Sunday, February 1, 2015

Craig's metaethical argument, DCT, and the ontological foundation of moral goodness

1. Introduction.

In this post, I assess Craig's metaethical argument by means of a hypothetical debate between Bob - a defender of Craig's metaethical argument[a], and of Craig's version of Divine Command Theory (henceforth, DCT) – and Alice – a non-theist who believes that the second premise of Craig's argument is true.

Alice also believes that the argument from moral evil – at least, in its evidential version, if there is a significant difference between the logical and evidential versions – is a decisive argument against the existence of an omnipotent, omniscient, morally perfect (henceforth, omnimax) being – though she holds that there are other, independent and also decisive arguments.

Still, the debate below is not about the argument from moral evil, but mostly about DCT and potential non-theistic accounts, and Craig's first premise.

Before I go on, I would like to clarify that:

1. I don't claim that Craig holds all of the views defended by Bob. Bob is a fictional character, as is Alice. When I attribute views to Craig, I will make that clear, providing relevant links and/or references if needed (e. g., I won't provide a reference or link if I say Craig claims that God exists because it's obvious that he does, but I will if I say he makes a specific claim about the concept of God).

2. I don't claim that any of the views in the post are original.

2. The hypothetical debate.

Alice: No omnimax being exists. There are several ways to see that, but – for example -, an omnimax being would not create a universe with so much suffering, or with moral agents with an imperfect moral sense. They would have flawless moral knowledge.

Moreover, she would prevent at least many of the instances of moral evil that actually occur – well, actually, she wouldn't need to intervene because she would not create beings inclined to do such evil in the first place, but in any event, if such beings existed even if not created by her, she just wouldn't allow that.

Bob: You're mistaken. God exists. And he is the greatest conceivable being, so in particular, he is an omnimax being. In fact, the very existence of moral evil shows that God exists.

There is a very clear argument, defended by Craig:

P1: If God did not exist, then objective moral values and duties would not exist. [0]

P2: Objective moral values and duties do exist.

C: God exists.

Alice: I'm familiar with Craig's argument, and I agree that P2 is true, but I see no good reason to think P1 is true. Why do you believe P1?

Bob: Only theism can provide an ontological grounding of moral goodness and/or of moral obligationsas Craig's DCT does -, in the sense of informative identification.

For example, moral goodness are identified with resemblance to some qualities of God, whereas moral obligations are identified with God's commands.

This is akin to the way in which, say, water is identified with H2O, heat with molecular motion, or – to use Craig's own example – the way in which a meter – in the past – was identified with the distance between two lines on a bar in Paris. [1]

Alice: Different people in different contexts mean different things by 'God'. So, let's be clear. What do you mean?

Bob: By 'God' I mean what Craig means, i. e., the greatest conceivable being. In particular, given that moral goodness is a great-making property, God is morally perfect [2][3] and that entails he is maximally morally good.

Alice: Okay, so I will grant the water and heat identifications for the sake of the argument, but let me point out that not having an informative identification account is not a problem (see, for example, this post).

That aside, the account given by DCT, as you describe it, is not only not informative, but it seems to be circular.

In fact, the account identifies moral goodness with resemblance to God in some respects, defines the word 'God' as 'the greatest conceivable being', and uses 'great' in a way such that 'God is morally good' is a conceptual truth[2], and moreover, moral goodness is a great-making property[3].

As Craig says, asking why God is good is like asking why bachelors are unmarried.[2] But then, identifying moral goodness with resemblance to God seems akin to identifying being unmarried with resemblance to being who – by definition – is a bachelor and has such-and-such properties.

Bob: 'God' is defined in terms of greatness, not in terms of moral goodness, and it seems to me that a proper informative account of bachelorhood would identify being a bachelor with being unmarried and having such-and-such properties.

Alice: But that goes in the other direction. DCT seems similar not to an identification of bachelorhood in terms of unmarriedness – plus some other properties -, but to an identification of unmarriedness in terms of bachelorhood, or more precisely, in terms of resemblance to a certain bachelor. That seems viciously circular.

Bob: I disagree. I see no circularity problem. I don't know what you're getting at.

Alice: Okay, let's me raise the circularity issue from a different perspective. I would ask you what greatness is – that is, I'm asking for the ontological foundation of greatness, in the sense of informative identification.

If you reply that greatness is resemblance to God in some respects, and you define 'God' as 'the greatest conceivable being', then there is a circularity problem. Moreover, moral goodness is a great-making property. So, it seems that to be great is to be morally good and to have such-and-such properties (for some 'such-and-such'). But according to DCT, to be morally good is to resemble the maximally great being.

Do you see the problem?

To be great is to be morally good and to have such-and-such properties, and to be morally good is to resemble the greatest conceivable being. That seems circular.

Bob: You misunderstand the account. There is no circularity. For example, one might stipulateas it was in the past – that to be a meter long is to be as long as the distance between two lines on a certain standard bar.

If someone were to then ask what it is to be a meter long, it would be informative to tell him that to be a meter long is to be as long as the distance between two lines on the bar in question.

That is informative. The bar itself – or more precisely, the part of the bar between the two lines - has the property of being a meter long, and indeed it is the paradigm of a meter.

Similarly, God has the property of being morally good – indeed, to a maximal degree -, but also God is the paradigm of moral goodness, and that is not problematic. The account of moral goodness provided by DCT is informative.

Alice: Let's say 'meter' is defined as the distance between the lines in question, as it once was.

If someone asks what a meter is, it is proper and informative to tell her that to be a meter long is to be as long as the distance between the lines on that bar, over there, in Paris.[4], and/or that a meter is a distance equal to the distance between the lines on that bar, over there, in Paris.[4], etc.

On the other hand, it would be improper, circular, and not informative to tell her that to be a meter long is to be as long as the distance between two lines that are at a distance of one meter, or that to be a meter long is to be as long as the distance between the lines on a bar that has two lines at a distance of one meter. That's what DCT looks like, as you described it.

Do you see the problem?

Bob: I see, and know I understand in which way you misunderstand the account. There is no circularity in the account of moral goodness provided by DCT. The account does not identify moral goodness with resemblance to a being that has such-and-such properties, or more precisely the property of greatness to a maximal degree or a maximum degree. Rather, the account identifies moral goodness with resemblance to God, the maximally great being that actually exist, with respect to some relevant qualities.

In the case of the meter, the way of identifying the paradigm was to say it was the distance between two lines on that bar, over there in Paris. [4]

In the case of moral goodness – or even greatness -, the way of identifying the paradigm is to say it's the greatest conceivable being, that being who actually exists.

What's the problem?

Alice: In that case, the definition of 'God' as 'the greatest conceivable being' only plays a role as a means of identifying the object that is the paradigm, and it's not essential to the account. That avoids circularity but still leaves us in the dark as to what moral goodness is.

Bob: I don't agree.

Alice: Let us assume now and for the sake of the argument that there is an omnipotent, omniscient, maximally loving and kind being. Let's call that being 'Jane' – that's just a proper name I'm using here. To be clear, I just picked an – assumed – actual being by listing some of her properties - enough properties to identify her uniquely -, and then used a proper name – Jane – to name that being.

So, Jane is the only omnipotent, omniscient, maximally loving and kind being that exists.

Let us now pick the meter bar in Paris – that specific bar, which is still over there, in Paris [4]and let's define 'oldmeter' to be a distance equal to the distance between the two lines on that bar. That is a stipulative definition. Let us call the bar 'Ted'.

I have three questions:

1. Why is Jane morally good?

2. Why is Jane maximally great?

3. Why is the distance between the two bars on Ted one oldmeter?

Bob:

1. Jane is God, 'God' is defined as the greatest conceivable being, and it's a conceptual truth that maximal greatness entails moral goodness. So, Jane is morally good.

2. Jane is God, and 'God' is defined as the greatest conceivable being. So, Jane is maximally great.

3. Ted is the bar over there, in Paris [4], because that was stipulated – i. e., 'Ted' is the name given to the bar - , and 'oldmeter' is defined as the distance between the two lines on the bar over there, in Paris [4]. So, the distance between the two lines in Ted is one oldmeter.

Alice: Do you see why your reply to the third question is very different from your reply to the first and second questions?

Bob: No. Why?

Alice: Your reply to the third question actually informs me why the distance is one oldmeter, by explaining to me how 'oldmeter' was defined, and that 'Ted' is the name given to the bar, etc.

On the other hand, your first and second replies leave me in the dark as to why Jane is morally good, or great, let alone maximally great.

In fact, given your definition of 'God' as 'the greatest conceivable being', the first part of your replies – namely, Jane is God” - actually meansJane is the greatest conceivable being”.

But I'm asking why Jane is morally good, and why Jane is maximally great, so insisting that Jane is the greatest conceivable being leaves me in the dark as to why Jane is maximally great, or morally good. Your reply is uninformative.

From a slightly different perspective, the term 'oldmeter' is stipulatively defined as a distance equal to the distance between the two lines on the bar over there, in Paris [4], so if somebody asks why the distance between the two lines on the bar over there, in Paris [4], is one oldmeter long, it is a proper reply to explain that 'oldmeter' is defined as a distance equal to the distance between the two lines on the bar over there, in Paris [4]and of course, that distance in question is equal to itself. [b]

On the other hand, the terms 'morally good', and 'great' are not defined in any way in DCTthey are ordinary terms[c], and left undefined -, so it would be improper to answer the question of why the only omnipotent, omniscient, maximally kind and loving being that exists, is morally good – or why she is great – by bringing up a definition of God in terms of greatness and saying that the being in question is God.

In his reply to Harris[2], Craig says that asking why God is good is like asking why bachelors are unmarried. Yes, granted, as long as one keeps that definition of 'God' as 'the greatest conceivable being', it would be like asking why bachelors are unmarried, but on the other hand, asking why Jane is good, or why the only omnipotent entity that exist, or the creator of the universethat specific entity, assuming she exists is morally good, is not at all like asking why bachelors are unmarried.

If DCT is to avoid vicious circularity, it can't rely on the 'greatest conceivable being' definition of the word 'God' to answer questions like the ones I asked (e. g., 'Why is that being morally good?', 'Why is that being great?').

Bob: I don't think that Craig made any mistakes in the context with the debate with Harris[2].

Of course, the ball has to stop somewhere, and for Craig – and for me – it stops with God.

Alice: But again, that leaves us in the dark as to why Jane is morally good. It's uninformative.

Bob: It is somewhat informative. But how much information we get is an epistemic matter. Craig's metaethical argument is an ontological metaethical argument. The account does not need to be as informative as, say, “water is H2O”.

Alice: In that case, I have another question:

4. What makes it the case that Jane maximally great?

This is a question about truth-makers. What makes the statement 'Jane is maximally great' true?

Remember, I stipulated that Jane is the only omnipotent, omniscient, maximally living and kind being that exists.

Bob: Jane is maximally loving and kind, and those are all great-making properties, which she has to a maximal degree. Jane also has power and knowledge to a maximal degree – that's all great-making.

Moreover, Jane is also maximally morally good – moral goodness is another great-making property -, and generally, Jane has all of the great-making properties to a maximal degree.

That's what makes it the case that Jane is maximally great: the fact that she has all of the great-making properties to a maximal degree.

Alice: Alright, so here's another question:

5. What makes it the case that Jane is morally good?

Remember, moral goodness is a great-making property, so it can't be that greatness is a morally good-making property. That would be viciously circular. So, what makes it the case that the only omnipotent, omniscient, maximally kind and loving being – i. e., Jane -, is also morally good?

Bob: Jane is the paradigm of moral goodness. To be morally good is to resemble Jane in some respects. And of course, Jane resembles Jane.

Alice: But what makes it the case that Jane is the paradigm of moral goodness?

Unlike the meter and the meter bar, 'moral goodness' is not defined in terms of Jane.

Bob: It is a necessary brute fact that Jane is the paradigm of moral goodness. The ball has to stop somewhere. Jane is God. The ball stops with God.

Alice: Okay, so the point remains that DCT is different from the 'oldmeter' identification in that we get a proper explanation as to why the distance between the two lines on the bar[4] is one oldmeter, but on the other hand, DCT leaves us in the dark as to why Jane - the only omnipotent, omniscient, maximally good and kind entity that exists - is the paradigm of moral goodness. It provides no explanation whatever.

Bob: Again, whether the account provides us with a good amount of information – like “Water is H2O” - is not the point. You're confusing ontology with epistemology. The point remains that theism provides an ontological grounding in the sense that there is some being that exists in the mind-independent world and that serves as a paradigm of moral goodness. Without God, there would be nothing in the world that would make moral statements like 'Agent A is morally good' or 'Agent B has a moral obligation to do X' true, or at least objectively true.

Alice: But why not?

As I already explained, there is no burden on a non-theist to provide an account of objective moral values or duties in terms of informative identification. But given that you claim that there would be no objective moral values or duties without God, then it's up to you to show that no potential account would succeed.

For example, moral goodnessas a character trait - may well be a complex property, involving having such-and-such dispositions to act, feelings, etc., described without using 'morally good' or any moral [or not clearly moral; that's a variant] terms. Moral goodness in the sense of 'a good situation', etc., is handled similarly, identifying it with some features of the situation, resulting in two big disjunctions of conjunctions. And if you want a unified account – which I'm not sure is a good idea, but that aside -, then a disjunction of the two disjunctions can do the job.

In fact, the view that being a morally good person is the same as being disposed to be kind in such-and-such situations and to such-and-such agents, being caring and loving – or disposed to be caring and loving, etc. - in such-and-such situations, and so on – or something along those lines -, seems intuitively plausible.

On the other hand, the idea that to be morally good is to resemble a certain being in certain respects is much less plausible, not to mention the fact that we have excellent reasons – decisive ones – to conclude that such being does not exist.

To be clear, I am not committed to the informative identification of moral goodness that I sketched above. I have no problem recognizing that I do not know what the objective foundation of moral goodness is (see, for example, this post). The sort of identification I just suggested is just one option. My point is that perhaps moral goodness is that, and at least that identification is no less plausible than the identification contained in DCT, and no less informative.

Granted, without identifying the 'such and such', and the 'etc.', the account I suggested does not provide a very informative account, but again, there is such burden on my part (see, for example, this post), and moreover, the account provided by DCT is not more informative, since it tells us that to be morally good is to resemble God in some respects, but it does not specify what those respects are, the extent of the resemblance, etc.

Now, this view may have necessary brute facts, but so does DCT.

Bob: So, you think that that account of moral goodness is correct?

Alice: No, as I said, I take no stance – I just claim it's more plausible than the account provided by DCT. But you claim that there would be no objective moral goodness without God, so you have the burden to show that the account I suggested is false.

Bob: The problem is that without God, there would be no paradigm of moral goodness. Nothing would act as a measure of moral goodness. Without a paradigm, who or what would determine what is morally good? For example, in your account, the 'such-and-such' is not specified. But without God, who or what would determine what goes into the 'such-and-such'?

The answer is that nothing would, and moral goodness would be subjective.

Alice: But why would a paradigm be needed in the case of moral goodness, but not in other cases of objective properties?

Take, for example, the case of cruelty (for more details, see this post). There is objective cruelty. But there is no good reason to suspect that there is a paradigm of objective cruelty – if you think otherwise, why, and what is it?

So, why would the fact that there is objective moral goodness give us good reasons to think that there is a paradigm of objective goodness?

You have not provided any good reason to think that there is a paradigm of objective moral goodness, or to think that whether there is objective moral goodness depends on whether there is a paradigm of objective moral goodness.



Notes:

[a] I posted a more thorough reply to Craig's metaethical argument elsewhere. Some parts of it are outdated, in the sense that I would write them somewhat differently if I did it now, but for the most part, I would make the same arguments today.

Still, some of the arguments are improved and/or more thoroughly developed in the dialogue above. I'm writing a longer post, which will address more potential objections from a defender of Craig's argument, but I don't know when it will be ready.

[b] One might use a more precise definition in order to deal with questions like 'What if the bar is heated? Does an oldmeter remains the same?', but that is not necessary in this context. In any case, one may just stipulate for the purposes of the example that 'oldmeter' is the distance between the lines in question even if the bar is heated.

[c] It is debatable whether there is an ordinary term 'great' precise enough to be used in that context, but I'm granting that for the sake of the argument.


References:

[0] http://www.reasonablefaith.org/does-god-exist-the-craig-law-debate

[1]

William Lane Craig, “The Most Gruesome of Guests”, in “Is Goodness Without God Enough: A Debate on Faith, Secularism, and Ethics”, edited by Robert. Garcia and Nathan King.

Mark Murphy, “Theism, Atheism, and the Explanation of Moral Value”, in “Is Goodness Without God Enough: A Debate on Faith, Secularism, and Ethics”, edited by Robert. Garcia and Nathan King.

Also, Morriston explains what Craig means by 'ontological foundation' or 'grounding' in “God and the Ontological Foundation of Morality”, Religious Studies (2012) 48, 15–34 f Cambridge University Press 2011

Link: http://spot.colorado.edu/~morristo/DoesGodGround.html

[2] http://www.reasonablefaith.org/is-the-foundation-of-morality-natural-or-supernatural-the-craig-harris

[3] http://www.reasonablefaith.org/defining-god

[4] http://physics.nist.gov/cuu/Units/meter.html

16 comments:

Harpia Empírica said...

I've just seen this now. Great work, Angra!

I'm a bit lost though. It seems as if, although "defining" God as the GCB seems to be an impossible move to the DCTist, a way out would be trying to make it sound like a property of God. However I'm not entirely if that is logically possible.

Trying to point out to God with "It's the only GCB you see up there!" seems a bit weird and certainly flawed.

Harpia Empírica said...

I tried to send you an e-mail about this, but I couldn't find your address.

It is a question about morality, however it isn't about Craig's argument or something like that. I couldn't find any appropriate place to leave this comment, but here we go.

In an attempt to prove homosexual acts immoral, I've heard the following argument:

(1) People that do A tend to do B
(2) B is immoral, hence
(3) A is immoral (or possibly immoral).

This is the form of the argument, obviously. The person I was talking with replaced A with "homosexual sex" and B with "engaging in promiscual lifestyles".
My first reaction to this was similar to my reaction to the ontological argument. "Something here is obviously wrong!" I thought. I just can't find what.

It seems that (3) does not follow from (1) or (2), but I'm in dark on how to show that. If we try to use the argument to make homosexuality sound immoral then all one has to do is to show how (1) would be in shaky grounds. But that's not what troubling me, it is the structure of the argument itself. It is interesting because It does not entail that morality is subjective, at least I don't think so.

So what do you think of this argument? Are there any flaws on it or further defence of the premises is needed? Or can this flaws be spotted easily and I'm just looking to the wrong place?

Again, I'm only posting this here because I couldn't find any other way to contact you. Thanks

Angra Mainyu said...

Thanks, Harpia Empirica

Yes, the DCTist can say that maximal greatness is a property of God.
But then, one may ask: "Why is God maximally great?"
If the DCTist replies it's by definition, the move does not work: one may as well ask: "Why is the only omnipotent being that exists, maximally great?" (assuming such being existed)

The DCTist might reply that he's maximally great because he has omnipotence, omniscience, moral goodness, etc., and generally all great-making properties to a maximal degree. But then, one may ask: "Why is the only omnipotent being that exists, morally good?"
It would be circular to reply that he's morally good because he's maximally great, so that option is not available.

As usual, the theist might say that the ball has to stop somewhere, but the problem is that the non-theist can then make a parallel move - and there is always the argument from objective cruelty- (I'm planning to post a full-length version of the hypothetical debate with more details later - including the argument from objective cruelty -, but I'm still improving some points.)

Angra Mainyu said...

With respect to the argument against gay sex, it's meant to be a probabilistic argument.

However, there are a number of problems, such as:

a. If "promiscual" means "having more sexual partners than the average", or "having many sexual partners", or something along those lines, then I would simply reject the claim that it's immoral. Why would having sex with more people be immoral?
b. If it means something else, I would ask what it means.
c. Even if it were immoral to have more sexual partners that the average, a gay person who has only one would not be incurring immorality. And given that a person may still choose what to do, it does not seem immoral.
d. If "tend to do B" means "are more likely to do B than those who don't do A", then one might reply with the following parody:

(Q1) People who have sex are more likely to engage in a promiscuous lifestyle of their own free will than people who never have sex.
(Q2) Engaging in promiscuous lifestyles of one's own free will is always immoral.
(C) It's probably immoral to have sex.

(Q1) is obviously true, and (Q2) is false (assuming I'm right about what they mean by "promiscual"), but the person making the argument believes it's true.
If "tend to do B" means something else, I would ask what it means.

Another parody:

(Q1') People who have sex tend to have sex out of wedlock of their own free will.
(Q2') Having sex out of wedlock of one's own free will is always immoral.
(C') It's probably immoral for people to have sex.

(Q2') is false, but the person making the anti-gay-sex argument almost certainly believes it's true.
(Q1') is clearly true, even if "tend to" means "usually", or something like that (though that would be a problem for the argument on its own, but regardless).

If you want to ask in greater detail, maybe you could start a threat at www.freeratio.org.

Harpia Empírica said...

Wow, thanks Angra. You're a lifesaver.

With regards to DCT, I understand the circularity problem. I'm eager to hear more of the argument from object cruelty.

And with regards to the anti-gay-sex argument,

Your approach is brilliant. However:

I think promiscuity is immoral because of the public health issues raised by it. An elevated number of sexual partners increases the chances of contracting STD's, for example. And this never is a problem only to the infected person.

"Tend to do B" can mean that "are more likely to do B than those who don't do A" surely, but it can also mean "very likely to do B" (although there is less 'science' supporting the latter on the gay-sex case). In that case, it seems the above parodies are not apllicable with the second definition, are they?

Angra Mainyu said...

The argument from objective cruelty is a straightforward parallel to the argument from objective morality.

P1: If an essentially maximally cruel being did not exist, objective cruelty does not exist.
P2: Objective cruelty does exist.
C: An essentially maximally cruel being exists.

The argument is valid, and while it's obviously not sound, it parallels Craig - why would one be inclined to accept premise 1 of Craig's metaethical argument, but not P1 above?

As for the point you raise, and "tend to do B" means "very likely to do B", then the second parody still works (and also, there are plenty of more direct arguments in that case, but that aside).
For example, a more precise parody goes as follows:

Taking data from the US (it may vary elsewhere, but the point still holds in the US, and in any case it holds in most countries at least), 68.9% of women aged 15-44 had more than one opposite-sex sexual partner. The percentage of women aged 15-44 who had straight sex and had more than one sexual partner is higher than that (over 75%) because 8.6% had no opposite-sex sexual partners.
Only a minuscule percentage of those women with more than one opposite-sex sexual partner actually are widows (not part of the data, but just obvious because the percentage of widows that age is extremely low), and people who divorce and remarry behave immorally according to Christianity (or versions of Christianity encompassing the vast majority of Christians, and very probably your opponent).
In the case of men, the percentage of those who had more than one female sexual partner is 77.9, but 9.6% had zero, so the percentage of those who had (straight) sex who also had more than one female sexual partner is over 86%.

Sources:
http://www.cdc.gov/nchs/nsfg/key_statistics/n.htm#numberlifetime
http://www.cdc.gov/nchs/data/nhsr/nhsr036.pdf

So, given the numbers, we get.

(Q1'') People who have straight sex are very likely to have straight sex without being married.
(Q2'') Having straight sex without being married is immoral.
(C'') Having straight sex is probably immoral.

Here, only first marriages count as "marriage", save for death of one spouse. Not that I believe (Q2''), but your opponent probably does.

Regarding multiple sexual partners, I'd like to make a couple of points:

1. Sexual activity with one sexual partner also increases the risk of STDs with respect to the risk with zero partners. Would that make sex with a single partner immoral? (reproduction can be achieved without actual sexual contact in many cases, by artificial insemination).
If the answer is "no", then increased risk is, per se, not enough to make sexual activity immoral, it seems.

2. Some sexual acts are much less risky than others, and sometimes sexual act X1 with 10 partners would increase the risk less than sexual act X2 with 1 partner (for some adequate X1, X2). So, if the question is about increased risk of STD, there is plenty of ways (actually, not so uncommon ways) in which people (gay or straight) can have many with only minor increases in risk.

3. As long as the people involved in the sexual relation are clearly both willing to take the risk, I don't see why it would be immoral, in general. We may stipulate that the risk is reduced considerably by means of different types of condoms. For that matter, playing football increases the likelihood of some serious negative health consequences due to impact, and the risk of causing such damage to someone else. And going on a road trip increases the risk of dying in a car accident - or having one's children killed in a car accident, if one has children and take them -, and also the risk of killing some other people. My point here also is that increased risk per se is not enough to show that a behavior is immoral. It depends on factors such as who bears the risk, the amount of risk, how much information the person has about that, etc.

Harpia Empírica said...

That helps a lot, Angra.

The second parody may work for Christians but surpsingly my opponent isn't one, this argument is based only on the risks a person takes while living promiscual lives.

The problem with making analogies that include "increasing the risks of something bad happening" is that one can swtich that for "very likely something bad will happen". This is true for promiscual lives, I think, but not for road trips and footbal. Perhaps something related with the army will do, but all I can think of are not freely chosen by the individual. At least I don't know of people who "volunteered to go to war".

The risk can be reduced by using condoms but one might simply switch "living promiscual lives" on the original argument for "living promiscual lives unprotected", which would explain why there is a higher % of gay people infected comparing to straight people.

That's the problem of the argument. It is difficult to make an analogy to it under the "very likely" definition of "tend to do".

How many other situations would fit in? To work, both A and B have to be freely chosen by the individual. B has to be a high risk activity.

Again, thanks for your help.

Harpia Empírica said...

Another problem I see with this is that it leaves us with a non-objective moral source.
Since the criteria used to label B are not the ones used to label A, in fact, it seems A is only wrong because people who do it tend to do B.

It happens that in the case of gay sex it is possible/conceivable that in the future or on another possible world premise 1 would be false. Then we are left with no reasons that would make A immoral. In that case it would mean that morality is subjective rather than objective: anything people might do under which there is a tendency to do B also would be immoral. Going to nightclubs frequently might be a guess (although I'm in need of better examples that would account for the 'very likely' definition of 'tend to").

Now a question about the argument from objective cruelty: I always thought a parallel for Craig's argument would be something like "argument from objective immorality". Because Craig isn't doing an argument from moral goodness, is he? Although I suppose he would never deny that DCT is based on a morally perfect being.

Angra Mainyu said...

On the objective vs. subjective issue, that wouldn't make morality subjective. For example, it is immoral to knowingly drive on the left side on the road in the US. It's not immoral to do so in the UK. That does not mean morality is subjective. In the context of his defenses of the metaethical argument, Craig either uses the term 'objective' inconsistently, or else he makes a number of false claims about what would be objective, or about what is required for something to be objective.
But in a usual sense of the words - which Craig appears to try to capture -, as long as whether a certain behavior is immoral is a matter of fact - not a matter of opinion -, and some behaviors are immoral (for example) premise 2 of the metaethical argument is true.

With regard to the argument from objective cruelty, actually Craig uses the rather obscure expression "objective moral values", but he is arguing that moral goodness - and moral wrongness, moral badness, etc. - are all objective, that moral matters are objective matters, etc.
But to see this, one can try one of Craig's own arguments - as I did.
In order to illustrate what it means to say that something is objectively wrong, he explains that the Holocaust was morally wrong even if the Nazis believed otherwise, and it would have been morally wrong even if the Nazis had won the war and changed the world so that everyone left would believe it was good and right. ( http://www.reasonablefaith.org/defenders-2-podcast/transcript/s4-19 )
An argument from objective immorality wouldn't work as a parallel, because Craig already claims that immorality - or moral wrongness - is indeed objective (his own example of the Holocaust shows that). But one does not need an independent foundation of moral wrongness if one already has a foundation of moral duties, because to behave in a morally wrong way is to engage in behavior one has a moral duty not to engage in.

Angra Mainyu said...

With regard to the anti-gay argument, can you ask your opponent what he means by "tend to", and what he means by "promiscual"? (i.e., how many sexual partners in how long a period?).

Angra Mainyu said...


If the debate is in some forum, blog, etc., could you post a link, please?

Alternatively, could you invite your opponent to register either at secularcafe.org, or talkfreethought.org, and make his case? (sorry I posted a wrong address earlier, freeratio.org is closed).

It would be much easier to address his argument without having to guess what he means or why he claims some behaviors are immoral.

Angra Mainyu said...



With regard to the examples of taking a road trip or playing football, that was not a reply to one of your opponent's arguments. It was a reply to one of your arguments. More precisely, you said earlier: "I think promiscuity is immoral because of the public health issues raised by it. An elevated number of sexual partners increases the chances of contracting STD's, for example. And this never is a problem only to the infected person."
However, if a person takes a road trip with her children, that increases the risk of car accidents for her and her children. Moreover, even driving a car increases the risk that a person - say - hits someone with her car - or even that he negligently hits someone . And playing rugby, increases the risk of suffering a number of serious injuries, or inflicting them on others. And so on.

So, could you please clarify what you mean by "promiscuity" (i.e., how many sexual partners in how long a period?), and why you think it's immoral but the other activities that increase risks are not immoral?

Another issue: you say: "The risk can be reduced by using condoms but one might simply switch "living promiscual lives" on the original argument for "living promiscual lives unprotected", which would explain why there is a higher % of gay people infected comparing to straight people. "

That would not work, for a number of reasons, but for example:
1. If "tend to" means "increases the frequency of", or something like that, then we're back to the parodies involving having straight sex, driving a car, playing football or rugby, etc.
2. If "tend to" means "it's very likely that", or something like that, a higher frequency of STDs among gay people than among straight people does not remotely show that gay people very likely have multiple sexual partners unprotected.

As before, I would suggest that you ask your opponent what he means by "tend to", and how many sexual partners he counts as "promiscuous" (or "promiscual", by which I reckon he means "promiscuous").

Harpia Empírica said...

Sorry about the "promiscous"/"promiscual" issue. That was a brute error of mine (shamed really, I'll blame that on the fact that English is not my native language)

Yes, I asked him to make his case and I allowed him to post it in my blog. I'm new to blogger so it's still in my name, but he calls himself Dexter on the internet.

http://harpiaempirica.blogspot.com.br/2015/02/a-curious-argument-against-homosexual.html

Angra Mainyu said...

Okay, I'll take a look, and reply over there on the gay sex argument.

And no problem, we all make spelling mistakes.

Narciso Suzishiro said...

Hey Angra. I asked you help with a moral argument against gay sex some time ago, and I thank you for the help you've given me. As I still couldn't find another way of contacting you, I'm posting it here and I hope this is no trouble.

There is another argument I wanted to tell you, and this time it is by Edward Feser. I started a thread over it at talkfreethought.org.

I might be annoying in asking you help with it, but I've just now began to study philsophy more seriously and I still get confused while arguing. Here is the link:

http://talkfreethought.org/showthread.php?4491-Edward-Feser-s-argument-for-the-immorality-of-sex-(that-doesn-t-result-in-reproduction)&p=139635#post139635

Angra Mainyu said...

Hey Narciso,

I'll take a look. But I suggest you ask that your thread be moved to the "Moral Foundations and Principles" subforum (that's the subforum for ethical and metaethical arguments).

P.S: You can contact me from TFT, using the email function.