Friday, September 11, 2009

An exchange with Paul Manata on Kant and Calvinism

Don't you think the tone of this dialogue is improving?

PM: i) There should obviously be no problem in saying, "So much the worse for Kant." In fact, many of your commenters said as much when discussing Kant's idea of conceptual schemes. In epistemology do you say, "So much the worse for Kant?" It is well known that Kant's system is opposed to suicide. As a liberal on such questions, would you admit now admit that Euthanasia, or patients opting to end their painful lives, is immoral? Or, will you say, "So much the worse for Kant"?

ii) Does appeal to Kant here beg a crucial question? As Kant understands things: "The ground of the possibility of categorical imperatives is this: that they refer to no other property of choice . . . than simply its *freedom*" (Kant, MM, 15/222, emphasis original). By this he means *libertarian* freedom. Kant thought his system demanded libertarian free will. Is it a surprise that compatibilists might take issue here?

iii) Kant says, "Autonomy is . . . the *ground* of the dignity of the human nature and of every rational nature" (G, 43/436, emphasis mine). As a *Christian*, do you say "So much the worse for Kant" at this point? or is our dignity *grounded in* our autonomy?

iv) As you know, but seem to miss out on, Kant's position is on treating others as *mere* means. As Kantian scholar Mark Timmons points out: "There is nothing necessarily morally wrong in [treating others as ends]. However, treating people *merely* as means to one's own ends [is wrong]" (Timmons, Moral Theory, 157, emphasis original). Therefore your burden is to show that in Calvinism, granting you many other points for sake of argument, God is treating the reprobate as *mere* ends. I am not optimistic that you could prove such a strong claim.

v) As Timmons comments on Kant regarding the treating others as mere ends maxim: "This does not mean we help others in their goals no matter what those goals happen to be. Rather, according to Kant, we have a duty to promote the *morally legitimate* goals of others (ibid, 158).

vi) In what seems particularly devastating to your argument, conceived Armininaistically, Timmons points out that, "Regarding the other main obligatory end---the happiness of others---Kant distinguishes duties of love, *which are not strictly owed to another person*, from duties of respect, which are" (ibid, 160, emphasis mine).

vii) Many have pointed out that Kant's idea about respecting other people is fine but too vague and so fails a determinacy standard for evaluating moral theories. A pacifist might appeal to the same Kantian theory Victor has. James Griffen says, "Every moral theory has the notion of equal respect at its heart: regarding each person as, in some sense, on an equal footing with every other one. Different moral theories parlay this vague notion into different conceptions . . .[M]oral theories are not simply derivations from these vague notions, because the notions are too vague to allow anything as tight as a derivation" (Griffin, in ibid, 182). So when the Calvinist debates the Arminian, with their differing conceptual schemes, then, as Timmons is right to point out, "the most plausible route" to take in regards to Kant's system, "is to admit that any moral theory, including Kant's, is limited in power to resolve such conflicts" (ibid, 184). So, while the "upshot is that although the idea of respecting humanity, or, equivalently, treating persons as ends in themselves, is an intuitively attractive moral ideal," the downside is that, "it is too vague to be the basis for a supreme moral principle that one can use to *derive* a system of moral duties" (ibid, 182, emphasis original).

viii) Given these considerations, along with countless other ones, I maintain that you kant use Kant to beat Calvinism. There are too many question you would have to beg, strong positions you would have to prove, and self-excepting fallacies you would have to avoid for your argument to do the work you want it to.
-- Paul

Paul: Hello. I read, and linked to, a post of yours in which you seemed to be implying that you had responded in one way to a Kant-style objection and followed that by offering another rebuttal of the Kant-style objection. I actually couldn't find the prior response, so I quoted the subsequent response.

I thought that by saying that the Calvinist can respond by saying "So much the worse for Kant" I was agreeing that a refutation of Calvinism is not to be found here. In fact, my standing position that there are no silver bullets on these controversial issues applies to Calvinism as well as to other issues. I was trying to address a different question. I was trying to ask why many people, including myself, react to Calvinism with moral repugnance. Is it merely an emotional reaction? Or is it moral convictions which have a rational foundation? And is Scripture itself feeding into the very intuitions that cause the repugnance? My post was an attempt to unpack the intuitions behind my resistance to Calvinism.

(As a side-note, you overestimate my "liberalism" with respect to euthanasia; I am not an advocate of active euthanasia, as opposed to the mere refusal of life-sustaining treatment. I also maintain that abortion is almost always morally unacceptable and late term abortions should be illegal. I don't pass the standard of pro-life orthodoxy, but I consider my views on abortion moderately conservative. Yes, I have supported candidates whose support for "a woman's right to choose" is far more robust than mine, so you can accuse me of tacitly supporting abortion on those grounds if you like. But that doesn't change my actual position on abortion itself, or on euthanasia.)

It doesn't seem to me as if you have to be a full-blown Kantian in ethics to get the point of what Kant is driving at with his Second Formulation of the Categorical Imperative. Choosing to instantiate a world in which there are reprobates when a universalist world was equally possible and rational treats those sinners as mere means to an end. The fundamental end or purpose of human beings is to glorify God and enjoy him forever, yet God chooses for some a final outcome that guarantees a final outcome of their existence which frustrates those inherent purposes. Instead, the total frustration of their inherent purposes is willed either for the glory of God or the edification of the blessed. They are props in a cosmic drama, destined by the director for a totally failed existence, so that others might get some benefit (and I find the benefit, either for humans or for God, to be highly dubious at best). Humans have one purpose, according to which their deepest needs as humans might be satisfied. That purpose is completely frustrated, as the necessary result of a divine fiat, so that a benefit might accrue to God or to the blessed. It is for that reason that I see reprobates as a mere means in the Calvinistic scheme.

The Griffin quote seems to be quite good here:

James Griffen says, "Every moral theory has the notion of equal respect at its heart: regarding each person as, in some sense, on an equal footing with every other one. Different moral theories parlay this vague notion into different conceptions . . .[M]oral theories are not simply derivations from these vague notions, because the notions are too vague to allow anything as tight as a derivation" (Griffin, in ibid, 182).

Saving some and reprobating others based on a decision before the foundation of the world treats people differently in what looks like an arbitrary way. All men are not created equal. Some are elected, and others are reprobated.

While this conception of "equal respect" might be too vague to handle borderline cases, the instantiation of a reprobate world seems to be a clear case of using the reprobates as a means to an end. If we accept Steve's position, no action and no desire on the part of God is aimed toward the good of these people. They exist to be "object lessons" to teach the blessed in heaven that their salvation is by grace alone, or they exist to give God the opportunity to exercise his property of being wrathful, which he wouldn't have if there were no sinners to punish. The wedge between creaturely goodness and divine goodness seems, on this picture, to be nearly as wide as can possibly be imagined.

I would add that Scripture offers a very powerful object lesson from the point of view of "equal respect" in the parable of the Good Samaritan. The essence of Christian ethics is to love your neighbor as yourself, and that our attempt to distinguish between neighbor and non-neighbor is bound to fail. Yet God chooses some to be treated one way, and others to be treated in the opposite way? Isn't Scripture responsible for creating some cognitive dissonance here if Scripture if it at the same time teaches Calvinism?

Again, I'll repeat what I said. No silver bullets. But it does seem that a very large chunk of moral thought common to various ethical traditions has to be set aside for the Calvinistic God.

I hope this has been helpful by way of clarification.


drwayman said...

Dr. Reppert - I have seen people often use Pharaoh as a reason for Calvinism in their defense as if he did not have a choice.

However, Hebrews 11 offers us a contrast. Moses was brought into Pharaoh's court and had the same advantages as Pharaoh. Verse 25 says that Moses CHOSE "rather to endure ill-treatment with the people of God than to enjoy the passing pleasures of sin..."

When God called Moses, He told him that He would harden Pharaoh's heart. In this story God did not harden Pharaoh's heart until he was given chances.

My reading of this story tells me that Pharaoh hardened his own heart in Ex 8:32 & 9:34 (this verse specifically mentioned that he sinned when he did this). Also, Pharaoh repeatedly lied to the Moses and God and sinned by hardening his own heart. It was then that God hardened Pharaoh's heart.

It appears to me that Pharaoh was given chances before God sealed his doom. We also know that Moses chose to serve God rather than Pharaoh.

Pharaoh made bad choices and God gave him over to a depraved mind (Rom 1:28). In contrast, Moses made good choices and ended up in the Hall of Faith of Hebrews 11!

Cahya said...

Hi Victor,
(your name like my cousin, hahahah)
Nice blog.