Category Archives: Authoritarian Morality

The Sound of Divine Commands

What is it like to receive a divine moral command? What is it like to hear a moral command from God?
Answer: The sounds of a divine command are the thoughts and sentiments of accepting a categorical imperative.

The answer may appear an attempt to de-mythologize outlooks understanding moral commands as commands from God. We shall see, though, that including thoughts and sentiments in the authoritative moral outlook includes spirits, if not myths, in the outlook.

What are the thoughts and sentiments of accepting a categorical imperative?

Answer: The thoughts and sentiments of accepting a categorical imperative are the thoughts and sentiments of making a moral judgment with the thoughts and sentiments of authoritative morality. (To be developed in a subsequent post.)

Hence, the sounds of a divine command are the thoughts and sentiments of making a moral judgment with the thoughts and sentiments of authoritative morality.

No new moral rules are added to authoritative moral thinking by interpreting morality as based on divine commands. However, fears and hopes of the authoritative moral outlook need to be vindicated by interpreting the moral authority as divine. Hence, even if morality does not change by interpreting it as based on divine commands, moral theology changes to vindicate the fears and hopes essentially connected with morality.

Fear of violating a moral law, hope that one can obey the moral laws and that somehow it is better that the moral laws be obeyed are essential to moral thinking.

If the moral authority is merely aware of its commands being violated and obeyed, then morality does not matter. The authoritative moral outlook can degenerate into a version of moral nihilism that obedience to moral laws does not matter. Or worse, some group of humans may assume themselves to be the moral authority and try to be all-knowing about violations and authorized to make immoral actions have unpleasant consequences. Morality will matter under these tyrants. But we don’t want morality to matter to some human authorities.

Here I am assuming that the choices for interpreting the moral authority are right reason or a direct immanent activity of the Transcendent – God acting in nature. Moral theology needs to develop notions of this immanent activity of the Transcendent to accommodate the essential sentiments of moral thought.

Consider interpreting the moral authority as right reason. Right reason is the idealized notion of human reason working invariably to get the correct answers about facts and values. The thoughts and sentiments of accepting a categorical imperative as based on right reason is, then, hearing the command of the moral authority. But right reason itself is a lifeless abstraction. It is very difficult to interpret the transparency of our moral actions to reason. I accept the reality of collective human thinking. However, I think that some of our violations of moral laws do not get into collective consciousness. We can still commit secret sins. If right reason is real at all, it is real as a subset of collective consciousness. It is even more difficult to think of right reason as instrumental in having consequences for our violations and good conduct.

So, the moral authority needs to have contact with human reason both in individuals and the collective consciousnesses. But it also needs to be separate from human consciousness and perhaps, through moral commands, be able to have influence on what makes for human harm and good. I think we could think of it as spiritual.

Divine Commands vs. Divine Commanding

In various posts, I have sketched out the structure of morality based on the commands of an authority. In sketching out the structure of authoritarian morality, I have made a strong case that people who accept retributive punishment presuppose authoritarian morality. In other posts, I have sketched out a metaphysical structure of a Transcendent on which everything, including morality, depends for existence. I have, now, the conceptual tools for constructing a conceptual scheme in which the fundamentals of morality are commands of God, with God represented by the Transcendent.

Before working out details of this conceptual structure, I need to specify what actually occurs to make the construction correct.

The structure of authoritarian morality is not authoritarian morality. The structure characterizes the moral reality. The moral reality is the commanding by the moral commander and the responding of those to whom the commands are given. This is a temporal process. So, clearly, it is immanent. Of course, this process depends upon the Transcendent for its existence and character.

But what is the commanding and hearing of commands?

If morality really is based on divine commanding, then moral experience should reveal that activity. The structure of authoritarian morality should then characterize the morality arising from God being a partner in maintenance and development of morality. I am not privy to special moral experiences. There is nothing available to me that others do not also experience in their discussions and personal thinking about right and wrong, good and evil. So, what I say about the commanding of the divine moral commander is an interpretation of what people experience in moral thought and sentiment.

I propose that a sense or thought that we are correct in moral thought or discussion be interpreted as receiving a divine command. There are various descriptions of this sense of being correct about morality. Some have called it what we receive from a moral sense others characterize it as what they get from their moral intuitions, some call it what proper reason recognizes, others characterize it as what their conscience tells them and presently many express this by claiming it is a moral issue.

I use a phrase from Kant.

Stages in our feeling infused thinking at which we can declare a categorical imperative are stages at which we have a sense of receiving a divine command. These categorical imperatives are thoughts of the form “That is right,” “That is wrong,” “That is good,” and “That is bad.” The imperatives about good and bad imply imperatives about right and wrong because a categorical imperative judgment that something is good implies that a categorical imperative that one ought never inhibit it. A categorical imperative judgment that something is bad implies a categorical imperative judgment that one ought never promote it.

To repeat: I am interpreting taking a moral judgment as final is taking it as being divinely commanded. Of course, this does not mean that people consciously interpret their conclusive moral judgments as divinely commanded.

I must emphasize that we are not incorrigible recognizers of divine commands. Divine commands are incorrigible. God cannot err on what ought to be done or propose as good something which is not good. But we can make a mistake about whether God has actually commanded an act or proposed something as good. This is what should be expected if one holds that morality is objective. The prospect of a discrepancy between the objective and the subjective arises when there are thinking feeling subjects trying to be accurate about what is given. Divine commands are the given of morality.

Critical Race Theory Debates and Authoritarian Morality

I am not referring to critical race theory as a methodology for scholars in legal and social research wherein they focus on uncovering and diagnosing remedies for practices which, perhaps very subtly, have an adverse impact on certain populations; especially African-Americans. In September of 2021 I am writing about thoughts and sentiments I detect in news reports about debates on teaching critical race theory in public schools. I detect no serious interest in teaching a scholarly methodology. I sense as little connection between the current debates and critical race theory as there was between the “spirit of Vatican II’’ and the documents of Vatican II back in the 1970s.

I detect debate about adding a moral dimension to the teaching of certain subjects such as history and civics. Should children K-12 be instructed that white people ought to suffer some harm for harms inflicted on African-Americans? The debates are not primarily about teaching children of the harms inflicted on African-Americans, even if voices frequently claim that they only want the facts to be presented. The concern is over learning and understanding these frequently horrifying facts with a special moral sensitivity and aspiration. The special sensitivity is a sense that someone now bears guilt for these injustices and there is an aspiration is that we be purified of the guilt for these injustices. The purging will require discomfort if not clear cut physical damage.

My writing on this topic fits in with my project of showing that moral thought is thought of rules given by divine command. For I detect in these debates presuppositions of significant themes of what I have called “authoritarian morality.” It is authoritarian morality which I, then, model as divine command morality. But of even more importance for my own efforts to make a final contribution to philosophical thought which might then trickle down to improve everyday moral thinking, these confused debates convince me of the need to write a booklet on the notion of moral harm which I have been articulating in my series of blog posts. The confusion of these debates comes from confusion about guilt, punishment and moral harm .

The major theme presupposed is the legitimacy of retributive punishment in its primitive form. . Presupposing retributive punishment is assuming that violation of a moral law entails an expungable moral rule that some harm ought to be for violation of the moral law. The expungable moral rule is expunged when the morally required harm occurs. I have called the morally required harm “moral harm.” The fundamental or primitive form of retributive punishment does not specify the type or degree of the harm which ought to occur, the person or persons who are to suffer the harm nor who is to inflict the harm. Human beings, with development of theories of retributive justice, determine the moral rules for moral harm. That development is long and hard. See The Virtue of Seeking Retribution.

I am delighted to find acceptance of retributive punishment so widely used in a public debate. For that provides some evidence for my thesis that common moral thought is thought of an authoritative morality. Unfortunately, the satisfaction to my philosopher self is offset by my dissatisfaction as a citizen. People are implicitly using concepts such as collective guilt, obligatory harm, and substitutionary atonement without realizing they are doing so. Such unthinking use might do significant damage. For instance, there might be a need to induce much more consciousness of race if white children are to develop a sense of being guilty for harms inflicted by Whites on Blacks in 1920.

Thoughtful use of these concepts of primitive retributive punishment might alleviate the harms of thoughtlessly using them. I do not deny that thoughtless use of the authoritative moral theory that I recommend can afflict psychological and social damage. That fear gives urgency to my project of articulating clearly this moral theory because I believe it is implicitly the dominant, but confused, way of moral thinking.

The Transcendent’ s Immanent Moral Order

The Transcendent’ s Immanent Moral Order

This post introduces a model of authoritarian morality as the moral order of theoretical reason’s Transcendent. As such, it can be fairly labeled a model of divine command morality. The model is a construct of theoretical reason about the moral use of practical reason. For theoretical reason the ground of everything is transcendent; not in the world – not immanent.

However, we have seen that theoretical reason can concede that what transcends theoretical reason need not transcend practical reason. We have also seen the inseparability of practical and theoretical reasoning. So, this model is a theory about a dimension of practical reason which may have direct contact with theoretical reason’s Transcendent. This model can be legitimately influenced by the practical reasoning it characterizes and also influence the practical reasoning it characterizes. For instance, temptations to disobey the moral laws might lead to theorizing about their correctness just as theorizing about correctness might strengthen resistance to temptations.

The above remarks are relevant for the case that the model is correct – presents the truth about correct human morality. There are three steps to evaluating a model of divine command morality. One: does it correctly represent a significant way in which humans think about morality? Two: What is it like for the commands of this moral thinking to come from a non-human source? Three: Is the non-human source the transcendent God?

In my series of posts outlining Authoritarian Morality, I have taken step one. Step three requires more detailed examination of practical reason. Theoretical reason cannot say that commands are those of the Transcendent because theoretical reason cannot speak of the Transcendent. So, theoretical reason can never complete a defense of divine command morality. Ultimately, proof that morality is based on divine commands comes from practical reason “hearing” the commands.

In my next post, I take step two by positing authoritative moral thinking as existing innately in human thinking. This way of thinking is directly dependent upon the Transcendent and humans have a capacity to recognize the source of this way of thinking. The Transcendent’s immanent moral order is built up by humans from innate capacities such as those for language and arithmetic. However, special features of moral thinking such as the universality of its laws and transparency lead to interpreting the constructions from this capacity as dependent on more than human work.

The Transcendent is Immanent in Moral Transparency

The Transcendent is Immanent in Moral Transparency

Theists establishing the existence of God as a transcendent reality can go on to establishing a consistent divine command moral theory.

In my previous post , I noted that the transcendence of that upon which everything depends for its existence is an artefact of our theoretical thinking. The argument for the being of that upon which everything depends for its existence proceeded by reflection upon our ways of thinking. That the argument proceeded by reflective thinking is apparent premises asserting that we must think in a certain way. In this reflective thinking we form a model of our thinking wherein we posit something beyond our thinking.

Similarly, in a case for a representative realism about truth conditions we form a model of our thinking wherein we posit the truth conditions for representations as things in themselves always beyond our representations. However, this barrier between truth conditions as things in themselves inaccessible to thought is only an artefact of the realism theory, a representative realism theory.

We ourselves along with our thinking are existing entities. We and our thinking are truth conditions for some claims. So, there is no reason for holding that in truth conditions, there is a barrier between thinking and what is thought about. When we are not thinking about our thinking we do not erect a barrier between thought and its objects.

So, there is a basis for holding that if we are not thinking about our thinking to form a metaphysical theory about that on which everything depends, we need not posit some barrier between that on which everything depends and our thinking. In particular, in our awareness that conformity to a moral law is transparent, our thought is in contact with that which from a theoretical point of view transcends thought. Or, so I am claiming. Recall that transparency is the awareness of our obedience, or disobedience, to a moral law is known by something or other. See Core Concepts of Authoritarian Morality.

The theoretical transcendent is encountered in our moral thinking.

This is my “breakthrough” in development of a consistent divine command moral theory.

In a series of post developing a model of moral thought as presupposing a moral authority, I have made a case for a moral commander. In another series of posts, using “high metaphysical” reasoning, I have made a case for a divinity – the Transcendent. Theoretically the Transcendent is beyond the immanent reality it sustains while the moral commander is immanent. Now, though, we have realized that in practical reasoning we could be in contact with what is theoretically transcendent. I can consistently extend my model of moral thinking by identifying the divine commander as the Transcendent in metaphysical.

Theoretical reason pays a cost for this permission to go forward in development of a divine command moral theory. The cost is that theoretical reason has to concede that practical reason is superior. For theoretical reason has to admit that it creates artefacts that need to be set aside for realities uncovered by practical reason.

I have no longer have any intention of interpreting the thought of any philosopher; let alone John Henry Newman. Only recently, I took an on-line course on Newman from Bishop Robert Barron. I wish that I had studied Newman earlier. His wisdom exhibited in combining faith and skepticism guides me. I suggest that my sense of transparency in moral thinking leads me to give what Newman calls real assent to the divine while my theoretical reasoning to the Transcendent leads me to give notional assent to the divine.

Divine Commander is Not transcendent

In this post, I work my way to a conjecture that the Transcendent is transcendent only for theoretical reasoning. In practical, or moral reasoning we directly encounter that which transcends theoretical reasoning.

For more than a year now, throughout several blog posts, I developed an interpretation of morality as being given by a moral authority. I called this “authoritarian morality.” For instance see:Divine Command Morality as Authoritarian Morality,
Virtue of Obedience in Authoritarian Morality ,
Authoritarian Morality Enchants Reality
and Core Concepts of Authoritarian Morality..
To show that morality is indeed authoritarian morality, I started to develop a philosophical model of reality as dependent upon and maintained in existent by a transcendence beyond existence. To be honest, I have to admit that frequently compromised the notion of transcendence because my intent was to model God of Christianity as the Transcendent. However, until I arrived at locating morality in reality, I managed to avoid locating the Transcendent in what I called the immanent, viz., whatever exists. Even when I wrote that there could exist truth conditions for religious claims about God, I pointed out that the Transcendent could sustain in existence truth conditions for a truth claim with Itself as the intended referent, without Itself being in the immanent. At least it seems at first as if there could be conditions making true a claim about God without God existing in those truth conditions. For we do not know what truth conditions are in-and-by-themselves.

But our relation to the factuality of the immanent and the morality in the immanent are different. Or so it seems. We take a spectator’s stance towards factuality. We observe reality and claim that such-and-such is a fact. We do not tend to think of this as an interaction with a reality. In morality, though, we are aware of a demand upon us, which we can obey or disobey, have our obedience or disobedience be present to that which places the demand and sense that something new is demanded if we disobey. Morality, then, according to my authoritarian model, is a personal interaction with reality.

For those familiar with a distinction between theoretical reason and practical reason, I would say that in theoretical reasoning, we regard ourselves as observers of reality and make judgments about what is and what is not the case. As David Hume notoriously noted “reason is cool and indifferent.” Hume was writing of theoretical reason. We do not get direction on what we discover by theoretical reason. For instance, if we discover by theoretical reason that there is a moral law that promises ought to be kept, we discover only that it is a fact that promises ought to be kept. That fact about morality is not sufficient by itself to command obedience. Indeed, discovery of the fact that knowledge is good for humans is insufficient for giving us an obligation to pursue knowledge. It’s just an interesting fact from the perspective of theoretical reason. Of course, I am only reviewing Hume’s observation that we cannot derive an “ought” from and “is.”

With practical reasoning we operate as existents in reality receiving directions from something else in reality. These directions come into our consciousness as binding us. Practical reasoning is not primarily representing, let alone knowing. It is primarily receiving and choosing. Practical reasoning goes on amongst things in themselves. Practical reasoning provides truth conditions for theoretical reason. For instance, practical reasoning provides truth conditions for “Promises ought to be kept.”

I could go on to elaborate much more on practical reasoning. And I will do so. But in this post, my main theme is that I need to re-think what I hold about the Transcendent. I intend to identify the Transcendent with God. So, if I plan to articulate a divine command morality, I need to identify the moral commander as God. Above, I characterize a moral commander as an existent in what I have called the immanent or reality. Obviously, it seems that I plan to develop an inconsistent theory in which the Transcendent is immanent. I suppose that I could avoid inconsistency, by postulating as existing some moral agent of the Transcendent which agent gives commands on behalf of the Transcendent. I shudder at the prospect of developing a theory with demi gods.

So I will explore the conjecture that the Transcendent is transcendent only for theoretical reasoning. In practical, or moral reasoning we directly encounter that which transcends theoretical reasoning.

Moral Commands are Not Truth Claims

I have radically altered my stance on what can exist to accommodate the possibility of religious truth claims being true. I have switched from holding that reality, what is immanent, is built up from some basic existents. This philosophical atomism is properly called “logical atomism.” The basic simple existents would be given in experience, but the only structural principles would be those of logic. In some terminology, I had held the stance that all relations are external. Now I hold that some relations are internal.

Now that I examine my past beliefs while announcing a radical change, I have to admit that except while philosophizing I did not accept logical atomism. I accepted physical causality as a basic existent. Physical causality is that vast complex which is the subject matter of physics and chemistry. However, I always adopted my philosophical outlook when I thought about the possibility of religious truth. This atomistic ontology ruled out any religious claims from being true. Indeed, it rules out claims about the mental being true. I now hold that any logically consistent truth claim is possibly true and that I cannot specify anything about the order and connection of truth conditions for truth claims apart from our ways of representing them.

However, this change in ontology does not provide all that is needed to represent moral laws as divine commands. There needs to be amongst what exists more than conditions for making truth claims true. There are also conditions which make a moral command a correct command. It is helpful to cite the tautology “Correct moral commands are commands” as a reminder that there is commanding in reality.

For instance, a moral obligation to keep promises is more than the truth that promises ought to be kept. The obligation is even more than having “God commands that promises be kept” be a true claim. Why do these facts bring it about that we are guilty if we do not keep a promise. More is required form these facts than from other kinds of facts. We not only need to believe them to be true. They require that we sense a requirement to respond in a certain way.

The truth conditions for, say, “Promises ought to be kept” is a command “Keep promises!” The command is prior to the fact of the command being given. It is the command that constitutes the truth conditions. The command itself is not a truth claim. Primarily, the command is the giving an obligation which we can obey or disobey. Secondarily, the command provides conditions for a truth by which we can be judged. These truth constitute a moral order. But the foundation for the moral order is the commanding and human awareness of the commands.

On this foundation, I will build an account of a Divine Command morality.

Survival After Biological Death and the Transcendent

This is a type of blog essay I am reluctant to post. It is more a set of promises of philosophic work than philosophic analyses and arguments. But there are so many issues in modeling the Transcendent as a Divine authority that I have time only to sketch out how I will try to resolve those issues as I work to present a complete overview of a model of the Transcendent as moral authority. One of those issues is survival after biological death.

Phases of an argument for survival after biological death

1. Make a case that people are not their bodies. A prominent part of the case is borrowed from stock philosophical arguments that personal identity persists through significant bodily changes.

2. Make a case that all of our thoughts and deeds are known to the moral authority. A prominent part of this case is articulating and supporting an understanding of morality as authoritarian morality – command morality. I have already done much of this in development of authoritarian moral theory from my notion of moral harm as harm which ought to be for violation of a moral law. But I need to add and defend belief in personal survival after death as part of the authoritarian moral outlook.

3. Make a case that the moral authority is the Transcendent, i.e., God. We now have a divine command morality.

Phase 3 is advanced by making a case that we can characterize the Transcendent not only being aware of your personal history throughout your natural life but as eternally being aware of you – the awareness of the Transcendent does not vanish at your natural death. The Transcendent is aware of you as a person both before and after your biological death.

But what does “eternally” mean when applied to the Transcendent?

I am thinking of arguing along the following lines. If the Transcendent did not sustain you in existence in anyway at biological death, then you would vanish at biological death and the Transcendent would not be aware of you. But the Transcendent never loses awareness of you. Hence, the Transcendent sustains you in existence in some way after your biological death. But this existence after biological death is still existence in what is immanent. For nothing is transcendent except the Transcendent. There are issues in characterizing immanent existence of persons after biological death. (I am working on them.)

However, I do not want to include in my model that human beings exist in some way prior to their conception. I need to make a case that in the immanent there is genuine coming into existence.
I hope to do all of this without developing any philosophical system. As much as possible I want to use only ordinary language.

Love for the Transcendent??

Love for the Transcendent

It is difficult to understand what could bring a person to say “I love God.” What, then, could possibly bring someone to say “I love the Transcendent?”

As a little boy walking home from Nativity grade school in St. Paul, Minnesota, I once wondered how classmates -usually well-behaved little girls- could tell the nun teaching the class that they loved God. When I return to St. Paul, I frequently pass the intersection -Juliet and Prior- where I had that experience, when about seven or eight, of wondering how people could say that they loved God. My experience returns to me. What were they thinking? Would they feel sad if something bad happened to God? It was so troubling that I kept it in mind as one of the many things I would have to figure out for myself as life went on. I would be embarrassed ever to ask anyone “Why do you say that you love God?”

Finally, now, in my mid-eighties, I have figured out what I could mean by saying that I love God. Even with the mature, and correct, notion of love as willing the good of the other, I could not understand how I could will good for God who needs nothing. The answer, which should have been obvious to me for a long time, struck me this week after Epiphany when we have been reading the first letter of John. On Thursday we read in John 1:4 “For the love of God is this, that we keep his commandments.”

The good for God is what God wills. God wills the good of His human creatures. So, aiming at the good for humans is aiming at God’s good. God has willed that the human goods be attained by humans ordering their lives in accordance with rules for attaining these human goods. These rules are the moral rules and can be considered His commandments. So, by willing to obey the moral rules we will God’s good. That is loving God!

Consequently, a Divine Command theory of morality is not interpreting God as a moral tyrant who leaves no room for human freedom. On the contrary, a Divine Command moral theory is an explication of what it means to freely love God. For we are free to will to disobey His commands. But we are also free to will to obey His commands which is to love Him.

What does this have to do with the Transcendent? In my efforts to characterize the Transcendent as the moral authority, I am working towards explicating how we can speaking meaningfully of loving God even when “God” is understood in the most austere philosophical terms.

“Is”/”ought” Gap in Support of Authoritarian Morality

The ontological importance of the gap between is and ought

I have finally appreciated the positive significance of Hume’s observation that we cannot logically derive an “ought” claim from an “is” claim; not even “is” claims about God. Even though this gap showed the independence of morality from facts, it still seemed mostly a troublesome problem of justifying moral claims. For it is deep seated in human moral reasoning to back-up claims about what ought to be done by reference to facts. However, now that I have begun the fundamental philosophic task of characterizing the Transcendent as the moral authority, I appreciate that the independence of morality from fact is of more value for metaphysics than it is a disvalue for epistemology.

I intend to use the structure of my model of morality as based on authority to rationalize characterizing the Transcendent as a moral authority. If I am successful, I propose that I have constructed a model of morality as being based on Divine Commands. As I noted in the previous post, a phase in this construction of a model of morality as based on the Transcendent is showing that morality, which is immanent, is independent of anything else in what is immanent. Showing independence from fact is the major step in showing independence of morality.

Showing this independence is required to establish that morality is directly dependent for its existence on the Transcendent. If morality is directly dependent on the Transcendent it becomes plausible that we can rationalize some characterizations of the Transcendent as what it would be like to be why such-and-such feature of morality exists.

I doubt that Hume would be happy with a philosopher using his logical observation that we cannot derive “ought” from “is” to make a case for Divine Command morality.
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