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Friday, February 03, 2017


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Hi Bill,

“Everyone who acknowledges me before others I will acknowledge before my heavenly Father. But whoever denies me before others, I will deny before my heavenly Father.”‭‭ (Matt ‭10:32-33‬)

The external-internal apostasy distinction is foreign to the teaching of Christ. Faithfulness has to be externalized, and an external rejection is taken as a sign of some measure of internal faithlessness. So I think Rodrigues has the obligation not to commit apostasy, regardless of the consequences. Like Anselm says, if God told you not to look in a particular direction, even though by looking you could save the whole world from destruction, you still ought not to look. We are never commanded to love our neighbor by denying God, even only formally, which is a grave sin.


On the first suggested justification of the trampling:

An objection could be raised: Some acts are not merely external, but, at least in the given cultural/historical/language context, necessarily also internal; plus, the trampling is one of them.

And if not the trampling, what about something even more explicit (insert an example of extremely obscene desecration)?

Or all we prepared to claim that all acts are ever merely external? So that anything can be done externally to prevent immense enough suffering -- given only that one dislikes internally what he's doing extetnally?

On a minor a historical side, I am not finding in the relevant ch. 7 of Elison's book Deus Destroyed (1988, Harvard UP) any claim to the effect that blackmailing via other people (unwilling to be martyrs) was used in the 17th century Japan. This raises the question whether it was used there at all, or how often, and to what extent it is, rather, merely fictional elaboration. I would also like to know whether and how often a similar strategy was used elsewhere. If anyone reading this knows, please inform us.

Thanks for the comments, gentlemen. But I note that neither of you addressed the central point of my post, namely, that contrary to Quinn, R. does not face an ethical dilemma.


As for that central claim, I was never sure about its assumption that ought implies can.

Suppose S1 is blamelessly determined at t1 (the precise mechanism does not matter) to torture S2 just for fun at t2. S1 should not do that, even if he is blameless; in this sense, what he does at t2 is 'wrong' but not 'bad'.

You might reply that then at least 'bad' implies 'can', and that with some variations you could run the argument once more. You might be correct.

I add another minor note: Quinn's claim D is doubtful. One could read Jesus as saying that the first commandment takes precedence over the second one.

This is a little frivolous comment, having nothing to do with the post, but being Portuguese (like the unfortunate Fathers in the story) and signing my name as "G. Rodrigues", when reading "G. Rodrigues faces a dilemma;" for a split second I was disoriented and asked myself "I do?".

I should have said: You might reply that 'good' (the contrarious opposite of 'bad') implies 'can'.


The frivolity of your comment does nevertheless have the virtue of pointing up the infelicity of my typography.

I apologize for the temporary disorientation.

I am now anticpating similar complaints from J. Rodrigues and K. Rodriguez -- for some reason I typed 'z' for 's. That would make it Spanish, nicht wahr?


>>Suppose S1 is blamelessly determined at t1 (the precise mechanism does not matter) to torture S2 just for fun at t2. S1 should not do that, even if he is blameless; in this sense, what he does at t2 is 'wrong' but not 'bad'.<<

This putative counterexample has come up in the literature, right?

I think a behavior (e.g. Fidel's torturing of political dissidents) can be axiologically substandard, a disvalue, without being morally wrong/evil/bad if the agent is a deterministic system.

I'll have to think more about how exactly this relates to my argument above.

>>I add another minor note: Quinn's claim D is doubtful. One could read Jesus as saying that the first commandment takes precedence over the second one.<<

You mean (C). That occurred to me too. Quinn could say in response: to love one's neighbor as oneself is to love the image of Christ/God in the neighbor. It is arguable that the two commandments say the same thing, in which case neither takes precedence over the other.

What makes me lovable? The divine image within me. Otherwise I am not particularly lovable. The same goes for everyone else. 'Neighbor' I take it refers to everyone, not nearby people. Now how can I love all these people equally and as myself unless what I am loving in them and in myself is nothing empirical, but the divine image?

"Love they neighbor, but choose they neighborhood" is not a Christian principle.

So I think a case can be made that the two commandments say the same thing in different ways.

'thy' not 'they.' I need another cup of coffee.


Similar counterexamples certainly have been discussed in the literature. But I am no expert on the ought-can issue. Anyway, if I recall correctly, Brentano, e.g., rejects that implication somewhere in his Foundation and Construction of Ethics.

Next, I don't know it is just the divine image that makes you particularly lovable. What about your rational and free nature, combined with your moral decency? Something like this could make you, and everyone alike, very lovable, in comparison with everything which does not satisfy that description. But God is even more perfect, and so much more lovable. Hence the first commandment takes precedence over the second one.

Also, your argument against Quinn seems to imply that his assumptions are inconsistent. But then anything follows from them, including the claim that R. does face an ethical dilemma.

So not The Foundation and Construction of Ethics, but The Origin of our Knowledge of Right and Wrong. Brentano writes in the note On the Charge of Excessive Rigorism:

"It is certain that no man can entirely avoid error. Nevertheless, avoidable or not, every erroneous judgement is a judgement that ought not to have been made, a judgement in conflict with the requirements of logic, and these cannot be modified. The rules of logic are not to be given up merely because of the weakness of our powers of reasoning. Similarly, the rules of ethics are not to be given up because of weakness of will. If a man is weak willed, ethics cannot cease to demand from him that he love what is known to be good, prefer what is known to be better, and place the highest good above all else. Even if one could show (and one cannot) that there are circumstances under which no one could remain true to the highest good, there would not be the slightest justification for setting aside the requirements of ethics. The one and only correct rule would remain evident and unalterably true: Give preference in every case to that which is better."


The divine image in a person just is his free and rational personhood, isn't it?

>>Also, your argument against Quinn seems to imply that his assumptions are inconsistent. But then anything follows from them, including the claim that R. does face an ethical dilemma.<<

Clever. Formally, you are right. But this is surely a degenerate case of following-from.

The quotation from Brentano is very relevant to present concerns of mine. Thanks!

Brentano: >>Similarly, the rules of ethics are not to be given up because of weakness of will.<< True, but what we have in the present case is a man of indomitably strong will who, on Quinn's reading, cannot do what he ought to do.


Even if the divine image is what you are suggesting, the One whose image it is is to be loved much more. So C is false; the first commandment takes precedence.

My suggestion: even so, it does not follow one should not trample. Loving God more, even much more, than others does not imply discounting them to all extents -- e.g., to the extent that one should not trample on God's image although they trampled already and will be continue to be tortured if one does not trample. Maybe some acts are wrong intrinsically, regardless of the consequences. But the trampling is not one of them. Indeed, intuitively it seems to me that one should trample. So there is no ethical dilemma. But I guess most moral theologians -- at least up to, say, J. H. Newman -- would disagree.

Secondly, the Brentano quotation or my earlier putative counterexample undermine that 'ought' implies 'can'. You seem to be replying: neither undermines that 'ought' implies logical/conceptual 'can'. With that I agree.


I grant you that there is a clear sense in which the first commandment takes precedence over the second. Quinn probably meant the following: neither takes precedence over the other in the sense that both are obligatory even in rare 'crunch' situations such as the one R. finds himself in.

Be that as it may. I am glad we agree that there is no ethical dilemma. R. did right to trample. But as you appreciate, this implies that apostasy is not intrinsically wrong -- assuming that the external trampling with mental reservations counts as apostasy.

Thanks again for the Brentano passage which requires a separate post.

Much rides on what 'can' and 'ought' are taken to be. Surely it is logically possible that no person ever make a logical mistake.

Suppose I see though a telescope that you are being viciously attacked physically high up on a mountain across from a river teeming with piranha and alligators. You say to me: You ought to have come to my aid! I pull Kant out of my back pocket and invoke his aid: Ought implies can! I could not have come to your aid in time because I was too far away and I am not Superman. I couldn't do it, so I was under no obligation to do it.

Not every 'ought' is agential: there are non-agential oughts. I suspect that that is the sort of 'ought' in play in 'The laws of logic ought always to be observed.' It merely says that worlds in which said laws are always observed are axiologically superior to worlds in which they are not.

Suppose someone thinks that there is an ethics of belief and that one is ethically obliged to avoid all logical errors. Then I will say that there cannot be any such ethical obligation because we lack the real ability to satisfy the demand.

So I think I can respond to the putative Brentano counterexamples by making the agential/non-agential distinction among oughts.

Thanks for the discussion.

Thank you, too.

But what do you say to the putative counterexample above? S1 is blamelessly -- maybe even rarely but repeatedly -- determined to torture someone else. It still seems there is an agential and ethical sense in which S1 ought not to do that. Although he strictly cannnot not to.


Note the ambiguity of 'S is determined to do X.' In one sense it is compatible with libertarian freedom of the will: I freely formulate and execute the intention to return to Prague. You mean it in a second sense. S is not a L-free agent. His behavior is determined/necessitated by the actual past and the laws of nature.

Your argument is this:

0. S ought not torture
1. If S ought not torture, then S is able to refrain from torturing.
2. It is not the case that S is able to refrain from torturing. (Because determinism is true)
3. It is not the case that S ought not torture.
4. (1) is false.

One response to this is that it shows that determinism is false. Kant's principle (O --> C) is more credible than determinism.

A second response is that two senses of 'ought' are in play and that the reasoning falls victim to equivocation.

One might argue that (0) really boils down to the claim that a world whose agents torture ought not exist, or is worese than a world whose agents do not torture. This could be so even if all agents are determined to act as they do.

A third response would be to re-interpret the Kantian principle in a compatibilist way. Accordingly, if you ought to do X, then you have the real ability to do it (it is not just logically possible that you do it) and you are free to do it in the compatibilist sense of 'free' but are still determined to do it.

"The second is that, given the silence of God, it is much better known (or far more reasonably believed) that the prisoners should be spared from unspeakable torture by a mere foot movement than that God exists and that Rodrigues' exterior act of apostasy would be an offence God as opposed to a mere betrayal by Rodrigues of who he is and has become by his life choices."

Since I disagree that my namesake did right trampling the fumie, let me take a shot at it. As far as I can understand the argument, the conclusion seems to be inferred from the second commandment (or from considerations akin to it). In your point A. it is rendered as "Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself". If we ought to love our neighbor as ourselves, and that implies that if an act of "exterior apostasy" (the split interior-exterior is telling here) would spare prisoners "unspeakable torture" then it ought to be done, then, it must also be true if an act "exterior apostasy" would spare *ourselves* "unspeakable torture" -- after all, it is definitely not the case that we should love ourselves *less* than our neighbor -- then it ought to be done. But this implies that martyrdom for God is never to be chosen: if a State authority say, compels us to deny the Faith on pain of gruesome torture, it is preferable to perform the "exterior act" of denying the Faith and presumably, console ourselves with the though that it was all a fib and in our Heart of Hearts we still hold dear to it. I take this as a reductio against your conclusion.

BV refuted by GR?

I guess not. Probably, there is a morally relevant difference between (i) letting myself -- by my not trampling -- to be tortured, and (ii) letting others -- by my not trampling -- to be tortured although they have trampled already.


That is exactly what I would say to GR. I am considering a very special case. S. R. does not apostasize to save himself but to save the converts.

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