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Sunday, September 27, 2015


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I am not clear why obligation necessarily has to be grounded in the will of a conscious entity. What is the basis for James' claim that this amounts to superstition? It seems to me that feeling an obligation that doesn't obviously derive from anyone in particular is a universal human experience, prior to theories about its origin.

My understanding of William's argument is that there are such good reasons for affirming both contradictory sentences that it is "unreasonable" to affirm one at the price of denying the other. Bernard Lonergan, an interpreter of Aristotle and Aquinas, grounds the possibility of ethics in two innate human desires: the desire to know truly and the desire to act in accordance with what one knows to be true. I take this to be Lonergan's version of the Thomist solution, which William says tapers off into the mystical. I agree with William, and add that the realm of the mystical is the realm of ineffable things, the realm of wordless "apophatic prayer," as opposed to the realm of discursive "kataphatic prayer." I realize that to speak of "prayer" on a philosophy blog is a bit like speaking blasphemy in church, but I believe that William opened up this by pointing out that the Thomist solution tapers off into the mystical. It is not a discursive solution, but one at which a philosopher can point, whether with reverence or scorn.


You appreciate very well the spirit of my above entry. The Euthyphro dilemma as I see it is genuine: it is not a pseudo-problem. It makes perfect sense, and will inevitably occur to people who think deeply enough. But it is insoluble unless one 'ascends' to something like the divine simplicity which is ineffable.

You also appreciate that, faced with the Ineffable, some philosophers will react with reverence and others with scorn. The Tractarian Wittgenstein, for example, versus that miserable positivist Carnap. I have just signalled my allegiance.

Thanks for the substantive post, Bill. I'm inclined to accept the Thomistic move, even if it requires ascent to the ineffable.

A question:

>>For on either horn, God is a supreme commander, and this makes little sense if God is self-subsistent Being itself. One feels tempted to say that on either horn God is a being among beings.<<

It seems that the second sentence is plausible on the assumption that being a "being among beings" (BAB) is a necessary condition for being a commander. In other words, a non-BAB can't command. The argument seems to be: If a being issues and enforces commands, then that being is a BAB. God issues and enforces commands. Therefore, etc.

But what if we deny the assumption that being a BAB is a necessary condition for being a commander?

If God is Being/Goodness/Reason Itself and God's commands flow from His eternal nature to humans via natural law and conscience, then God's commands are not issued in the way BAB commands are issued, nor are they enforced in the way BAB commands are enforced. Rather, they are written, so to speak, on our hearts and minds.

The Thomist might deny the assumption that only a BAB can command. Rather, he might hold that God is moral and rational Normativity Itself, and that God's normatives are communicated and enforced via a rightly formed conscience, not from one BAB to another.

No time now for much of a response, but if God is what he commands, then there is the puzzle how he could freely command what he commands.

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