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Friday, December 01, 2023


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In what way is the ED different from this question:

Is the proposition "1+1=2" true because God believes it, or does God believe it because it's true?

Can God falsify the proposition "1+1=2"?

Can He make the sum of the interior angles of a Euclidian triangle equal more or less than 180 degrees?

In the same way, can God falsify the proposition, "It is morally wrong intentionally to kill an infant in the crib(/womb)"?

If the logical properties and relations of certain of God's (broadly speaking mathematical) creations follow necessarily from the essences of those created things (e.g.squares, circles), then why shouldn't the MORAL properties of things be similarly entailed by their essences?

If God can't make a square circle, why should he be able to make a rational animal that can murder, morally?

I hate to vanInwagen (peter?) it, but i've never seen the problem.


the problem is that if there's a "Goodness" distinct from God then a dependency is getting introduced. God being good then is not due to his own nature, but rather because he accommodates an external standard. The link between pure actuality, simplicity and goodness would be severed, which would also make that independent "Goodness" unintelligible.

Lastly, I don't see how God could be the final cause of humans if he wasn't Goodness itself.

Van Inwagen wouldn't see the problem because he doesn't understand DDS.

You don't understand the problem posed by the Euthyphro Dilemma.

>>In the same way, can God falsify the proposition, "It is morally wrong intentionally to kill an infant in the crib(/womb)"?<<

The question posed by the ED is not whether God can falsify the proposition; the question is -- GIVEN that the proposition is true -- is it true independently of God or is its truth dependent on God? If the former, then God is subject to a moral standard external to him in violation of the divine sovereignty. If the latter, then the normativity of the proposition derives from a contingent fact about the divine will, in violation of our intuition that that the proposition is not just true, but necessarily true.

I think that I am being misunderstood.

My proposal: "murder is immoral" follows from the essence "rational animal" in the same way that "has internal angles summing to 180 degrees" follows from the essence "triangle".

There's definitely a problem in the neighbourhood, but it has nothing to do with what god does or does not love.

BV: if the notion of truth's relation to god is problematic, then it's surely not a particular problem for morality: is the proposition "the internal angles of a triangle are always 180 degrees" true because of, or in spite of, god?

DK: i don't see how Goodness-with-a-capital-G comes into it: the existence of a transcendental property(?) offers precisely zero guidance to the individual decisions of decision-making, freely willing individuals.


the point is that it's not just a transcedental. In the Platonist ontology the Form of the Good is the One, the origin of everything.

In your proposal you haven't done any kind of metaphysical heavy lifting. In fact, without proper bolstering you're just smuggling concepts. Why is it immoral? Where does the presupposed normativity come from? Answering the socratic questions would eventually lead to the first simple being that is identical to Goodness, not separate or an ideal representative of it. I agree that it by itself doesn't give you the moral guidance, I think animal nature is what dictates the exact contents of moral obligations. But they are true in virtue of what? It is only by Goodness itself that these moral propositions can have any truth value at all.

I guess my point is that there's nothing heavy to lift...

Why is murder immoral? While I have an answer, it's probably not much more helpful than the answer to the question, "Why do the internal angles of a triangle need to add-up to 180 degrees?", or, "Why ~(P&~P)?"

Normativity just IS - it is inherent to rationality. One might as well wonder, "where do triangles come from?"

If something is rational (and, therefore, free), then there are things it ought to do, and things it ought not to do. Because that's just what it means to be rational.

"Goodness" (with a capital G) is something shared to a greater or lesser extent by everything that exists; it's not an exclusively moral property (though the elision is understandable).

The point I was attempting to make (poorly), is that (e.g.) "murder is immoral" is true (if true) because of something to do with the moral agent committing the act, and NOT god.

Put differently: when god created man, he didn't have to do anything else to fix man's basic moral code.

And, as with Bill's previous comment, I simply do not understand this: "X ought to do Y" can only be true if...what? God says so?

The proposition "It's immoral to murder" is true if it's immoral to murder.

Why would the truth-conditions for prescriptive propositions be different from those for descriptive propositions?

The objection "DDS entails the collapse of modal distinctions" is one Aquinas himself considered; SCG, book 1, chapter 81 "That God does not will other things in a necessary way" and chapter 85 "That the divine will does not remove contingency from things, nor does it impose absolute necessity on them" specifically address it.

Let me approach this from a different angle.

>>>If something is rational (and, therefore, free), then there are things it ought to do, and things it ought not to do<<<

I grant you this. We're all rational, we have the capacity for moral agency.

>>>"Goodness" (with a capital G) is something shared to a greater or lesser extent by everything that exists; it's not an exclusively moral property (though the elision is understandable).<<<

And yes, this is correct as well. Moral goodness is a subset of Goodness.

>>>The point I was attempting to make (poorly), is that (e.g.) "murder is immoral" is true (if true) because of something to do with the moral agent committing the act, and NOT god.<<<

Here is the issue. In the second quotation you affirmed the reality of Goodness. That's correct, of course. Without objective Goodness, the judgment of goodness of moral actions becomes impossible and devolves into individual judgment.
Your approach is heavily inspired by natural law and I agree that it's by far the best way to make sense of certain moral laws or obligations. Murder is wrong because of our natures.
However we require the overarching framework for ethics or moral judgments. Otherwise the idea of "murder is wrong" can't be made sense of. In that way, we require both, the individual nature in question, as well as Goodness in order to give "murder is immoral" any kind of truth value.

In regards to the discussion about the Eutyphro Dilemma, this is also why the question has a religious significance and the attempt to avoid it is a motivator to affirm Divine Simplicity.

Either the moral goodness is contingent upon the commandments of God, which we all here reject. Or God himself calls upon a higher standard of Goodness that he himself is dependent upon or can be judged by. Going back to the ontology in Plotinus' Enneads, God isn't the One, but gets demoted to the role of the demiurge. And in this case I'd believe him to be irrelevant, since it would be the One that we as finite beings would find our end goal to be in. And it would be the One in which the dilemma would be solved; due to his nature as Goodness itself, every kind of commandment would already be in accordance with itself. No arbitrariness, since the Goodness itself is immutable. No calling to a higher standard, because it's already Goodness itself.

Michael Brazier,

You are right. Aquinas also makes the point in ST. https://maverickphilosopher.typepad.com/maverick_philosopher/2020/03/summa-theologica-q-19-art-3-whether-whatever-god-wills-he-wills-necessarily.html

My question for you is whether you think this argument is sound:

1) Classical theism is untenable if the ED cannot be defeated.

2) The ED can be defeated only if DDS is true.

3) DDS entails the collapse of modal distinctions.


4) Classical theism is untenable. It is inconsistent with the collapse of modal distinctions. This is because, on classical theism, God is metaphysically necessary while the world of creatures is metaphysically contingent.


Your response to Doran is good. Your view, I take it, is that the ED can be defeated, i.e., shown to be a false dilemma, only if DDS is true. DDS amounts to the identification of the ONE of Plotinus with the personal God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. It amounts to the view that self-subsistent ESSE is a person, that Being (esse) is a person. That is hard to make sense of. Besides, it seems to lead to the collapse of modal distinctions.

The argument is valid, but 3) is false, so the conclusion fails. See ST I, q. 19, art. 3:

"But God wills things apart from Himself in so far as they are ordered to His own goodness as their end. Now in willing an end we do not necessarily will things that conduce to it, unless they are such that the end cannot be attained without them; as, we will to take food to preserve life, or to take ship in order to cross the sea. But we do not necessarily will things without which the end is attainable, such as a horse for a journey which we can take on foot, for we can make the journey without one. The same applies to other means. Hence, since the goodness of God is perfect, and can exist without other things inasmuch as no perfection can accrue to Him from them, it follows that His willing things apart from Himself is not absolutely necessary."

I don't think you gave this, the main argument of the article, the attention it deserves back in the day.

Bill: Your resolution of the Euthyphro Dilemma in DDS is good, and I also agree that the DDS solution is problematic because it involves modal collapse. The problem seems to be that in the moral sphere, we want there to be strict necessity, but in the modal sphere, we don't. How can the two be reconciled?

It seems to me that this can only be done in some sort of a Kantian framework, where concepts are separated from things in themselves in the modal sphere. In the Postulates of CPR, the modality of necessity is not absolute in the world but only refers to a particular relation of a perception/intuition to a concept, and not to the thing in itself. Unfortunately, at least insofar as the CPR is concerned, Kant's distinction between phenomena and noumena would prevent speculation about God and DDS as a resolution of the Euthyphro Dilemma.

But in his post-Kantian mode, I think Kierkegaard's formulation might be promising. SK dispenses with the noumena, but walls off the modalities from inhering in actual factual being by positing that all thought and conceptual experience about actuality are possibilities of necessary unities, aka hypothetical unities. So, like Kant, the modality of necessity is grounded in a particular state of consciousness about a conceptual event and in that sense it is not a quality of the world as it is in itself.

At the same time, talk of God and DDS are not foreclosed by SK's approach; he differentiated between actual, factual being and the being of thoughts and concepts, but fully endorsed the reality of thought and thoughts being.

The implication of all of this is that the necessity of God vis-a-vis DDS is a different kind of necessity from our human modal concept, just as the Being, Existence, and Goodness of God are different from the being, existence, and goodness of his creatures. Therefore, DDS does end in modal collapse, but that does not affect the modal concepts of finite, derivative creatures. God's modal collapse and the consequent necessity of His creation is simply another way of saying that His Will shall be done in all cases and in all possible universes. Or, another way to put it, is that all of His Creation is necessary from a God's-eye perspective - a perspective that we do not and cannot attain so long as this fleshly domain continues.


What you say is intriguing but not very clear. You say, >> SK dispenses with the noumena, but walls off the modalities from inhering in actual factual being by positing that all thought and conceptual experience about actuality are possibilities of necessary unities, aka hypothetical unities.<< Could you explain that, with examples?

It is clear that in God there is modal collapse: God's possibility, necessity, and actuality are one and the same. The problem, however, is to explain why this modal collapse in God does not extend to creatures. Given that there is no contingency in God, and thus that whatever he wills he necessarily wills, it seems to follow that the existence of creatures is necessary. I don't see that this consequence can be avoided by saying that while the divine necessity is absolute, or unconditional, the necessity of creatures is merely conditional. There is no such thing as the conditional necessity of contingent beings.

Bill: You and I have gone over this before, in the comments to your post of August 3, 2022 "Could the Visible Surface of a Physical Thing be a Mental Item." I will try not to go on too long, but it is a complicated notion and I want to do it justice.

Actuality as hypothetical unities is from the Postscript. Hypothetical unities is part of a broader ontological approach, not epistemological, as some have interpreted it. It is part of a Kierkegaardian metaphysic that is rather foundational, it seems to me, for that entire book. It is closely related, in complex ways, with a hard distinction - or, disjunction - that SK makes between essence and existence (or actuality; see below).

It's important to note that the translation of tilvaerelse in the Postscript and elsewhere has been usually rendered as "existence." But, Walter Lowry notes in his essay on Hamann, some years after his Postscript translation with Swenson, that tilvaerelse is the Danish equivalent of the German Dasein, and should have been translated as "actual being." Actual, factual being in its non-theoretical sense is SK's ontological assignation for actuality, and he opposes that to the being of thoughts and concepts. Thus, this statement in the Postscript should have been translated: "Such a thing as a logical system is possible, but a system of actual being is not possible.” The being of actuality and the being of thought are both real, for SK, but they are twain, and the twain can never meet. Thought's being is possibility; actual being is actuality.

But they can be synthesized in a passionate exercise of an existing human creature, and that is in a hypothetical unity of actuality. It's helpful to view this move by SK as proto-phenomenalistic in nature. Actual, factual being presents itself as a moment in a conscious intentionality towards an exteriority. Spontaneously, consciousness forms a conceptual understanding of the actuality presented, which includes all the qualities of things in the world - essences, predicated properties, and the like - that the mind is working with to unify an actuality.

It is that spontaneous understanding that is the hypothetical unity of thought and actual being.

But the hypothetical unity of actuality is sub-specie thought and thought's being; therefore, it does not and cannot encompass the very different being of actual, factual being. Thus, the "hypothetical" in hypothetical unity. It is an expression of the relation of the unity to actual, factual being: a hypothetical unity is an approximation, or in modal terms, a possibility. The hypothetical unity is therefore a kind of amalgamate being, which includes both a conceptual thought about actuality and also an intentionality of an exterior actuality in consciousness. There are many quotes from the Postscript expressing this, but here is a quote from SK's journals I stumbled on, written some four years after the Postscript:

" 'Science'—The Existential: Actuality [Virkelighed] cannot be conceptualized. Johannes Climacus has already shown this correctly and very simply. To conceptualize is to dissolve actuality into possibility— but then it is impossible to conceptualize it because to conceptualize it is to transform it into possibility and therefore not to hold to it as actuality … It is not as if “actuality” were void of concepts, not at all; no, the concept which is found by conceptually dissolving it into possibility is also in actuality, but there is still something more—that it is actuality … But in the modern period the baleful confusion is that “actuality” has been included in logic, and then in distraction it is forgotten that “actuality” in logic is, however, only a “thought actuality” i.e., is possibility.²⁷ [JP 1, 1059]."

You asked for an example. I return to Ed's desk in your 2022 post: to get to the punch-line, what we commonly perceive as a desk is a hypothetical unity of the actual, factual being of the desk. In a perhaps naïve sense, it is the difference between that something is (a moment in conscious awareness that a haecceity, a something, is in exteriority) and what something is (a conceptualization or recognition of the desk proper, with all its qualities and properties, the flat top, rectangular shape, cubby holes and drawers, four legs, with a space in the middle for a chair). We "see" all of this spontaneously and naturally, so much so that it is often overlooked that the actual, factual being of the desk is non-theoretical and not identical with the conceptualized desk.

To relate this to DDS, our concept of necessity is different from God's Necessity because it is derivative thereof and contextualized within a created existing, finite being in a process of becoming. In God's Necessity, you say that He necessarily creates and therefore everything He creates is necessary, not contingent. But that puzzle derives from thinking in terms of a process; "creates" implies an action in time and therefore all He creates is in a necessary process in time. But God and His Necessity do not move; they just are what they are, eternally. On the other hand, our necessity is intimately related to movement, as a thought possibility generated to unify and understand the movement, alteration, and change of contingent beings in actuality.

You end with "There is no such thing as the conditional necessity of contingent beings." But it is not that the concept of necessity per se is conditional (or hypothetical), it is that the deployment of that concept is conditional (or hypothetical) when it is used to understand a non-theoretical being like actuality. For what it's worth, Kant makes a distinction between absolute necessity and conditional necessity in the Analogies and Postulates of CPR and (as far as I can tell) for somewhat the same reason.

You listed the advantages of the DDS approach. Here then is a summary of the advantages of the SK approach. His ontological distinction between thought as possibility and actual being as actuality prevents the world as we know it from being reduced to an all-encompassing static necessity. It preserves the notion of necessity, but as only a player in the world, thus preserving the important categories of contingency, possibility, and actuality, as well the distinction between essence and existence, notions that seem to more accurately describe the world as we know it. On the other hand, SK holds thought possibilities as very real. This not only allows but endorses what he calls imminent conceptions of God and the like, as represented, for instance, in your treatment of God and DDS. In short, I think for SK it is the rational, logical nature of thought possibilities like you've presented here and elsewhere that give them the objective reality they have.

Here is a speculation: the difference, as I have said before, is that God's Necessity is from a God's-eye view and our necessity is from the view of existing, finite, derivative creatures. From God's view, it was necessary that He create Bill V. But from our view, Bill and all God's creations are contingent creatures but nevertheless have infinite value. I would suggest that "seeing" the infinite value in contingent creations is as close as we can come to seeing God's Necessity playing out in the world. Otherwise, we are stuck with our finite capacities. Ecclesiastes "He has put eternity into our minds, but not so that we can see the beginning or end of things."

I fear this is too long a response for posting to your blog, but I am not capable of doing better with this issue. The exercise has been helpful to my own understanding, good or bad as it is, so I thank you for that.


I can't even begin to evaluate your comment without page references. I have CUP in the Swenson & Lowrie tr.

Thanks for referring to the 3 August 2022 post which gives me some, but not a very clear, idea of what you are driving at. https://maverickphilosopher.typepad.com/maverick_philosopher/2022/08/could-the-visible-surface-of-a-physical-thing-be-a-mental-item.html#comments

The waters are bound to be muddy because three deep & difficult themes are in play here: SK's reading of the essence-existence distinction; the onto-epistemology of sense perception; and whether DDS entails modal collapse.

What I presented is my distillation of SK from years of reading his books and numerous academic treatments picked up at random. As such, I don't have a specific cite in Postscript for you; the ontological commitments or framework (as I see them) run throughout the whole work.

But you could start with two sections that, put together, capture as well as anything the distinction SK is making between thought as possibility and actual, factual being as actuality. The sections in my digital edition of the Swenson/Lowry Postscript are on pages 86-100. If those page numbers don't match your edition, go to Book Two, Part One, Chapter II, Division 4, where you'll find sub-divisions A "A Logical System is Possible" and B "An Existential System is Impossible."

The first mention (I think) of the particular phrase "hypothetical unity" is on page 263 of my edition, otherwise found in Book Two, Part Two, Chapter III, Division 1. There you will find the paragraph I cited in our previous conversation on hypothetical unities.

One note: I do not know Danish, but have three translations of the Postscript. None of them seem to consistently agree on the proper translation of the Danish for reality, actuality, actual being, and existence or variations and cognates of those. For instance, Hannay uses "life" in one passage, while Hong uses "existence" and Swenson "reality." Following Walter Lowry's suggestion in the Hamann essay, when the context seems to dictate it, I often mentally substitute actuality for "reality" or the "existential" and actual being for "existence." That probably colors my reading of Kierkegaard, bending it more towards the ontological interpretation. But there you have it; such are the dangers of not reading in the original language.

Bill: I fear I have been overly ambitious in this little exercise, not least because of the "muddy, deep, & difficult" issues you identify. That said, here are a few final supplemental points.

Re: the Hypothetical Unity. Kant in the CPR uses the phrase "hypothetical necessity,' which is suspiciously similar to SK's "hypothetical unity." I believe (but cannot prove) that SK was influenced (inspired?) by the Postulates and Analogies of the CPR, and "unity" is a shortened form for Kant's transcendental unity of apperception. Such an interpretation, if true, gives a good bit more depth to a hypothetical unity than might otherwise be found in that simple phrase.

Re: Absolute v Conditional Necessity. In DDS, God is Absolute and therefore His necessity is absolute as well, necessarily invoking all the problems with modal collapse and the like that the Absolute brings to any philosophy. It is here that I want to expand on the Kantian distinction I noted previously. In the Postulates and Analogies, Kant makes a distinction between absolute and conditional necessity. Absolute necessity is original and without antecedent or dependency on anything else (compare, the unmoved mover), whereas conditional necessity reflects the necessity that we experience, that one event is always necessarily dependent on a previous event, as of one cause that follows another, and then another, and so forth.

If the absolute and the conditional are jumbled together in application, then you get problems like modal collapse. The SK ontological distinction is then a framework that prevents these categories from being confused.

In the secular objective sphere, the absolute necessity inherited from God is applied as a thought-possibility only, to actual events that are themselves conditioned on a dependent, temporal sequence whose necessity cannot be determined a priori (see Kant's comments on the Third Postulate in CPR for some (apparent) support for this). The absolute necessity is therefore conditional upon actual events that are to be determined a posteriori, and there is no modal collapse.

In the moral sphere, however, necessity is again an absolute conception, but it is not directed towards the dependent conditionality of one actual event to another. It is about a thought-possibility related via an unconditional moral principle to a possible actuality, i.e., what actuality should be or be made to be. The movement in the moral sphere is within the modality of possibility from start to finish, so the necessity remains absolute throughout the movement.

Re: DDS & Modal Collapse. You state that the consequences of DDS cannot " … be avoided by saying that while the divine necessity is absolute, or unconditional, the necessity of creatures is merely conditional." It seems to me that you are dealing here in a significant ambiguity, an ambiguity that is identified explicitly in the SK framework. In DDS you elucidate the concepts of God - His Being, Goodness, Necessity, etc. But then you move these concepts into an intentionality toward the real existence of God and His Nature and conclude that this collapses all modalities.

However, the real existence of God is beyond time and space, and all categories of experience, in an Eternal Now. There is a clear gap, a leap so to speak, between your concepts of God (SK: thought-possibilities) and His real existence, somewhat paralleling the gap between secular thought-possibilities about actuality and actuality in itself. If we assume the SK ontological distinction between thought and actuality, then some sense can be made of how God's Divine necessity applies in the moral and the secular spheres as summarized above. But the real existence of God's Necessity, perched as it is in an Eternal Now, cannot be rationally or logically applied across the divide.

But it is an ontological divide rather than an epistemological one. I am still working on this and cannot say more about it, which I'm sure brings a sigh of relief from anyone who happens to read this far.

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