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Wednesday, March 16, 2011


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Thanks for the post.

While I am a theist, and would very much like argument (C) to succeed, I am doubtful of the truth of (3), which is required for the argument's success: after all, we seem to owe our parents more than is in our power to do (cf. Aristotle, EN 1163b 18-22), which appears to present a prima facie counterexample to (3). Similar counterexamples could be multiplied.

Also, might a resolution to (1)-(3) like (B) not be given that employs a distinction between active and passive potencies rather than between agential and non-agential oughts? Construed in that way, we would get from (1)-(3) the non-aporetic triad

1'. I ought to be morally perfect.
2'. I do not have an active potency for moral perfection
3'. What I ought to be or to do, I have a potency, be it active or passive, for being or doing.

Drawing such a distinction between passive and active potencies sounds, to me at any rate, more plausible than the postulation of non-agential oughts.

You're welcome.

I've just now reread EN 1163b18-22 but I don't see that it is a counterexample to the 'Ought' implies 'Can' principle. Aristotle's point is that we cannot repay our parents for what they have done for us. He is not claiming that we ought to repay them.

I don't think that Aristotle's point is is that weak: the Apostle translation has him saying that "he [the son] will always be in debt" to his father, and the Ross translation reads, "being in debt, [the son] should repay" his father proportional to his merits, "but there is nothing by doing which a son will have done the equivalent of what he has received, so that he is always in debt" (emphasis mine). So Aristotle does seem to claim that we owe our parents an unreciprocable debt.

Aquinas, for what it's worth, makes a similar claim about God at ST, II-II:93:2, corpus: "whatever man does is less than he owes God."

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