Tuesday, September 15, 2009

More discussion with Manata on Calvinism

Hi Victor,
As I can’t get into an extended back-n-forth at the current time, I’ll offer a final response to this current issue. Before I begin, let me state that my liberal comment was meant more to portray the point that you don’t post blog entries indicting the “morally repugnant” nature of some liberal issues when juxtaposed against Kantian maxims. I understand your position on abortion and euthanasia and didn’t mean to imply that you were lock-step liberal on those matters. However, I do wonder why you don’t come out with a post entitled “Euthanists and Immanuel Kant,” concluding that euthanists need to say, “So much the worse for Kant.” That you don’t do this, and even seem to afford their arguments respect, always making sure their place is set at the table of rational discourse, strikes me as wondering if you really believe this Kantian argument you’re offering.

I don't think I would want to deprive Calvinism of a place at the table of rational discourse.

I take your current argument to be that Calvinism is morally repugnant according to your pre-argumentative moral intuitions. To flesh out what is pre-argumentative, you appeal to Kant’s Humanity Principle, HP. That is, "Treat humanity in yourself and in others as an end, but never as a means." You then claim that the Calvinist idea where God “guarantees a final outcome of [the reprobates] existence” is a violation of this principle because this makes these humans’ purpose to be “either for the glory of God or the edification of the blessed.” And so you say, “It is for that reason that I see reprobates as a mere means in the Calvinistic scheme.” That Calvinism violates Kant’s HP maxim, and so helps in substantiating your pre-argumentative intuitions, is because this violation shows that a “large chunk of moral thought common to various ethical traditions has to be set aside for the Calvinistic God.” Implicit here is that a “large chunk” of moral thought holds to the HP.

I take it that I have stated your argument correctly.

So here’s some problems I see for you. First, I disagree with your understanding of Kant. I do not see how the HP is doing the work you want it to here. As virtually all ethicists have pointed out, Kant’s position here is helpless to help us apply it to any concrete cases. You claimed that it was only helpless in “borderline” cases. However, as I read them, this is not what the ethicists tell us. This is not what the two ethicists I quoted, Timmons and Griffin, tell us. But agreement with my claim seems far and wide.

For example, Pojman points out that “Even if we should respect [other rational beings] and treat them as ends, this does not tell us very much.” I certainly doubt it tells a divine being what to do when looking over a mass of sinful humanity all deserving of punishment! Pojman says that at best it tells us not to treat others cruelly; and that without a good reason (Pojman, Ethics, 147)!

On the Calvinistic view, God is in a position such that he can bring it about that no one needs to be reprobated. God can do that by decreeing that they not sin or by decreeing that they receive redemption.

Wood claims that what constitutes respect for other persons always involves a need to combine that principle with contentious claims. He thinks that no criterion for deciding when someone is being treated as a mere means that comes out of HP (Wood, Kant, 150-155). Kant scholar Richard Dean admits that “it is far from clear what precisely the humanity formulation demands” (Dean, Humanity, 4).
When you rather confidently claim that, “the instantiation of a reprobate world seems to be a clear case of using the reprobates as a means to an end,” this strikes me as not just a free lunch you want, but also a lifetime supply of Big Mac burgers! Even setting aside worries about whether treating someone as a mere means is immoral, of if God has indeed treated the reprobate as *mere* means, the problem you have is that you apparently see farther than all of those who specialize not only in ethical theory in general, but Kant in particular.
Second, speaking of Kant experts, we have some general ideas of what it means to “treat humanity as a mere means and not an end.” For example, Kosrsgaard takes Kant’s treatment of the lying promisor, i.e., “you treat someone as a mere means whenever you treat him in a way to which he could not possibly consent (G 430)” as a hermeneutical light to shine on one of the most obscure ethical claims. Others claim, in similar fashion, and based off the role rationality plays in all of this for Kant, that if we have treated some agent, S, in a certain respect R, then we have made S a mere means *iff* S would not have agreed with R *given S was fully rational*. Rachels makes a similar argument (Rachels, Elements, 132). All that is required not to treat a person as an ends is “to respect their rationality.” Obviously none of this poses a problem for the Calvinist in that we claim no forcing is going on, and we would claim that if any agent were fully rational they would agree with all of God’s decisions. Indeed, in none of Kant’s specific examples, which many claim are unclear (Dean, Humanity, 4), is there something analogous to reprobation.

I didn't really intend for my claim to rest on the fine points of Kantian ethical theory. The Second Formulation has an intuitive appeal, why? The idea of someone being simply exploited is obnoxious to us.

I thought I provided a common-sense account of what it is for someone to be treated as a mere means. If another person's interests are completely set aside so that one's own goals can be accomplished, this is using a person as a mere means. Slavery and seduction would be paradigm cases of using persons as a means. Here interests need not be given any especially hedonistic definition. I take it that Calvinists agree that the interests of a created person are served when that person can "glorify God and enjoy him forever." Whether using violence to their will or not, the Calvinistic God guarantees that reprobates act in such a way that they spoil their chance at permanent happiness, and exist in irretrievable misery. No interest of these persons is taken seriously, these are all completely frustrated in the interests of fulfilling God's purpose either for himself (glory) or for the blessed (object lessons showing them he graciousness of their salvation). In ordinary contexts this would be a paradigmatic case of exploitation.

I think Kant would say that if a reprobate person were to see the true nature of his actions, he would not do them. He can only act in a reprobate way by being irrational. The fact that God can, without violence to their will, bring it about that people act irrationally and undermine their own best interests does not mean that they are not being exploited, any more than someone who plays on the irrational greed of someone in order to bilk them out of their money is exploiting them, even though they are not committing violence to their will.

But matters don’t get any easier. Next up is the notion of ‘humanity’. You seem to read this phrase as “actual persons.” However Kant scholar Richard Dean claims that figuring this out is even harder than the above questions posed, as it is “deceptively obscure” (Dean, Humanity, 4). In fact, and contrary to you Dr. Reppert, Dean claims that viewing ‘humanity’ as a “general noun to identify all members of the human species” is “not what Kant means by humanity,” according to “contemporary commentators” (Dean, Humanity, 5). Dean claims that ‘humanity’ is a property “in” a person, and that not all humans have this. In fact, some, like Singer, would argue that some animals and no human infants have this property! So to not treat cows as mere means I had better take back those free Big Macs you asked for above! And, if this were not enough, Dean points out that there is even disagreement on what this property is supposed to be. Not all agree it is the rational nature (Dean, Humanity, 5). Indeed, on Korsgaard, Wood, and Hill’s analysis infants do not come into the picture too! Dean has to admit that “there is no perfectly consistent and univocal sense that attaches to Kant's uses of the word ‘humanity’” (Dean, Humanity, 65).

Is it right to sacrifice the interests of a rational creature for the accomplishment of one's own goals? Is it right to raise rational creatures as food? For the purpose of doing slave labor? If we could create conscious androids with the kind of rich inner life as we have, would we be justified in treating them the worst plantation owners treated Negro slaves? After all we created them, so we can use the "potter argument" from Romans 9 to justify doing whatever the hell we want with them?

At this point things look dreary for your argument.

Only if you think the argument depends upon the fine points of Kantian theory.

Third, more problems can be seen, however, in that Kant’s argument *depends on* the idea that ‘humanity’ (whatever that is) is of the *highest* worth. But if the glory of God, or the benefit of the elect, are of higher worth, than the argument falls flat. And certainly, this is quite possible; indeed, most Christians admit it as pertains to God. But we don’t even need to go there at this point.

Well, here is where the real conflict lies. Does God's glory justify all of this, or the benefit of the blessed. My first question has to be "What glory does God get, and what benefit to the blessed get?" I don't see any. But if you can accept a "divine glory" theory of the good, and then be persuaded that reprobation maximizes that good, then you can get around my argument.

I am in agreement with philosophers Rhoda, Hasker, Swinburne, Widerker, Fischer, and Helm, to name but a few, in denying that omniscience is compatible with knowledge of the future indeterministically free actions of human agents. I am in agreement with other libertarians, like Hunt and Zagzebski, that foreknowledge renders all your actions settled, accidentally necessary. I have not seen a “way out” for those who are compatibilists about libertarian freedom and God’s exhaustive, meticulous foreknowledge of all things. Your claim that God “guarantees” certain outcomes is one that is had on more systems than just Calvinism. So you must find them morally repugnant too (unless you want to shore up the language used, but even so, I still would see no “way out” for Classical theisms). But an argument from a Christian that consigns all of historic, classical Christianity to the flames of the “morally repugnant,” is an argument that just tossed all its persuasive value into the same fire. All classical models have the fate of sinners “guaranteed.”

It is one thing to make the case that a position is itself morally repugnant. It is another thing to hold that a position has logical entailments not recognized by adherents of the position lead to morally repugnant conclusions. You have suspected that I have open theist leanings, and I do. Bill Hasker is both one of the founding fathers of the AFR, and the chief philosophical defender of open theism. I think Bill's arguments (and those of others on this score) may well be right. However, C. S. Lewis, for example, thought he could escape the implications of exhaustive foreknowledge by appealing to God's transcendence of time. Bill Craig thinks middle knowledge is the way out. They don't think they have to justify unconditional reprobation. They are certainly not philosophically omniscient, and they are not embracing reprobation in the way that a Calvinist does. The fact that many people, even conservative Christians, are willing to take the step of going to open theism instead of to Calvinism when they become persuaded that reconciliations of foreknowledge and freedom don't work is ample evidence that there is something repugnant, at least to them, about Calvinism.

Fourth, I still cannot figure out what your objection to God’s punishing criminals who deserve punishment is? Your claim is that he could have saved them all. But considered as sinners qua guilty criminals, he did not have to save even one. I once asked you if God was morally obligated to save anyone. You said “No.” This takes the teeth out of your argument. If you asked why he passed over Sam and not Jim, I cannot tell you, that belongs to the hidden things. If you asked why he made a world determined to fall over a world where no one ever fell, I respond by claiming that a redeemed world is better than an unredeemed world.

There is nothing in the character of sinners that merits salvation for them. However, the character of God is such that He will save anyone who can possibly be saved. And is a redeemed world better than an unfallen world? Do you have a model of each in a petri dish so we can compare? In C. S. Lewis's Perelandra the Un-man uses the Fortunate Fall argument to try to seduce the Green Lady of Venus to fall. I don't see why failure to fall should have cost the world the incarnation of the Second Person of the Trinity.

Fifth, I still did not see an *argument* for how these people were treated as *mere* means. I’m not even sure I understand the relevant difference between treating one as a means and one as a mere means. According to many popular understandings of Kant, Calvinism is not treating them as mere means.

The total frustration of all their interests for the sake of the ends of others strikes me as treating them as mere means.

Sixth, you claim that Calvinism is at odds with a major chunk of moral thought. Above I showed this to be false. What I will demonstrate here is that if you accept classical theism then you hold a view that is at odds with a chunk of moral thought. Take this moral claim:

[MC] If someone, S, knows the proposition {S* will kill and rape S** at t unless I, S, intervene, and I, S, have the power to intervene} then if S failed to stop S* from killing and raping S** at t, S would be immoral.

It's easy to see that if people are given a free will, God cannot be systematically insulating the world from its effects without in effect taking that free will away. If a billy-club turns into nerf every time I try to hit someone over the head, or if I start to throw up every time I lust, I am effectively unfree. Welcome to the world of Clockwork Orange.

I take it that almost all people would agree with [MC]. Now, one might *add* to [MC], say, claim that S had a *good reason* for allowing S* to kill and rape S**. But when you make *that move* I simply say, “Welcome to my parlor, said the spider to the fly.” If you claim I must know the reason, I deny this premise, appeal to skeptical theist arguments, and show that I am still untouched. BTW, this answer wouldn’t work on many interpretations of Kant!

Lastly, by way of closing I would like to say that I argued that your *Kantian* argument goes nowhere. I argued that you would have to condemn all of classical Christianity. I argued that you have yet to spell out what the problem with Calvinism WRT God passing over some sinners who deserve hell while saving some others is, exactly. I have argued that you hold a premise that conflicts with a major chunk or moral thought, and to the extent that you make it palpable, you also free Calvinism from your clutches. Furthermore, to the extent you can appeal to some kind of greater good, you still would have to say, “So much the worse for Kant;” or, perhaps, “So much the worse for traditional conceptions of omniscience.” So I hope this brief response shows why the Calvinist does not find your argument cogent (i.e., persuasive in the right kind of way). But perhaps the most damaging things I have done is shown that what you initially took to be an *explanation* of your intuition posits *more* things to explain! There is more now to explain at the level of the explanans than the explanandum.

Please take note of my analysis of exploitation above. No doubt Calvinists will say that this "exploitation" must be justified since, based on Scripture, this is just what God has done, and who are we to answer back. I am not here claiming that these considerations trump all other theological considerations. But I hope I have come a tad closer to giving you a sense of what makes Calvinism seem morally outrageous to many people, including Christians.

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