeph to fight (the Ammonites). But that hardly means either God, or the author, consider _that_ tribe to be morally superior in any way (quite the reverse).

In passing, one interesting aspect of this story is that God tells the Israelites that He isn't going to deliver them again from their enemies, because they've betrayed Him once too often. And despite the fact that the author says, before the Jeph episode begins, that the Lord could not bear the miseries of Israel, neither is there any indication that the Lord instigates the alliance with Jeph, either. Indeed, one of the only moralistic comments by the author in this episode at all (aside from criticising Israel for being unfaithful after all God has done for them), is that "men of low character gathered about Jephthah and went out raiding with him." (i.e. Jeph was living as a hill bandit when Israel approached him to be their warchief. And not a good hill bandit, either.)


The Jeph episode, in other words, is only presented as standard chronicle. Standard chronicle isn't intended to be accepted as necessarily being a moral exemplar; it's "just the facts, ma'am".

This ought to be plain sailing, aside from hyper-devout treatments of scripture; a chronicle episode about a war entered into by an Assyrian bandit chief, and its aftermath, would similarly also not be necessarily presented for purposes of moral example, except insofar as there could be some legitimate historical gratitude expected from a nation for having been helped by someone willing to risk his life in battle for the sake of the nation. That doesn't involve calling a pass on all his behavior; it doesn't even necessarily involve judging his reasons for fighting for the nation as being proper.

So where's the problem?

b.) the problem (aside from naive hyperdevotion, or merely contentious hypercriticism perhaps), is that a New Testament writer (in the Epistle to the Hebrews, chp 11) has listed Jeph in examples of people who have received a good report (implicitly from God) because of their faith.

This really ought not to be divorced from a discussion of what the (anonymous) Hebraist _means_ by receiving such a good report because of faith. Rather than go into a protracted discussion here, suffice to say that (despite sloppy theologians) it _doesn't_ mean calling what is evil good instead of evil, even if the evil is done in purported service or loyalty to God. (It _does_ involve God being fair and accepting the loyalty per se anyway. That doesn't preclude God from rather severely zorching the loyalist in order to get the loyalist to stop doing evil, especially in the name of God. Much of the surrounding chapters of EpistHeb are devoted to this notion of God's punishment and His intentions in punishment, linked to justification by faith.)

Now, does the Hebraist say Jeph's sacrifice of his daughter (whatever that really meant--see below) is why he received "a good report"? No. The Hebraist doesn't make any particular description. The descriptions he _does_ give are intended to be a general overview of what people who received a good report in the history of Israel have done; but going only by what's written, Jeph would fall into the category of overcoming kingdoms and otherwise becoming strong in war. (Since it doesn't say specifically, or specifically exclude it, one could hypothesize that what was meant was Jeph sacrificing his daughter as a burnt offering, if he won the war; but the principle of charity should exclude drawing any conclusions from such a sheer posit, and possibly of even positing it in the first place.) It's arguable that this wouldn't even include becoming strong in war--he did _that_ by becoming a bandit chief of men of low character!


So, from the actual data at hand, the most we can say is that God is willing to accept some action (not all actions) of Jephthah as counting as fair-togetherness toward Him--and not even exclusive of censure regarding the same action (whatever it was) in other considerations!

Now, if a theologian wants to go further and argue that sacrificing a daughter as a burnt offering to God makes Jeph a hero of faith (beyond the charity of the theologian in accepting what little good intent may have been behind it and expecting God to do the same, apart from whatever censure might also be worth leveling), then it may well be worth disputing against _the theologian_. A closer examination of the textual situation, though, gives no specific grounds (aside from mere anti-theological extrapolation in the other direction) for claiming that God either wanted such a sacrifice, or accepted one _as such_ (or even accepted the bargain Jeph was willing to strike to ensure his victory, though that is the tacit implication from the author).


c.) the grammar of both the vow and its subsequent outcome _can_ legitimately be read quite differently in Hebrew.

The first element of the vow "to be the Lord's" has a particular significance in regard to a person: it often requires keeping one's virginity throughout life. And the conjunction between the first and second element of the vow ('vav') is used for 'or' as well as 'and' (I think it may be the _only_ Hebrew conjunction at all).

Whatever lapses we might, with some reason, suppose of a rancid hill bandit in his religious beliefs and practices, we could with even more reason suppose that he had _some_ idea of what might or might not probably meet him at the door of his own hut when he comes home from war; and that this would be in his mind when he made the vow. We should, in other words, suppose he was thinking about his daughter from the first, as being a possible outcome for his vow.

The question, then, turns on whether we have any contextual evidence to support this (grammatically legitimate) reading of the vow: "if you deliver the Ammonites into my hands, then whatever comes out of the door of my dwelling to meet me on my safe return from the Ammonites, shall (surely) be the Lord's _or_ shall be offered by me as a burnt offering." (Note: there is another grammatically legitimate translation, too: "shall surely be the Lord's _and_ I shall offer to Him a burnt offering.")


Well, in the rest of the story we don't hear one word about his daughter being slain--only that he did perform his vow, with his daughter's consent, and both of them lamented this (as did daughters of Israel with her for two months, beginning a custom of them doing this lamentation for four days every year thereafter).

Do we at least hear anything about them lamenting that she must be slain (much moreso slain as a burnt offering)? No--_ALL_ the lamenting is specifically directed to one aspect: _that she must remain a virgin_.

The positive textual evidence (not to say the silence of the text), thus shows us what direction the vow was intended to be read (whether Jeph went on to offer a burnt sacrifice or not): if the text is to be read that way, we would expect an emphasis on her having to keep her virginity; and that is _exactly_ what we find.

It also fits the cultural context: even a grungy semi-apostate hill bandit might regret that his only beloved daughter must now go away from human civilization (in order to ensure the vow would be kept), not to say anything about whether he would consider this to be the loss of his family line (itself taken far more seriously by ancient Semetics than we would, culturally).

Furthermore, the grammar about the annual visits by the maidens to lament [x] her (where 'x' is the preposition), _can_ be translated 'to' or 'with' her. Which again fits the proposed situation: a woman's childhood friends to travel every year to visit her in her mountainous seclusion, and lament with her that she can no longer have a family.


Granted, the grammar can fit the usual interpretation, too. What _doesn't_ fit the usual interpretation very well, but what fits the alternate _very_ well, is the continual emphasis afterward on mourning her perpetual virginity (without a word about lamenting the loss of her life).

I will also add, in passing, that _in principle_ one could still level a moral question about the propriety of putting up the future happiness of one's daughter as a stake to be paid in a vow. Repairing the translation to yield the probable meaning, doesn't simply dissolve the question of the morality of the vow. However, since in this case the text is silent in rendering an opinion of Jephthah in making the vow, a critic cannot legitimately call the morality of the author (and/or of God) into question concerning this point. Judging against Jeph's behaviors may, on the other hand, be entirely appropriate--though the proper critic will be prepared to render charity where possible.


Normally I would have a lot of sympathy with someone who was having trouble with this, since the problem arises from a persistent faulty translation which only scholars would be in a position to correct. However, Steven has shown time and again that he doesn't bring these up because he has legitimate problems (otherwise he would at least be incorporating the proposed fixes in his complaints, even if not allowing that the fixes work). I provide this summary for the sake of people whom he might be bothering. (And also because the sources for fixing it tend to be overly devout about Jeph's behavior and character, which annoys me.)

Jason

Jason said...

I will correct myself here, that apparently Steven's comment elsewhere wasn't supposed to be a claim about the magi.

I still think he's mainly acting in contentiousness, but I've added an agreement of culpability against myself in that thread above. (It's in Victor's 2nd post summarizing Lewis' _MC_ arguments concerning morality.) In fairness, I've put a notice here as well.

Hiero5ant said...

"Something is objective just in case there can be real disagreements in which one party or the other must be mistaken."

Wrong. On this view, contemporary noncognitivists are objectivists. For a disagreement to sound in objectivity, it is necessary that at least one party must be mistaken about the description of some matter of mind-independent fact.

Sturgeon's Lawyer said...

I yield to none as a fan of Lewis's apologetics; but his logic is often shaky, and, frankly, this is one of those cases.

Every one of these arguments for objectivity stands upon a subjective claim. Working backwards, while I agree with you that MLK improved the moral tone of the United States, I have no objective proof to offer of that; it is, ultimately, my subjective opinion that this is the case.

As to #2, "general agreement" is meaningless in questions of objective v. subjective; there used to be "general agreement" that the Earth was a fixed point at the centre of the Universe. Nonetheless, il se muove.

Finally, #1 is based on how people view wrongs against themselves. All this proves is that people behave inconsistently, not that the view they are inconsistent about is wrong. After all, this is precisely the argument often used to support the value of Christianity -- just because Christians often fail to live up to Christian morals does not invalidate them.

No; to argue that morality is objective requires finding an objective basis for morality, one which does not depend upon the opinions of any subject.

And God is a subject; indeed, the ultimate subject, for over against God, we are all objects.

Hiero5ant said...

Indeed. I've asked this over and over, and never gotten a satisfactory answer. Why can't an Abrahamic theist be e.g. an expressivist?

Victor Reppert said...

Hiero5ant: If by expressivist you mean an ethical subjectivist, and if you hold that part of the Abrahamic tradition is that God gives commandments, then it looks as if you have a problem, because you have to account for the fact that God's commandments have an absolute authority. Otherwise, Bill Clinton could say to God "Look, I know you have expressed your feelings that it is wrong to commit adultery. But I feel that it's perfectly OK. Who's to say what's really right or wrong. Just because you are more powerful than I am doesn't mean that your feelings are more "correct" than mine. It's all just a matter of individual feeling."

Old joke: Bill Clinton was ready to sign legislation to allow the nine commandments to appear on every schoolroom in America. (The President does have veto power).

Hiero5ant said...

If by expressivist you mean an ethical subjectivist, and if you hold that part of the Abrahamic tradition is that God gives commandments, then it looks as if you have a problem, because you have to account for the fact that God's commandments have an absolute authority.

Expressivism is a subset of subjectivism. And I don't see the problem for the expressivist theist. An expressivist is perfectly happy to use locutions like "has absolute authority", but understands them to be affirmations on the part of the speaker that she possesses the noncognitive attitude towards Yahweh's commands to the effect that she approves of them to the exclusion of any other rules of conduct, endeavours to follow them, recommends without reservation that others follow them, stands ready to praise and enforce their observance and condemn and punish their breach, etc.

Contemporary noncognitivists like Gibbard or Blackburn don't go around saying things like "who's to say what's right or wrong" or "what's right for you may not be right for me". We're perfectly happy saying that this or that rule has categorical or "absolute" authority, but the metatheory just has a different conception of what it means for a normative claim to "have authority." Of course there's an emotive tension, but I don't see any explicit logical contradiction. There certainly isn't any scriptural basis (that I can see) for insisting on a cognitive-descriptivist account of Yahweh's awesomeness.

Victor Reppert said...

This sounds vaguely Humean--it's never quite clear to me whether or not Hume thinks that there are true moral judgments, but thinks that the process by which we access them is am emotive rather than a rational one, or whether he thinks that moral judgments are neither true nor false.

Hiero5ant said...

Yep. There's a clear line of Empiricist descent from Hume through the Positivists to modern quasi-realism. The upshot is that by decoupling "truth" from "a description of fact" in the language game, the expressivist doesn't have to bother seeking out any "ontological ground" to underwrite his moral claims. So you get subjectivism without moral skepticism. And I think it's the latter that really is driving the concerns of most theists.

IlĂ­on said...

I suspect (rightly or wronlgy) that Mr Carr's response was made when Mr Reppert's post was new. Nevertheless, I have a response to it:

Steven Carr "Sorry, I meant Ezekiel 20:25-26

I also gave them over to statutes that were not good and laws they could not live by; I let them become defiled through their gifts—the sacrifice of every firstborn —that I might fill them with horror so they would know that I am the LORD.

God allows child sacrifice in order to fill people with horror.

Something is allowed precisely because it is immoral.
"

All of human history and freedom to disobey God is allowed precisely because it is immoral; the *point* of allowing us to put ourselves though what we have been freely putting ourselves through all these millenia is to fill us with horror.

We *wanted* to know good and evil; when we have gorged ourselves on that repast and yet found ourselves empty, then we will be ready to come to the feast of God.

Anonymous said...

A very insightful commentary, thank you. I enjoyed reading it and found it cogently written.