Immanent and Transcendent Ontology

In my previous post I characterized ontology as follows.

Ontology is the effort to articulate and justify the composition and structure of what there is-reality- so that our beliefs can be true, proper or apt. Broadly speaking, ontology is a theory on what would constitute truth conditions for beliefs.

I do not use “assertion conditions” instead of “truth conditions” because the conditions have to be in reality apart from human conventions which might warrant making an assertion.

What I characterized above as ontology is not the final step in determining the composition and structure of reality. I call this first step “immanent ontology.” In immanent ontology we ask: What must exist for our basic beliefs about the reality which we experience to have truth conditions. A further question is to ask what must exist for these truth conditions to exist. This further question is about what transcends facts, morality, goodness and beauty. It is what must be so that there can be facts, morality, goodness and beauty.

I illustrated these two steps in my post on an ontology for secular naturalism. There the immanent ontology was that only the objects and processes of natural science, which regarded all talk of purpose or goals as eliminable, needed to exist for truth conditions. As a transcendent ontology for secular naturalism, I went on to propose how analogues of theistic arguments could be used to show that an ultimate moving and causing must exist for there to be the truth conditions for natural science. I did not propose that the foundations for natural science truth conditions constitute God. There needed to exist nothing like mentality -having a purpose or exercising intelligence-in these foundations.

In my construction of the philosophy of secular naturalism as the philosophical opponent of my stance, I do not include a move to transcendent ontology. I am constructing this philosophy from the anecdotal evidence collected over years of working on the immanent ontology of secular naturalism. Just citation of the name of W.V. Quine with his aphorism “To be is to be the value of a variable” should indicate that in the second half of the twentieth century an immanent ontology for a very narrow naturalism was a significant philosophical activity.

I am almost embarrassed to confess how many hours I spent hoping to write something significant about the ontological investigations of the Logical Atomism led by Gustav Bergman.

But a genuine naturalist would never ask a question which could lead to acceptance of anything transcending the natural. They begin with a bias which limits possible results. For instance, a genuine naturalist would never ask: What must there be for there to be that which justifies claims about the big bang?

This brings us to an important methodological principle for ontology. It’s Occam’s Razor: Do not multiply entities beyond necessity. Since there was no intelligence in the truth conditions for the ontology of secular natural science, there was no need to find some ultimate foundation for intelligence. Similarly, if you do not have truth or assertion conditions for normative statements in your ontology, you will find no need to find an ultimate foundation for the truth conditions of normativity.

Before I close this post in order to make a few posts on the immanent and transcendent ontology for a divine command morality, I offer a caution about use of Occam’s Razor. Once you uncover ontological assumptions for your beliefs, you should analyze your assumptions to see whether you need assume all of them or if some are based on others. In ontology we are looking for what is fundamental.

For instance, I needed to assume as a foundation of my notion of moral harm, particular norms that harm ought to be done upon violation of a moral law. But analysis led me to see that I did not need to assume the type of harm or the victim of the harm.

But what should not be done to follow Occam’s Razor is to begin with some assumption about the basic items in reality and then dismiss as unnecessary anything which cannot be shown to be dependent upon those basic items. A classical example of this reductionist misuse of Occam’s Razor in nominalism which begins with the assumption that everything is unnecessary except individuals which can be designated with “this here now.”

Ontology Without Apology

I am expressing my relief upon realizing in my previous post that the ontology of secular naturalism is expression of an extravagant hope that a plausible case can be made for a thesis that everything in reality is dependent upon that which can be studied by the methods of natural science.

Ontology is philosophy and philosophy is not necessary for most people to lead a proper life and a flourishing intellectual life. However, those, blessed or afflicted with a philosophical temperament, our life guiding beliefs are unstable without ontology. When people become aware of what ontology is, I think most would agree that it is at least an important phase in providing justification of what we believe.

What do I mean by ontology?

Ontology is the effort to articulate and justify the composition and structure of what there is-reality- so that our beliefs can be true, proper or apt. Broadly speaking, ontology is a theory on what would constitute truth conditions for beliefs. I add “proper” and “apt” because we have beliefs about what is good and beautiful.

I think that is misleading to talk of moral or aesthetic beliefs which are a correct response to reality as true. Talk of truth misleads us to thinking that the proper response to reality is to think of it statically laid out as a realm of facts. It gives primacy to theoretical reason over practical reason or even aesthetical reason , if I may use the term. The proper response to what is good or obligatory, if such there be, might be obedience rather than mere recognition that it is a fact that such-and-such is obligatory. Knowing that “You ought not kill” is one step removed from recognizing it as morally binding.

I think that exclusive focus on the factual ultimately leads to secular ontologies such as naturalism. Purposiveness is more than just a fact; it is a not yet factual aiming to be factual. Our theoretical thought represents a dynamic reality as abstract states of affairs or facts. We turn the actual conditions for truth into thoughts which are truth conditions for our claims

Indeed, I admit that ontology, being expressed as a theory, falls prey to overemphasizing theoretical reason. So, myths might help people experience the order and structure behind moral and religious beliefs better than some theoretical statements about the “furniture of the universe.” For instance, fables such as C.S. Lewis’ “Chronicles of Narnia” or Tolkien’s “Lord of the Rings” might help many people have a clearer appreciate of what reality is like for the Paschal Mystery to express the human condition than some theoretical statements about original sin.

Nonetheless, I intend to push ahead developing an ontology for authoritarian morality. It is important for defending beliefs and going forward with it in no way is ignoring some well established view on what there is on earth and in the heavens.

Confronting the Nihilistic Ontology of Secular Naturalism

I concluded my previous post by recognizing that the confrontation with nihilism is on the battlefield of metaphysics. In this post, I plan to sketch out the metaphysics of what I think is the most plausible metaphysics behind a nihilistic outlook based on secularization. It is my own construction because it is the metaphysical outlook I think that I confront in thinking what reality might be like if nihilism were true. Ultimately, in philosophy you lay out your own intellectual struggles in the belief that your conceptual problems will help others to articulate their own.

I call this metaphysical outlook secular naturalism. It holds the ontology of scientism while rejecting the inconsistent or narrow epistemology of scientism. It holds:

There is nothing but the objects, processes and events investigated by the natural sciences. However, there are ways of knowing about these objects, processes and events different from the methods of the natural sciences. Belief beyond what could be established by natural science is permissible if consistent with natural science and not about any objects, processes independent of those investigated by the natural sciences.

The fundamental thought behind any metaphysical scheme for secular naturalism is to eliminate any final causation as a basic form of causation. Ultimately, so the thought goes, nothing is for the sake of any thing else. All purposes and intentions are derivative realities. A logical implication is that human lives have no purpose.

So far there is no claim that there can be some formula for reducing all claims to claims about the objects studied in physics. Any secular naturalistic ontology is at most an expression of an intention to develop such a scheme. Yes. A consistent secular naturalism has as part of its project showing how the theory of secular naturalism is dependent upon the purely physical. Indeed, it is still unclear what ‘dependence” means. There really has not been progress on showing how even personal thoughts and feelings are dependent on the purely physical. Any such theory is probably only a hope.

An analysis of dependence is the major problem for secular naturalism. Secular naturalists can make some strong claims about independent reality prior to a generally accepted analysis of “dependence.” They can justify the following despite unclarity about “dependence.” These are analogues of Aquinas’ first three arguments for a God.

There is something which depends upon nothing but upon which everything else depends, viz., the physical.

Granted that there is moving and bringing about, there is a moving and bringing about that depends upon no other movement or bringing about but upon which all other moving and bringing about depends.

The physical with its motion and bringing about necessarily exists.

I mention these analogues to Aquinas’ first three arguments to emphasize that the way to confront secular naturalism is not to argue for a first cause or necessary being. In the twenty first century, we cannot say with Aquinas that all men call such things God. A secular naturalist is not at all inclined to classify a necessarily existing first cause as God.

How should we confront the nihilistic ontology of secular naturalism? For those few, such as me, who have been involved with professional philosophy, one guideline is to stop work on the beginning efforts to establish such an ontology. Don’t work on projects allegedly eliminating the non-physical. But, in general, we should we should boldly uncover and systematize the ontological assumptions behind our best thoughts about God, freedom and immortality without fear that we are ignoring some well established ontological outlook from which our assumptions about reality are superstitions.

On this metaphysical battlefield, we should fight small skirmishes by struggling to articulate some structures presupposed by what we believe is true about God, morality and human destiny. For instance, I am struggling to articulate what there must be in reality if what I claim to be true about moral harm and a moral authority are true. At some other time, most likely not during my life, I should try to find a way of re-expressing my articulations in the concepts of an established philosophical system such as that of Aquinas. But there is no need for development of anything which could be called a “philosophical system.”

Confronting Scientism, Secular Naturalism and Nihilism

I need to take stock of where I stand in my struggle against nihilism. I have made a case that traditional sexual morality rules out sexual nihilism and elimination of sexual nihilism is an antidote to nihilism. However, my defense of traditional sexual morality requires assumptions. To justify these assumptions, I must make a case that there is a certain moral order. In these posts, I have characterized this moral order as authoritarian morality or divine command morality.

A moral order which can be characterized as giving a divine command morality is a supernatural order. Defense of a supernatural order requires confronting views which deny the existence or even the possibility of anything supernatural.

What are these anti-supernatural or naturalist views?

There is naïve scientism. Naïve scientism holds that we can know nothing but that which can be known by the methods of natural sciences and believe nothing beyond what could be justified by natural science
Naïve scientism is easily set aside as self-referentially inconsistent. We cannot know by the methods of the natural sciences that only those methods give knowledge.

In my previous post, I pointed out that the inconsistency of naïve scientism can be removed by reformulating it as normative scientism.

Normative scientism proposes that we ought to hold that we can know nothing but that which can be known by the methods of natural science and believe nothing beyond what could be justified by natural science
.
Normative scientism needs to be supported by a case that on the whole human beings would be better satisfied if they accepted scientism.

A look at the references in the Wikipedia entry for “scientism” reveals that the case for what I call normative scientism is not strong. Secular writers point out that valuable knowledge about human beings is gained through non-scientific conversation, literature, music, etc.,. And belief beyond what could be established by natural science is permissible if consistent with natural science. As William James pointed out in his famous essay “The Will To Believe” we risk missing great truths by such a restriction. Human life would be impoverished if we always strived to be “scientific.”

But there is a way of being anti-supernatural or a naturalist without holding any form of scientism. I call this secular naturalism. Secular naturalism presupposes an ontology. An ontology is a philosophical theory on what there is.

Secular naturalism can be presented as follows.

There is nothing but the objects, processes and events investigated by the natural sciences. However, there are ways of knowing about these objects, processes and events different from the methods of the natural sciences. Belief beyond what could be established by natural science is permissible if consistent with natural science and not about any objects, processes different from those investigated by the natural sciences.

Secular naturalism is not inconsistent as naïve scientism is. Secular naturalists have long ago dismissed logical positivism which claimed metaphysical thought was meaningless. The diverse ways of knowing accepted may well include a way of knowing the ontology is correct. Furthermore, a belief in a naturalist ontology is not about any objects, etc., beyond those accessible to natural science. I spent many of my professional philosophy hours with the efforts of W. V. Quine to establish a naturalist ontology. The objects we investigated were words or terms in formal languages.

A utilitarian moral case for secular naturalism might be hard to establish because many people would be distressed by its nihilistic entailments. Indeed, a secular naturalist might make a case that secular naturalism ought not be taught to those who are distressed if it is true.

Secular naturalism is far from well established. It is not perfectly clear what makes an object etc., beyond the scope of natural science. Quine regard even the meaning of words as supernatural objects. And there certainly is no recipe for reducing all objects, etc., to those investigated by physics. Such a reduction is the “Holy Grail” of secular naturalism.

However, the truth of secular naturalism is an open philosophical -metaphysical -question which I do not think will ever be conclusively decided by even the best philosophical thought. But the truth of some supernatural position, consistent with natural science, also remains a perennial open metaphysical question.

So ultimately nihilism can be set aside by development, or adoption of, a metaphysical scheme with a place for the supernatural plus faith, perhaps as a gift from God, that the scheme truthfully represents reality.

Nihilism must be confronted on the “battlefield” of metaphysics.

Progressive Progresses to Nihilism

The purpose of this post is to extend the previous post’s defense of progressive morality to defense of a progressive philosophy of life. I defend this philosophy as persuasively as possible for it is the philosophy which I must set aside to justify the theistic philosophy which supports the divine command morality I am presenting.

I think that I am entitled to present this secular progressive philosophy of life. I have lived with it since I started university study sixty four years ago, forty of which were as a philosophy faculty member at secular universities. It lies deep in my soul. It haunts me every day.

However, be aware that this is, a perhaps idiosyncratic, portrayal of philosophy by an undistinguished emeritus professor of philosophy.

I use “philosophy of life” to abstract the progressive stance on the significance of human life from the other topics investigated by philosophers. Philosophy has been a mix of giving guidance for a well-lived meaningful life, outlining a theory about the origin and structure of all that is, viz., metaphysics, developing and criticizing solutions for apparently irremediable conceptual confusions, e.g., “Is Socrates sitting the same as Socrates standing?” and critique of whether and to what extent any of those three tasks are possible. Plato did all of this.

Critique, primarily after Hume and Kant, has established as the dominant belief in philosophy, as I have practiced it, a belief that knowledge is gained only through the methods of natural science. This belief is called “positivism” or now “scientism.” Positivism denigrates development of metaphysical schemes to support claims about how to live as mere opinions- soft thinking- not worthy of philosophical thought.

Of course, no critique could stamp out grappling with conceptual confusions. Philosophical problems are too much fun -they are the play of lively minds. Regardless of its merits towards leading a good life, acquaintance with philosophical puzzles should be included in university education. It is intellectual fun for its own sake. Play, including intellectual play is a basic human good. It is part of a well lived life.

But back to the topic of a progressive philosophy of life.

Careful positivists do not make the self-referentially inconsistent claim that they know that only science gives knowledge. Careful positivists admit that they only believe that all knowledge comes from natural science. Positivism is not known to be true. Here we find a philosophy of life “hiding in plain sight.” It is a life-guiding background belief.

Usually implicitly, but sometimes explicitly, philosophy education at secular schools is regarded as a missionary activity to free students from any strong beliefs in fixed moral principles and some divinely set purpose for their lives. Acceptance of positivism certainly does undercut such beliefs.

Implicitly, positivism is regarded as a moral belief. (In mid 20th century positivists set aside emotivism to accept that moral language has proper use in guiding behavior.) So, how do careful positivists defend their philosophy of life? They defend it in the way progressives defend any moral claim: Justification is replaced with explanation. Or: Argument is replaced with a narrative to induce belief and then acceptance of the induced belief is justified as a proper response to reality by explaining how human nature causes the belief in response to the narrative. This is different from justifying a belief as correctly representing reality.

Pay attention to the facts which include scientific accomplishments and the failures and follies of religions and other ideologies. This narrative might take a few years of schooling to be given. What you hear will cause you to think that believing in positivism is most likely to produce the greatest satisfaction of human desires. That will cause you to think that everyone ought to believe in positivism.

The defense of positivism by defending it as moral progressives defend moral beliefs protects positivism from logical fallacies and inconsistencies. (A good criticism of a view states the view is a way free from procedural errors such as inconsistency. We want to criticize a view as wrong about the topic.)

Effective teachers can lead consideration of facts to be very effective in causing acceptance of positivism.

But human concerns are facts to consider.

The positivist philosophy of life does not really support progressive morality in so far as it promises no moral progress toward greater cooperation and less cruelty. It supports moral progress only in so far as it replaces traditional morality. It promises nothing for humanity. Nuclear war, climate change, fertility failure due to birth control and abortion could all lead to extinction of homo sapiens.

If you look at the facts, you will be caused at first to lose all faith in a purpose for your life or for the existence of homo sapiens. Part of seeing this hopelessness is a sense of horror at the prospect of a meaningless life. And it is a proper response to distract oneself from considering it too much. Giving our own meaning to our life and distracting ourselves from the fact that we invented it rather than being given it is morally permissible if not obligatory because distraction diminishes human anguish.

But realization that we are distracting ourselves from nihilism causes hope that positivism is not worthy of belief.

Causal Defense of Progressive Morality: Explanation Replaces Justification

In the previous post, I dismissed the claim that a significant variety of free will was freedom to create the laws of morality. In the course of this dismissal I argued against a claim that freedom to create morality gave humans dignity. I did not question, though, whether having morality gives humans dignity. It does. The freedom to be moral agents gives humans dignity. Nor did I address the issue of whether there could be morality without humanity.

In this post, while on the topic of the role of humanity in the existence of morality, it is appropriate to reconsider the very strong support for progressive morality in What is progressive Morality? developed by conceding that morality is only the result of natural causal processes -human evolution. The gist of the defense is to show that there is no need to accept a moral authority or a moral order independent of humanity to justify moral claims. A requirement to justify fundamental ought-claims by how well they conform to a moral order is replaced with an explanation of how human nature causes us -most of us-to accept the claims..

Explanation replaces justification for the following fundamental principles of progressive morality.

The use of moral language and thought are permissible.

There ought to be no harm.

Cooperation ought to be promoted.

Human inclinations ought to be satisfied.

There ought to be certain modifications of moral language and thought; especially the notion that harm is done simply by violating a moral law – the notion of moral harm.

The gist of the defense of the principles is expressed in the following monologue.

Think carefully about the claim and your human nature will cause you to accept it because you are caused to feel approval of it being descriptive of human behavior; especially the behavior using moral language to control behavior. If you are one of the few that still does not accept the claim, then you are simply one of those who does not accept the argument. It is a fact of human nature that someone dissents from almost every claim. So, you are caused to be one of the few who dissent.

Next, explanations are provided why most humans accept the claim.

For instance, consider the claim that moral language is permissible. If someone thinks carefully about the special use of language to control behavior with notions such as ought, good and right, he will amongst other things consider whether we ought to dispense with moral language. He is caught in the trap of moral language; moral language is used to question moral language.. An explanation for being inextricably bound to use of moral language is that humans have evolved to use morality, amongst other things, to promote and inhibit behavior.

An explanatory justification for cooperation points out that nature supports cooperative behavior. So, humans who cooperate, viz., keep laws even when not to their personal advantage, have evolved. Part of this mindset of cooperative behavior is believing that the mere violation of a law is damage.

The key alteration of moral language and thought is elimination of this notion of moral harm. Progressives will say that they are caused to reject this notion. I think that progressives work for this change by regularly asking people, especially students, to consider imaginary scenarios in which violations of a moral law produced far less harm than obedience. These scenarios cause people to lose a sense that violation of a moral law is harmful.

If a progressive is asked whether the basic principles are true, the answer is as follows. Yes they are true because I am caused to give them the highest degree of assent. My language and thought have evolved to a point at which I call true that to which I give the highest degree of assent.

This line of thought justifying a stance on morality by replacing justificatory arguments with causal explanation was better presented by David Hume.

I hope that I have outlined it well enough to show that it cannot be set aside by pointing our logical or verbal fallacies, viz. procedural critiques. To confront moral progressivism, I need to uncover the truth about that reality – that aspect of reality which grounds morality.

Freedom to Create Morality is Not Worth Wanting

In this post, I reject a suggestion that the freedom most worth wanting is the freedom to choose the moral laws to which we are to be subjected. Call this” autonomous human morality.”

A rationale for autonomous human morality can be made by contrasting it with the authoritarian morality on which the freedom of virtue is based.

The freedom of virtue outlined in the previous post is only a freedom to endorse the laws of the moral authority. If freedom of virtue is the supreme freedom, then, according to the complaint, we look at ourselves as subservient beings. We are born into a moral order which we did not choose. In this order the best we can do is conform our wills to that of the moral authority. Since the source of morality lies outside humanity – other than human- it is called “heteronomous human morality.”

Now, so the rationale goes, human beings have reached the stage at which people recognize that it is beneath human dignity to have governments whose laws do not come from those governed. The well known “Government of the people, by the people and for the people” captures the thought that this is now how we should understand the moral order.
We should dismiss older monarchial or dictatorial models for morality.

So, to preserve human dignity it is proposed that we dispense with any notion of a moral authority outside of humanity legislating moral laws for humanity.

I do not accept this stance on the freedom of the will most worth wanting. In characterizing the stance, I did not even consider the weak subjective version of this stance. The subjective version would hold that no person is truly free unless that person makes the moral laws to which he or she is subject. Personal laws are not laws at all since they can be changed at will. Willfulness is not lawfulness.

So, if morality is created by humans, it will be communities of humans. Here, though, we face a problem like that of the subjective position. Not only is there a problem about selecting collections of humans which we could view as moral creators, there is also the issue of how communities could make laws for other communities without usurping their autonomy. If we do not have universal laws, we do not have moral laws.

So, the supporters of autonomous human morality must hold that somehow humanity created morality.

A blog post is not the forum for examining attempts to interpret moral laws as constructed by humans as a whole where this whole covers all places and times where people have been. I will not consider social contract theories or Kant.*

I simply list four reasons why I dismiss autonomous human morality.

One: all accounts of humanity creating morality are fictions.

Two: Each of us is born into a moral order which we did not make; nor do we know of anyone who participated in moral legislation. The fictious moral creating humanity is for each of us a moral dictator.

Three: If morality is invented and not discovered, reality is nihilistic. For humanity everything is permitted. Nothing matters. I hope that reality is not such that a theory of autonomous human morality correctly represents reality with no moral order.

Four: Human dignity is preserved by regarding citizens and their governments as subject to the same objective moral order

*. Kant is the major influence on my moral theorizing. I am here using language which clearly sets me apart from Kant by endorsing the heteronomous moral theory of authoritarian morality.

What Freedom of the Will is Worth Wanting

I have often read and heard that true freedom, the highest freedom, the freedom most worth wanting* is freedom to obey the moral law. It is called a positive freedom because it is a freedom to do something as opposed to negative freedoms from restrictions on choosing and doing. There is a strong suggestion that you will feel truly free only when obeying the moral law by choice. The suggestion carries a hint of cajolery.

Do what morality says you have to do and after a while you will realize that you are most free when choosing what you are morally bound to do.

Characterized as above, this positive freedom to choose to will as the moral authority, viz., as God, wills is not especially attractive. However, after years of dismissing praise of this positive freedom as moral or religious cant, unraveling the notion of moral harm has shown me that the freedom to will only as God wills is indeed the freedom of will most worth wanting. Let us call it the freedom of virtue. For. Amongst other things, freedom of virtue gives a deep sense of security of being on God’s side.

However, I did not appreciate the freedom of virtue until I contrasted it with a lesser positive freedom. This lesser positive freedom of will is freedom to choose right or wrong. On one hand, it is worth wanting because it gives us the status of moral agents. On the other hand, I cannot say that I find the status of moral agent as truly worth wanting. It makes us vulnerable to being morally evil. Still, I would not have it any other way since being moral agents is a necessary condition for gaining the freedom of virtue.

How can freedom to be a moral a moral agent be perfected by freedom of virtue?

There are temptation situations for which there is a moral law specifying what act ought to be done. However, the moral authority has left open a gap in actuality as to whether or not what ought to be done is done On these situations the agent has some inclination not to obey the moral law. Temptation situations in which to choose to obey a moral law or reject obeying the moral law are occasions to exercise our freedom to be moral agents. We have an opportunity to share in the legislative status of the moral authority.

In these gaps in the moral order, the moral authority leaves open to us the execution of its laws on what ought to be. When we choose to obey the law we are creators of norms by virtue of making the moral law active for this situation. This choosing in harmony with the moral law is moral good. We participate in the moral legislation of god. When we choose to disobey the moral law, we create new norms to the effect that some harm ought to occur. Production of these norms prescribing harm is moral evil.

I think that I differ from many because they think that we can morally legislate only for the good. But with my notion of moral harm, moral legislation can be for harm. Most importantly, though, I think that some failures to obey the moral law in temptation situations is not due to weakness of the will – weakness in our positive freedom to obey. In many temptation situations, the agent has an inclination to disobey and chooses to satisfy the inclination by rejecting God’ norm and creating and following his or her own norm. As moral agents we can do worse than fail to choose what is right; we can willfully choose what is wrong. We commit mortal sins. We choose what is gravely wrong after sufficient reflection and with full consent of the will
The freedom of virtue is supremely worth wanting because it is the perfection of the freedom to be moral agents. Moral agency is perfected by eliminating the freedom to choose evil from our moral agency.

Here I can only sketch a few thoughts on attaining the freedom of virtue.

I think that freedom of virtue is both a gift from God as well as a condition for which we must work. The freedom to be moral agents is a gift from God in the sense that it is part of the standard human condition. Building moral character is what we do to attain virtue.

As we approach virtue temptations become negligible. However, temptations never completely vanish. So complete virtue is never attained. This is so true in sexual matters that I do not think sexual virtue is attainable for men

* I borrow “Free will worth wanting” from Daniel Dennet’s 1984 Elbow Room: The varieties of free will worth wanting. It is an important book on free will.

Suicide is a Choice that People Ought to be Killed

I dread a prospect of dying slowly with Alzheimer’s far more than I fear dying from COVID-19 flu. If I were diagnosed with onset of Alzheimer’s I would be seriously tempted to kill myself or have physician assisted suicide if legal.

Suppose that I have received such a diagnosis. Suppose also that I, along with a close group of family and friends, have planned the taking of my life so that the dispiriting effects of my suicide on a much broader group of family and friends have been eliminated or greatly reduced. In short, suppose that utilitarian considerations show that my suicide is best for satisfying the human inclinations of all concerned. The actual harm done to people by my suicide would be less than the actual harm done to people by my undergoing a long slow dying with Alzheimer’s.

Suppose that there is a moral law forbidding suicide. I have argued for such a moral law.Immorality of Suicide. But the topic of this post is not to argue for a moral law prohibiting suicide. The topic of this post is to characterize the moral harm produced by violating the moral law prohibiting suicide.

In this situation in which I am tempted to take my life, the moral authority’s will is that I choose not to take my life to be in conformity with its will that life not be taken. But the moral authority has left a freewill gap in its legislation whereby I can choose to will as it wills for the situation or choose to will against it. I will against the moral authority by willing that in this case what ought to be done is the taking of a life. The moral harm of breaking the moral law is this new norm that a life ought to be taken. The new norm is that some human life ought to be taken. This new norm is “dirt” in the moral order; it is out of place in the moral order which is a system of norms.

To review: In the temptation to violate the moral law “No life ought to be taken” I had the choice to ratify that law by setting aside the temptation to commit suicide or I had the choice to create my own norm on what ought to be done in opposition to the authority’s norm on what ought to be done. My norm opposing the moral authority’s is “Some life ought to be taken.”*

So the moral harm of my committing suicide is a moral norm that some human life ought to be taken. My suicide corrupts the moral order with this perverse norm. This norm can be removed from the moral order only by it being carried out or by the moral authority erasing it by forgiveness through its mercy. The carrying out of the norm prescribing death would be retributive punishment.

* In standard deontic logics, the contradictory of “No life ought to be taken” is “Some life may be taken.” However, when an agent willfully defies a moral law, the agent is willing more than a simple rejection of the law. The agent is willing that this act in defiance of the law is what I ought to do.

Who Chooses that Humans Ought to be Harmed?

If a person willfully chooses to disobey a moral law, the choice results in a new ad hoc prescription in the moral order that some harm to humans ought to occur. I have written of these norms prescribing harm as sanctions for moral laws. Even if only confusedly understood, an agent who willfully violates a moral law recognizes that there are negative consequences for the choice to disobey. My moral theory is based on a thesis that the negative consequences are the ad hoc norms prescribing that there be some human harm.

These prescriptions for harm are evil items in the moral order. They lack what is crucial for being in the moral order. The primary items in the moral order are the laws of the moral authority which aim at human good and there being no harm where harm is lack of some human good. These prescriptions for harm lack aiming at human good.

What is the source of evil in the moral order? Are the prescriptions for harm issued by the moral authority or are they issued by the disobedient agent?

If issued by the moral authority, the moral authority would not be perfectly good for it would have at least the potential for production of evil always within it. To be perfectly good the moral authority needs to issue norms for the good and never for harm which is the absence of good. So, for theoretical reasons, we cannot say that the ad hoc norms prescribing harm are issued by the moral authority.

So morally disobedient agents issue the norms that there ought to be human suffering which is deprivation of some human good. In the moral authority, there are only norms with “gaps” aimed at human good and never harm. The gaps are occasions on which human choice needs to converge with the will of the moral authority to have the authority’s will executed. See Closing “Ought” to “is” gap for elaboration.

So, my authoritarian, divine command, moral theory needs to sketch out how the moral authority by granting humans free will has also granted humans authority to issue norms in conflict with its basic norms.

In my next post, I will illustrate willing harm for humanity by suicide.