Category Archives: Core philosophy

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.

I am Uncomfortable Talking About God in Philosophy

Occasionally, I become embarrassed when speaking or writing of God in philosophy. “Embarrassment” is the best term I can think of although it is far from ordinary embarrassment. It is an embarrassment of being extraordinarily disrespectful.

This experience was especially acute when I was actively teaching. Sometimes in a presentation of arguments for and against the existence of God, I had a vivid sense of God being present while we deliberately ignored Him to speculate whether He was present. How could we show greater disrespect?

I am not blessed by always sensing the presence of God. (I always sense the presence of the moral authority.) But when I sense the presence of God and I am speaking or writing philosophically about God I have a problem.

This embarrassment of speaking of God in His presence while ignoring His presence occasionally afflicts me while writing posts on divine command morality. This is why I wrote in Authoritarian Morality as Divine Command Morality that I prefer speaking rarely of God in my development of divine command morality.

I write of God being the moral authority in my theory of authoritarian morality. I write of the moral authority being God because theoretical considerations require the moral authority to have features which make it God-like. While writing I pay no attention to God who is present. But I do pay attention to God because I recognize His presence. But sense that I am ignoring Him

How can a believing philosopher speak of God philosophically without being disrespectful? In philosophy, we speak of the office of being God, we do not speak of God to whom we refer in prayer or theology. The One to whom we pray actually occupies the office whose functions and powers we always inadequately represent.

The office of God is not God. The office of God is a conceptual construct in philosophical discussion. To think of this conceptual construct as God is moving toward idolatry.

However, it is very easy to regard our concept of God as God to whom we can refer since we use the same word for both. Even atheists succumb to the temptation to regard a concept of God as God. An atheist might think that we can show that we cannot refer to God because there are good reasons for holding that a specific concept of God could not be of something to which we could refer.

I try to avoid drifting towards the idolatry of regarding the moral authority in my divine command moral theory by frequently using the term “moral authority” instead of “God.”

Gibt es Kein Gott, nur die Pflicht steht gegen das Nichts

The title of this post is taken from p. 269 of my book on sexual morality -actually only male sexuality- where I asked indulgence to speak as a Teutonic philosopher to express the major premise of my case for traditional male sexual morality. That major premise in English runs: If there is no God, then only duty provides us something indestructible to have lived for when at biological death each of us confronts totally vanishing if there has been nothing indestructible in our lives for which we lived. Nihilism is accepting your vanishing.

When asked for a short answer about what I wanted to show in my book claiming in its title that traditional sexual morality is an antidote to nihilism, I begin my answer with a warning that I try to use only assumptions which can be accepted by secular analytic philosophers. (Frequently, fellow Catholics ask me what I was trying to show.)

I address those who sense some anxiety about nihilism when they consider their biological death. I do not address the blessed innocents, even if intellectual geniuses, who sense no such anxiety.

I argue that living to make ourselves people who obey invariant moral laws is something indestructible in ourselves for which to live – that is duty die Pflicht. I go on to argue that we must find such laws governing our sexuality. I continue my argument by pointing out that if we do not find them in our sexuality, we are unlikely to admit such laws as governing any other area of our lives.

So, if there is no God in any traditional sense and no traditional sexual morality, then for each of us biological death is eternal total annihilation.

Perhaps, the implicit recognition of the nihilism conveyed by the moral thought of global elites helps explain the terror of COVID-19 infections. The prospect of infection, with even a slight chance of biological death, makes vivid “vanishing into the infinite pit of nothing” -total emptiness.

I worry that finding the meaning of life in conformity to moral laws is very close to nihilism. Most of my philosophic thought is a struggle against nihilism. So since publishing my book in 2014, I have been searching to find more in morality than laws.

I have found much more. The thought which has exploded into a rich picture of morality has been the hypothesis that the harm of violating a moral law is creation of a new moral law that some harm ought to be. This notion of a moral harm has led to personalizing morality as obedience to a moral authority which finally I interpreted as God. That is why in subsequent posts, I defend and develop a divine command morality. I have set aside the hypothesis: Gibt es kein Gott.

Email me your postal mailing address, and I will mail you a free copy of my booK: Confronting Sexual Nihilism: Traditional sexual morality as an antidote to nihilism, Tulsa 2014.


Why Be Moral? Secularism vs. Divine Command Morality

The question “Why be Moral?” is a significant question.

Verbally it seems like a trivial question of “Why ought I do what I ought to do?” An accusation of triviality might run: What is there about “ought” that you do not understand when you ask why you ought to do what you already know you ought?

A quick dismissal of the triviality accusation runs: You really do not understand all dimensions of the meaning of “ought” if you cannot sympathize with people who, when faced with demands of morality contrary to their inclinations, seek something to strengthen their resolve to meet those demands.

But is it a philosophical question?

Way back at the beginning of the twentieth century H.A Prichard challenged its philosophic significance in his influential essay “Does Moral Philosophy Rest on Mistake?” Mind, 1912.

Perhaps on an austere conception of philosophy quests for moral motivation are not philosophic. I do not hold such a view of philosophy. However, while not forgetting that this significant question is primarily about motivation, I shall not focus on motivational dimension of the question. I use the question as an occasion to sketch out pictures of what is involved in obeying moral laws. “This issue of motivation for being moral can be developed as question for fundamental philosophy – call it metaphysics, ontology or study of being per se. It ultimately becomes a question of whether or not in being there can be a moral order.

David Hume is well-known for reminding us that “is” does not imply “ought.” Two other connections between “is” and “ought” are less remarked upon. Logically we cannot infer that something is done from there being a moral law that it ought to be done. Of even more importance is the truth that in nature what ought to be done frequently, far too frequently, does not occur.

There is an obvious difference between moral laws and physical laws. Regard a situation to which a physical law applies a cause. Regard the action that the law says follows the situation an effect. In the physical order the effect occurs invariably. Apparently there is no need for an intermediary to link cause and effect.

For the moral order regard a situation to which a moral law applies a cause. For instance, an opportunity to steal under the law “Do not steal” is a cause. Regard what the moral law demands for a situation an effect. Not stealing in the example is an effect of the law. As just noted: all too frequently effect does not follow cause in the moral order. In the moral order there is a need for an intermediary to link cause and effect.

Human choice is the intermediary connecting “ought” with “is.” We can choose not to make the connection. We are asking whether we ought to make that gap invariable. What should move our will to do what is right?

Choosing is for something. Choosing is goal driven – teleological. So investigating how choosing, or willing, connects moral cause with moral effect is investigating why the choice is made. Investigating for what a moral choice is made we are investigating at least an aspect of the issue of why we should be moral.

Looking at the “Why be Moral?” question as an occasion to ask what links moral cause with moral effect can lead to many, if not all, of the questions of moral philosophy. For instance, it provides an occasion for asking whether there are moral laws and choices let alone free choices.

I am comparing what I have called divine command morality with progressive morality. I am not preparing a book on moral philosophy. Developing a metaphysical account, or as I prefer to say “a picture,” of reality suitable for divine command morality is what I plan to pursue in my next few posts. Development of this picture of a dynamic moral order is part of my critique of secularism. This dynamic moral order is part of a religious picture of reality which seems presupposed by our ordinary moral language. Thus a rigorous secularism needs to radically revise our moral language. Pointing out that need is a criticism of secularism.

Authoritarian Morality as Divine Command Morality

The purpose of this post is to give a philosophic reason for re-labeling “authoritarian morality” as “divine command morality.” Secularization is primarily a religious movement but it also contains a philosophic reductionist program. I want to turn my development of authoritarian morality into a critique of secularism by critique of its reductionist program.

Reductionist programs aim to show that some of the kinds of things we talk about cannot be real – cannot have being. Thus, nothing we say about them could be true. For instance, a materialist reductionist program aims to show we need say nothing about thoughts and sensations to say all that can be true. A secularization reductionist program aims to show that we need say nothing about anything resembling a god, goddess or sacred item to say all that can be true. Reductionist programs have the strong goal of showing that certain kinds of things cannot be. They do not aim at showing only that there are not these kinds of things. *Reductionist programs are at the heart of philosophy – what is being such that some of what we talk of can have it and others we talk of cannot?

I have constructed the concept of authoritarian morality from the notion of moral harm as a notion of harm which ought to be for violation of a moral law. I have shown that there is a close match between our ordinary moral talk and the moral talk of a hypothetical person who explicitly held an authoritarian moral theory. See, for instance, Authoritarian Morality in Lincoln’s 2nd Inaugural.The concept of a moral authority was developed far enough to justify talking of the moral authority as a god. See Core Concepts of Authoritarian Morality and Authoritarian Morality Enchants Reality

So, the philosophic component of secularization needs to show that the notion of moral harm is of something which cannot be. If successful, secularization has very significant implications for how we should think of morality. Morality becomes weak progressive morality. For instance, secularization tells us that if we think clearly we will not think that any harm which does occur is harm which is deserved because of a violation of a moral law.

To review: Secularization requires elimination of the notion of moral harm. Elimination of the notion of moral harm renders morality insignificant if we really think about what we assert in a moral judgment. A secularist should, as future posts will bring out, hold an emotivism interpretation of moral judgments.

* In my book: A Kantian Condemnation of Atheistic Despair: A Declaration of Dependence Lang Pub. New York 1997 I show that serious atheism is modal atheism which holds that there cannot be a God.

Autonomous obedience vs. autonomous legislation

In the course of several posts I have struggled to articulate what I hope to show by justifying a moral principle for male sexuality and how I should go about showing it. The principle, in agreement with traditional Catholic morality, stated:

Thou shall not intentionally seek an orgasm except in coitus open to conception with a woman to whom you are committed for life to care for her and any child resulting from the coitus.

I hoped to show that independently of religious considerations, a man who follows, or struggles to follow, the principle has a character trait which makes him a better human being – a man closer to being as he ought to be than if he followed any other principle for sexuality.

I came to the conclusion that any arguments for the principle would have to be based on assumptions or, as I say, from a stance. Consequently, the arguments might not be compelling for all intelligent people. From a stance, arguments should be of two types. One line of argument would show that activity in accord with the principle is rational activity. Another line of argument would show that activity in accord with the principle is directed towards attaining and maintaining conditions good for human beings over and beyond the good of being rational. With respect to the principle for male sexuality, the human good would be life-long monagamous marriage.

I need to emphasize a feature of the human goods. They are not goods independent from morality with morality being a means to their attainment. The human goods attained and maintained by activity in accordance with the principle are not conditions apart from activity in accordance with the principle. Activity in accord with the principle is not only a means to the good but also a feature of the good brought about. For instance, activity in accord with a principle for traditional male sexuality not only produces a good marriage but it is also part of a good marriage.

I do not need to invent new arguments. For showing that the rationality of the activity, I can adapt arguments from what some call “The Old Natural Law Theory” or better: Thomistic Moral Theology. For showing that activity in accordance with the principle is directed towards human flourishing, I can adapt arguments from what is frequently called “New Natural Law Theory.”

I write of adapting the arguments because I do not make any assumption that an intelligent human being will take activity in accordance with the principle as morally binding upon clearly understanding the line of argument. There is still need for someone to choose to be obligated or something to impose the moral obligation.

As I interpret both types of natural law theories, they hold that nature -reality- formed human nature so that once a human being clearly recognizes that a principle promotes rational activity directed toward human good the human being because of a law for its nature chooses to be bound by and follow the principle. I believe that to be morally bound by a law there must always be the possibility of rejecting the law.

So I concluded my previous post confessing that I still felt that I had not uncovered all that I hoped for in a justification for a moral principle. Now I think that I can articulate what Ithought was lacking. I wanted to show that the moral principle is true and I do not think that reasoning alone brings us to moral truth.

Here is how the issue of truth comes up. After being persuaded by the arguments that activity in accord with the principle is rational and directed towards human good, there still needs to be imposition of a moral obligation to act in accord with this principle. This imposition could be self imposed or imposed by something outside our self.

Self imposed obligation could be called “autonomous moral legislation.” Unfortunately, autonomous moral legislation might be only a human decision to make such a moral rule. The rule could be invented; not discovered. It might be invented in response to our reasoning.

But how could a rule-an imperative- be discovered in thought independent reality? What corresponded to a rule in reality would not be a fact or a descriptive law of nature. It would have to be something like a command. At this time, the best I can say that the aspect of mind-independent reality corresponding to a moral law would be something we “hear” rather than “see,” and have the possibility of being accepted and obeyed or being rejected and disobeyed. If, and this is a huge “if,” there is something like hearing an imperative from mind independent reality, then there is a true or actual imperative. Still, though, there is a need for a choice to accept or reject the imperative. This could be called the “autonomy of obedience.”

If there is a place for autonomy of moral obedience, then we can talk of moral laws being true.

Consider a definition of “truth” which extends it to include truth for norms.

Truth for facts and norms

For facts to think what is true is to think of what is that it is and to think of what is not that it is not.
For norms to think what is true is to accept as obligatory what ought to be and to accept as forbidden what ought not be.

But if we can receive moral laws from an moral authority in mind independent reality, what is the role of arguments for moral principles? The arguments are valuable checks on illusions with respect to hearing the moral law, they help us to articulate what we hope to discover as true, they show others the plausibility of our rules and may lead others to investigate our moral rules. *

In my book, I struggled in Chapter XI with laying out what beyond reasoning needs to be done to discover what we ought to do.

* My book Confronting Sexual Nihilism: Traditional Sexual Morality as an Antidote to Nihilism was released by Tate Publishing on March 11, 2014. See Book Web Page for information about the book. See Ch. IV for my justification see pp. 72ff. for discussion of moral harm. Free copies can be obtained here by credit card by paying $3.75 for shipping and handling.

To receive a free book, send check of $3.75 for shipping and handling per copy. Send to:
Charles F. Kielkopf
45 W. Kenworth Rd.

Inconsistency of Moral Thinking Resolved by Moral Skepticism

It is embarrassingly conceited even to link my fumbling with contradictions in basic concepts of moral thinking with the brilliant investigations of the contradictions in basic concepts of mathematical thinking by Bertrand Russell et al in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Nonetheless, there are some parallels which help clarify what I am trying to accomplish.

I only outline the main steps in finding the inconsistency in mathematical thinking. Mathematical logicians had shown that all mathematical thinking could be represented as thinking about natural numbers. G. Frege showed that all thinking about natural numbers could be represented as thinking about classes. A basic principle for thinking about classes was that there is a class consisting of the extension of any property. Russell considered the property “the class of all classes which do not belong to itself.” A law of excluded middle of the form: for any classes x and y, x belongs to y or x does not belong to y, was accepted as fundamental in mathematical thinking. An explicit contradiction is reached when both x and y are taken as the classes of all classes which do not belong to themselves.

Of course, the set theory contradiction did not hinder mathematical development in any way. For one, mathematical thinking does not depend upon going back to some foundational ideas such as set theory. Secondly, and relevant to my project, is that the contradictions can be resolved by altering the conceptual scheme for thinking about classes. For example, some set theorists restricted the kinds of properties whose extensions were classes.

It is the altering of the conceptual scheme which links my reflections on moral thinking with the foundational work in mathematics. Altering the conceptual scheme leads to a type of skepticism. First, it suggests that our ways of thinking are human inventions for thinking about the way things are. Insofar as they are our inventions the ways of thinking might contain components peculiar to humans and thus not accurately tell us now things really are apart from our thinking. If there were only one way of removing the contradiction, we might have some basis for thinking that we now had the right way of thinking about the topic. Unfortunately, as will be shown in subsequent posts, there are several ways of resolving the contradiction. As a result, one has to take a stance that one specific way of thinking about morality is the correct way.

Of course, conceding that there is no right way to resolve the fundamental contradiction in moral thinking is not conceding that there is no right way to think morally. Indeed a possible stance, which I take, is that after qualifications in the notion of an authoritarian morality to allow acceptance of “Some harm ought to be” we have attained the correct way of moral thinking. I have to concede, though, that I might have taken the wrong stance.

Let me put it as follows. I take the stance “There are absolute moral principles which correctly express the normativity in reality.” I concede that I might be mistaken about reality by taking such a stance. Moral skepticism is not moral relativism. There is only one correct way of thinking about morality. Unfortunately, I am not absolutely certain that I have the correct way.

This means that moral arguments have two phases: First, persuade someone to take your stance. Second, convince the other of the correctness of your reasoning within the stance. Also the need to take a stance implies that there may be irresolvable moral disputes.

A significant difference between the mathematical and moral resolution of a basic contradiction is that in the mathematical case a person can enjoy working with the different set theories. In the moral case, only a cynic, switches from one stance to the other. It is morally significant to take a stance and stay with it.

Inconsistency of Moral Thinking

This post brings out a fundamental logical contradiction in our ordinary everyday moral thinking. By moral thinking I am referring to ways of thinking about right and wrong, what is good and how to get it apart from any effort to avoid inconsistencies. The moral rules are supposed to say what is obligatory and forbidden for all human beings and over-ride any other type of rule.

Our ordinary ways of thinking about morals take both rule following-deontological thinking and good pursuing -teleological thinking- as fundamental. Holding deontological and teleological thinking as fundamental produces the inconsistency. Pursuit of fundamental goods are required by fundamental rules.

The obligatory goods are various conditions which constitute a full human life. They are conditions such as knowledge, meaningfulness, enjoying beauty, liberty, sufficient food. It is a task for philosophers, where “philosophy” is to be understood as wisdom, to elaborate on the conditions which make for a full human life. Most people will have deficiency in enjoying these basic human goods. Maybe everyone will always have some deficiency with respect to these goods.

The so-called New Natural Law writings of Grizse, Finnis et al. have influenced my thought on basic human goods.

Once we have specified what is good we can specify what “harm” means when I write of “moral harm.” To produce harm is to bring about a deficiency in these basic goods.

This definition of “harm” brings us close to bringing out the inconsistency once we recall that the so-called first principle of natural moral thinking is an apparent truism in everyday moral thinking. This truism is not true at all. It contains the fundamental contradiction.

Do good, avoid evil.

This principle tells us:
Promote the basic human goods and never produce harm.
A corollary is:
There ought never be harm. Or


However, we have several moral laws commanding that basic human goods be promoted and never deliberately inhibited.

But laws, which are not mere words, carrying sanctions. They specify that harm ought to result upon their violation.

So, assuming that some moral laws have been violated we have


So, here we have uncovered the inconsistency in everyday uncritical moral thinking.

Subsequent posts sketch out ways of avoiding this inconsistency.