## Saturday, August 26, 2017

### Lovell on the Euthyphro dilemma

Starhopper said...

is x good because God says it's good, or does God say x is good because it is good?

I've never understood why you can't solve this so-called "dilemma" by simply saying "X is good because God says it's good, and God says X is good because it is good?"

What am I missing here? Why is the "or" considered mandatory?

Unknown said...

--"by simply saying "X is good because God says it's good, and God says X is good because it is good?" And I'd like to add, "and it is good because it reflects the character of God who is the absolute and ultimate good." There is really no dilemma.

Unknown said...

To illustrate: It's 2 inches because the ruler says it's 2 inches, and the ruler says it's 2 inches because it's indeed 2 inches, and it's a fact that it's 2 inches because it reflects the ruler's measure for 2 inches, and finally, when it comes to measuring inches it is the ruler that sets the absolute standard.

Hal said...

"when it comes to measuring inches it is the ruler that sets the absolute standard."

Isn't it humans who set the absolute standard? The ruler helps ensure the standard is being applied accurately.

Joseph Hinman (Metacrock) said...

Hal does that really change the point in relation to god and Euthyphro?

Hal said...

Sorry Joe, but I don't know. Was just responding to the example itself.

Steve Lovell said...

Mortal,

The problem with saying that "X is good because God says it's good, and God says X is good because it is good" is that the "because" here is intended to be one of explanation. It is not (usually?) acceptable to say X explains why Y is the case AND that Y explains why X is the case.

Zgob, if you aren't talking about a "special" ruler which somehow defines lengths, then it simply isn't the case that the ruler saying the thing is 2 inches long is what makes something 2 inches long. Rather the use of the ruler is how we know that the item is 2 inches long.

Starhopper said...

Block A is on the bottom because Block B is sitting on top of it.
Block B is on top because Block A is underneath it.

Hal said...

Mortal,
Your two statements seem to be simply two different ways of expressing the same thing: the spatial relationship of A and B.

Starhopper said...

Hal,

You are correct. And the 2 statements about God and good are simply 2 different ways of saying the same thing. No "dilemma" necessary.

There's no reason to say "Either A is underneath B, or B is on top of A." Just use "and" instead of "or".

Hal said...

Mortal,
What is the same thing that the two statements you gave earlier are saying?

Starhopper said...

What is the same thing?

To say A is beneath B is the same as saying B is above A. It's like saying Chicago is west of New York is the same as saying New York is east of Chicago.

To say that "X is good because God says it's good" is the same as saying "God says X is good because it is good." The reasoning is purposefully circular to indicate the inseparability of the two halves of the sentence.

What makes them the same is the essence of the reality behind the two terms being discussed. To use a slightly different example, when John tells us "God is Love", he is telling us that the two words (though not their essences) are interchangeable. He demonstrates this in 1 John, in which he repeatedly (and in many different ways) says that we know God only though loving one another, and that anyone who does not love does not know God. So God and love are inseparable, and there can be no discussion of the one without the other.

The same goes for God and good.

Steve Lovell said...

Mortal, I think to be truly parallel your blocks example would need to be:

Block A occupies its position in space because it is resting on block B
Block B occupies its position in space because it is beneath block A

And one of these will fail. If you insist on your example as given, I'll say it's merely a case of definitions. You can use words to define other words, and ultimately those definitions will wind up in circularity. That's fine when defining words. Not so with explanation.

Unknown said...

Hal,

I thought the illustration was clear enough. To unpack a little: Saying, “Isn't it humans who set the absolute standard? The ruler helps ensure the standard is being applied accurately,” is beside the point. A thing called a ruler exists, and when there’s a need to measure things (e.g., inches) we go grab a ruler. If there is no ruler—or no objective standard of measurement (e.g., a Standard English ruler)—then everything is up for grabs. I can make up some term and call that a measuring standard. Somebody else can do the same. And ten of us can argue till kingdom come about this thing called an “inch”—how long it is, or how long it should be—and not come to any sane agreement. I can argue, ‘This is what I consider an inch, because…’ Somebody else can argue, ‘Well, I disagree. To me, this is an inch, for the following reasons…’ and on and on. In this case, there is indeed a Euthyphro dilemma.

Am I arguing that it is an inch by fiat? Arbitrary. Somebody can just dismiss it with a ‘Sez who?’

Am I arguing that it is an inch because it is actually an inch? My argument may be interesting, but when it comes to the reality of the ‘inch,’ it is unnecessary.

But if an actual, objective ruler exists—and that the ten of us agree that it exists—then we can end the argument by simply looking for the ruler. And when the ten of us get into an argument on how long is 2 inches, we go grab the ruler. Thus, “it's 2 inches because the ruler says it's 2 inches, and the ruler says it's 2 inches because it's indeed 2 inches, and it's a fact that it's 2 inches because it reflects the ruler's measure for 2 inches, and finally, when it comes to measuring inches it is the ruler that sets the absolute standard.”

When it comes to moral values and duties, the most coherent argument for a strong moral realist position is a theistic one. The theist position is left unscathed by the Euthyphro dilemma. Rather, it is the secularist/humanistic positions that suffer from it.

Hal said...

Zgob,

Rulers don't just pop into existence on their own. People have to come up with a standard and based on that standard rulers can be used to ensure people are measuring correctly. There can be a variety of reasons for setting a standard. And standards can be modified if needed.
Sometimes a ruler can even be used for two different standards: many rulers show inches on one edge and centimeters on the other edge.
Am having trouble seeing how your example eliminates the dilemma.

Starhopper said...

I think the confusion results from mixing numbers and measurements. Inches and centimeters are man made constructs and have no "objective" reality, while numbers are independently objective regardless of what units we use to measure things.

When we speak of God saying X is good, it's akin to Him telling us 2 plus 2 equals 4, rather than His saying "That object is 4 inches long."

This is where all too many discussions about objective morality go astray. Customs and norms of behavior are like inches and centimeters. In the United States, it's considered improper for women to go about bare breasted, whereas in many cultures it would be unremarkable. Conversely, how a woman dresses in America would seem scandalous in Saudi Arabia. These are matters of inches and centimeters.

But the underlying concept of modesty is closer to our idea of integers, of numbers themselves. How we measure it might vary, but the objective moral concept of modesty is nevertheless the same for all cultures.

Unknown said...

Hal,
“Rulers don't just pop into existence…” Unnecessary litany.
“Am having trouble seeing how your example eliminates the dilemma.” Let me try again.

I said, “To illustrate”:
Illustration: “a picture… drawing, sketch, figure, image...”
“an example serving to clarify… an example or instance that helps make something clear… picture or diagram that helps make something clear”

Analogy: “a comparison between two things, typically for the purpose of explanation or clarification… a correspondence or PARTIAL similarity… a thing that is comparable to something else in significant respects” (not ALL respects)

And in this case, "an analogy between the ruler that is the objective standard to measures inches (that it is man-made is not really the point), and the character of God that is the objective standard that measures what is the moral good.”

Note carefully that the point i'm driving at is the logical structure of the argument (not really about the specs and uses of rulers). And based on that, I contend that the theist position is left untouched by the dilemma.

I further argue that the secularist/humanistic moral realist positions suffer from the dilemma (the moral antirealist position avoids this eg, Mackie):
-Arguing that it is an inch by fiat? Arbitrary. Somebody can just dismiss it with a ‘Sez who?’
-Arguing that it is an inch because it is actually an inch? May be interesting, but when it comes to the ontology of the ‘inch,’ it is unnecessary.

The secularist/humanist moral realist is still left with the burden to justify the ontology of the inch—is there a deeper story to this, a deeper explanation? Is this just a brute fact of the universe? For this to be a warranted belief requires an explanation, otherwise it is left dangling in midair, untouched by reason.

“Am having trouble seeing how your example eliminates the dilemma.” This is incoherent. The series of valid points you made prior to this statement refer to details about rulers (kinds and uses), and not the STRUCTURE of my argument concerning the theistic position and how it logically avoids the dilemma. My illustration simply utilizes the LOGICAL analogy between the ruler that sets the standard for inches, and God’s character as setting the standard for the moral good, and not really about the ruler, its specs and uses.

Mortal, “I think the confusion results from mixing numbers and measurements.”

I appreciate the point. However, again, my argument has nothing to do with numbers and measurements. It’s all about the logical structure of the argument between that of the ruler as the standard for measuring inches, and God as the standard for measuring the moral good.

And by the way, at this level the issue is ontology, not epistemology.

Hal said...

My illustration simply utilizes the LOGICAL analogy between the ruler that sets the standard for inches, and God’s character as setting the standard for the moral good, and not really about the ruler, its specs and uses.

The ruler does not set any standard. People set the standard.

Unknown said...

You keep missing the point Hal. You say, "The ruler does not set any standard. People set the standard." Let me put this in a concrete example. You're having a table made, and you're arguing with the carpenter about the length of the table. You say, 'I said 37 and a half inches, this is too short!' The carpenter responds, 'No. This is exactly 37 and a half. I'm a carpenter, this is what i do. Believe me, i know.' And you argue back and forth. Tell me Hal, how would you settle the argument?

Hal said...

Of course we could use the ruler to determine the length. That is because the carpenter and I know the correct use of the ruler and of the word "inch." Just as the meaning (the use) of the word "inch" has been set by convention so has the use (the meaning) of the ruler. What appears to be an objective standard is a product of the subjective.

In any case, it is simply an analogy we are talking about. No analogy perfectly matches what it is an analogy of.

Joseph Hinman (Metacrock) said...

We are not talking abouit an independent objective reality that God and you can just appeal to apart from personal sense of right and wrong, wise are talking about a world in which God is all there is, literally the only thing there is. Now if
god creates free moral agents what is the standard they would use, their own feelings? if their feelings are the result of being made in God's image what is the actual standard?

Atheists seem to think that if it is what God wants then it has to be arbitrary, But they forget the dilemma originally applied to a world in which contingent gods who were not the creator and were not the origin of human feeling. They vied for supremacy against the fates, so for them it was thinkable that there was an independent standard to which Zeus must be subservient, not so whits Christian God.

The standardized is not arbitrary it;not as though God pulled morality out of a hat random. It's love, We made moral standards based upon what seems right OT us and what seems right is the instinct God put in us to love and to reason about the consequences of love.

David Brightly said...

And, following on from Hal's last comment, the analogy breaks down at exactly the critical place. For we know, for practical purposes, what length is and how to check whether the carpenter has brought along a defective ruler that he knocked up in his workshop. But, and this is surely the point of the Euthyphro, we don't know what the good is, and have no independent standard. To be told that God defines the good doesn't help the many of us who lack the intimacy with God that would be required to learn what the good is.

Unknown said...

Hal, “Of course we could use the ruler to determine the length”—Bingo! Now stop right there. Just stop and consider this point. This is the basic idea of my argument so far, no more no less. I’m not dismissing the other things you’re saying or want to say. But I’d like you to grasp THIS particular point.

You go back and forth with the carpenter. Exasperated, you both agree to put the argument to an empirical test—you get a ruler to measure the board. Bam! The ruler tells both of you the length of the board. You look at the ruler and it measures 37 and a half inches. And the ruler says it’s 37 and a half inches because it's indeed 37 and a half inches, and it's a fact that it's 37 and a half inches because it reflects the ruler's measure for 37 and a half inches, and finally, when it comes to measuring inches, both you and the carpenter agree that the ruler sets the absolute standard. Of course you can get a “second opinion” (or a “second ruler” to be more exact), or that you suspect whether this particular ruler is a standard one. But the point is that both of you agree that there is an official, standard ruler, and that this ruler will tell you the right length of the board.

We really cannot progress in the discussion unless we grasp each other’s argument. Again, I’m not dismissing anything else that you’re saying. I simply just would like you to see/grasp the argument I’m making. If you think there’s a flaw to the logical structure of my argument then do show me. So far, you’ve been addressing issues that are not part of the argument I’m making.

David, “the analogy breaks down at exactly the critical place. For we KNOW… But, and this is surely the point of the Euthyphro, we don't KNOW what the good is… To be told that God defines the good doesn't help the many of us who lack the intimacy with God that would be required to LEARN WHAT the good is.”

I was careful to point out in my previous post, “at this level the issue is ONTOLOGY, not EPISTEMOLOGY.” David, you are bringing up EPISTEMOLOGICAL issues when I’m addressing the ONTOLOGICAL. And you are badly mistaken when you say that the epistemological question is “surely the point of the Euthyphro.” No. The point of the Euthyphro dilemma is the NATURE or the ontology of the good (not knowledge of the good)—is the good good simply by Divine fiat? Or is it good because it is, in fact, good in itself (and God simply recognizes and affirms its innate and original goodness)? As Leibniz structured it, "there remains the question whether it is good and just because God wills it or whether God wills it because it is good and just; in other words, whether justice and Goodness are arbitrary or whether they belong to the necessary and eternal truths about the nature of things."

Ok. I certainly hope this clears things up a bit.

Hal said...

"both you and the carpenter agree that the ruler sets the absolute standard

I think this may be the point of contention or perhaps misunderstandin. In my view the ruler does not set the absolute standard. It is a tool to represent that standard, a standard set by other humans.

Maybe you mean something else by "set the standard"???

Hal said...

Interesting article on efforts to redefine the International System of Units:

Unknown said...

Joe, "We made moral standards based upon what seems right OT us and what seems right is the instinct God put in us to love and to reason about the consequences of love." Typos aside, i fully affirm this point. A full Judeo-Christian perspective would add God's self-revelation supremely displayed in Jesus Christ as that love in the flesh.

Unknown said...

Hal, “I think this may be the point of contention or perhaps misunderstandin. In my view the ruler does not set the absolute standard. It is a tool to represent that standard, a standard set by other humans.”

There is no misunderstanding on my part, and at the moment I am not contending against anything you said. But you are still addressing something that’s not a relevant part of the argument I’m making. The argument I’m making addresses the charge that theism suffers from the Euthyphro dilemma, and I argue that it does not by using the analogy of the ruler and inches (that the ruler is manmade or what is not relevant at this level of discourse, it is simply all about the logical structure of my argument).

You say that a ruler is “a tool to represent that standard.” Ok, let me go with this. Now once you accept the fact of the existence of a ruler (that it is manmade is not in question here), you accept the ff:
1) the NATURE of a ruler, as a ruler, is that it’s a standard of measurement, an accepted standard of measurement, considered to be accurate.
2) the nature/ontology of a ruler includes the characteristic or quality of measuring inches (and other forms of measurement)—it is intrinsic in the very nature of the ruler as a ruler.
3) from 2) follows that the nature/ontology of a ruler includes the capacity/ability to accurately measure inches, and that it is utilized as the accepted standard of measurement.
4) Once we accept above, we don’t argue with the ruler and say that its measure of inches is arbitrary, or that it is an unnecessary instrument. When you and the carpenter put your argument to an empirical test, what do you do? you grab a ruler, and the argument’s done; you bow to the ruler’s “authority” to tell you the correct length (ie, how many inches).

Now to God and the Euthyphro issue:

1) the NATURE of God, as Ultimate Reality, is that He is the source of ALL reality (ie, everything that exists in the universe), the universe did not begin to exist from a vacuum (ie., from nothing and for no reason), it does not continue to exist in a vacuum (ie, from nothing and for no reason).
2) the nature/ontology of God includes the characteristic or quality of the Good; God is the measure of the Good—Goodness is intrinsic in the very nature of God, the Good does not exist in a vacuum (ie., from nothing and for no reason), the Good exists BECAUSE God exists, there is a moral structure to the universe BECAUSE it reflects the moral character of its Creator, ie, God, there is Good in the universe BECAUSE there is God.
3) from 2) follows that God—His very Being, his nature/ontology—is the absolute and accurate measure of the Good, of everything that is morally good in the world.
4) Once we accept the logic above, it is clear that theism does not suffer the Euthyphro dilemma. God neither decrees the Good arbitrarily, nor is it the case that God is unnecessary vis a vis the Good.

Again, my argument is all about ONTOLOGY, not epistemology.

If you find anything problematic in the structure of the argument, please do point it out.

Hal said...

Zgob,
Based on your response, I'm not really sure your understand my position.

You say:
he NATURE of a ruler, as a ruler, is that it’s a standard of measurement, an accepted standard of measurement, considered to be accurate.

Nope, the nature of a ruler is that it can be used as a representative of the standard of measurement. The standard is set by people. The ruler does not set the standard. The ruler is not the standard.

You are confusing the ruler with the rule (the standard).

Starhopper said...

Zgob,

Good explanation in your last posting! I get what you're saying.

Unknown said...

Moratal,

Thanks. Appreciate that. It's good when understanding (though not necessarily agreement) is reached.

Hal, "the nature of a ruler is that it can be used as a representative of the standard of measurement... The ruler does not set the standard. The ruler is not the standard." I can go along with this, no prob. But again that does not touch the argument i'm making.

Let me ask you, do you have a problem with the logic of my defense of theism against the charge of the Euthyphro dilemma (as i articulated in my previous post)? If yes, then do show me where my logic breaks down.

David Brightly said...

Hello Zgob, I do appreciate what you are saying. I'm not in the least suggesting that the ED be treated as a sort of proof of non-existence of God by inconsistency or maybe indeterminacy. I don't know enough about its history to say whether some have sought to do this, but what you say seems consistent enough to me. Your latest formulation of the ruler analogy avoids the problem Steve pointed out at August 27, 2017 8:04 AM, I think. The problem for me is that, in contrast with the ruler which we have invented ourselves, God is hypothetical. Lacking a characterisation of the good we are unable to say whether what has come down to us as possibly divine command does indeed represent the good or whether it has the status of mere command or whether it is in fact both. That, for me at least, is the import of the ED.

Hal said...

Zgob,
I agree with David that my interest in this discussion is not directed toward whether or not God exists. I'm interested in understanding your analogy.

David also mentioned Steve's earlier post in regards to your ruler analogy. Here is what he said:
Zgob, if you aren't talking about a "special" ruler which somehow defines lengths, then it simply isn't the case that the ruler saying the thing is 2 inches long is what makes something 2 inches long. Rather the use of the ruler is how we know that the item is 2 inches long.

I think Steve's point is important here. We can use a ruler to define lengths such as inches or centimeters. It is a sample of units of measurement. Such a ruler would be the 'standard ruler'. Humans are free to define those units as they please. So in that sense the standard is arbitrary.

I agree with what you said in point 4 above:
Once we accept above, we don’t argue with the ruler and say that its measure of inches is arbitrary, or that it is an unnecessary instrument.

But it seems to me that is only the case because we have agreed on a particular standard, a standard that we a free to change if we think another standard would be more useful. It is incoherent to think we can use the standard ruler to measure itself to establish that it is the true and absolute standard of measurement. As a consequence, I'm having trouble understanding how the analogy supports your claim that God's character is the absolute standard of good.

I could very well be misunderstanding your point here. But I think the ontological status of the "standard" used in the analogy is quite different from the "absolute standard" you are positing for God's character.

Unknown said...

David,
‘I'm not in the least suggesting that the ED be treated as a sort of proof of non-existence of God’—The ED even if successful can never be a legitimate proof to assert God’s nonexistence. At best it can only posit some sort of a dualistic world where other than God there is the existence of the Good that’s ontologically distinct yet equally eternal. Thus, God cannot be said to be the Ultimate—all-encompassing—Reality.

“The problem for me is that, in contrast with the ruler which we have invented ourselves, God is hypothetical. Lacking a characterisation of the good we are unable to say whether what has come down to us as possibly…” This is a valid point. Some initial thoughts

--Assumptions come into play here. You seem to be assuming a naturalistic world bereft of any ‘signals of transcendence’ (Berger). If this assumption is anywhere near accurate, then it sharpens the point you’re raising.

--But I don’t follow that assumption. I affirm the psalmist’s observation that “the heavens declare the glory of God” (ie, the universe—and human experience in particular—does give glimpses of a greater and deeper reality). Peter Berger argues for what he call ‘signals of transcendence’ (A Rumor of Angels). Bestselling contemporary Christian writer Philip Yancey wrote a fascinating book on this in his Rumors of Another World. Os Guinness devoted 2 insightful chapters on this in his Long Journey Home (chapters 5 and 6)

--And of course the full argument of the Judeo-Christian worldview is that God has not been silent; aside from his voice in nature, in the human experience (eg, the moral compulsion), He actually showed up right in our midst, He has gone to the level of a creature, to our level—in Jesus of Nazareth.

An incident in the Gospel of Mark is instructive. Somebody approaches Jesus and calls him, ‘Good teacher,’ Jesus responded, “Why do you call me good? No one is good except God alone.” Mk10:18

--If you follow the narrative above, a number of things follow:
1) God has not been silent
2) We are not totally in the dark about God and the Good in God

Paul says it this way (Rom2:14-16) “When outsiders (ie, Gentiles, nonJews) who have never heard of God’s law follow it more or less by instinct, they confirm its truth by their obedience. They show that God’s law is not something alien, imposed on us from without, but woven into the very fabric of our creation. There is something deep within them that echoes God’s yes and no, right and wrong.” (The Message translation)

3) We are not totally in the dark about the Good that God wills for us, God’s very character has been displayed in flesh and blood—in Jesus Christ. HE is the pattern/paradigm of God's goodness that human beings, made in God's likeness, are to emulate.

bmiller said...

@David and Hal,

This is my take.

The Euthyphro Dilemma does not assume that God is hypothetical at all. For purposes of the dilemma, God exists. The question is the nature of morality.

The question is whether the Good exists because God considers is good or whether God considers it good, because it *really* is Good.

So the analogy to the ruler seems to be that it is a given that the ruler exists. The question is whether the Inch is an inch because the ruler measures it as such or because it is *really* and Inch.

This is not a problem for classical theism as Zgob and Moral point out.

From the Wikipedia article:
"Augustine, Anselm, and Aquinas all wrote about the issues raised by the Euthyphro dilemma, although, like William James[99] and Wittgenstein[60] later, they did not mention it by name. As philosopher and Anselm scholar Katherin A. Rogers observes, many contemporary philosophers of religion suppose that there are true propositions which exist as platonic abstracta independently of God.[100] Among these are propositions constituting a moral order, to which God must conform in order to be good.[101] Classical Judaeo-Christian theism, however, rejects such a view as inconsistent with God's omnipotence, which requires that God and what he has made is all that there is.[100] "The classical tradition," Rogers notes, "also steers clear of the other horn of the Euthyphro dilemma, divine command theory."[102] From a classical theistic perspective, therefore, the Euthyphro dilemma is false. As Rogers puts it, "Anselm, like Augustine before him and Aquinas later, rejects both horns of the Euthyphro dilemma. God neither conforms to nor invents the moral order. Rather His very nature is the standard for value."[100]"

So, I side with Zgob and Moral but am I missing something from your perspective?

Unknown said...

bmiller, nicely put. Also, the existence of the ruler as "a given" is what i've tried to explain all along. And i'd like to invite Hal and David to grant that given and follow the argument.

David Brightly said...

Are there perhaps two attitudes to the ED here? ZE's approach is one of synthesis---to accept both horns of the dilemma and show that they need not be exclusive. Hence the ruler analogy. BM's approach is one of rejection on the grounds that the ED presupposes a flawed conception of God. Is that a fair synopsis? A Protestant/Catholic distinction maybe?

I like Romans 2:15 (KJV): Which shew the work of the law written in their hearts, their conscience also bearing witness, and their thoughts the mean while accusing or else excusing one another.

Unknown said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Unknown said...

David, i think both BM and I are convinced that Judeo-Christian theism is left untouched by the ED. As BM stated, "This (the ED) is not a problem for classical theism..." I fully affirm this statement quoted by BM, "God neither conforms to nor invents the moral order. Rather His very nature is the standard for value." As far as i can tell, we basically hold similar views on the issue. Unless i'm misreading BM.

Hal said...

bmiller,
"So the analogy to the ruler seems to be that it is a given that the ruler exists. The question is whether the Inch is an inch because the ruler measures it as such or because it is *really* and Inch."

Humans define what an inch is. Accurate rulers are calibrated based on that definition. An inch did not have to be discovered by humans in order to determine whether or not a ruler is really measuring an inch.

Zgob,
"bmiller, nicely put. Also, the existence of the ruler as "a given" is what i've tried to explain all along. And i'd like to invite Hal and David to grant that given and follow the argument."

Has either of us denied that good exists? As I understand it the dilemma doesn't throw into question the existence of good. Rather it seems to go to the question of how we determine what is good.

Simply asserting that God is goodness itself doesn't appear to me to answer that question. After all, how do we determine God is good? What are the criteria for saying that God is good?

Hal said...

In the analogy of the ruler, the standard ruler cannot be used to measure itself. After all it is what defines the length of an inch. In other words the standard ruler can be used to measure but not itself be measured.

If there is a moral standard then it can only be used to determine what is moral. It is incoherent to think we can use the standard itself to determine if it is moral. Perhaps that is one way of dissolving the dilemma?

Don't know. Just throwing this out here.

Starhopper said...

In the analogy of the ruler, the standard ruler cannot be used to measure itself.

Well... that depends. A fascinating bit of history is that the meter was for centuries (from 1799 to 1960) defined by the length of a metal bar (the mètre des Archives), maintained by the French National Archives in Paris. If anyone ever wanted to know precisely how long a meter was, all one had to do was point to that bar and say "That long!" And by definition, he'd be right.

I think one could call that the classic case of a ruler measuring itself.

Nowadays, alas, we have more "scientific" (but far less poetic) means of defining the meter.

Hal said...

Mortal,

I think one could call that the classic case of a ruler measuring itself.

I could see that as a joke. And it would be funny because a standard like the standard meter cannot really measure itself.

Coming up with a standard like the standard meter was necessary to help ensure that measurements of length could be done precisely and accurately. With our advances in science and technology requiring more precision and accuracy scientists were forced to come up with better ways to define the meter.

Irregardless the principle still stands: it makes no sense to think one can use a definition to define itself.

I don't think I understand all the nuances of the dilemma being discussed. So am not sure how (if at all) correctly understanding what a standard is can be used to address the issues raised by the dilemma.

Unknown said...

Hal, Mortal,

“Humans define what an inch is… An inch did not have to be discovered by humans…” On this I say you’re preaching to the choir. I don’t know how many times I have to say this, that I totally agree with you on these details, but that is just not the point of my argument. We really need get past this.

“As I understand it the dilemma… seems to go to the question of HOW WE DETERMINE what is good.” No. again, the ED is not about epistemology, “how we determine (grasp, know, distinguish) what is good.” Rather, it is about the NATURE—the ontology—of the Good. Is the Good good simply because God declares it so? If so, then it’s arbitrary (God could declare anything and everything good and it becomes good simply by divine fiat). Or, is the Good good because it is indeed good in itself, independent of God? If so, God is unnecessary to the existence of the Good. We can then pursue Goodness even without God.

That you misunderstand the fundamental problem posed by the ED is perhaps the reason why you fail to appreciate the point of the analogy.

“Simply asserting that God is goodness… how do we determine God is good… ? These are good questions, but these are NOT the questions addressed by the ED!

“If there is a moral standard then it can only be used to determine what is moral. It is incoherent to think we can use the standard itself to determine if it is moral.” I think this may be helpful. Let me recast and break down your statement,

--“If GOD is THE moral standard (there is simply no other standard, in fact, morality would not exist if God did not exist, moral goodness is an essential characteristic of who God is, and thus us the one and only measure of moral goodness)…
-- then it is God that determines what is moral (absolutely, all attributions of morality must measure up to God’s morality)…
--It is incoherent to think we can measure God by His own measures of morality to determine if He is moral.” Incoherent it definitely is. Because God is, morality exists. Morality/moral goodness only exists because God exists.

“the principle still stands: it makes no sense to think one can use a definition to define itself” – When it comes to God, God is not “a definition” of what is Good; HE is THE GOOD-- GOD = GOOD. The only reason why goodness exists, or even simply a possibility, is because of God—who and what God is.

We really need to be moving forward.

Hal said...

Zgob,
Thanks for attempting to clarify this issue.

Rather, it is about the NATURE—the ontology—of the Good. Is the Good good simply because God declares it so? If so, then it’s arbitrary (God could declare anything and everything good and it becomes good simply by divine fiat). Or, is the Good good because it is indeed good in itself, independent of God? If so, God is unnecessary to the existence of the Good. We can then pursue Goodness even without God.

I'm left wondering then why you think the ruler is a good analogy. For the ruler is only able to measure a length in inches because that is the standard that has been defined for its use. It is arbitrary at least in the sense that we can change the definition.

If GOD is THE moral standard (there is simply no other standard, in fact, morality would not exist if God did not exist, moral goodness is an essential characteristic of who God is, and thus us the one and only measure of moral goodness)

One problem I have with taking this step in solving the dilemma is that a person's character is generally considered good if he is acting morally, that is he is acting in accordance with a moral standard.
By asserting that God is the standard you've removed the possibility of determining whether or not God is good. That would be like attempting to use the standard meter to measure itself.

Unknown said...

Hal,

"I'm left wondering then why you think the ruler is a good analogy… It is arbitrary”

The relevant analogy between God as the standard of the moral Good and the ruler as the standard for inches is the ruler as already a given, ie, as a standard of measurement that everybody already accepts (without question) and uses when measuring inches. When we use a ruler we simply accept its ‘giveness’, if you will, that we determine inches according to the measure/standard reflected in the ruler itself. That’s the relevant aspect of the analogy, no more no less. You keep bringing up matters that are not relevant to the analogy I’m making.

“By asserting that God is the standard you've removed the possibility of determining whether or not God is good”—
Problems:

1) You fail to appreciate the radical nature of classic theism that I’ve briefly stated above. Again, God is THE GOOD: GOD = GOOD. The only reason why goodness exists, or even simply a possibility, is because of God—who and what God is. Existence itself (as we know it) owes its own existence to God. And whatever is Good in existence originates in God simply because goodness is an essential characteristic of the very being of God. And all the good we see in the universe are at best reflections of the goodness that is in God, and that is God.

2) When you say “removed the possibility of determining whether or not God is good,” again this utterly fails to understand classic theism. Your statement makes the unarticulated argument that there is this good OUTSIDE of God, a good that exists INDEPENDENT of God, and that God Himself is to be weighed and measured according to this Good (a sort of platonic good). Thus, it is possible to pursue goodness without God. God, then, is unnecessary vis a vis the Good. This is actually the 2nd horn of the ED. Classic theism is untouched by this objection. Goodness without God is not only an impossibility, it would also be incoherent since goodness itself—its very idea, concept, nature, existence, essence--originates in God as an intrinsic quality of His character.

Significant also is Joe’s comment above on the original context of the ED “the dilemma originally applied to a world in which contingent gods who were not the creator and were not the origin of human feeling. They vied for supremacy against the fates, so for them it was thinkable that there was an independent standard to which Zeus must be subservient, not so whits Christian God.”

Joe’s point is that to apply the ED to the Judeo-Christian concept is incoherent because there is radical divorce between the pantheon of Greek gods and the monotheism of Christianity.

Hal said...

Zgob,

When we use a ruler we simply accept its ‘giveness’, if you will, that we determine inches according to the measure/standard reflected in the ruler itself. That’s the relevant aspect of the analogy, no more no less. You keep bringing up matters that are not relevant to the analogy I’m making.

I'm trying to point out the implications of that analogy. The analogy is dealing with the standard of measurement. The standard represented by the ruler is the result of a definition of that standard. I take it that the analogy supports the position that God has decided what the moral standard will be: the good is what God says it is. But that implies that the standard itself is arbitrary: it could be defined differently.

You can then try and avoid that horn of the dilemma by asserting that goodness is the character of God, or is God (to be honest your claim appears to me to be incoherent because it doesn't accord with how we normally use the words "good" and "character".)

But if that is true then you still run into the problem that a standard cannot be used to measure itself. If the standard of good is God's character then you have no way of determining the goodness of that character.

You and Joe are correct that this dilemma arose in a polytheistic setting. But remember all of the gods had to agree that something was good before it could be considered good so they were still talking about only one moral standard just as one finds in monotheism.

Hal said...

Zgob,
In order to understand this dilemma better I've downloaded Steve's paper and am reading it. In it he discusses the Standard Metre in his defense of using God as the standard of good:

Consider another question: Is the ‘metre-rule’ in Paris a metre long? For readers who don’t know, there is a ‘ruler’ kept in Paris that serves as the official standard by which the metre is define. It seems patently true that this ‘ruler’ is a metre long.

Because this ‘ruler’ is the standard used to define a metre, to say that it is a metre long is to say that it is the length of itself. That amounts to saying nothing at all. What kind of truth is that?

I owe this observation to P.M.S. in his discussion of this remark in Wittgenstein’s Philosophical Investigations (PI #50):
“There is one thing of which one can state neither that it is 1 metre long, nor that it is not 1 metre long, and that is the standard metre in Paris.”

Here is Hacker’s elucidation of this remark:

“….’Every rod has a length’ is a grammatical proposition (PI #251). It signifies that if anything can be said to be a rod, it can also be said to have a length. There is no such thing as a rod without a length. But the Standard Metre Bar is a rod. So it has a length. …. the Standard Metre determines what it is to be one metre long, and therefore cannot itself be said to be one meter long – there is no such thing as using a standard of measurement to measure itself. The statement that X is the length of the Standard Metre Bar says no more than that X is one metre long, since ‘the length of the Standard Metre Bar = df 1 metre’. But to say that the Standard Metre Bar is one metre long is to say that the Standard Metre Bar is the length of the Standard Metre Bar, I.e. to say nothing at all. And to deny that it is one metre long is to deny that it has the length it has, i.e. to talk nonsense.
“Wittgenstein: Understanding and Meaning”, p. 198-199

Hal said...

Correction:
"P.M.S." should be "P.M.S Hacker"

Hal said...

One more comment:

Steve apparently thinks it is by establishing God as the standard of goodness that helps to give meaning to the claim that "God is good". But according to my understanding of the use of a standard I think quite the opposite: it is what makes the claim "God is good" meaningless.

Unknown said...

(I’ll post my response in 2 installments.)

1>> Hal, “I'm trying to point out the implications of that analogy.” The problem you keep cycling to is that you keep drawing out these peripheral, irrelevant “implications”:

1) You keep arguing details that are not relevant to my point; my argument is not about the ruler per se, but in its commonly understood and accepted function, and how we ordinarily use it as a standard of measurement. No more no less. It’s merely an analogy, but you keep pressing point by point detail. That’s not really how an analogy works, right?

2) The way you construct the issues you raise, you seem to treat the ruler AS IF it’s is EQUIVALENT to God, as if the ruler and God have similar properties and characteristics, or point by point correspondence. Again, you seem to be missing the point of what an analogy is. What I’m simply doing is to use what is a common experience for us humans vis a vis ruler—using rulers as a standard of measuring inches—and extract a particular analogy, limited and relevant to my argument, in defense of theism against the ED. That’s all, no more no less.

3) These “implications” you wish to draw out from the ruler, while they may be true, are beside the point and totally unnecessary and irrelevant to the argument I am making.

“I take it that the analogy supports the position that God has decided what the moral standard will be… the standard itself is arbitrary” – This is YOUR reconstruction. Not mine. That’s definitely NOT my argument. God does not “decide what the moral standard will be”; HE—His person, nature, character—is THE moral standard. It is God in His very Person—the very quality of His character—that is the origin, source, and thus, the standard of the Moral Good.

Unknown said...

2>> Hal,
“You can then try and avoid that horn of the dilemma”— My argument does not need to “avoid” anything. The trajectory of the ED misses classical theism a mile wide!

“If the standard of good is God's character then you have no way of determining the goodness of that character.” – There’s a great deal of conceptual confusion here:

1) From the point of view of classical theism, the Good will not even exist without God.
2) The concept of the Good minus God is incoherent at best, and worse, it’s utterly meaningless.
3) You say, “no way of determining the goodness”; WHO determines this goodness? By WHAT independent standard is it measured (utilitarian, Kantian, virtue ethics, moral realism or antirealism, or Hal’s Moral Guidelines, or what have you)? Care to point out? Care to articulate and defend its concept?
4) Say, you’ve picked a moral standard to determine “the goodness of God’s character,” I will then raise the ED against your chosen moral code. Let me ask you:
>Are the standards of this code good simply because the code DECLARES them good? Say, rape is evil, honoring parents is good by declaration of the code. But if that’s the case then they’re all arbitrary; the code can declare the reverse, rape is good and honoring parents is evil, and it will be so! If you say this can’t be, then there is something else, some higher authority that the code appeals to BEYOND its mere declarations. But what is that then? Care to articulate?
>Does the code merely reflect the independent and objective reality of the Moral Good? If so, your code is really unnecessary. I can search and appeal to that Moral Good without being dependent on your code. But then what happens when your code DIFFERES with my code? Who or what then determines which code reflects better this Moral Code of the universe?
>But then, what GROUNDS this so called Moral Code? Does this just exist as a brute fact, no rhyme or reason? That somehow it’s just there, that there’s no rational justification for this Moral Code? If so, your code then has its foundations firmly planted in empty space.

You see Hal, the position you seem to hold simply raises more questions than solutions. In fact, the trajectory of your thoughts leads to a great deal of conceptual incoherence.

“You and Joe are correct that this dilemma arose in a polytheistic setting. But remember all of the gods had to agree that something was good before it could be considered…” – This is really a salient point, but from a different angle. Let me explain. The primalism and polytheisms of the ancient world reflect conflicting values, yet somehow they all believed in the objective reality of the good, and its opposite, the bad. And the key point here is that they neither considered the Good arbitrary, nor its source a plurality. But these isms were at a loss to account for such. It is only in classical theism that these affirmations hold up in rational coherence.

Finally Hal, we’ve circled this wagon long enough. So far, you’ve chosen to raise peripheral issues not relevant to my central argument, ie, classical theism is untouched by the ED (articulated above, i will not repeat it here). I’m still waiting for you to challenge the actual structure of my argument and point out a flaw in the logic. If you can do this then we can move forward. I don’t want to spend any more time in dealing with peripheral matters not significant to my central argument. I think we’ve exhausted that already.

Hal said...

Zgob,
So far, you’ve chosen to raise peripheral issues not relevant to my central argument, ie, classical theism is untouched by the ED (articulated above, i will not repeat it here). I’m still waiting for you to challenge the actual structure of my argument and point out a flaw in the logic.

You wrote earlier:
the nature/ontology of God includes the characteristic or quality of the Good; God is the measure of the Good—

and this:
HE—His person, nature, character—is THE moral standard. It is God in His very Person—the very quality of His character—that is the origin, source, and thus, the standard of the Moral Good.

You are claiming that God is the moral standard by which the good is measured.
A standard cannot be applied to itself.
I gave the reasons for that in post dated September 01, 2017 9:33 AM.
That needs to be addressed by you before we can move forward.

WHO determines this goodness? By WHAT independent standard is it measured (utilitarian, Kantian, virtue ethics, moral realism or antirealism, or Hal’s Moral Guidelines, or what have you)? Care to point out?

I'm not advancing any positive claims regarding what moral standard should be followed. I'm simply trying to point out the defect in the one you are advancing.

Hal said...

Zgob,
The way you construct the issues you raise, you seem to treat the ruler AS IF it’s is EQUIVALENT to God, as if the ruler and God have similar properties and characteristics, or point by point correspondence.

My analogy does not involve any old ruler. It is dealing with what it means to set a canonical standard such as the Standard Metre. That canonical standard is the one by which rulers can be calibrated. But the standard cannot be used to calibrate itself.
The fact that it was once a bar or a ruler is irrelevant. The principle applies to whatever is said to be such a canonical standard. And you are making that claim regarding God's character.

bmiller said...

@Hal,

I wonder if you're familiar with the history of the Western philosophical tradition. It's generally acknowledged that the Socrates/Plato/Arisototle's ideas of the meaning of justice and virtue are enmeshed in it and I think Euthyphro was Plato fleshing out his theory.
I think in this particular dialog of Plato, the only dilemma he was raising was with Euthyphro's unexamined notions of justice.

When you view the consider Euthyphro with this in mind, one could consider the dialog as Socrates attempting to lead Euthyphro out of the Platonic cave and to see the true nature of things, in this case the Form of the Good. Plato's idea of the Form of the Good, was further developed by Plato's followers and identified as equivalent to 'the One'. So 'the Good' just is 'the One'. This whole line of philosophical thought occurred over 300 years before Christ and independently of Jewish theology.

I suspect that this is the concept that Zgob has in mind as the equivalence of God and the Good (although as it is phrased within Christianity).

Perhaps the *ruler* analogy breaks down at a certain point with this background in mind.

Hal said...

bmiller,
I'm not relying on Zgob's ruler analogy for the position I have been presenting in this thread. I hoped to make that clear in the post immediately prior to your own.

I suspect I am not as familiar with the Western philosophical tradition as you and Zgob are. I certainly am not as familiar as I'd like to be.

Are you familiar with the 'Socratic fallacy'? Basically amounts to Socrates insisting that only one type of definition is valid: a necessary and sufficient definition. He rejected definitions using examples.

Peter Geach elaborates on it in his commentary on the Euthyphro. You can find it:

HERE

bmiller said...

@Hal,

Thanks for the link. I haven't fully digested it yet, but from the scan I did, I immediately noticed something from Geach's analysis, that I also noticed the first time I read Plato's Dialogues.

I think I would have ended up punching Socrates if I ever had a conversation with him in person due to his leading questions. Maybe that's why they ended up poisoning him ☺.

Unknown said...

Hal,
“You are claiming that God is the moral standard by which the good is measured. A standard cannot be applied to itself. That needs to be addressed by you before we can move forward.”

Alright. You are pulling the discussion away from the ED. Strictly speaking this is not what the ED is all about. As I take it, this questions the validity of the proposition that God is the standard of the Good, and whether it’s a meaningful statement or not.

“the Standard Metre determines what it is to be one metre long, and therefore cannot itself be said to be one meter long… to say that the Standard Metre Bar is one metre long is to say that the Standard Metre Bar is the length of the Standard Metre Bar, I.e. to say nothing at all.”

But God is not like the Standard Metre. God’s moral goodness is only one aspect of His attribute of holiness, and holiness is only one among the many attributes of God, what Lewis and Demarest calls ‘God’s many splendored character’ (Integrative Theology, vol1).

To “say that the Standard Metre Bar is one meter long is to say that the Standard Metre Bar is the length of the Standard Metre” is indeed a complete tautology and tantamount to saying something not really meaningful, for the Standard Metre is conceptually fully equivalent to saying one meter long. But this is not the case with the statement ‘God is the standard of the Good,’ for moral goodness is only ONE attribute among many other attributes.

Conceptually, and by definition, God is not ‘monochromatic,’ as if God and good are absolutely one and the same. The Standard Metre and one meter are conceptually fully equivalent. The Standard Metre is the Standard Metre because it is one meter, and that’s all that can be said about it. This cannot be said of God. It cannot be said that God is God because He is good and that’s all that can be said about it. No. Again, God’s moral goodness is only one aspect of His attribute of holiness, and holiness is only one among His ‘many splendored character.’

Unknown said...

When I said, “God—His person, nature, character—is THE moral standard. It is God in His very Person—the very quality of His character—that is the origin, source, and thus, the standard of the Moral Good”, I meant that as contingent beings, having our source of existence and being from God, what good we have, what good we can grasp, what good we can achieve and experience, what good we can uphold (justice, moral values and duties, etc) would ALL be derivative from God’s attribute of goodness, since goodness would not even exist in the universe without a Personal God. How can an ontological objective moral good exists in a contingent world of mere physics and chemistry, a world governed by dumb luck, of pitiless indifference (Dawkins), a reality of just atoms and the void (Carroll), a world where freewill, consciousness, even rationality are at best illusions or mere epiphenomena of electro-chemical brain activity? Tell me.

Hal said...

bmiller,

Yea, I am still trying to absorb all the points Geach raises in that paper. I do find very helpful his observation that if the two parties in a philosophical discussion do not share the same understanding of what a word means then they are headed down the proverbial rabbit hole. Have seen that sort of thing happen all too often on the internet.

And, of course, his central point that using examples is a legitimate way of defining the meaning of a word. Insisting on a sufficient and necessary definition as the only legitimate way is misguided and possibly harmful. Socrates was very likely a bad influence on the youth of Athens.

Hal said...

Zgob,

Alright. You are pulling the discussion away from the ED.

I’m responding to your attempted solution to the ED. I’m not trying to present my own solution.

As I take it, this questions the validity of the proposition that God is the standard of the Good, and whether it’s a meaningful statement or not.

Am glad you are starting to understand the point I am making, although I don’t claim the proposition is invalid. It does, however, lead one to saying basically nothing if you try to apply the standard to the standard itself. So, if God is the standard, to say that God is good amounts to saying God is God. That is an empty truth.

The Standard Metre is the Standard Metre because it is one meter, and that’s all that can be said about it.

I disagree. It is not the Standard Metre because it is one metre. It is by definition a metre long. Because of that it can be used to determine if something else is one metre long. It can’t be used to determine if it is one metre long.

This cannot be said of God. It cannot be said that God is God because He is good and that’s all that can be said about it. No. Again, God’s moral goodness is only one aspect of His attribute of holiness, and holiness is only one among His ‘many splendored character.’

The mere fact that God has other attributes than goodness is irrelevant to the point I am attempting to make. The bar that was used as the canonical standard for the metre also had other properties. It could be used for other things. It could be used to kill someone or as a paperweight.

Hal said...

Zgob,

…. goodness would not even exist in the universe without a Personal God. How can an ontological objective moral good exists in a contingent world of mere physics and chemistry, a world governed by dumb luck, of pitiless indifference (Dawkins), a reality of just atoms and the void (Carroll), a world where freewill, consciousness, even rationality are at best illusions or mere epiphenomena of electro-chemical brain activity? Tell me.

You are making a false dilemma. Denial of the existence of the God you believe in does not entail acceptance of the alternative you are presenting: reductive materialism.

Unknown said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Unknown said...

Hal, a quick one-- "The bar that was used as the canonical standard for the metre also had other properties. It could be used for other things. It could be used to kill someone or as a paperweight." So, the Standard Metre also is a Standard Metre BECAUSE it is a took to kill someone,or BECAUSE it CAN be used as a paper weight? Are those some one of the reasons WHY it is the Standard Metre? That it "COULD" be used for other things eg, to break somebody's skull or as a lever to move a heavy cargo is ABSOLUTELY IN NO WAY part and parcel of the bar being the Standard Metre. Bad argument.

Hal said...

Zgob,

You appear to have misunderstood the point I was making.
You claimed my that the canonical standard analogy couldn't be applied to God because he has other attributes besides goodness. I tried to show the irrelevance of your objection by pointing out that the bar used as the Standard Metre has other properties than length and can be used in ways that have no relevance to the metric standard.

You might want to take a look at the paper by Geach that I linked to in my post of September 02, 2017 4:44 PM. It gives reasons for rejecting the Socratic method of definition. Might be one possible way of defusing the ED.

Unknown said...

Hal, “You appear to have misunderstood the point I was making… I tried to show the irrelevance of your objection by pointing out that the bar used as the Standard Metre has other properties than length and can be used in ways that have no relevance to the metric standard.”

No. I think I understood your point. However, I think you haven’t given serious thought to the point I was trying to make. Let me explain.

God is God for who and what He is—His nature and attributes. It is His nature and His attributes that make God, well, God. God is not like the Force in Star Wars, this impersonal energy or power that can be utilized either by the “dark side” (those with evil intentions) or by the “light side” (those with good intentions). The Judeo-Christian concept of God is nothing of the kind. God—His attributes—can never be other than good. As Hebrews 6:18 says, “it is impossible for God to lie,” or Genesis 18:25, “will not the judge of all the earth do right?” Hypothetically, the moment God engages in an evil act, he ceases to be God.

The Standard Metre as the Standard Metre “is one metre long” and “determines what it is to be one metre long.” When the Standard Metre is used to break open somebody’s skull, it ceases to be the Standard Metre and is no different from a rock, a sledgehammer, a metal pipe, a piece of wood or what have you. Breaking open a skull is definitely NOT a property of the Standard Metre as the Standard Metre. You do not say, “The Standard Metre has the property of cracking open skulls.” Absolutely not. Of course you can say, “A steel rod or bar has the properties of solidity, hardness and weight. And because of such properties, it can be used to break a skull.” And so, for example, when the Standard Metre is used to break a skull, it is not used BECAUSE it is the Standard Metre, but because it just happens to have the properties of a steel rod, but then ANY object for that matter will do job as well. Breaking skulls has absolutely nothing to do with the Standard Metre as the Standard Metre.

Hal said...

Zgob,

God is God

Zgob is Zgob. Hal is Hal. Good is good. Evil is evil. So?

I have no issue with saying God is good. What's problematic here is the claim that God is the canonical standard for goodness. A standard cannot be applied to itself.

Breaking skulls has absolutely nothing to do with the Standard Metre as the Standard Metre.

Yes. That's what I've been trying to point out to you. Not sure why you keep bringing this up???

In any case it seems we are coming to the end of a fruitful discussion here. I don't want to simply keep repeating what I've already written.

Starhopper said...

Before this conversation slides off the bottom of the page, I'd like to ask a question for everyone here, but especially for Hal,

Is a circular definition always "wrong"? Granted, it might not be very useful, but that, in and of itself, would not make such a definition wrong.

"A rose is a rose" is, it seems to me, to be a true statement. (See Aristotle: A is equal to A.")

But in the case of the Standard Metre, I do see some benefit in saying "The length of the Standard Metre is one metre." It's usefulness is in removing all ambiguity about any measurements made using it. Since by definition, the Standard Metre can be neither longer nor shorter than one metre, all other lengths are thereby defined by their relationship to it. If we did not "apply the standard to itself," then we could not say for certain that any other length was either longer or shorter than one metre.

(And I realize full well that this is an "historical" argument, since the Standard Metre is no longer the standard. Nowadays one meter is defined as the distance light travels in a vacuum in 1/229,792,458th of a second. Bo-o-o-o-ring.)

Hal said...

Mortal,

Since by definition, the Standard Metre can be neither longer nor shorter than one metre, all other lengths are thereby defined by their relationship to it. If we did not "apply the standard to itself," then we could not say for certain that any other length was either longer or shorter than one metre.

We calibrate our measuring devices to the canonical standard (in this case, the Standard Metre). That is how we ensure their accuracy. So when we use a ruler to measure the length of a board and determine that the length is a metre (or 500 cm or whatever) then we can be confident the measurement is accurate.

But that is not applying the standard to itself. That would be applying one standard (the canonical standard) to another standard (a ruler).

Isn't it nonsensical to think that we could use something like a ruler on itself to determine whether or not it was accurate.

You are correct to say that "A rose is a rose" is a true statement. But it is empty of meaning. For one who wants to know what a rose is it tells him nothing.

Aristotle's "A is equal to A" is a rule of equality.

Hal said...

Correction to last post:

Aristotle's "A is equal to A" is a law of equality. In effect, a rule in logic.

bmiller said...

@Mortal,

Is a circular definition always "wrong"?

I think there are some things we just know without using a discursive process.

The definition of time for instance.

The rules of logic also seem to come to us naturally also seem to define what we are as rational animals. So I don't think everything we *know* comes to us as a logical process.

SteveK said...

No matter how hard evil tries, it merely ends up testifying to the existence of good.

That is the universe’s greatest irony. The problem of evil is how we understand this irony.