Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Chandler versus Monokroussos round 2

The Monokroussos Argument:

1. We ought to seek moral perfection.
2. Ought implies can.
3. Therefore, we can achieve moral perfection.
4. But this is possible only if there is a God (or something near enough).

Just for a start, the argument, as it stands, won't work. Given that we ought to seek moral perfection and that ought implies can, it does NOT follow that we can achieve moral perfection.

One can imagine some alchemist claiming that his students ought to seek the Philosopher's Stone. Ought implies can, so they CAN seek the stone; but it doesn't follow that the alchemist must think that  his students can find the stone, or that it can be found, or even that it exists. Nor does it follow that any of these things are true.

Let's try this:

1. We ought to be morally perfect.
2. Ought implies can.
3. Therefore, we can achieve moral perfection.
4. But this is possible only if there is a God (or something near enough).
(5. Therefore, there really is a God (or something near enough)).


I think Kant accepts something like 1 and 2. But I don't think he holds that we (wicked sinners) can actually achieve moral perfection at any point in time (with or without God's help). At best, on his view, we are engaged in an infinite approximation process. Given this, perhaps we should modify 1. Let's say 'We ought to strive towards moral perfection.'  But, of course, we CAN strive towards moral perfection whether or not there is a God - can't we?

Hugh



More on Monokroussos

Here is a nice quote from Kant:


."..our faith is not knowledge, and thank heaven it is not! For
divine wisdom is apparent in the very fact that WE DO NOT KNOW BUT
RATHER OUGHT TO BELIEVE THAT A GOD EXISTS. For suppose we could
attain to knowledge of God's existence through our experience or in
some other way (although the possibility of this knowledge cannot
immediately be thought); suppose further that we could really reach
as much certainty through this knowledge as we do in intuition; then
all morality would break down. In his every action the human being
would represent God to himself as a rewarder or avenger; this image
would force itself involuntarily on his soul, and his hope for reward
and fear of punishment would take the place of moral motives; the
human being WOULD BE VIRTUOUS FROM SENSIBLE IMPULSES."
[Kant, 28:1084, Lectures on the Philosophical Doctrine of Religion.]

For Kant, a proof (even a 'moral proof') of God's existence would a
(paradoxical) moral disaster.

His moral argument is meant to lead us to certainty that God exists
based on 'moral faith.' The alleged 'proof' is proof that we ought to
adopt that faith - ought to believe in God. It is not, and is not
intended to be, a proof of God's existence. Or so it seems to me.

Hugh

VR: I think it has to be pointed out that the argument Monokroussos advanced is one that he attributes to Kant, not one that he himself endorses. But I would like to see Dennis's take on "denying knowledge to make room for faith," for which Kant is justly famous.

But I am also wondering what kind of ought implies can principle is at work here. I think Chandler is suggesting that a literal OIC principle is implausibly strong, so therefore Kant must have had in mind "Ought imples we can strive for it." And I'm wondering if that is faithful to Kant. Isn't it "We ought to be morally perfect, ought implies can, therefore the metaphysical conditions exist for us to eventuallly become morally perfect. Since this is going to require a God and an infinite lifetime to get it done, so be it. These things must exist." However, the status of the OIC principle needs to then be considered. Do we know this as a truth of theoretical reason? Is that principle, as Kant is construing it, knowable?

3 comments:

Mike D said...

I sense a circularity in the argument. Behind the statement, "We ought to seek moral perfection.", there must be a presupposition of the existence of God who determines the "ought" and the standard of "moral perfection." If these terms were more clearly defined by the originator of the argument, these presuppositions may be clear.

Jason said...

I am supposing that when HC suggests modifying (1) _back_ to "We ought to seek (==strive towards) moral perfection", he is leaving behind what (he considers) Kant (to have) taught. (Which would be (1a), (2), (not-3).) And I am supposing that he is doing so on the grounds of accepting (with Kant, per HC) (not-3): we cannot actually achieve moral perfection at any point in time (with or without God's help).

Reshuffling the elements around, then, does the argument not become--?:

P1. We (wicked sinners) cannot actually achieve moral perfection at any point in time (with or without God's help).
P2. We ought to seek/strive-for moral perfection.
P3. Ought implies can.
C1. Therefore we can seek for moral perfection even though we cannot actually achieve it at any point in time (with or without God's help). (from P1, P2, P3)
P4. But, of course, we CAN strive towards moral perfection whether or not there is a God -- can't we?


As long as HC isn't proposing P4 to follow as some kind of conclusion from previous premises and/or C1, this seems valid enough to me. {shrug}

But if he is trying to reach what I am calling P4 as a C2 instead (following by implication from C1, for instance), then I would say a subtle category error is being introduced: for "with or without God's help" does not necessarily imply or entail "whether or not there _is_ a God". (Note: I can't tell from HC's reply to Dennis--which discussion I have been following with much interest and appreciation of both sides, btw--that he _is_ attempting to reach P4 as C2 instead. He may not be at all. But I thought I would head off a potential misunderstanding at the pass. {s})


In passing (I doubt if this is of any relevance to the discussion between HC and Dennis so far, other than as evidence to what Kant did and did not believe and teach), I can testify from experience that Kant is quite wrong concerning his expectation quoted by HC.

Mike D said...

What I hear more often is:
1) We ought to seek moral perfection.
2) Moral perfection is impossible with or without God's help.
3) Forget moral perfection. Let's settle for forgiven sinners.

However, I Cor 10:13 might support:
1) With God's help we are able to resist any single temptation and make a moral choice.
2) If we are able to resist any single temptation, we are able to resist every temptation.
3) Moral perfection is possible.
4) Since we can achieve moral perfection, we ought to seek moral perfection.