Category Archives: Moral philosophy

Reconsideration of Justifying a Moral Principle

The previous post reflections on combining duty and love in moral thinking have significantly altered my beliefs on how to conduct the aspect of moral thinking which is justifying to my self and persuading others that a moral rule is correct.

A goal for writing blog posts has been to discover a better way of justifying a moral principle than I used in my book** to justify what I called a fundamental principle for male sexuality. I sensed that I had ignored something important.

Essentially the principle stated: A male should not intentionally seek an orgasm except in coitus open to conception with a woman to whom he had a life-long commitment to care for her and any child resulting from their intercourse.

Also in my book I had introduced a notion of moral harm which I have been exploring and developing in many of my recent posts. This exploration of moral harm, which is harm which ought to be, led me to fundamental contradiction in moral thinking. The contradiction, which must be resolved in some way to avoid irrationality, led me to the judgment that reflective moral thinking, which is moral thinking after resolution of the fundamental contradiction, will be a humanly constructed conceptual scheme or stance on how moral thinking ought to be conducted.

To justify a moral rule requires thinking about -reflecting upon- moral thinking for the rule is in moral thinking. Because justifying a moral principal is always in reflective moral thinking and hence within a conceptual scheme we need to concede that our justification are based on the assumptions of our stance. Consequently, we need to concede that some intelligent people who think consistently about morality may reject our justifications without being irrational.

In my book, I had already conceded that justifications of moral principles would be relative to a stance. So, I conceded that justifications of moral rules could have only persuasive or rhetorical force.

For me, justification of a moral rule would be bipartite. First, there would be acceptance of the rule as correct within in a stance. Second, there would be discovering in daily life that the moral authority commanded the rule. The moral authority’s command would confirm the stance.

However, what I had overlooked in my book was trying to show that the rule in question promoted and protected some basic human good*. In short, I totally overlooked the need for love in moral thinking!

I argued that the proposed rule for male sexuality was the simplest rule for male sexuality. Its simplicity made it the only genuine rule for male sexuality because once qualifications are made the proposed sexual moral rules become at best some kind of guideline. I then argued that some rule for male sexuality is better than none. I pointed out that lawless sexuality readily leads to nihilism.

I now realize that a complete justification for a moral rule needs to show that the rule is proper rule within the stance. But also show how it promotes and protects basic human goods.

*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. From an essay by Christopher Tollefsen on The New Natural Law Theory. See New Natural Law Basic Goods .

I am not a new natural law theorist because I do not claim that reason grasps certain goods as self evident. I simply believe that it is highly probable people will find the proposed goods as highly desirable and thereby many will be persuaded to accept as morally binding rules which promote and protect them.

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





To receive a free book, send check of $3.75 for shipping and handling per copy. Send to:
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Duty vs. Love

The point of this post is to sketch out how duty and love ought to be interrelated in moral thinking. We began by considering duty and love in resolving the basic contradiction in moral thinking.

The basic contradiction in moral thinking runs:

Some harm ought to be
&
No harm ought to be.

DUTY

The claim “Some harm ought to be” comes from focusing on rules. Focusing on rules is based on thinking that morality is primarily for restricting conduct to avoid bad consequences. Rules specify a sanction in case they are violated. A sanction will specify that some harm ought to occur upon violation of the rule.

People who believe that rule following is primary in morality believe that the indication that they are acting in accordance with morality is that their intention is to obey the rule. The moral intention is to do one’s duty.

People who believe that rule following is primary in morality believe that the only basic human good is having the character trait of always choosing to follow moral rules. This trait can be called having a morally good will.

In practice, those who hold that the sole basic human good is having a good will, may not be vigilant about promoting and protecting conditions which many believe approach human flourishing
——————————————
LOVE
The claim “No harm ought to be” comes from focusing on basic human goods* to be attained. Focusing on attaining basic human goods comes from believing that morality is for human flourishing.

People who believe that promoting human good is primary in morality believe that the indication that they are acting in accordance with morality is that their intention is to promote human good or at least not impede any human good. Since one definition of “love” is “to will the good of a person” we can say that for those who believe that morality is for promotion of human flourishing the moral intention is to express love.

People who believe that the moral intention is to express love by promoting and protecting conditions approaching human flourishing believe that the character trait of a moral person is compassion. They will be vigilant about promoting and protecting conditions which many believe approach human flourishing.
——————————————————————-
DUTY vs. LOVE

When we consider practice, it may seem that we should prefer resolving the contradiction by taking promotion of good as primary in moral thinking. However, when we consider that promotion of good relies on rules to promote the food and not inhibit it, we see that rules are primary in moral thinking. But rules require sanctions which call for inhibition of the good. Hence, in moral thinking duty is more fundamental than love. Resolution of the contradiction, then, requires alteration of the tendency in moral thinking that takes promotion of human flourishing as primary. The alteration is that some harm, up to including intentionally taking a human life, is morally permissible for violation of a moral law.

However, moral laws apart from how they promote and protect conditions which constitute human flourishing seem pointless. A moral outlook which took the primacy of rules in morality as saying that human goods are morally irrelevant comes close to moral nihilism. Moral nihilism holds that every is permitted – nothing matters morally. The stance I am talking about here holds that what we do matters with respect to morality. However, with respect to human goods our being or not being moral does not matter. So we ought not separate identifying, promoting and protecting basic human goods from our moral thinking.

(I use “ought” because I believe that we ought not let ourselves think and speak about morality which makes it seem stupid, insensitive, irrelevant etc.,.)

We ought to combine duty and love in serious moral thinking. Here is a sketch of how to combine love and duty. Love will seek out the conditions which make for human good, discover what promotes and protects them. This provides content for rules. Duty transforms guidelines from love into moral rules. Once we have rules, love develops guidelines for mellowing the destruction of some human goods required by moral rule sanctions. These will be guidelines for forgiveness and mercy. Of course, love’s guidelines for forgiveness and mercy should not be transformed into moral rules because that would require more sanctions and more harm.

These reflections on combining duty and love in moral thinking have significantly altered my beliefs on how to conduct the aspect of moral thinking which is justifying to my self and persuading others that a moral rule is correct.

*The New Natural Law view holds that practical reason, that is, 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. From an essay by Christopher Tollefsen on The New Natural Law Theory .

Inconsistency of Moral Thinking Resolved by Moral Skepticism

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Inconsistency of Moral Thinking is Based on Free Will

In this post I connect the fundamental inconsistency of moral thinking established in my previous post Inconsistency of Moral thinking with belief in free will.

This is my understanding of what it is to have free will. We have the opportunity to exercise free will when we have a a choice between the following alternatives. We weigh the benefit of gaining a true good, e.g., life, over the costs of pursuing a path to attain a true good where benefits and costs are characterized in terms of satisfaction of inclinations. It turns out that the costs of pursuing the true good outweigh the satisfactions of having the true good. A clear case of this occurs when a patient is suffering a painful terminal illness.

In this post I do not elaborate on true human goods. They will be conditions such as life, liberty, knowledge and dignity. Here I need only specify that inclination satisfaction is not a true human good

Certainly, any characterization of the genuine human goods will bring out that they satisfy desires and inclinations. Still, it cannot be guaranteed that in all conditions the inclination satisfaction of true human goods outweighs the pains required to get them. This is especially the case when the probability of getting the satisfaction of the true human good is low.

Back to free will.

The alternatives for a free will choice when inclination satisfaction is attained by a situation different from having the true human good:

1. to pursue the true human good
Or
2. follow our inclinations

The choice to pursue the true human good will be a choice to follow a rule commanding choice leading to the true human good.

The reality of free will as characterized here is well established in everyday life. It seems that people are faced with a choice of obeying moral laws when doing so is challenging. Frequently people seem to meet the challenges. I am almost certain that I have done so. Note that free will as here characterized makes no assumptions about universal causal determinism or divine omniscience.

So, the belief in free will leads to recognition of moral laws commanding pursuit and protection of true human goods. And now we have the source of the inconsistency of the previous post. This source of inconsistency is the concept of an obligatory good.. The moral rules both tell us that no harm ought to be but that some harm ought to be if the rules are violated.

I will not go into detail. But I think it obvious that as I have sketched out an interpretation of free will, there is free will if and only if there are moral laws commanding that certain goods be protected and pursued.

So, all that is needed to make the triad: belief in true human goods, belief in free will, belief in moral laws, an inconsistent triad is belief that at least one moral law has been violated

Inconsistency of Moral Thinking

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

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

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

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

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

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

Do good, avoid evil.

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

NO HARM OUGHT TO BE.

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

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

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

SOME HARM OUGHT TO BE.

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

Subsequent posts sketch out ways of avoiding this inconsistency.

Reason Persuades; Cannot Force Thought

My previous post established that reason is not a moral authority. That result does not denigrate reason but only leads to getting a clearer concept of reason. Reason is just too diffuse to be an authority about anything. But that does not mean that reason fails to be our only access to what is true and what ought to be.

I propose that we think of reason as human consciousness, thinking broadly construed, to avoid the impossible task of trying to construct a concept of how what we sense is connected with what we think. In fact, there is no separation. It is only for philosophical purposes that a separation was made. It is true that we can sometimes think through a problem better if we shut our eyes while holding our hands over our ears. But that helps because the thoughts or conscious states- making up what we see and hear readily distract us from what we want to think about. However, once I have made this proposal to think of reason broadly as human consciousness to set aside an insolvable philosophical puzzle, I will write of reason as I did in the previous post. That was the way we talk and write of reason in ordinary language.

Thinking or reasoning is the only way humans can find out and communicate what is the case, why things happen, how things function, what ought to be, etc.,. Over a period of at least several thousand years humans have developed fairly reliable ways to find out, manipulate and explain what is the case. I think current scientific method including mathematics is the most reliable ways of thinking about what is the case. I am not claiming that scientific method is a subclass of reasoning that is an authority on what is the case. It does not increase the force of a scientific demonstration to say “Reason tells us this is the right result.” Citing reason as an authority is irrelevant. The scientific experiment shows, with probability what is the case. Chatter about the rationality of scientific method is just propaganda to persuade those who cannot follow the reasoning.

There has not been agreement on a method of finding out what ought to be. I propose there is no agreement on a method for moral thinking because almost all of us have the notion of moral harm as fundamental in our thinking about what ought to be. As I have shown in several past posts, the notion of moral harm leads to the notion of a moral authority. Now many people cannot, or will not, accept the notion of a moral authority because amongst other things it requires acceptance of at least some type of semi-divine being. Many others for various reasons find the notion of moral harm morally repugnant. They cannot, or will not, accept that there is harm that ought to be.

Because of this deep disagreement about moral harm, our reasoning with one another cannot be expected to lead to agreement on a method for finding out what ought to be. However, we can still reason -converse- with others to reach conclusions about what ought to be done in some particular cases.

In my next post, I elaborate on what has been brought out in this post. Human moral thinking is fundamentally logically inconsistent.
The fundamental inconsistency is that moral thinking is both deontological (rule based) and teleological (good seeking).

This does not mean that people have to think inconsistently when thinking about morals. There are different ways of removing a fundamental inconsistency in moral thinking. The result is that different consistent ways of moral thinking can be taken and these ways will be logically inconsistent with one another.

Human Reason Is Not Our Moral Authority

The primary goal of this post is to point out that human reason is not a moral authority. If there are authoritative moral commands in our reason, they are not issued by reason itself. What is reason?

Here is the outline of the structure of reason I attribute to reason when I make my case that reason is not moral authority. I support my claims about the structure of reason by citing phrases which seem to presupposed reason has the structure I am attributing to it.

First there is reason itself considered by itself, viz., apart from any human or group of humans. Reason itself considered by itself is the candidate for the moral authority. We say “According to reason . . “

There is a stance, which I take, towards reason itself considered by itself as perfect reason which we are trying to isolate through development of logic, mathematics, scientific method, and critical thinking in general.

Second there is human reason. Human reason is a vast collection of what has been and is being thought by human beings through the ages. There are numerous subclasses of human reason, e.g., the thoughts of various civilizations and religions.

“Reason” is used descriptively in the phrase “human reason.” There is no claim that what comes from human thinking is always correct although those of us who are not total skeptics believe that there are some truths produced by human reason as well as some truths recognized by human reason. Human reason is logically inconsistent although human reason considered by itself is assumed to be consistent and always correct.

We need to assume that there is human reason because we cannot talk about reason in individuals without assuming that they learn to think by learning the thoughts of some culture – some subclass of human reason. We say “Human reason varies from culture to culture. . .”

Third, there is reason itself embedded in each human being. Call this “reason itself imbedded in individuals.” Reason itself embedded in individuals is the same in all people and is the same as reason itself considered by itself. We say “If I would only follow my reason, I’d get it right.”

Fourth, there is the reasoning of each individual where “reason “ is used descriptively as the collection of all the sense and nonsense we think. Call this “personal empirical reason.” We say “I can’t figure it out; my reasoning is all messed up.”

*There’s more. Fifth there is reason itself embedded in the collective of human thinking or reasoning. Call this reason itself embedded in human society “public empirical reason”. Talk of reason as the moral authority commits us to a social realism which holds that societies in some way think. We say “Human reason is biased.”

Human reason itself considered by itself, human reason itself embedded in individuals and human reason itself embedded in societies are the same and reason so considered is the alleged moral authority.

Assume that there is a single entity designated by “human reason itself.” Could this entity be our moral authority? Acceptance of this entity is to accept no more than the reality of human reasoning. Human reasoning does not enchant reality. Only a hard core dogmatic materialist would hold that acceptance of human thinking is something like accepting a demi-god. But a moral authority enchants reality . In the previous post we brought out that acceptance of a moral authority is acceptance of something like a demi-god. From that post, recall that a moral authority has a kind of omniscience about all violations of moral law, has anger or wrath about violations, decrees that harm ought to come about because of the violations and has some considerable capability to have that harm brought about.

So for an authoritarian morality, human reason cannot be the moral authority. This result disappoints me. I thought that adopting an authoritarian moral theory would enable me to give a stronger argument for a fundamental traditional principle of sexual morality than I gave in my book**. I hoped that I could show that the principle in question was a principle of reason and thereby had authoritative force.

This result does not show that an authoritarian moral theory is incorrect. Nor does it show that reasoning is irrelevant in trying to convince people of a moral principle. Reasoning plus action in accordance with what we say is all that we have to convince others. It is just that when we give others reasons, even compelling reasons, for a moral principle we are not giving them the command of a moral authority.

*All of these distinctions could be expressed much more exactly in the terminology of Aristotelian/Thomistic philosophy. But I do not plan to investigate the distinctions and assumptions systematically. My aim has been to show that they seem to be presupposed by our ordinary talk about reason.

**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. Free copies can be obtained here by credit card by paying $3.75 for shipping and handling.





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

Authoritarian Morality Enchants Reality

The goal of this post is to acknowledge that assumption of an authoritarian moral theory is to accept the reality of far more than those who hold the scientism philosophy that there is nothing beyond what is necessary for providing truth conditions for claims on natural science. Authoritarian morality does not enchant reality with as many wonders as Christianity. But it certainly fills reality with a mental life far beyond what natural science can discover.*

The moral authority has to have something like the mentality we claim for ourselves and attribute to other people. The moral authority is a personal being which acts intentionality. (I underline terms suggesting mentality.)

The law giver has concern that its general laws are obeyed. There definitely is concern of the moral authority is if we regard the lawgiver as benevolent. We recognize the benevolence of the lawgiver in our recognition that the general laws are, if obeyed, for human flourishing. The law giver recognizes violations of its laws. The law giver has wrath when general laws are disobeyed. The law giver prescribes harm that ought to occur because of violations and the law giver intends that the prescribed harm occurs. The law giver recognizes when the prescribed harm or acceptable to it substitute has occurred. When satisfied the law giver resinds the prescription for harm.

So far, it may seem that these features attributed to the so-called moral law giver are only the features we would attribute to a human legislator. However, a bit of reflection brings out a tremendous difference. Start with recognition of all violations. Earlier, I called this “transparency” to the moral authority. Nothing wrong, or right for that matter, escapes the notice of the moral legislator. This is a type of omniscience. But the moral legislator is not willful or legislates arbitrarily even if it wills that harm ought to follow upon violations of its general laws. For the laws of the moral authority are immutable.

To say that they are immutable is to say that we can not imagine them being otherwise. For instance, I cannot think of what it would be like for abortion to be morally permissible. I may wish that it were morally permissible. But that is only a wish because I cannot think of what I wish for to be true.

These observations about a moral authority suffice to show that acceptance of a moral authority would certainly strike some one holding a scientist philosophy as imagining reality filled with some fantastic being.

* See Christian Re-enchantment for a sketch of how a so-called enchanted reality is philosophically forbidden to those who hold that there is nothing beyond what is necessary for providing truth conditions for claims on natural science.

In my book, I argued for a fundamental moral rule for male sexuality without any appeal to a moral authority. I hope to develop a stronger argument using authoritarian morality.

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 pp. 72ff. for discussion of moral harm. Free copies can be obtained here by credit card by paying $3.75 for shipping and handling.





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

Core Concepts of Authoritarian Morality

In this post, I sketch out signigicant features of the moral authority in authoritarian moral thought. In passing, it is shown how authoritarian moral thought confronts Plato’s dilemma challenging authoritarian moral thought in his dialogue Euthyphro.

Previous posts brought out that moral thinking requires a concept of a being who commands the laws of morality, who cares that the laws of morality are obeyed, who commands that harm ought to result when moral laws are violated and who has the capability to have it brought about that the harm prescribed for violations of the moral laws actually occurs.

The issuing of prescriptions that harm ought to result from
violations of the moral laws can be called the wrath of the moral authority. Moral thought requires, further, a fear of disobeying the commands of this moral authority and incurring its wrath.. This fear of the moral authority can be called respect for the moral laws.

My goal is to draw out from my understanding of moral thought, the basic thoughts and feelings of all moral thinking. I appreciate that my goal seems an egotistical delusion. But reliance on personal analysis of the randomly assembled fragments of conversations and readings that happen to come my way is, I submit, a philosophers material for analysis. But for awhile I will limit my claims to what can be called, in light of my analyses, authoritarian moral thought.

In some later posts, I need to sketch out some account of my belief that individual people can uncover universal structural features of human thinking because the basic structure of any individual’s thinking is common to every individual person’s thought.

An important feature is transparency. The moral authority is a aware of all violations of moral laws. There is no way to evade this awareness of moral violations. I have been chided for having an allegedly childish concept of God as one who knows and judges all that we do. Actually I consider myself mature for holding and developing a concept of God as at least the all-knowing moral judge. Having a fully developed way of thinking about morality requires maturity.

Immutability is also an important feature of a moral authority. Recognition of immutability is especially helpful when we are challenged with the question based on Plato’s Euthyphro: Does the moral authority command it because it is right or is what the moral authority commands right simply because the authority commands it? If we answer “yes” to the first question, our answer presupposes that there is a standard of right and wrong apart form the moral authority. If so, the moral authority is not the foundation of our obligations; but the standard which it uses is the foundation. If we answer “yes” to the second question we are confronted with the objection that then torturing babies for amusement could be right if the authority commanded it.

What is immutability? If we accept a moral law we cannot imagine what it would be like for it to be changed. We cannot imagine the moral authority changing it. If we accept that the moral authority has condemned torturing babies we cannot conceive of it switching over to permitting it; much less commanding it. This is what it means to say that the moral authority has immutability with respect to laws. But the immutability is not total. The moral authority changes with respect to the ad hoc prescriptions for harm. The moral authority cancels them if the harm is inflicted or if the moral authority shows mercy.

In answer to the Euthyphro challenge, we should answer “yes” to the second question. We do not worry about claims that the authority could command acts and principles we already accept on its authority. We can not even think of the contrary to fact hypotheticals starting with, “Suppose the authority commanded X”, where X is something seriously in conflict with morality we have already accepted.

Connected with the immutability of moral laws is the autonomy of the moral authority. Nothing but the legislation of the moral authority is needed to validate its laws.

The full-fledged concept of God in the Judeo-Christian religions suffices for the concept of a moral authority. However, it is not necessary to have a concept of the Judeo-Christian God to have a concept of a moral authority. Concepts of lesser deities suffice. Monotheism is not required. The moral authority need not be the creator of all that is. The moral authority need not be all-powerful. The moral authority may be in a struggle with an evil deity as in Manicheanism or Zoroastrianism . The moral authority may have other beings exercise its wrath as did the Furies in Greek mythology. The moral authority need not have any compassion for wrong doers. It need never show mercy or forgiveness. It could demand that every prescription for harm as a result of wrong doing be carried out.

In the authoritarian stance on morality, the moral authority has to have some type of mentality or intentionality. It has to be regarded as in some way being aware of and caring about human affairs.
Total materialists can recognize no moral authority.

A very significant feature of the moral authority would be benevolence. We recognize the benevolence of the lawgiver in our recognition that the general laws are, if obeyed, for human flourishing. Morality does not consist of pointless rules imposed on us. Understanding the moral authority as benevolent leads to having a concept of obligatory goods. The rules of a benevolent moral authority would specify that certain conditions for human flourishing such as life and liberty ought to be promoted and never inhibited. Those who accept a benevolent moral authority hold that morality has goals beyond avoiding punishment for disobeying the rules. In terminology of moral theory, those who accept a benevolent moral authority have a moral theory which is both deontological and telological

Unfortunately for developing my preferred moral stance, I have to admit that concept of moral authority by itself does not entail benevolence. In principle, the moral authority could be arbitrary. Those who accept a moral authority as arbitrary hold that no reason can or need be given for obedience to the rules beyond avoiding harm by disobeying the rules.

Evaluation of Feser’s Perverted Faculty Argument

This evaluation of Edward Feser’s* argument for traditional Catholic sexual morality is not a digression from my series of posts on the conceptual elements of moral thinking. The main point of my evaluation is to bring out that in moral thinking “ought” is moral fundamental than “good.” Or: thinking of what we ought to do is more fundamental than thinking of good to be accomplished by what we do.In the terminology of moral theory, I am making a case that moral thought is fundamentally deontological as opposed to teleological. Correct moral theory brings out that choices are to be driven by duty as opposed to being drawn by a goal (telos) of what is good.

I might be evaluating Feser’s article by a standard different from what he was trying meet. Feser’s goal might have been simply to show the correct formulation of the argument in the tradition of Aristotelian-Thomistic moral theory. I am evaluating his argument on the basis of whether or not it is an effective argument for the correctness of the basic principle of Catholic sexual morality.

To be an effective argument for the basic principle of Catholic sexual morality, the final conclusion has to be a statement that we OUGHT to follow the restrictions of Catholic sexual morality. A frequent criticism of natural law moral arguments is that they infer from a claim that there IS a way a system operates to a claim that that is the way we OUGHT to use the system.

For example,

The function of sexual intercourse IS to unite a man and woman in a union for procreation an rearing of children.
Therefore, sexual intercourse OUGHT to be used for uniting a man and woman in a union for procreation and rearing of children.

Feser writes on p. 381
No such gap, and thus no “fallacy” of inferring normative conclusions from “purely factual” premises, can exist given an Aristotelian Thomistic essentialist and teleological conception of the world.

But I challenge his argument mainly because we should not rest our argument on a conception of the world without admitting that such an assumption is taking a stance and thereby conceding that our argument is contingent upon that stance being correct. Moreover, I think that even if he explicitly conceded that he is taking a stance, he still makes a logical leap from “is” to “ought”
if his intention is to show that people ought to conform to traditional sexual morality.

It is in the use of metaphysics to justify moral claims about what people in the natural world ought to do where there might be inferences from “is” to “ought.”

In claims about the natural world, from an Aristotelian perspective, there may be no significant factual statement which does not also entail an “ought” statement because significant factual claims about any natural individual, species or system at least implies a claim about a final cause for the individual, species or system. However, factual statements entail an “ought” because there is an implicit premise to the effect:

If at the metaphysical level we can characterize a being with an essence E as choosing goal G, then at the natural level we can say that a being with essence E ought to choose G.

Such a premise should be explicit when used.

Consider Feser’s argument for traditional sexual morality. I present his whole deductively argument because it is so elegant. With the discussion of the premises in the article it is a clear and rigorous argument from Aristotelian-Thomistic metaphysics that conformity to traditional Catholic sexual morality IS an essential feature of a rational animal. But I focus only on the first and last premise.

His first premise as I mark it explicitly places his argument in metaphysics and not in physics.

1. Where some faculty F is natural to a rational agent A and by nature exists for the sake of some end E (and exists in A precisely so that A might pursue E), then it is metaphysically impossible for it to be good for A to use F in a manner contrary to E.

2. But our sexual faculties exist by nature for the sake of procreative and
unitive ends, and exist in us precisely so that we might pursue those
ends.

3. So it is metaphysically impossible for it to be good for us to use those
faculties in a manner that is contrary to their procreative and unitive
ends.

4. But contraceptive acts, masturbatory acts, homosexual acts, and acts of
bestiality involve the use of our sexual faculties in a manner that is con
trary to their procreative and/or unitive ends.

5. So it is metaphysically impossible for it to be good for us to engage in
contraceptive acts, masturbatory acts, homosexual acts, or acts of
bestiality.

6. But it can be rational to engage in an act only if it is in some way good
for us and never when it frustrates the realization of the good.

His conclusion is still at the metaphysical level. It tells us what is true about the essence of a rational animal.

7. So it cannot be rational to engage in contraceptive acts, masturbatory acts, homosexual acts, or acts of bestiality.

I use his term “metaphysically impossible” to emphasize that the conclusion is still a metaphysical claim.

So it is metaphysically impossible to be a rational animal and to engage in contraceptive acts, masturbatory acts, homosexual acts, or acts of bestiality.

Unfortunately it is all too obvious that it is physically possible to be a rational animal and to engage in contraceptive acts, masturbatory acts, homosexual acts, or acts of bestiality.

How can there be such a disparity between metaphysical truth and physical truth? The quick answer is that we are not as we ought to be. We get distracted by goods which are not our true good. So we do not choose as a fully rational animal would choose. We ought to choose as a fully rational animal would choose. And here we have the “ought” following from an “is.”

We need a premise (8) along the lines of:

8. We ought to choose and act on the physical or natural level as a rational animal characterized at the metaphysical level

* See Ch. 16 “In defense of the perverted faculty argument”
by Edward Feser in Neo-Scholastic Essays St. Augustine Press, South Bend IN 2015,

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. In Ch. IV of my book I make a case for traditional Catholic sexual morality. If I were to prepare a 2nd edition of my book I would think of using Feser’s argument because I think it is persuasive. I would only add that I am explicitly assuming a stance and I do need to add an “ought” premise. Free copies can be obtained here by credit card by paying $3.75 for shipping and handling.





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