Category Archives: Realism vs. anti-realism

We Cannot Know that We Know

We Cannot Know that We Know

Before I move on to my main goal which is to present and support as a philosophical truth that moral laws are Divine Commands, it is appropriate to confess my skepticism. It is a healthy skepticism conceding only that we cannot know that we know.

From my realistic stance, I have to confess that I cannot compare the representation of a truth claim with the truth conditions it allegedly represents. As I have so frequently proclaimed: Truth conditions apart from our representing cannot be represented. Hence, truth conditions apart from our representations cannot be compared with our representations to determine how well, or poorly, they are represented.

This holds for even Descartes’ “I exist.” I know, of course, that I exist. I cannot, though, reflect upon my thinking that I exist in order to compare my thinking with what makes my thinking of my existence a true thought. Of course, our knowledge that we exist is of great importance for supporting realism. By knowing that we exist, we know that we are amongst the existents of which we want to have knowledge. We can have contact with existents because we are some of them!

This claim about not knowing that we know is both individual and general. As a claim about the individual who I am, it says that I do not know that I know. As a general claim it is a claim that none of us know that humans have knowledge.

This is a healthy skepticism because there is no denial that humans can have knowledge but it leaves open the prospect of correcting all knowledge claims.

Also I think this skepticism is healthy because it allows setting aside efforts to define “knowledge” exactly. I can accept that knowledge is justified true belief plus meeting some fourth condition to accommodate examples dreamt up by epistemologists. If we cannot know that we know, we do not have to worry about knowing exactly what knowledge is. We are not required to have a complete concept of knowledge if we do not make a claim about having knowledge.

There Are Philosophic Truths

Philosophical Truths

I have worked in philosophy for over sixty years and implicitly never regarded philosophical claims as genuinely true, if true at all.

I started graduate study of philosophy in 1958 at the University of Minnesota. Logical positivism was the dominant philosophy. Herbert Feigl an Austrian refugee who had been a member of the Vienna Circle directed its Philosophy of Science Center. I had written an undergraduate honors thesis on Hume and the self. I was very upset with Humean skepticism; especially with philosophy’s apparent inability to say what made me who I am. I did not follow Hume’s recommendation to stop gloomy philosophical reflections and just go about the business of living. Perhaps, I hoped that I could find some solid results in deeper study of philosophy. I received a Ph. D. in Philosophy and Mathematics in 1962. At the end of graduate study, I could not answer the question: What philosophical truths did you learn in graduate study and Ph.D. research? I cannot say that I taught students any philosophical truths during forty years of teaching. What I wrote for journals was mostly criticism of what others had written. I published many truths about logic in a book on entailment systems. But those were mathematical truths.

I owe much to my instructors and the texts of classical philosophy for teaching me how to philosophize. However, I could not figure out how this disciplined thinking could lead to discovery of any truth. Early in graduate study, I read Wittgenstein’s Tractatus. In the Tractatus, I met the only forthright philosophical truth claims I ever encountered. The Tractatus gave a bold statement of the metaphysics of logical positivism. I now reject a crucial truth claim of that metaphysics, viz., logical atomism. Atomism led to Naturalism. By implicitly hold atomism all of these years, I implicitly accepted the metaphysics that in fact there was and could be nothing but what provided truth conditions for the truth claims of natural sciences.

I sketch a diagnose why I gave up hope of there being genuine philosophical truth claims. Next, I point how I have now revived a belief that there can be genuine philosophical truth claims. I base my sketch on correcting the metaphysics of the Tractatuss.

A genuine truth claim is one that represents what exists as having certain features. If what exists has those features it is true. If what exists does not have those features it is false. The features attributed to what exists do not provide a picture of what exists. We cannot even think of what exists apart from features we attribute to it; let alone imagine it. Realism is holding that there are genuine truth claims. For positivism a genuine truth claim was cognitively meaningful.

Logical positivism, especially as expressed in the Tractatus, and the criticism of it have left a long legacy.

Here are core assumptions of logical positivism and results of he criticism of it which the Tractatus incorporated into positivism.
1. Realism: There are genuine truth claims
2. Atomism: Truth conditions are constituted by some basic elements whose existence or non-existence is independent of anything else.
3. The only necessity is logical necessity
4. A claim that realism and atomism are true is not a genuine truth claim. This comes from positivism’s self criticism.

I think Wittgenstein himself gave up realism because he came to think that there were non-logical necessities such as “No surface is uniformly red and green.” Non-logical necessities threatened atomism because there, then, might be connections which threaten the independence of the basic elements. He probably thought that there could not be truth conditions without independent existents.

I reject atomism because it is a claim about what truth conditions are like apart from our representation of them. Also atomism clashes with a thesis that the only necessity is logical necessity. It rules out the logical possibility of the interconnection of every existent. I accept realism as a philosophical truth claim. If nothing exists to make claims true, realism is false; otherwise it is true. Of course I cannot stand back an look at exists apart from my representing to verify that the claim of realism is true. So, I am content to class it as an ASSUMPTION OF A TRUTH.

The dismissal of atomism is a tremendous philosophical assumption. Atomism brings with it naturalism. For if anyone can think of elements whose order and connection provide truth conditions for natural physical science, those elements do not even provide truth conditions for claims about the mental; let alone religion.

It must be emphasized that setting aside atomism is not a accepting monism. i.e. what exists is a unity. There is no claim about what exists as a thing or things in themselves.

So, I close this post by finally proclaiming a philosophical truth. That philosophical truth is what I offered in my previous post. There is a vast diversity of genuine truth claims.

Realism and the Transcendent

Realism and the Transcendent

What exists, or so I say, are representations and things which are not representations. The world, or what is immanent, consists of representations and things which are not representations. That which exists depends for its existence on the Transcendent.

I use the Kantian phrase “things in themselves” to label things which are not representations. However, I am not interpreting Kant. I simply find the Kantian phrase expresses best what I am trying to articulate. For instance, “given” is too broad because many representations such as visual sensations are given. “Physical” is too narrow because I grant that there could be immaterial or spiritual entities which are non-representations which we represent. Because I realize that we have access to what is not a representation only by representing it, the phrase “things in themselves” seems most exact.

There is a proper subset of representations which are put forth as being true or valid. These are truth claims and categorical imperatives. (Again, I find a Kantian phrase most appropriate.) Broadly speaking truth claims express a thought that such-and-such is the case. Categorical imperatives express a thought that such-and-such ought to be the case.

Factual realism holds that there are conditions amongst things in themselves on the basis of which truth claims are true or false. It is true to say that such-and-such is the case if and only if that amongst things in themselves referred to by “such-and-such” exists in a way properly represented by “such-and-such.”

Moral realism holds that there are conditions amongst things in themselves on the basis of which categorical, or objective, imperatives are valid commands. A categorical imperative that such-and-such ought to be is valid if and only if amongst things in themselves there exists conditions properly represented as a command that such-and-such ought to be. (In an imperative, the reference is to things in themselves without using a referential phrase to pick out a referent.)

A full realist holds both factual and moral realism. I am a full realist. I should note that often there is no need to mark a distinction between a true factual claim and a valid norm. Frequently, I will write of true moral claims when “valid” would be more correct.

The main point of this post is that realism is not necessarily the correct philosophical position. As the controversy over realism and idealism shows things in themselves providing truth conditions need not exist. Plausible coherence theories of truth reveal the disturbing situation that “truth” can be interpreted as warranted assertions and hence the conditions for truth lie wholly within representations. Having the conditions for accepting a claim as true lie wholly within representations is to “explain truth way.”

Realization that the world, reality, the immanent is not necessarily the way realism holds is both a burden and a blessing for a realist. It is a burden because a realist must take a stance that there are things in themselves providing truth conditions. Realism cannot be proved. It is always a philosophic burden to posit a fundamental principle which is not self-evident or cannot be proved. Holding that there exists things in themselves which provide truth conditions is a philosophical blessing for realists For now the realist has a fundamental existent which depends directly upon the Transcendent. Having truth conditions directly dependent upon the Transcendent enables a realist to characterize the Transcendent as the author of truth and valid moral commands.*

*See Morality and the Transcendent to review how an independent feature of reality provides the basis for characterizing that on which it depends for its existence.

Sexual Nihilism and the Transcendent

Sexual Nihilism and the Transcendent

How has a series of blog posts to offer support traditional sexual morality as an antidote to nihilism led to speculation on a transcendent beyond all existence providing truth conditions?

In my book*, I argued for a fundamental moral principle for male sexuality. My argument made a persuasive case for accepting the principle. I admitted that it was not rigorous. I called it rhetorical. People who did not accept the principles of my stance on sexuality, would not be irrational. I wondered whether I could improve my argument.

I diagnosed why my argument could legitimately fail to be compelling. From that vast web of thoughts and sentiments I have called human intelligence, I pulled out bits and pieces which can be arranged into a persuasive argument. “Bits and pieces” is not really a good phrase to use because some of the thoughts placed in human intelligence which I used, have been put there by people as illustrious Plato, Aquinas and Kant. Nevertheless, other strands could have been selected which would have led to a persuasive argument against my principle for male sexual morality. This concession to moral relativity threatens to undercut my project of providing an antidote to realism. I needed something outside of human intelligence to justify my argument within human intelligence.

I cast around in the ideas I borrowed from human intelligence to see if some would lead me outside of human intelligence as a foundation for correct thought. An idea that seemed interesting, if not fruitful for my project was the idea of moral harm. The idea of moral harm was the idea of harm resulting simply by violation of a moral law. After floundering around trying to characterize such a harm, I found within human intelligence the thought that harm ought to occur as a result of violation of a moral law. Drawing out from human intelligence the pervasive acceptance of this moral notion of moral harm, I concluded that a fundamental strand in some human thinking about morality was this notion that actual ordinary physical harm ought to occur as a result of violation of a moral law. All ways of thinking morally which provide for retributive punishment use this moral notion of moral harm.

Articulation of these ways of thinking about morality, led to the conclusion that a fundamental way of thinking about morality is thinking of moral laws as commands of a more than human moral authority. I called this “authoritarian morality.” But for authoritarian morality does there exist a moral authority different from the thought of a moral authority?

If I could show that there is a God who is the moral authority, I would have found a way of giving a very compelling argument for a moral principle. Part of accepting a God would be accepting a compelling reason for obeying God’s commands. To be sure, much work in moral thinking is needed to show that God would command what I believe is commanded about, in particular, sexual morality. Still, with God as moral commander there is a basis for a objective morality.

I admit that the line of thought I use to show that there is a divine moral authority assumes realism. This realism holds that there exist conditions beyond human thinking on the basis of which human thinking can be evaluated for correctness. There are such conditions, so it is assumed, even if we can never be acquainted with them apart from our ways of thinking of them. The idealism which holds that human thought is only evaluated by other human thought is coherent but not as compelling as realism.

A persuasive argument against idealism comes from our ability to think about our thinking, viz., reflective thought. Truth claims in reflective thought are objectively true or false depending upon how it is with what is thought about. So, idealism shares a realistic structural feature with realism. Some thoughts are true or false on the basis of how it is with what is thought about and not on the thinking itself. For all practical purposes, the thought which is thought about is deactivated as thought and becomes an object for thought. Nonetheless, the idealist can still claim that there is nothing non-mental; there is nothing but mental processes and mental objects.

But, granted realism, how can there be a God? In an earlier book**, I called my atheistic temptation “modal atheism.” I do not know of anyone, besides me, who has used the phrase “modal atheism.” But a modal atheist claims that it is not possible for there to be a God: That on which everything depends for its existence while depending upon nothing else and exercising providential care for creatures. I am not a proponent of scientism who proudly proclaims that there is nothing but what can be known by the methods of natural science. Unfortunately, I am constantly tormented by the thought that scientism has to be true. Thus in my efforts to establish a divine command morality, which requires a God, I need to set aside modal atheism. That is why I am speculating about the immanent, transcendent, truth conditions etc.,.

Now that I have distinguished between what is immanent and the Transcendent, I can be more precise about my inability to think of God as even possibly existing. With God as the Transcendent, God cannot be thought about at all; let alone as existing or not existing. So, my worry about the possibility of God, is a worry about the possibility of a supernatural realm. Truth claims of traditional religions, or historical religions as Kant called them, are truth claims about a supernatural realm immanent reality along side those conditions which make truth claims of natural science and daily life true or false. I cannot think of there being anything to make claims true or false besides those which make claims about nature true or false. This is not based on some naturalist ideology. It is a genuine disability in my thinking. I could only think of religious truth claims be evaluated in the way in which we evaluate claims about fiction. This means that for many claims about the topic in a religious claim there is no fixed answer if the answer is not provided by the story. For instance, consider the claim “The angel Gabriel told the virgin Mary that she would conceive and bear a son of the most high.” There is no answer to the question “Was Mary over thirteen years when Gabriel appeared to her?” For natural claims, there is, in principle, a definite answer in nature for every claim. The Law of Excluded Middle holds for nature.

But now with speculation about the Transcendent providing truth conditions for claims we make about the immanent, I am thinking about the truth conditions for religious claims as, indeed, truths about a story. However, the story teller is the Transcendent.

* Confronting Sexual Nihilism: Traditional Sexual Morality as an Antidote to Nihilism, Oklahoma City, 2014
** A Kantian Condemnation of Atheistic Despair: Declaration of Dependence, Lang Pub. NY 1997

The Supernatural is Not Transcendent!

The supernatural is not transcendent. The supernatural is immanent but has a special dependence upon transcendence.

An effort to explain rather than prove my thesis about the immanence of the supernatural, provides the opportunity to review two of my main objectives. I want to show that there can be objective conditions for the correctness of our religious and moral judgments. I focus on religious judgments.

By “objective” I mean conditions in reality apart from our thinking but on the basis of which our thinking about what is the case is true or false and thinking about what ought to be is a proper response. Reality includes all human thought and what is thought about*. I have called reality the immanent and that on which it all depends the Transcendent.

In this post, I assume a realism which holds that conditions exist beyond our thought which provide at least truth conditions for the truth claims of natural science. I accept the scientific picture of reality with its vast universe spread out spatially and temporally. As a realist, then, I accept that there are truth conditions apart from the scientific picture which the developers of the scientific picture try to represent accurately. Since we never have acquaintance with truth conditions as they are apart from our representations, we must be satisfied with getting closer and closer to truth.

Truth is representing the truth condition exactly as it is. I have no quarrel with saying that the test for being warranted to assert a proposition as true is being warranted as correct by careful investigators. I want only to emphasize that the goal of testing is to represent as accurately as possible the conditions apart from our representing.

In this twenty first century we can and should concede the term “nature” to secular reductionist stance frequently called scientism. Scientism holds that there is nothing but what can be discovered by the methods of natural science. We can make this concession because education for the past hundred years or so has led many people to understand nature this way. It is sometimes said that reality has been disenchanted.

We should make this concession because it opens a place for the supernatural along side the natural within the realty dependent upon the Transcendent.

In the immanent, then, we have truth conditions for the scientific representation and, of course, the scientific representation itself. In the immanent there could also be truth conditions for propositions about what transcends scientific representations. There could also be truth conditions for propositions founded in existential concern, usually implicit, about the purpose of human life.

What beyond anything we can represent gives purpose to human living? Such propositions would express attempts to tell the truth about what is totally transcendent – what I have called the Transcendent. The Transcendent could sustain in existence conditions for propositions which hopefully tell the truth about human relations to it. We would not know what these conditions are apart from our representations. But that is the case with any truth condition. We would, as with natural science, most likely always have only approximations to exact representations.

These truth conditions along side the natural ones constitute the supernatural.

Consider this conjecture about reality pictorially. Picture reality – the immanent- as a huge ellipse. Closely scattered throughout the ellipse there are green and red dots. Red and green can never overlap. The order and connection of the green are truth conditions for the natural. The order and connection of the red dots provide truth conditions for religious propositions. The green is the natural. The red is the supernatural. Both are immanent and dependent upon the Transcendent for existence and order.

This picture does not replace the difficult philosophical work of clarifying my proposal about the immanence of the supernatural. But it does suggest the strength of what I would like to clarify and justify.

*Philosophical thought about what cannot be thought, viz., the Transcendent and things in themselves, is about the limits of thought and not that beyond the limits.

Immanence of the Transcendent as Religious Truth Conditions

Thesis: Religious propositions are true or false if and only if the Transcendent is immanent as truth conditions!

I focus on establishing the “only if” part.

Religious propositions are truth claims about what is immanent. For instance, “God is the father almighty creator of heaven and earth” is about the whole of what is immanent while “Jesus rose from the tomb after being crucified” is about a particular event within the immanent.

Although motivated by religious concerns, philosophical characterizations of the Transcendent are claims of philosophical theology. Admittedly, attempts to characterize the Transcendent are not even true or false. But in this post, in which I am engaged in philosophical theology, I am not interested in the status of claims within philosophical theology. I want to justify the following thesis.

If there are religious truths, then the Transcendent is immanent.

Unfortunately, my thesis is a “two edged sword” with respect to establishing immanence for the Transcendent. I want to conclude that the Transcendent is immanent because there are religious truths. Sophisticated atheists will use it to proclaim that there are no religious truths because it is incoherent to hold that the Transcendent is immanent.

Religious propositions are claims about the Transcendent although using our concepts for making claims about the immanent. So, if some religious propositions are objectively true, then some claims about the Transcendent using concepts for making claims about the immanent are objectively true.

Bear with me while I work this out through a series of hypotheticals.

If some claims about the Transcendent using concepts for making claims about the immanent are objectively true, then the Transcendent creates and sustains conditions in the immanent which make those claims about it objectively true or false

If the Transcendent creates and sustains conditions in the immanent for making claims about it using concepts appropriate to the immanent true or false, then the Transcendent creates and sustains conditions amongst things in themselves for making claims about it using concepts appropriate to the immanent true or false.

If the Transcendent creates and sustains conditions amongst things in them for making claims about it using concepts appropriate to the immanent true or false, then those conditions are the Transcendent as truth conditions or those conditions are not the Transcendent as truth conditions.

If those truth conditions are not the Transcendent as truth conditions, then those truth conditions are not truth conditions.

How do we get this contradictions for a reductio ad absurdum argument?

Religious claims are about the Transcendent using concepts for the immanent. If the Transcendent was not amongst things in themselves, none of the religious claims would be true or false because they would have nothing about the Transcendent to make them true or false.

So, we can conclude: Truth conditions for religious claims are the Transcendent as truth conditions in the immanent. (Recall that all truth conditions are things in themselves in the immanent.)

Now what about an atheist claim that it is oxymoron to hold that the Transcendent is immanent.

It is not incoherent to hold that the Transcendent is immanent as a thing in itself because the Transcendent does not lose its character as transcending our understanding. For things in themselves transcend our understanding for we cannot think of how they are apart from our ways of thinking.

Here we see a benefit to religion from adapting a “Kantian realism” that truth conditions are things in themselves transcending our understanding.

In the next post I wish to explore an atheistic reaction to a thesis that religious truth requires the immanence as truth conditions of the transcendent. Thesis: Religious propositions are true or false if and only if the Transcendent is immanent as truth conditions!

I focus on establishing the “only if” part.

Religious propositions are truth claims about what is immanent. For instance, “God is the father almighty creator of heaven and earth” is about the whole of what is immanent while “Jesus rose from the tomb after being crucified” is about a particular event within the immanent.

Although motivated by religious concerns, philosophical characterizations of the Transcendent are claims of philosophical theology. Admittedly, attempts to characterize the Transcendent are not even true or false. But in this post, in which I am engaged in philosophical theology, I am not interested in the status of claims within philosophical theology. I want to justify the following thesis.

If there are religious truths, then the Transcendent is immanent.

Unfortunately, my thesis is a “two edged sword” with respect to establishing immanence for the Transcendent. I want to conclude that the Transcendent is immanent because there are religious truths. Sophisticated atheists will use it to proclaim that there are no religious truths because it is incoherent to hold that the Transcendent is immanent.

Religious propositions are claims about the Transcendent although using our concepts for making claims about the immanent. So, if some religious propositions are objectively true, then some claims about the Transcendent using concepts for making claims about the immanent are objectively true.

Bear with me while I work this out through a series of hypotheticals.

If some claims about the Transcendent using concepts for making claims about the immanent are objectively true, then the Transcendent creates and sustains conditions in the immanent which make those claims about it objectively true or false

If the Transcendent creates and sustains conditions in the immanent for making claims about it using concepts appropriate to the immanent true or false, then the Transcendent creates and sustains conditions amongst things in themselves for making claims about it using concepts appropriate to the immanent true or false.

If the Transcendent creates and sustains conditions amongst things in them for making claims about it using concepts appropriate to the immanent true or false, then those conditions are the Transcendent as truth conditions or those conditions are not the Transcendent as truth conditions.

If those truth conditions are not the Transcendent as truth conditions, then those truth conditions are not truth conditions.

How do we get this contradictions for a reductio ad absurdum argument?

Religious claims are about the Transcendent using concepts for the immanent. If the Transcendent was not amongst things in themselves, none of the religious claims would be true or false because they would have nothing about the Transcendent to make them true or false.

So, we can conclude: Truth conditions for religious claims are the Transcendent as truth conditions in the immanent. (Recall that all truth conditions are things in themselves in the immanent.)

I had to concede, though, that the Transcendent as truth conditions does not transcend existence. Truth conditions exist. They are “in the world.”

Now what about an atheist claim that it is oxymoron to hold that the Transcendent is immanent.

It is not incoherent to hold that the Transcendent is immanent as a thing in itself because the Transcendent does not lose its character as transcending our understanding. For things in themselves transcend our understanding for we cannot think of how they are apart from our ways of thinking.

Here we see a benefit to religion from adapting a “Kantian realism” that truth conditions are things in themselves transcending our understanding.

In the next post I wish to explore an atheistic reaction to a thesis that religious truth requires the immanence as truth conditions of the transcendent.

Objective Truth and the Transcendent

In a philosophic framework positing an immanent reality dependent for its existence on a transcendent, what is further posited by a philosophic stance that there are objective truths?

The immanent consists of human representations along with things in themselves. Things in themselves exist independently of being represented. Representations themselves are things in themselves in so far as they do not need to be represented to exist. We never think of things in themselves as they are in themselves. For we always think with representations. Yes, even when we think about our thinking we do not represent the thought which is thought about as it is independently of our thinking about it.

In this post, I am not primarily interested in the representation of representing or thinking about thinking. This is called “reflective thinking.” Unfortunately, I cannot ignore reflective thinking. I am engaged in it while writing this post. I am mostly interested in things in themselves as an existing reality which we can accurately or inaccurately represent. Some representations are truth claims. Let us call these truth claim representations “propositions” or” statements.” They are representations that such-and-such is the case. For example: Joe Biden was inaugurated president of the USA on January 20, 2021. There are religious propositions. An example of a religious representation truth claim asserts, “Jesus rose from his tomb after being crucified and buried.”

Propositions allegedly represent the order and connection of things in themselves.
Propositions are objectively true if what they allegedly represent of things in themselves is the way things in themselves exist. Otherwise, they are objectively false. For truth realists, agreement is not essential for the truth of a proposition. There could be unanimous rejection of a true proposition.

If there are no things in themselves, no propositions are objectively true or false.

Truth realism holds that there are objective truths. Since, when we as philosophers reflect on our thinking, we realize that we cannot directly think of things in themselves, we realize that we cannot represent whether a proposition corresponds with what it allegedly claims to exist. Hence, we can always be philosophically uncertain whether there is objective truth. Realism about objective truth is a philosophic stance requiring faith.

Truth realism is a well founded faith. When we try to discover what is the case, we find ourselves compelled to accept some propositions while rejecting others. In Newman’s sense we give real assent to a belief that there is a way things are apart from out thinking. However, again using John Henry Newman’s ideas, we cannot give full notional, or theoretical, assent to an objective reality.

Core idealism holds that there are no things in themselves beyond representations. Idealism about truth adds to core idealism a rejection of objective truth . Truth idealists add that since we cannot even represent our own representations as they are apart from our ways of representing, it is pointless to maintain that we can have objective truths about even our own thoughts. Propositions which are to be asserted as correct are to be establish by reference to some standard within human representations. There is no objective truth about which standards are the correct standard. Agreement or consensus is fundamental for truth for idealists. Consequently, in light of the fact that humans disagree, truth, or better warranted proposition, is relative.

Also, because there might be so little agreement about which propositions of some class of propositions are to be warranted, there arises agreement amongst many that there is and ought to be no warranted assertions for that class of propositions. Religious propositions provide an example of such a class. Many explicit, or implicit, idealists not only reject the possibility of any objectively true religious propositions. They also urge dismissing the practice of accepting any religious propositions as warranted.

Truth realists have no philosophic grounds for dismissing the possibility of objective religious truths. But that is the topic of my next post. Here, I summarize what truth realists hold about objective truth and the Transcendent.

Things in themselves as the truth conditions for propositions would be a basic feature of the immanent which depends directly upon the Transcendent for its existence. We can then go on to develop a characterization of the Transcendent as creator and sustainer of the foundation for truth.

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.

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.





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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.