Saturday, May 09, 2009

Lovell on the Euthyphro

The Euthyphro objection keeps showing up, so even though I had it up on a previous site, I am making a special thread to deal with Lovell on the Euthyphro.

44 comments:

Anonymous said...

Nice paper. -- Bilbo

Gordon Knight said...

could someone smarter than me clearly say how this paper addresses the arbitrariness problem?

Doctor Logic said...

Right, Gordon.

It is the theoretical nature of the discussion that makes it hard to see what further content can be given to saying that God is good. How so? Well it has made it easy to ignore the fact that a person is good if they are loving, kind, just, merciful, generous, truthful, patient and the like. Now the truth of DCT in no way entails that God has any of these qualities and so DCT can hardly entail that His possession of them is a tautology.

Lovell says a person is good if they are loving, kind, just, merciful, generous, truthful, patient and the like. Why?

Then he puts "THE" definition of goodness into (DCTd) to eliminate the arbitrariness of the original DCT.

I must have missed a step somewhere.

Gordon Knight said...

I also want to know why a Christian should have a problem with simply saying that Goodness is a part of God's nature.

I think this so called "problem" arises when one gets all hell bent on privledging divine "sovereignty" over everything else.

How is saying moral truth don't depend on God's command any weirder than saying logical or mathematical truths don't depend on God's will.

Matthew said...

Gordon,
you wrote:
could someone smarter than me clearly say how this paper addresses the arbitrariness problem?and
I also want to know why a Christian should have a problem with simply saying that Goodness is a part of God's nature.However, the paper begins with:

We consider ways in which DCT could be defended against this charge, but finally reject the traditional formulation of this theory in favour of a modified version that I call Divine Nature Theory (DNT). According to DNT, morality is rooted in God’s necessary and immutable nature. Various objections to this position are dealt with in the final sections.Where's the problem?

Ilíon said...

I do agree with GK that the paper doesn't appear to be written in English. I thought so when VR first posted this a year ago.

At the same time (and as best I can understand what is being said), I don't see a Divine Nature Theory as particularly new. Isn't this what the Bible teaches? Isn't this what Christianity has always taught. Isn't the problem that *we* have a difficult time grasping a DNT because *our* natures fall so far outside its ambit? And thus we keep gravitating to what we can grasp: things such as a Divine Command Theory or a Divine Arbitrariness Theory or a There Is No Morality Theory.

Ilíon said...

Curiously Misnamed Personality: "Lovell says a person is good if they are loving, kind, just, merciful, generous, truthful, patient and the like. Why?"

Perhaps he has made the mistake of taking the objections of persons such as the Curiously Misnamed Personality seriously. Perhaps, even, his very own mind was moulded by persons such as the Curiously Misnamed Personality and therefore he doesn't himself see the folly of taking the objections of persons such as the Curiously Misnamed Personality seriously.

Reductionists -- persons such as the Curiously Misnamed Personality -- seem always to refuse to grasp some things are themselves; some things cannot be "explained," for there is nothing more basic into the terms of which they can be put. 'Goodness' is one of these things; as is 'love;' as is 'truth.' One may certainly describe these things, but description is neither definition nor explanation.

Steve said...

Thanks for linking to my paper again Vic. I'm always interested to see what people think about my material.

Amusing to find Ilion saying that my paper doesn't appear to be written in English. I certainly have no idea what he's saying about the "Curiously Misnamed Personality". I think he's defending me, but I'm really not sure.

GK,

My response to the arbitrariness objection is that the necessary isn't arbitrary, and God's nature is necessary. Since his commands are rooted in his nature they cannot be thought arbitrary either.

It's not a particulary new idea, it certainly isn't original with me. I wrote the piece because it fitted with my PhD project and I hadn't seen the view very well expressed elsewhere. Perhaps I haven't expressed it very well either ... !?!

Any other comments/questions very welcome.

Steve Lovell

Ilíon said...

Steve Lovell: "Amusing to find Ilion saying that my paper doesn't appear to be written in English."

I'm saying that your paper is in no way easy to follow -- I gave up and started skipping whole parapraphs (I presume GK did something similar), looking for sentences which didn't leave me thinking "What in the heck did he say?" Thus, I will have missed the full argument you wish to make; thus I cannot *really* critque it.

If your audience is professional philosophers, which is to say, persons who tend to be over-educated dunder-heads (but, why bother?) who appear to desire always to be opaque to the lesser mortals, well then, give the audience what it wants.

But, if your audience is people who want to understand, in contrast to engaging in eternal "re-thinking," ought not you write in English?


Steve Lovell: "I certainly have no idea what he's saying about the "Curiously Misnamed Personality". I think he's defending me, but I'm really not sure."

Indirectly. "Curiously Misnamed Personality" is a pet-name for "Doctor Logic," who is a quite illogical entity.

J said...

Since we have no first hand awareness of God (as Hobbes said, of God, nothing can be said), His Justice is merely stipulated, and not evident. That said, I agree with the writer that believers generally stick with EDI: they obey God's commandments--or claim to--because He is the King-God, and not because they are in accord with human notions of morality. And one sees that now: after disasters, wars, great misfortune a fundie will say "God works in mysterious ways>" and so forth (and however bor-reeng, the Euthyphro raises the POE in another form: for an amoral King-God who merely issues orders--and provides no clear evidence of his own virtue--might be said by some to be no different than a tyrant....ergo, unlikely He exists except as a Zeus-metaphor, constructed by humans)

Ilíon said...

Instead of saying "re-thinking," perhaps "re-imaging" better gets across what I intended.

And, since I do not really understand what you wish to argue, I cannot really defend it. How can one defend what one cannot critique?

Ilíon said...

But, if we can understand only that which we experience first-hand, then we can understand very little.

For instance, if we can understand only that which we experience first-hand, then we cannot understand the previous sentence.

[rinse and repeat]

Matthew said...

Illion,
you are quite right that this is nothing new (Bll Craig for example uses DNT in all his debates on morality), which is why I don't understand Gordon.

Ilíon said...

Well, when I was 18 or 19 (I'm now almost 52), I was trying to get my roommate to understand DNT, but he couldn't think outsice the box of the false dilemma of the Euthyphro.

Now, at that tender age, I hadn't yet heard of the Euthyphro dilemma (as a named thing), and I doubt he had either. But, that is what we were trying to discuss.

Also, I far better able to express myself now than then; at any rate, in writing. The fact that I was tongue-tied and he was glib may have played a part in his failure to understand. Also, he was an even more stubborn person than I, if you can fathom that.

Ilíon said...

Steve Lovell: "My response to the arbitrariness objection is that the necessary isn't arbitrary, and God's nature is necessary. Since his commands are rooted in his nature they cannot be thought arbitrary either."

Just so. The Euthyphro apples to Zeus and the other Olympians, it does not apply to the Ground Of All Being.

Finney said...

It went rather slowly. I thought along the same lines of his reasoning (though, perhaps a bit less technically). I'm not sure why it needed this long to arrive at his conclusion.

Suppose I take moral axioms to be things God did not create. Then what are moral axioms? They certainly are not physical things, nor reducible to physical things. The only existence they have is in the form of propositions, and the only things in which propositions exist are minds as dualists take them to be, since a physical mind isn't capable of creating oughts. Therefore, moral axioms have no existence outside of a mind. Then we arrive at the logical possibility that the morals exist in God's mind. They are absolute, to be sure (in a sense). But they cannot exist apart from being thought of, and therefore belong to a mind's activity.

Victor Reppert said...

This is written in the style that is expected of you when you write for publication in philosophy, or in a doctoral dissertation. Since this is part of Steve's dissertation, it has a lot of responses made for his committee. My doctoral dissertation is just like my book, it's on the argument from reason, but it was written for the likes of Dr. Chandler, my dissertation advisor. It seems dry even to me when I pick it up and read it today.

Blue Devil Knight said...

Finney: many would say propositions do not just exist in minds, especially propositions about mathematical or logical facts. Moral realists take propositions about things moral to exist, and be true, independently of whether any thinker thinks they are true. That is, baby raping is wrong whether we think it or not, or any mind ever thinks it.

Finney said...

"This is written in the style that is expected of you when you write for publication in philosophy"

Oh, okay.

"That is, baby raping is wrong whether we think it or not, or any mind ever thinks it."

There is that view but I don't think it's viable. I'm not sure if such a view is even intelligible. For such a moral axiom to be absolute and independent as you'd say, it had to have been true forever and existed before planets existed and so long before babies were in existence. What, did moral axioms expect the existence of babies? It's hard for me to conceive moral facts that are to guide human beings without the existence of a person who is interested in the lives of human beings. Moral axioms seem to be purposeful, display intentionality, so on.

Anonymous said...

Vic,

I know this is off-topic, but you may be interested to know that Peter Van Inwagen is giving a lecture at the Lewis Society in Oxford tomorrow on 'Lewis' Argument Against Naturalism'. Could be worth asking him for the text of his talk, or getting details from somebody who goes. I'm planning to attend, so I may have some notes.

Ilíon said...

VR: "This is written in the style that is expected of you when you write for publication in philosophy, or in a doctoral dissertation."

Of course. Why do you think I initially simply said that it doesn't appear to be written in English?

Ilíon said...

Yes, Finney; there exists no morality if there exist no minds.

Morality is interpersonal and relational. An imagined morality which "just exists out there" as unthought thoughts, in the mode of Platonic Forms, just won't work.

Gordon Knight said...

Re: Van Inwaggen talk

I also would like to know what goes on.

Steve said...

I read through my own paper again last night, and it is certainly is hard going. But as Vic says it was written as part of a doctoral thesis so that comes with the territory.

To summarise the paper:
If we take one horn of the Euthyphro dilemma we seem to make morality independant of God, if we take the other we seem to make morality arbitrary and to empty the goodness of God of content. I explore some standard responses and find them wanting. I also explain Kai Nielsen's epistemological version of the dilemma. I point out a loophole in Nielsen's argument, which I then argue that the theory I prefer, namely Divine Nature Theory (DNT), can exploit. I also show how DNT avoids the arbitariness objection, (as per my post above), the emptiness objection, and the show that no reformulated Euthyprho-style dilemma can refute DNT.

Only too glad to provide further details on any of this. Just ask.

Steve Lovell

Matthew said...

How would you respond to: "But God could have been completely different?"

It seems easy to say that there is a certain way moral truths have to be and God is the way he is because moral truths are like that.

Those are the options

- There are no moral truths
- Moral truths are arbitrary
- Moral truths are necessary in a certain way that has nothing to do with God
- Moral truths depend on Gods necessary nature

Why is God a better solution?

Ilíon said...

Steve Lovell: "I read through my own paper again last night, and it is certainly is hard going. But as Vic says it was written as part of a doctoral thesis so that comes with the territory."

Or, as I put it, it isn't written in English.

Now, certainly, the listener (or reader) has an obligation to make a good-faith effort to comprehend the speaker (or writer); but no amount of good-faith effort can bridge the difference between two different languages. "Philosophese" may look like English, but it is not -- and, even you, the author, seem to be admitting to difficulty all these years later in following what you yourself had written in "Philosophese."

Steve Lovell: "To summarise the paper: ..."

And I, for one, gathered that much about the argument you present. I certainly am not disputing your argument as a whole, nor the parts of it. I'm saying simply -- to put it into psychobabble -- I can't "internalize" the argument you present because I can't follow the steps. And I can't follow it because it isn't addressed to "civilians."

Victor Reppert said...

It's addressed, first and foremost to a committee. Three people, usually, with Ph.Ds who work as a research philosophy institution.

normajean said...

Ill-dogg, some civilians speak "philosophese" too.

Ilíon said...

VR: "It's addressed, first and foremost to a committee. Three people, usually, with Ph.Ds who work as a research philosophy institution."

Which is to say, it has next to nothing to do with reality.

normajean said...

Sorry about the unrelated heads-up, Dr. Reppert, but William Lane Craig has just posted this fine audio on E L E C T I O N and all else related. Peace

http://www.rfmedia.org/RF_audio_video/Defender_podcast/20070401TheDoctrineofManPart13.mp3

Ilíon said...

Elton: "Ill-dogg, ..."

The non-casual reader may recall that I have said that "nice" persons are frequently anything but nice. The non-casual reader may recall that NormaJean periodically tries to convince VR to ban me from his blog -- because, after all, I am not "nice." Why, I even "insult" others by *daring* to call intellectual dishonesty what it is.

normajean said...

Freddie Mercury writes: "The non-casual reader may recall that I have said that "nice" persons are frequently anything but nice. The non-casual reader may recall that NormaJean periodically tries to convince VR to ban me from his blog -- because, after all, I am not "nice." Why, I even "insult" others by *daring* to call intellectual dishonesty what it is."

unkle e said...

Steve

I don't know if you're still following these comments, but I thought I'd encourage you and say I am not a philosopher or an intellectual, but I enjoyed the paper. Yes, it was hard going in places, but:

(1) I think that was due to the subject matter more than the writing, and

(2) I have found many papers in environmental management (my area), Biblical history and philosophy just as difficult. Daniel Dennett's two books on determinism and freewill were much more difficult to grasp, even after several readings, than your paper.

So I expect some things to be difficult, and I often get around that by making summary notes and working out the structure of the argument. I bookmarked your paper, and had in mind to do that when I get the time.

So thank you, I always appreciate the efforts of people like you and Victor and others in helping me think through issues which I would not resolve so well on my own.

Finally, a couple of my own thoughts .....

I had come to favour the line that, yes, God is subject to ethics and that doesn't diminish him any more his being subject to logic diminishes him. So why do we need God, if we can have ethics without him?

1. Yes we can, up to a point, and that is why we can all recognise that some things are truly right and wrong even though some people's worldviews (e.g. naturalism) don't seem to logically lead there.

2. But God's endorsement of ethics allows us to know more certainly and gives them authority.

3. If ethics are independent of God, where do they exist? God's character gives us an embodiment of ethics.

4. The simplest ethical summary is Jesus: Love God and love people - all the rest is technique (as the chess players say). And of course love, we are told, is the defining aspect of God's character. Atheists sometimes ask what ethical acts are impossible for atheists, and the answer is the first half of Jesus' statement.

So that's where I had got to, but I will now reconsider in the light of your paper. Thanks again.

Ilíon said...

Uncle E: "4. The simplest ethical summary is Jesus: Love God and love people - all the rest is technique (as the chess players say)."

The Christ: "The first Commandment is 'Love God with all your being.' The second is like it, 'Love your neighbor as yourself.' Upon these two hang all Torah and the Prophets."

Rabbi Hillel: "Rabbi Shammai was an engineer, known for the strictness of his views. The Talmud tells that a gentile came to Shammai saying that he would convert to Judaism if Shammai could teach him the whole Torah in the time that he could stand on one foot. Shammai drove him away with a builder's measuring stick! Hillel, on the other hand, converted the gentile by telling him, "That which is hateful to you, do not do to your neighbor. That is the whole Torah; the rest is commentary. Go and study it." "

Finney said...

Illion, NormaJean,

Bill Vallicella made fun of you guys on his blog. Just thought you should know. He made a blog titled "This is how Cyberpunks argue"

Finney said...

http://maverickphilosopher.typepad.com/maverick_philosopher/2009/05/how-cyberpunks-argue.html

Ilíon said...

That's OK. I'm making fun of him on mine. And I've got substance.

Finney said...

Oops, Normajean, you weren't on that thread in reference, my bad for calling you out.

Ilíon said...

I even have a post mocking the mind-set behind moral equivalizing.

Ilíon said...

Matthew: "How would you respond to: "But God could have been completely different?""

Are you asking a question about Zeus, who is every bit as contingent as you and I, or are you asking a question about God, the Ground of All Being -- and of whom it really is meaningless to ask that question. [The response I gave you (admittedly, I am not Mr Lovell) may strike those who know a bit about 'positivism' and 'scientism' as kind of ironic.]

Matthew: "Why is God a better solution?"

Well, let's look at those four options.

1: "There are no moral truths"

We all know this is false. Even those who *assert* that there are no moral truths show by their behavior and words (frequently mere moments after making the assertion) that they know the assertion to be false. Also, those making the assertion frequently implicitly testifiy to the reality of moral obligations even as thay are explicitly denying the reality -- what is almost always the subtext of the argument, such as it is, made by the deniers of objective morality? Why, it is precisely this, "Therefore, since morality is not objectively real, you *ought to* stop claiming otherwise."

2: "Moral truths are arbitrary"

Translation: "There are no moral truths"

See above.

3: "Moral truths are necessary in a certain way that has nothing to do with God"

This is incoherent.

'Truth' (regardless of the qualifier) does not exist independently of minds. That to which some 'truth' or other refers might exist independently of the mind thinking or stating the 'truth,' but the 'truth' itself exists only within a mind.

There are no such things as unthought thoughts, which is exactly what this "option" equates to.

4: "Moral truths depend on Gods necessary nature"

Bingo!

T'sinadree said...

Steve, I really enjoyed your article. What was the subject of your dissertation? Is it available somewhere?

Blue Devil Knight said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Blue Devil Knight said...

Ilion says:

"'Truth' (regardless of the qualifier) does not exist independently of minds. That to which some 'truth' or other refers might exist independently of the mind thinking or stating the 'truth,' but the 'truth' itself exists only within a mind."

Or there exists a Platonic/Fregean 'third realm' of propositions. E.g., mathematical truths, abstract moral truths, analytic truths. This is fairly mainstream. Minds are thought to be able to grasp such propositions, but they exist even if no minds exist. Even if nobody had proven or thought pythagorean's theorem, it would still be true. The proposition '1+1=2' is true, even if no minds exist to grasp it.

I am no Platonist, mind you, but it is clearly an option.


And let's repeat another of Iliion's statements, but with a substitution:

Even those who *assert* that there are no colors show by their behavior and words (frequently mere moments after making the assertion) that they know the assertion to be false. Also, those making the assertion frequently implicitly testifiy to the reality of colors even as thay are explicitly denying the reality [...]

This is followed up by a fun jab at the nihilistic interlocutor contradicting himself:
"Therefore, since morality is not objectively real, you *ought to* stop claiming otherwise."

There are a couple of reasons this is not particularly disturbing.

One, the force of the epistemic ought is different from the moral ought, so the jab relies on an equivocation on 'ought.' I have no moral problems with someone believing in the fallacy of affirming the consequent, but if their goal is truth propagation, then affirming the consequent "should not" be done (where should just means "it doesn't further the goal of truth propagation").

Second, let's say someone thinks colors are not objectively real. Does the fact that they correct someone who calls the (red) apple purple mean they are contradicting their ontology?

I don't think so. Ontology is a multilayered, dappled, strange thing. Speaking to friends, to scientific colleagues, to philosophers, we all use different standards and enter different systems of rules governing how we talk. Comparing system S1 and S2 is nontrivial, and claims of contradiction are not easy to establish (because even establishing synonymy is difficult). I know I am a "standard" human observe, looking at an apple in "standard" lighting conditions, so my perceptual system will paint the apple red. If someone calls it purple, they are violating certain standards of communication within the "ordinary sized dried goods" system of normal discourse. Taken literally, the apple is not painted red, but to insist on literalism in ordinary discourse is to miss a lot of points about a lot of discourses.

An interesting topic.

Steve said...

T'sinadree,

Glad you enjoyed the article. If you email me at steve[at]annotations.co.uk, I'd be glad to send you a PDF of the entire doctoral thesis. Parts of it are also available at my website www.annotations.co.uk. However, that site hasn't had any maintenance in several years and looks horrible in today's higher resolution monitors (the background repeats too quickly) ... so that's only for the really keen. There is also a hard copy of the thesis held at the Wade Centre.

Matthew,

You ask "What makes God a better solution?". That's a perfectly legitimate question. However, before I (very briefly) address is ... my paper I wasn't arguing that God is a better (or the only) solution. It was only arguing that certain common objections do not manage to show that God is not a viable solution.

Here are a few of the general considerations that lead me to think a God based ethical theory may be better than secular theories.
(1) Preferable to relativism/subjectivism in that it captures our objectivist intutions about ethics. Even those who claim not to have such beliefs, often betray themselves on key issues like tolerance and basic human rights.
(2) Preferable to Naturalism, as it can explain how ethics gets to be necessary and binding regardless of a person's interests.
(3) Preferable to Platonism as Humans and Moral Values have a common origin in God which explains how come we can stand in some sort of relation to those Values, rather than the values "existing" without reference to us.
(4) Theistic ethics has many of the advantages of relativism/subjectivism as it can maintain with them that the ultimate source of value is personal ... a personal God.
(5) A related strength is that in theistic ethics evaluations can be seen as existing in a teleological framework. If life has a purpose, then actions can be evaluated in terms of how well they contribute to that purpose, which makes morality itself relatively unmysterious, not so if there is no overall purpose.

Obviously that's all very quick, and I don't expect to persuade any/many ... but those are some of the general areas where I think the important considerations lie.

Steve Lovell