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Unformatted text preview: Nielsen, “God and the Basis of Morality”
Nielsen, “God and the Basis of Morality” pp. 70 75 Okay, setting aside the first two problems, Okay, setting aside the first two problems, what else do we have?
Nielsen just keeps going with the criticism of taking the Godcommandsmorality horn of the dilemma. He points out some obvious stuff, but we’ll go He points out some obvious stuff, but we’ll go through it just to make crystal clear how the criticism builds and is supposed to work.
First, Nielsen shows us that simply commanding something does not by itself make that commanded thing the right thing to do . Thus commanding is not identical with the ‘good’ or the ‘right’. To see that: To see that: 1.
4. X wills Y but should I do it?
X commands it, but is it good?
X told me to do it, but I ought not to
X proclaimed it but what he said is evil (1) And (2) are not selfanswering questions (like “Is a wife a married woman?”) and (3) and (4) are not contradictions (like “It’s raining, but it’s not raining”).
So it must be that merely commanding something doesn’t make it good/right Well, yeah, not just ANYONE can command Well, yeah, not just ANYONE can command the good, but . . . God can. What’s special about certain commands is that they are DIVINE commands.
That makes questions like “God commands Y but should I do it?” redundant like the wife/married woman thing. Why, the obvious question is, do we assume that Why, the obvious question is, do we assume that what God commands actually counts?
Because the believer also holds that God is good.
This leads to a bunch of problems on its own (which are worth taking a look at). One concern with the solution that ‘God is good’ is how we One concern with the solution that ‘God is good’ is can know that God really is good.
Well, (1) the obvious way is to look at God’s actions and commands. Just simply look at what evidence there is to tell us whether God is in fact good or bad.
BUT, notice that if we have to know about God’s goodness in this way, then we’re just applying an independent scale to Him. The game would be up. We’d not even bother to care about God’s commandments. Ok, yeah, yeah, yeah. Obviously the devout Ok, yeah, yeah, yeah. Obviously the devout believer isn’t going to ground their belief in God’s goodness this way.
No, they’d just say that God is good, as it were, by definition.
To put this more philosophically, (2) we would say that it’s ‘analytic’ that ‘God is good’, and its being analytic gives us good reason to believe it. So far as we need to worry about it, saying So far as we need to worry about it, saying that ‘God is good’ is analytic is saying that it’s a part of the very MEANING of the concept God that goodness is included. In other words, when we’re talking about God, we’re automatically talking about a being that is good. Here, look at some other examples:
Here, look at some other examples:
All bachelors are unmarried
All triangles are threesided
If it’s a doe, then it’s a deer.
Part of what it means to be a bachelor, then, is to be unmarried (and a man). Can’t have a bachelor that’s married. THAT’S how it’s supposed to be with God: can’t even CONCEIVE of God not being good. And that is the evidence we have for thinking ‘God is good’. Buuuut, (according to Nielsen) that’s not going to Buuuut, (according to Nielsen) that’s not going to work either.
He says: “As we could not apply the predicate “women” to wives, if we did not understand what women are, and the predicate “threesided” to triangles if we did not understand what it was for something to be threesided, so we could not apply the predicate “good” to God unless we already understood what it meant to say that something was good and unless we had some criterion of goodness” In other words, the only reason “All bachelors are In other words, the only reason “All bachelors are unmarried” is an ‘analytic’ statement is because you already independently understand what ‘unmarried’ means, and know that all bachelors must be that.
So, too, with God. We are only able to say God is (analytically) good because we have an independent grasp on goodness which we apply to God (because God is typically taken to be a perfectly good being).
But, of course, that means we have to give up the DCT game. We’d be conceding to the secularist that morality is independent of God. This is a tough point worth pausing over. This is a tough point worth pausing over. Again, the idea is that you couldn’t possibly be able to ascribe goodness to God if you didn’t already possess some autonomous understanding of the good. It would be impossible, and senseless, to say that God is good if what counts as the good is simply dictated by God. Put in other words, when we say ANYTHING is ‘good’, including God, that counts as an evaluation of that thing—against some independent code. Think about what it means to say some child is good, or that your aunt is good. You’re evaluating them for how well they measure up to the code. For Nielsen, it works the same way with applying the predicate good to God . . . Okay, let’s attack this same point from a different Okay, let’s attack this same point from a different angle and see if that helps.
Another problem: Problem of God’s Goodness
If DCT is true, then God’s goodness is effectively trivialized (assuming we doggedly ignore Nielsen). What sense does it make to say God is good when, whether God had decided X of notX, He would have acted well no matter what?? Claiming ‘God is good’ is thus made empty. Or, perhaps to put the point in a more devastating light: Or, perhaps to put the point in a more devastating light: what difference would there be between God and an all
The allpowerful deity could choose anything it liked, too, thereby giving you the dictates required by the DCT.
What’s the difference, then, between God and such an all
powerful demon? Well, one is good and the other is bad! One wills good things and the other bad.
But, obviously, this means our ability to evaluate God for goodness is totally independent of what He wills. And we’re back to square one. Remarkably, however, we’re not quite done Remarkably, however, we’re not quite done yet with the Euthyphro Dilemma.
Remember, there’s another horn (choice) to the dilemma: you could just say that God is in our boat; He has to figure out an independent code of morality, too. We’ll be quick here. Two considerations I We’ll be quick here. Two considerations I think are worth mentioning:
1. Notice that there might be problems, or something, with God’s omnipotence. If God is allpowerful, then shouldn’t He have created everything (including morality)? Does morality’s independence imply that God isn’t genuinely all
powerful? Maybe 1 is problematic, but really 2:
Maybe 1 is problematic, but really 2:
2. Well, if morality is independent of God, how in the world is it, so to say, grounded? Where did it come from? Why is it binding? You could go all realism, saying that moral truths are just like objective facts mysteriously built right into the universe. But Mackie showed us that’s a tough line to take.
What? Then it’s all down to us? We just come up with it? Project our desires/fears/likes onto the world?
Oh dear. This is a metaethical position that doesn’t suffer from the same faults as the other horn, but it’s going to cause you troubles elsewhere (which DCT can handle okay). So it looks like we’ve got DCT, which seems So it looks like we’ve got DCT, which seems fairly hopeless, or the problems of independence (are we going to have to go for some kind of nut job realism?). And, it appears, these are the only two options: either God is tied up with morality and helps us out of philosophical jams or He’s not and we’re on our own.
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- Fall '08