Category Archives: Moral philosophy

The Supernatural is for Love & Freewill

Thesis:The human capacity to love reveals the supernatural dimension of humanity.

The argument for the thesis of this post develops the thesis: Freewill Necesaary and Sufficient for Love .

The purpose of this thesis for my project of modeling Satan is to justify creation of the supernatural, although the supernatural requires the possibility all of the evil initiated by intelligent agents. However, creation of the supernatural creates the possibility of love. The possibility of love outweighs all of the actualized possibilities of evil initiated by intelligent agents, which amongst other things are capable of love.

A case for love’s supreme goodness is made at the end of this post.

This is the gist of the argument that love is supernatural.

What is obligatory is supernatural. Love is obligatory. So, love is supernatural

Preliminary terminological clarifications of “nature” are needed. For “nature” is used equivocally. In the phrase “human nature,” the term “nature” signifies what a human being is. Within the term “supernatural” the second part “natural” is an adjective which goes with “nature” where “nature” signifies the features of human beings which are studied by physics, chemistry, biology, psychology and sociology, viz. natural sciences. So, “supernatural” signifies features of human beings which cannot be studied by the natural sciences. However, in another sense of “nature,” clarified in: The Supernatural is not a Super Nature,, the term “supernatural” does not signify any kind of nature different from that studied by the natural sciences.

I use “humanity” to signify what a human being is. Hence, I write of natural and supernatural dimensions of humanity. In light of Where is the Supernatural?, it would be better to write “The supernatural and natural dimensions of reality intersect in humanity.

Our subjection to moral imperatives points to the supernatural dimension of humanity. The scientific study of human nature explains why people naturally pursue what is good: Basic goods or lesser goods when not thinking clearly. We naturally seek what is good because we have inclinations for what is good. More generally, the natural goal for humans is happiness because an inclination for happiness is in the natural dimension of humanity. However, no facts about our pursuing what is good show that we ought to pursue what is good. David Hume’s observation that “ought” does not follow logically from “is” is not a philosopher noting a logical distinctions. It calls our attention to a profound reality about humanity. We have a supernatural dimension.

Why say that humans have a supernatural dimension, instead of saying that humans have a dimension which cannot be understood by natural sciences?

Hume’s logical point supports a metaphysical conclusion, which Hume himself would have considered “sophistry and illusion.” The metaphysical conclusion is that there is a type of reality different from nature wherein obligations are the fundamental realities. Hume assumed that there is no reality other than the reality of nature. Hence, obligations had to be explained as dependent upon nature. Roughly, obligations would be explained as what people construct to insure they get that for which they have natural inclinations. So, there would not be obligations to act regardless of any inclinations to do otherwise. There would be no categorical imperatives.

There are categorical imperatives. (The Satan modeling project assumes moral realism. Moral realist should accept that there is a moral reality.)

Being subject to categorical moral imperatives shows that humans have access to a reality different from that acessible by the thought processes needed for natural science. It’s a reality whose basic laws states: Do good, avoid evil. Such a reality warrants the title “super.” Moral realism entails supernatural agency. Why?Imperatives specify what ought to be done. What ought to be can be. If there were no agents obligations could not be carries out. So, the assumption of moral realism carries with it an assumtion that there are moral agents. These are agents with the Free Will of Love. The thesis that love requires us to be supernatural agents is, in effect, a corollary of the thesis that obligations entail that we are supernatural agents. For we cannot love if we are not moral agents. The two greatest commandments are commands to love. See Mt 22:36-40 If love is commanded, love is the sort of activity for moral agents. If such love came totally through nature, it would not make sense to speak of it as commanded.

For those who do not want to use scripture as the source of the command to love, can consider the first natural moral law: Do good! This law tells us to will the good for the sake of good itself. Willing good for the sake of good itself is certainly willing the good for another since no creature is good itself. So, in effect, the first moral law states: Love! In creation, love is necessary for good to be pursued as it ought to be pursued. Thus, love is only behind the good in terms of being valuable.

Agency, Ordinary Free Will, & Free Will of Love

This post elaborates on Example of Agency At Work. One main contention of that post is that we as agents, as agent causes, are a crucial factor in both making a decision about how to act and then initiating the action. For all that we know, agents are basic entities in reality. Even if agency emerged after living systems reached a certain level of complexity, the point of recognizing them as emergent is to recognize a new type of entity in reality. What emerges is not reducible to that from which it emerged. The basic property of agents is to form intentions, i.e., to will, to seek goals. At a first level the agent is not conscious of it’s agency. Conscious agency emerges from at a greater degree of complexity than elementary forms of agency. The type of agency capable of love as spelled out in Freewill Necessary and Sufficient for Love emerges at some high level of complexity.

A second crucial contention of Example of Agency At Work is that consciousness of choosing is not always the operation of agency. Rather it is the consciousness of the working of agency after the working of agency. At the end of this post, it is brought out that consciousness of the choosing in the highest type of choosing, the choosing in love or choosing the good of the other for the other, is inseparable from choosing to satisfy an inclination for the good of the other. It is only by an inference that we can make a probable judgement that we chose the good of the other for the sake of the good of the other.

As a Catholic philosopher untrained in physics, chemistry, biology, psychology or sociology , I have no objection to accepting so-called emergent features as directly created by God when the appropriate level of complexity has evolved. I think that direct creation of types of goal seeking is preferable to saying the new feature emerged from complexity. “Emergence” suggests that the new feature was already present potentially and, if so, something genuinely new did not come into existence. In any event, I will continue to use “emergence.”

Very importantly for my task of modeling Satan, direct creation of agency by God does not require agency to be based on physical complexity. For natural organisms God chooses to link agency with physical complexity. However, God need not choose to link all agency with something physical. Hence, the concept of agency is logically consistent with the concept of disembodied agents, viz. angels.

I appreciate, though, that people working in a scientific field, should be very reluctant to accept any phenomena as emergent. I believe that if I were a scientist, apparent emergence would be a challenge to” explain away.” Bertrand Russell once quipped about postulating least upper bounds when trying to construct the real number system from a rational number system “it has the advantages of theft over honest toil” People working in a science might well say the same of accepting emergence. I acknowledge that my discussion of agency and freewill assume the scientifically controversial reality of emergence1.

If we grant genuine agent causality, we cannot hold that prior to any decision of an agent factors determined the intentions the agents would produce. That is tantamount to denying that there is agency or setting agency aside as an irrelevant epiphenomena. Now any case of agent causation is a type of freedom of action. It would be inaccurate to say “freedom of will” when there is no consciousness on the part of the agent. For instance, the various bugs which go scurrying for shelter when I pick up a flat rock in my garden are freely seeking their various goals to restablish the security they had under the rock. It is not inaccurate, though, to say that the bugs intend to get wherever they are going

The disturbed bugs just select one of several choices open to them. The selection of one of the options is the new contribution of the agent. It is unpredictable from the state of the agent and inputs into the agent. The essence of agency is selecting an option. Agent causation fills in the gap between state of the agent, its inputs and its action outputs. To accept agency is to accept these gaps and that selecting of the agent is the causal factor, the efficient cause, in filling the gap. Acceptance of agent causation is acceptance of some very significant factors in any philosopher’s metaphysics. It may not require accepting that nature as a whole has goals. But it does require accepting that some systems within nature have goals: final causes.

Individuals in a type of organism which exercises agent causality are agents. Agents are agents from their beginning: when the DNA, genes and epigenetic factors which sets their level of complexity is formed. Thus, a human is an agent from the moment of its conception. It is far simpler to assume that there is direct creation of a type of agent once a level of complexity evolves than assuming a direct creation for each organism as it grows to a level of complexity. Thus, I assume that agency is inherited.

This is not the forum to investigate all types of of agency. This is a form for characterizing two types of human agency: Ordinary human choices and the choices in love. Ordinary human choices are the vast majority of our choices. They are choices we make to satisfy our inclinations. “Inclination” should not be construed as indicating what satisfies our sensual desires. Humans are frequently inclined to choose what even the most prudish would consider noble. Most of the time, people are conscious of their choices and they are free to carry them out. So, a type of freewill is very common in human affairs. Our choices a free in a twofold sense. As simply being agent choices they are free and as not being compelled by any physical or mental force. The reality of ordinary freewill is not problematic. It is almost the type of freewill that so-called soft determinists accept. However, soft determinist do not accept the elementary freewill of simply being an agent because they are determinists who reject emergence of agency. So, the problem of freewill is not a verbal problem. There is a disagreement about what can be in reality. It is an ontological disagreement about the possibility of agent causality.

The freewill of love, freedom to love, is different from ordinary freewill because it assumes a different input into human agents. The novel input is the good of the other. The goodness of the Basic Human Goods is an input available to for ordinary choices. For instance, the goodness of life is readily recognized. People naturally desire these basic goods. In most cases, the final cause, the goal, of a choice of basic human goods is to satisfy our inclination for those basic goods. For instance, a father who chooses to promote the education and health of his children has an inclination toward having those goods in his children. With ordinary freewill he seeks satisfaction of those paternal inclinations which pursuits have the side effects of those goods existing in his children. We can imagine some ungrateful adult children dismissing the efforts of their father by saying “He didn’t really love us. Given his traditions and inclinations, he was just doing what he wanted.” We have to concede that those ingrates have a point.

The freewill of love requires a higher level of agency than that needed for ordinary freewill. For ultimately, all choices of ordinary freewill are to satisfy inclinations. A capacity to select a goal regardless of any inclination for it is required.2 We need a capacity to choose the good of an other regardless of any inclination for the good of the other. This capacity for love is a condition of these higher level agents. There is also a need for inputs for this higher level of agency. What is good for the other needs to be presented to agents as good regardless of any inclination for it. For a man to love a woman, he needs to perceive what is good for her regardless of any inclination for her having that good, the capacity to choose that good in her regardless of any inclination to do so and then to carry out a course of action with the intention bring about that good in her. This freewill of love usually occurs in a context in which he acts lovingly with ordinary freewill. He has an inclination for her to have the good and he acts with the intention of satisfying his inclination for her happiness, i.e., rejoicing in the good he provides for her.

Love’s imperceptibilty now confronts us. We cannot be conscious of any difference between willing the good of the other regardless of any inclination for it and willing to satisfy an inclination for the good of the other. The free choices of love, if any, are free choices of which we are not conscious. when we make them. It is in retrospection of fairly long periods of our past about which the best explanation is that the choice we made for the good of another would have been made regardless of any inclination. I don’t like philosophical aphorisms. But: Love is inferred; not perceived.

A subsequent post brings out that an inference to a judgment that humans can love carries with it an inference to the supernatural dimension of human nature.

  1. From reviews I have read, viz. “The Fate of Free Will,” by James Gleick in Jan. 18, 2024 New York Review of Books, the metaphysics I sketch may have resemblance to that of Kevin J. Mitchell in his book Free Agents: How Evolution Gave Us Free Will, Princeton U, Press 2023. But Mitchell’s rigorous work is not to be blamed for my speculations.
  2. I will not digress into any Kantian interpretation. But Kantian moral freedom is analogous to what I am calling freewill of love. Kantian moral freedom requires a capacity, sense of duty, to choose what is right regardless of any inclination to so choose.

Example of Agency At Work

In my construction of a model of what it would be like for there to be Satan, freewill is a fundamental “buliding block” of the model. For any Satan worthy of the name has to exercise freewill in defiance of his Creator. The notion of personal agency is crucial in the concept of freewill. So, a paradigm of agency is helpful. I chose this example from my experience because on this occasion I realized that an act of agency, free choosing, is separable from being conscious of it.

On Wednesday afternoon, January 3, 2024, while standing for about an hour ironing some clothes I started to feel very tired with aches throughout my body. I thought that I might be getting a flu although I had been recently vacinated. I did not sleep well Wednesday night. I frequently awoke and noticed that 5:55AM, the time at which my alarm was set, was rapdily approaching. I dreaded the prospect of getting out of bed to began my schedule for Thursday morning. I outline my schedule to bring out that I have the character of a man who pushes himself hard at 88. That outline supports a prediction about how I might likely respond to a challenge about facing a physical hardship. But plausible predicatability is not evidence against freedom of a decision; let alone that it was not I who made the decision.

The schedule was to bring my wife coffee at 6:15AM, talk a bit, recite Matins with my wife, walk about two miles, bike a mile to my parish church for 8:30AM mass and then bike six miles to work until 1130 AM at a St. Vincent de Paul free clothing store. Then I would bike another six miles to home. The temperatures were in the low 30s. I felt very sick but I could not say clearly what was wrong: no sore throat, no fever, no coughing.

I chose to go back to bed at 6:30AM. But that is not the free choice I want to exhibit. Before going back to bed, I asked my wife to wake me up by 8AM; at which time I would decide whether to bike to mass and then to the Clothing Center or stay in bed and have my wife contact the Clothing Center to report my absence. (She planned to drive to the Center to drop off some clothing donations.) It was warm and comfortable in bed. But I slept fitfully thinking about whether or not to stay in bed all morning or bike to mass and work at the Clothing Center.

Myriad pros and cons went through my mind. I thought about being comfortable. Staying in bed would be comfortable but boring if I could not sleep. On one hand, I worried that I would be giving into weakness. On the other, I worried that I would be giving in to vanity about being tough if rested all morning. Irealized that vanity should not mislead me into prolonging whatever this sickness might be.There were moral thoughts about not spreading whatever my sickness was. There were contrary moral thoughts about the need for people to staff the Center. There was, however, no decisive moral claim. This was not to be a moral decision. I simply could not decide what I was going to do. Or better: I was not conscious about how I was to decide

About five minutes to eight, I heard my wife coming up the stairs to get my decision. What was I going to do? I was not sure even as she came through the door. Then I threw the blankets back, sat at the edge of my bed and said that I was going to bike to mass and the Clothing Center. I had the intentions of facing the cold and going ahead with my regular Thursday morning plans. That was my choice and I was conscious of it. I was not so much conscious of it as a free choice. I was mostly conscious of it as the choice I made. I was even a bit surprised that I made the choice to keep my schedule; and rather proud of myself for making the choice to confront physical discomfort.

What is the relevance of this example for freewill? Most importantly, the example shows that consciousness of the choice does not make it my choice; let alone make it a free choice. Self consciousness only reports that I made the choice and apparently could have chosen otherwise, viz.,formed an intention to stay in bed. Conscious choosing, or better, consciousness of choosing, could occur after I have chosen, as some controversial research suggests.1 The important fact reported by consciousness is that of my agency: I was conscious that I stood up with the intention of carrying on my regular Thursday routine. I was not conscious of any freedom to carry out my intention. I could have fainted upon standing, as has happened. Then my wife would seriously restrict my activities that morning. If I had fainted, I would not be the agent of my fainting. (One could be the agent of their own fainting by standing up quickly to produce orthostatic hypotension.)

What is my interpretation of my behavior? Although we consciously entertain many thoughts while deliberating, making the choice is not another conscious thought in the deliberation. The thought of making the decision comes after we make the decision. The choice is made by ourselves as agents. As agents we create something new in reality, viz., an intention to act a certain way. The intention is created ex nihilo by the agent. An intention is a thought but a thought with causal force; intentions are dynamic. Thoughts of the pros and cons of getting up do not get me up or keep me down. The thought which is the intention to get up is the thought which gets me up. The previous thoughts or physical states are relevant to the intention I form. The previous thoughts and physical states are necessary for whatever intention I form; they set severe constraints on the kind of intention I form. But they are not suffficient for it. Action of me as an agent is the factor which is the efficient cause in this situation.2

It would be inaccurate for me to say that my brain formed the intention and made the decision.

It would be inaccurate to say that an entity apart from my brain, which is my self, formed the intention and made the decision. My awareness that I made the decision is not awareness that warrants any analysis of what kind of being I am; only that I am the agent, the maker of certain decisions.

I close with an aphorism: Consciousness of choosing freely is not freely choosing. Consciousness of freely choosing only reports the fact of an agent freely choosing.

1 Libet, B., Gleason, C.A., Wright, E.W. & Pearl, D.K. ‘Time of conscious
intention to act in relation to onset of cerebral activity (readiness-potential).
The unconscious initiation of a freely voluntary act’, Brain (1983)106: 623-642. A clear summary of this investigation is in Faraday Paper 17 by Peter G.H. Clarke

2. I have been influenced by John Mackie’s notion of an INUS condition. It is a term” coined byphilosopherj John Mackie to describe a condition that is necessary but not sufficient for an outcome, and is part of a complex condition that is sufficient but not necessary for the outcome. For example, an electric short circuit is an INUS condition for a house fire, because it needs flammable material to cause the fire, and the fire could also be caused by other factors. In the case of my example, the forming of the intention to get up is like the short circuit. I formed the intention to get up before I became conscious of my intention.

Freewill Necesaary and Sufficient for Love

This post makes a case that freewill is necessary and sufficient for love. My understanding of freewill is frequently called: Libertarian freewill or contra causal freewill. In a way, I am making a case for Libertarian freewill by arguing that true love is possible if and only if there are agents with Libertarian freewill.

I do not use the term “contra-causal” because I accept agent causation. Free choices are caused by agents.

Throughout, I assume that there is love. My line of argument reveals that a critic who denies freewill,not only denies that there is love. He also denies that there is a creative God.

This post is in my project of constructing a conceptual model of Satan. So, in places, I write rather abstractly of agents choosing because I want eventually to distinguish the freewill of angels from that of humans.

I  use Aristotelian concepts of causality. The notion of final cause is crucially used in my argument that the good of the other cannot be sufficient for bringing about an agent willing the good of the other. The Aristotelian causes can be understood by common sense. We can ask of anything: What is it?(Formal Cause), What is it for? (Final Cause) What is it made of? (Material Cause), What put it here, now(Efficient Cause.)

I assume love is properly characterized as willing the good of the other. As noted in the next paragraph, this characterization of love  gives the formal cause of love.

Freewill is the material cause of love.  In other words, love is made from freewilling, The final cause of love is the good of another. In other words, the purpose of loving is to bring about what is good for the other.1   The formal cause of love is willing the good of another. The efficient cause of love is the willing of the agent, i.e., a being who can choose. Nothing acting on the agent is sufficient to bring the agent to choose the good of the other. In the spiritual or mental realm, an agent creates an intention to act for the good of an other. It is not the good of the other which brings about the choice of the good of the other.  Why not?

I use the philosophers’ stylistic device of a formal argument with numbered premises and conclusions.

The gist of the argument is that assuming that the good of the other suffices to bring the agent to choose it requires assuming that the good of the other satisfies something in the agent. The satisfying of this something in the agent becomes the efficient cause of the agent choosing the good of the other.

1. The good of the other is the final cause of choosing the good of the other, i.e., the final cause of loving.

 2. If the good of the other sufficed to lead an agent to choose the good of the other, then the agent would have an inclination for the good of the other sufficient to bring it to choose the good of the other.  (There would be some feature of the agent with an appetite or desire for the good of the other.)

3. If an agent has an inclination for the good of the other sufficient to bring it to choose the good of the other, then choosing the good of the other is doing what the agent is inclined to do.

 4. If the agent chooses what he is inclined to do, the agent is choosing to satisfy his inclination.

 5. If the agent is choosing to satisfy his inclination, the good the agent chooses is his satisfaction.

6. If the good the agent chooses, even in his choice of the good of the other,  is his satisfaction, then the final cause of his choice is not the good of the other but the satisfaction of his inclination.

 So, putting (2) through (6) together, we get:

7.  If the good of the other sufficed to lead an agent to choose the good of the other,  then the final cause of his choice is not the good of the other but the satisfaction of his inclination.

 But  the assumption (1) is that the good of the other is the final cause of choosing the good of the other. Hence, by logical step called modes tollens  (7) with (1) yields:

(8) The good of the other does not suffice to lead an agent to choose the good of the other.

  What then suffices for the agent to will the good of the other? The agent is aware of the good of the other and takes that good as a reason for choosing it for the other. When the agent takes the good of the other as a reason for choosing the good of the other, the agent forms an intention to act for the sake of getting the good of the other. The agent taking the good of the other as a reason for choosing the good of the other along with the correlative intention is the sufficient condition for willing the good of the other. This is not to say that the agent does not want or desire the good of the other. It is to say that the agent does not choose the good of the other to satisfy his wants or desires, viz. inclinations.

Why say that freewill is a necessary condition for willing the good of the other?

If we deny freewill, we assume that in any choices apparently for the good of the other, the good of the other suffices for the choice. If the good of the other suffices for the choice of the good of the other, then the agent’s choice of the good of the other is made to satisfy an inclination of the agent. If the agent’s choice of the good of the other is made to satisfy an inclination of the agent, then the good of the other is not the final cause of the agent’s choice of the good of the other. If the good of the other is not the final cause of the choice of the good of the other, then the agent’s choice is not a choice of love. Hence, if we deny freewill, any choice of an agent which is apparently a loving choice, is not a choice of love. Or taking the so-called Contrapositive: If any choice of an agent which is apparently a loving choice is indeed a loving choice, we cannot deny freewill.

So, the goal of the post has been attained.

  1. To say that the final cause in loving is to satisfy our inclination for good in the other is to deny that love is for the good of the other. It is to say that love is ultimately for our own satisfaction with the good of the other being only a side effect.

Ad Feminism

On Saturday, August 26, 2023, I attended a Catholic Men’s Conference at St. Paul’s church in Westerville, Ohio. The first small group discussion question read “What are some of the ways that men’s identity as sons of God or as Christians are being threatened today?” The question provoked disturbing memories from an August 13, 2023 Public Affairs article Elon Musk and The Reproductive Revolution

In various ways Mr. Musk has fathered ten children. The variety of ways locates his masculinity along the toxic spectrum.: Studs, killers, jerk-offs. Most likely not many women would explicitly endorse elimination of women. Although qualms about using “women” to introduce phrases such as “chest feeders,” “pregnant person” and “biological woman” suggest deep ambivalence about recognizing woman as a single category. However, a theme of many types of feminism is that the essential and vital place of women in society can be properly recognized if and only if that for which women are uniquely qualified is divided into specific services whose compensation could be recognized in a nation’s GDP. No one gets paid for being a women.

Explicit, or even implict, endorsement of this economic fragmentation of the category of women is suicidal feminism. Instead we have ovum donors, womb donnors, child care givers and less we forget sexual satisfiers – sex-workers and porn actresses. No single person need, or really should fill these feminine jobs. Indeed it might be better for the economy if most women held jobs in the economy unrelated to reproductive and sexual services. If on occasion a woman in the non-reproductive sector became pregnant, another reproductive service would provide pregnancy termination services.

In such an economy, there is no place for husbands and fathers. For there are no women to be mothers and no women to help them become husbands and fathers. There will always be wars. Sperm is needed and male sexual desires will not go away. What’s left for a man to be? Killers are needed for war and studs for sperm donors. Why live with a women when there is no serious future. Porn and prostitutes are there to satisfy sexual inclinations. The economic elimination of women leaves only toxic masculinity for men.

Who would have thought that the slogan “equal pay for equal work” could lead this way? However, no one is paid for being a wife or mother; nor is any one paid for being a husband or father. Perhaps, a presupposition of the slogan is that the worth of what one does is measured by how much one is paid. So,”no pay, no worth.”

Sexual Revolution Undercuts Christianity

Christianity is Incompatible with Acceptance of the Sexual Revolution

Acceptance of Christianity is acceptance of at least the Apostles’ Creed.

Acceptance of the sexual revolution is acceptance of the Moral Neutrality of Sexuality.

  Characterizing acceptance of the sexual revolution as acceptance of a thesis in moral theory  characterizes the outlook in a neutral, if not favorable, way.  People who accept. in principle, extra marital sex, homosexual acts, etc., may strongly condemn various “outrageous acts” because they deem the consequences of those acts are harmful.

Acceptance of the moral neutrality of sexuality is not logically inconsistent with acceptance of the Apostles’ Creed or the Nicene Creed. Because I cannot argue for a logical inconsistency, I shall argue that acceptance of the sexual revolution, viz., the moral neutrality of sexuality, undercuts attempts to understand the Christian creed.

The line of argument goes as follows.

If we accept the sexual revolution, then we accept the moral neutrality of sexuality.

If we accept the moral neutrality of sexuality, i.e.,no intrinsically wrong sexual act, then we use consequentialist reasoning to decide what is morally wrong in sexual matters.

If we use consequential reasoning for sexual morality, there is no rationale preventing use of consequentialist reasoning for all moral decisions.

                The objection to universal use of consequentialist reasoning is that some natural features ought never be used a certain way because the nature of those features show us that certain way is not how they ought to be used.  The nature of sexual features are paradigms of natural features  showing how they ought to be used.  If we discard sexual features as showing how they ought to be used, we at least began making a paradigm shift away from regarding internal features of acts as having normative significance towards regarding only the consequences of acts as having normative significance.

If there is no rationale preventing consequentialist reasoning for all moral decisions, rational people use consequentialist reasoning for all moral decisions.

If rational people use consequentialist reasoning for all moral decisions, then rational people recognize no intrinsically wrong acts.

If rational people recognize no intrinsically wrong acts, rational people find no rationale for Retributive Punishment.

If rational people find no rationale for retributive punishment, then rational people hold that a doctrine that Jesus suffered and died to redeem humanity presupposes an incorrect moral theory.

If rational people hold that a doctrine that Jesus suffered and died to redeem humanity presupposes an incorrect moral theory, then rational people hold that the Apostles’ and Nicene creeds presuppose an incorrect moral theory.

Putting all of these claims together we can conclude:

If rational people accept the sexual revolution, they hold that the Apostles’ and Nicene creeds presuppose an incorrect moral theory.

Moral Harm, Retributive Punishment, Punitive Harm and Contrition

In my book on sexual morality*, I confronted Pinker’s example of coitus between a brother and sister which had, as the imaginary cases for moral philosophy may stipulate, absolutely no harmful consequences in nature. I propose that there is a type of harm over and above natural harm which is specifically a moral harm. Without much development of the notion, I simply proposed that moral harm is the harm done merely by disobedience to a moral law. In my book, I left this notion of moral harm lie in the background of my argument for traditional sexual morality. My case was mainly that the harm of setting aside the rules of traditional sexual morality was a sense of lawlessness and ultimately a sense that life is pointless, viz., nihilism.

After publication, I realized that the argument of my book needed to be strengthened by clarification and justification of moral harm as the harm of simply disobeying a moral law. I also have religious or theological concerns about understanding the fundamental Christian thesis that Christ suffered and died for our sins. In my religious musings I reached a stage at which I realized that I could not hope to understand doctrines about our redemption by Christ unless, I understood retributive punishment. A breakthrough in my thinking about the need for redemption was that retributive punishment is repair of moral harm.

The proposal that retributive punishment is repair of moral harm demands specification of moral harm as something which can be repaired. What goes on in the violation of a moral law which is something which can be repaired? I conjectured that in violation of a moral norm, moral rule, the violator adds a new moral norm to morality. This new moral norm is ad hoc for this violation. The ad hoc moral norm specifies that some harm ought to be done. Let us call this harm which ought to be done “punitive harm.”A violation of a moral rule does reflect a choice that the good aimed at by the rule ought to be inhibited. Inhibition of good is harm. So, moral harm is a bad moral norm, i.e., a norm with the force of morality but contrary to the goal of morality. This ad hoc norm with the force of a genuine moral norm is damage or dirt in morality. This damage to morality can be repaired by fulfilling the ad hoc moral norm and thereby removing it from morality. Doing the punitive harm cleanses morality from the ad hoc moral rule. Doing the punitive harm required by the ad hoc rule is retributive punishment. So, retributive punishment cleanses morality from the ad hoc moral rules established by choices to set aside some basic human goods.

Since I am introducing “punitive harm” in this post, it is helpful to emphasize its difference  from moral harm. Moral harm is damage done to morality by a choice to disobey a moral law.  Nothing in the physical or mental life of individual human beings is damaged. No broken bones, torn flesh or mental anguish are components of moral harm. Moral harm is the introduction of improper moral imperatives into morality. It is, I hate to say it, theoretical damage.  Moral harm is not painful. Punitive harm is not theoretical.  Puntive harm is breaking bones, tearing flesh and production of mental anguish to cleanse morality from the improper moral imperatives. Punitive harm is the actual physical and mental harm produced by retributive punishment.  Punitive harm is painful.

Besides trying to understand moral harm and retributive punishment, I want to understand a thought that abortion is always a grievous wrong despite the fact that it frequently can be justified by utilitarian considerations. What is it like to have sorrow simply over the breaking of a moral law that innocent human life should not be directly terminated? This question led me to the proposal there might be an analogue to the Catholic notion of perfect contrition. Perfection contrition is sorrow over simply disobeying God. So, perhaps, the genuine moral conviction that abortion is wrong is sorrow over simply disobeying a moral law against it. This would be sorrow over moral harm. This sorrow over moral harm of abortion might be sorrow over having the ad hoc moral laws requiring punitive harm in morality. But when I pay attention to my own sentiments, my sorrow over abortion is sorrow for the punitive harm of the mental anguish which I believe the woman who has her child aborted ought to suffer.

These notions of moral harm, punitive harm, retributive punishment and contrition are crucial in my case that acceptance of the sexual revolution is incompatible with a genuine Christian religion.

  • Confronting Sexual Nihilism: Traditional Sexual Morality as an Antidote to Nihilism, Tulsa 2014. A free copy of this book is available at

Divine Command Morality and Religious Morality

Understanding moral laws as divine commands is not by itself to have a religious morality. To be sure, understanding moral laws as divine commands involves a natural piety towards morality. But someone need not belong to any religion to understand moral laws as divine commands. This is compatible with holding that understanding moral laws as divine commands is more than Moral Deism .

Divine command moral theory makes indicative claims about human nature that are in a way falsified by natural science. It claims that there are ends in nature which ought never be frustrated. This claim is falsified by science in the sense that it is an inadmissible scientific statement. It cannot be true if scientism is true.

The title is Divine Command Morality and Religious Morality.  But the more accurate title would be Divine Command Morality and Catholic Christian Morality.  I do not know enough about the code of the vast variety of religious to compare religious morality in general with plain morality. My paradigm of religious morality are prescriptions of Jesus in Matthew’s, Ch. 5-7, account of the “sermon on the mount” in which Jesus says: ” You have heard it said but I say to you .. .” For instance:

38 Ye have heard that it hath been said, An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth:

39 But I say unto you, That ye resist not evil: but whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also.

The code of Catholic morality contains all of morality plus other norms of two types. There are ritual prescriptions and religious moral commands. I do not want to digress into trying to define ritual prescriptions. Suffice it to say that they are not regarded as for anyone outside the religion. The religious moral commands are regarded as applicable for all human beings. How do religious commands differ from plain moral commands? .  They lack the necessity of moral commands.  We can think of them not being given.  For instance, we cannot think of adultery being morally permissible.  However, we can think of remarriage after one partner has abandoned his spouse being permissible.  Jesus is quite explicit that he is adding to what has been morally taught with “you have heard it said, but I say to you.”

Morality, Confessional Faith and the Maxims of Jesus

Belief in Christian Salvation History requires  belief in some crucial miracles . Similarly, belief in Christian Salvation History requires  belief in the sometimes puzzling action guiding maxims of Jesus.   In this case, faithful members of an orthodox Christian religion have an obligation to believe . Belief in the Salvation History requires belief in its entailments.  This is a logical requirement. The requirement presents challenges.  What, though, is  required belief? How can one feel convinced if he is not convinced?

One may, be convinced, believe in his heart,  that the Salvation History, or the fragment with which he is acquainted, tells the truth about the meaning of life.  Here, the use of “religion” rather than “Salvation History” makes my points more familiar.  A conversion experience or simply being raised in a religion may be the cause of this heartfelt belief in the whole outlook. However, reflection on what the whole implies seems to challenge  faith in the whole.  Did Jesus really walk on water? Did he really rise from his tomb?  Can one live a sane life “by turning the other cheek.?”   The devil lurks in the details.

However, the temptation to diminish belief in the whole because of doubts about its details can be overcome. Belief in the whole requires going down to belief in the details.  But doubts about the details do not require going up to doubts about the whole.  St. Paul, in Rm 10: 9-10, reminds us of two dimensions of  belief.  “If you confess with your lips that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God has raised him from the dead, then you shall be saved.” The dimensions are confessional faith and faith in the heart. Confessional faith follows the laws of logic.  Confession of faith in the whole requires confession of faith in the details.  However, faith in the heart, firm conviction of truth of the whole, does not follow down to conviction about the details. But it guides what we say about the details.

Confessional faith concerns what you say (confess) to both yourself and others.  Confessional faith is not hypocritical. Despite doubts and skeptical thoughts running through the mind, you will not say even to yourself that Jesus most likely did not rise from the dead or “All things considered it is stupid to pluck out your eye   if you have an irresistible urge to view pornography.” The firm conviction about the whole does not logically descend to the details.  However, firm conviction, belief in the heart, provides  the tenacity that makes confessing into confessional faith rather than mere saying.  It is genuinely faith because one trusts what one affirms and will never deny is correctness.

Confessional faith is the faith which seeks understanding,

Because these posts are on foundations of divine command morality, it is interesting to note that Christians, at least one anyway, can belief that moral laws are divine commands, Jesus was God, but yet the maxims of Jesus are, for the most part, not divine commands of morality.

Basic Human Goods Convey Divine Commands

It is helpful to list the basic human goods in one place to help answer a crucial question for Divine Command moral theories: How do we hear the commands?  Basic human goods are goods which people, in general, naturally desire.  The first principle of practical reason – reasoning about conduct – states “Do good, avoid evil.”  What is good is specified by the following list of basic human goods. If humans had not chosen to set aside pursuit of these basic goods for some lesser satisfaction, the so-called first principle of practical reason would describe human behavior. That would have been a state of innocence.  Instead, the first principle of practical reason is an imperative. We are commanded to pursue these basic human goods and never to intentionally frustrate them.  Thus, they become obligatory goods.

The human choice that made basic human goods obligatory goods, viz., original sin, created morality. The vast array of principles, developed over the ages, about what we ought to do and ought not do are a human product. If we has not freely made the choice to deliberate about whether to pursue basic goods and never intentionally frustrate them, we would not need to have commands to do so.

We can still hold that moral laws are commands of God. The commands, though, do not come directly from God. God created us with our basic goods as our natural goods but with a will free to choose or not to choose them without hesitation.  We chose to “make up our own minds” about pursuing them. Dreadful experience over the ages as a result of choosing lesser goods has guided humanity to use its God-given capacity to command itself articulate moral commands.

I adapt the following list of basic goods from the New Natural Law Theory as characterised in the selection from the article below.  My claims about morality should not be regarded as those of this theory. An essay could be written justifying any one of these listed items as a basic human good. The style of the justification would be trying to induce a sense that it is self-evident that such-and-such is a basic human good.

Basic Human Goods




Aesthetic experience

Skilled work



Harmony with others

Internal harmony 

Harmony with God

Sexual satisfaction in coitus open to conception in a life-long monagamous marriage for strengthening and maintaining life-long bonding.

Christopher O. Tollefsen, University of South Carolina*

First, the New Natural Law view holds that practical reason, that is, reason oriented towards action, grasps as self-evidently desirable a number of basic goods.  These goods, which are described as constitutive aspects of genuine human flourishing, include life and health; knowledge and aesthetic experience; skilled work and play; friendship; marriage; harmony with God, and harmony among a person’s judgments, choices, feelings, and behavior. As grasped by practical reason, the basic goods give foundational reasons for action to human agents. Moreover, they are recognized as good for all human agents; it is equally intelligible to act for the sake of the life of another as for one’s own life. 

Second, these goods, and most of their instantiations in action, are held to be incommensurable with one another. That is to say, there is no natural hierarchy of goodness such that one good may be said to offer all the good of another plus more. Rather, each of the goods is beneficial to human agents, and hence desirable, in a unique way; each offers something that the other goods do not. The same is generally true of particular instantiations of the goods: one way of working, playing, or pursuing knowledge, for example, may offer benefits that are not weighable by a common standard of goodness in relation to instantiations of the other goods, or even instantiations of the same good.[4]

In more recent years, the New Natural Lawyers have developed an account of a specifically sexual morality around two claims: first, that marriage is one of the basic human goods, distinct from life or friendship; and second, that the human person is a rational animal, a living organism of the human species. The New Natural Lawyers see general principles of sexual morality as flowing from these claims.[12]