Monday, August 07, 2017

Wielenberg, causal efficacy, and the moral argument for God

 Erik Wielenberg defends a robust moral realism compatible with atheism. However, for him, moral duties are causally inert. Since I was talking about the moral argument in the context of rights, let me connect these dots.  A right implies a moral duty. A right, as I see it, is an objective obligation to permit someone to have something. What is important about it is that it has to exist even if it is being violated, and never gets exercised.
Someone's having a right should have the possibility of providing a basis for action. As Kant puts it, it should be possible to act not only in accordance with duty, but from duty. One should be able to do something, not merely in a way that is consistent with a duty imposed by a right, but it should be possible for someone to behave in certain ways because they have a certain right. But if the right has no causal power, then it cannot make a difference as to what I do whether this right exists or not. I can never do anything, say, because I respect your right to live. This is the essence of C. S. Lewis's second moral argument, the one found in Miracles (as opposed to the one found in Mere Christianity), chapter 5. It says that if naturalism is true all our actions stem from non-moral causes, and are therefore if naturalism is true, our moral ideas are illusory.
Second, if I have a moral duty, I should, as a human being, be able to refer to that moral duty. The strongest theories of reference, such as Kripke's invoke a causal relationship between our thoughts and the object of our thoughts. If my thought is about a tree, then there is a causal relationship between me and that tree. If my thought is about a girl's right to an education, then there is a causal relationship between my thought and that right. But, if, as Wielenberg says, our moral duties are causally inert, then I cannot refer to a girl's right to an education.
Furthermore, one typical way atheists argue for their own position is to ask "Where's your evidence?" I raised that question concerning human rights on my site, expecting to hear a robust defense of secular human rights, and I instead got two atheist replies telling me that there was indeed no evidence for human rights, and therefore they did not exist. What evidence can exist that girls have a right to be educated the same as boys, or that gay couples have the right to marry. That is, what evidence is there that there is an objectively binding moral obligation on the part of member of the Taliban to permit Malala to be educated, whether there is a chance in the world that that Taliban member will respect that right, or not.

15 comments:

Joe Hinman said...

Atheists do tend to be confused about ethics,i have yet to find one who is willing to give me a grousing for moral axioms. When I was in school even kin doctoral work i never heard of moral realism,Of course I was not an ethics major or not even a philosophy major. I did study with one big name ethecist in graduate school (the late Fred Carney of Perkins school of Theology) and had a good prof who taught a great class on ethics in Ph,D work at UT Dallas, that was (the late Victor Worshfold).

So on message boars with atheists who are philosophy undergrads and all they know is the current climate they are sold on moral realism,that's all there is, but they can;t say why it would be true true a moral axioms is right,it just is we all know it but we can't say why.they treat me like an idiot becasueI'mnot amokral realist.

steve said...

http://ndpr.nd.edu/news/robust-ethics-the-metaphysics-and-epistemology-of-godless-normative-realism/

Hal said...

"The strongest theories of reference, such as Kripke's invoke a causal relationship between our thoughts and the object of our thoughts. If my thought is about a tree, then there is a causal relationship between me and that tree. If my thought is about a girl's right to an education, then there is a causal relationship between my thought and that right. But, if, as Wielenberg says, our moral duties are causally inert, then I cannot refer to a girl's right to an education."

Am having great difficulty understanding why we should be incapable of referring to things that are causally inert. Aren't numbers causally inert?
And what about thoughts themselves? I believe they are also causally inert. Thoughts are not agents. It is the creature capable of thinking thoughts that is the agent causally interacting with its environment.


Joe Hinman said...

Am having great difficulty understanding why we should be incapable of referring to things that are causally inert. Aren't numbers causally inert?

The issue is what makes something a right,Is it a right just because i say so? I think that would be related to the good, what is good? why is it good?

I think I have a right to medical care, others don't agree.which is right? how do we know? I think I have a right to free merchandise at any area store. why is that not a right? There must be a causal relationship there.

Joe Hinman said...



Steve come om dude don't you know how to make links?

Joe Hinman said...

Steve your article starts with this": Twenty-five years ago, no one would've predicted that "robust" or nonnaturalist realism would become the most lively research program in metaethics. But so it is, and Erik Wielenberg's new book is testament to this research program's continued vitality.

I am agast at the passage of time,I took that ethics class in 92. Although I left teh PhD. program in 2006.

thanks for the link

Joe Hinman said...

From your Aristotle:

The second part of Wielenberg's book replies to theistic critics of non-theistic robust realism, such as William Lane Craig and Robert M. Adams. In various places, Craig charges that non-theistic views cannot explain why: (i) anything is good or bad; (ii) human lives are meaningful; (iii) moral obligations and rights exist; (iv) we would have reason to care about satisfying moral requirements if they were to exist; and (v) we would be motivated to act morally. Wielenberg contends that none of these charges stick. In an effort to push back against these views, he argues that versions of the divine command theory such as Adams's cannot explain why reasonable non-believers are subject to moral obligations. The basic worry is that Adams holds that in order for a command to generate an obligation in an addressee, that addressee must recognize that command as emanating from a legitimate authority. But reasonable non-believers recognize no such thing. So, if moral obligations were generated by divine commands, then these agents would not be subject to such obligations. This is a consequence that no divine command theorist would find acceptable.

again nothing jabot why it;s good how do we know moral axioms have any sort of binding effect? All he does here if this is the extent of it is to challenge devise command theory,challenging theism does not answer the question how do we know the good?

DCT is not merely ay belief m God as source of ethics. It's the idea that only God's pronouncement makes something good,regardless of the content.

My view is that things and actions are not good or bad, the good is a condition of the heart,in terms of moral culpability. The standard against which it is judged is love as the motivation, Yes this is Joseph Fletcher.God is the source of love so forget Euthephro. God is behind it all but not because some higher standard motivates him, That higher standard is his own natuer,

Hal said...

"I think I have a right to medical care, others don't agree.which is right? how do we know? I think I have a right to free merchandise at any area store. why is that not a right? There must be a causal relationship there."

I don't see how those questions entail the bolded claim.
In a causal relationship you have agents and patients. Are you assuming nothing can exist unless it is an agent?
What about numbers? Are they agents?





Joe Hinman said...

No I am assume that a causal relationship does not supply grounding for moral axioms. II have a causal relationship with Americanize,I want it i am caused to want it by seeing it, tat deos not justify steamfitting it.

Joe Hinman said...

so why can't any moral realist me give a robust explanation as to the cause of robust moral good?

Hal said...

"No I am assume that a causal relationship does not supply grounding for moral axioms. II have a causal relationship with Americanize,I want it i am caused to want it by seeing it, tat deos not justify steamfitting it."

Sorry, but I don't know what you are trying to say here. It doesn't seem to address my problem with the claim that a right is not causally inert.

Joe Hinman said...

there's a pretty obvious connection between rights and moral axioms. Rights flow out of the good, if we cannot establish what is good how we establish rights?

Hal said...

Looks like we are wasting time talking past each other. I have no interest in discussing the relationship between rights and moral axioms.

Mortal said...

The Bible as a "moral guide" could be summed up in a single sentence: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. Or, as the New Testament puts it: He who does not love his brother whom he has seen, cannot love God whom he has not seen. And this commandment we have from him, that he who loves God should love his brother also.

Stardusty Psyche said...

OP "This is the essence of C. S. Lewis's second moral argument, the one found in Miracles (as opposed to the one found in Mere Christianity), chapter 5. It says that if naturalism is true all our actions stem from non-moral causes, and are therefore if naturalism is true, our moral ideas are illusory"
--Even Lewis is not always wrong about everything. Not covered is the realism of the experience of ought. That experience is not itself an illusion, it can't be, because I am self aware of the experience, so it absolutely must be a real experience.

OP "Furthermore, one typical way atheists argue for their own position is to ask "Where's your evidence?" I raised that question concerning human rights on my site, expecting to hear a robust defense of secular human rights, and I instead got two atheist replies telling me that there was indeed no evidence for human rights, and therefore they did not exist"
--Those two atheists sound like really smart guys!!!

OP "That is, what evidence is there that there is an objectively binding moral obligation on the part of member of the Taliban to permit Malala to be educated, whether there is a chance in the world that that Taliban member will respect that right, or not."
--The meaning of the word "objective" is not, well, objective :-)

Morality is based on our personal sense of ought, an emotion that is an evolved brain process. Among groups of people some degree of consensus is reached on certain moral propositions. If by "objective" one means absolute, or existent as an outside object that is broadly discoverable, or that which an intrinsically true aspect of universal reality then no such thing as objective morality has been shown to exist.

However, sometimes objectivity is defined as a set of rules in a closed system, sometimes called an objective standard. The standard itself is merely postulated. The notion of objectivity comes in having published a clear set of principles of asserted propositions and process. Given these postulated principles it is then possible to, in this limited sense, objectively navigate this closed logical space.

Atheists who claim there is an objective morality in the sense of demonstrably true and absolute moral propositions simply have not thought through the implications of atheism.