Good & Evil, Right & Wrong
"Are There Secular Reasons" at The New York Times (February 22, 2010).
Whether the argument appears in its softer or harder versions, behind it is a form of intellectual/political apartheid known as the private/public distinction: matters that pertain to the spirit and to salvation are the province of religion and are to be settled by religious reasons; matters that pertain to the good order and prosperity of civil society are the province of democratically elected representatives and are to be settled by secular reasons. As John Locke put it in 1689 (“A Letter Concerning Toleration”), the “care of men’s souls” is the responsibility of the church while to the civil magistrate belongs the care of “outward things such as money, land, houses, furniture and the like”; it is his responsibility to secure for everyone, of whatever denomination or belief, “the just possession of these things belonging to this life.” ¶ A neat division, to be sure, which has the effect (not, I think, intended by Locke) of honoring religion by kicking it upstairs and out of sight. If the business of everyday life — commerce, science, medicine, law, agriculture, education, foreign policy, etc. — can be assigned to secular institutions employing secular reasons to justify actions, what is left to religious institutions and religious reasons is a private area of contemplation and worship, an area that can be safely and properly ignored when there are “real” decisions to be made. Let those who remain captives of ancient superstitions and fairy tales have their churches, chapels, synagogues, mosques, rituals and liturgical mumbo-jumbo; just don’t confuse the (pseudo) knowledge they traffic in with the knowledge needed to solve the world’s problems.
Planned Parenthood vs. Casey, 505 U.S. 833 (1992).
Our law affords constitutional protection to personal decisions relating to marriage, procreation, contraception, family relationships, child rearing, and education. Our cases recognize "the right of the individual, married or single, to be free from unwarranted governmental intrusion into matters so fundamentally affecting a person as the decision whether to bear or beget a child." Our precedents "have respected the private realm of family life which the state cannot enter." These matters, involving the most intimate and personal choices a person may make in a lifetime, choices central to personal dignity and autonomy, are central to the liberty protected by the Fourteenth Amendment. At the heart of liberty is the right to define one's own concept of existence, of meaning, of the universe, and of the mystery of human life. Beliefs about these matters could not define the attributes of personhood were they formed under compulsion by the State.
The Brothers Karamazov, Constance Black Garnett, trans. (Modern Library: 1977), p. 244.
It's not that I don't accept God, you must understand, it's the world created by Him I don't and cannot accept. Let me make it plain. I believe like a child that suffering will be healed and made up for, that all the humiliating absurdity of human contradictions will vanish like a pitiful mirage, like the despicable fabrication of the impotent and infinitely small Euclidian mind of man, that in the world's finale, at the moment of eternal harmony, something so precious will come to pass that it will suffice for all hearts, for the comforting of all resentments, for the atonement of all the crimes of humanity, of all the blood they've shed; that it will make it not only posible to forgive but to justify all that has happened with men — but though all that may come to pass, I don't accept it. I won't accept it.
"How I Believe in God" at the Chicago Sun-Times (April 17, 2009).
When I was in first or second grade and had just been introduced by the nuns to the concept of a limitless God, I lay awake at night driving myself nuts by repeating over and over, But how could God have no beginning? And how could he have no end? And then I thought of all the stars in the sky: But how could there be a last one? Wouldn't there always have to be one more? Many years later I know the answer to the second question, but I still don't know the answer to the first one. ... I no longer lost any sleep over the questions of God and infinity. I understood they could have no answers. At some point the reality of God was no longer present in my mind. I believed in the basic Church teachings because I thought they were correct, not because God wanted me to. In my mind, in the way I interpret them, I still live by them today. Not by the rules and regulations, but by the principles. For example, in the matter of abortion, I am pro-choice, but my personal choice would be to have nothing to do with an abortion, certainly not of a child of my own. I believe in free will, and believe I have no right to tell anyone else what to do. Popes come and go, and John XXIII has been the only one I felt affection for. Their dictums strike me as lacking in the ability to surprise. They have been leading a holding action for a millenium. ¶ Catholicism made me a humanist before I knew the word. When people rail against "secular humanism," I want to ask them if humanism itself would be okay with them. Over the high school years, my belief in the likelihood of a God continued to lessen. I kept this to myself. ... ¶ Did I start calling myself an agnostic or an atheist? No, and I still don't. I avoid that because I don't want to provide a category for people to apply to me.
Kelly James Clark in Realism/Anti-Realism, William Alston, ed. (Cornell University Press: 2002).
In this paper, I defend the importance of narrative to moral philosophy, in particular to moral realism. Moral realism, for the purposes of this essay, is the claim that there are moral truths independent of human beliefs, attitudes, desires and feelings.i Contemporary philosophers typically focus on discursive arguments and exclude narrative. But narrative is considerably more powerful than argument in effecting belief-change. I shall argue that through such belief-change one can attain to moral truth.ii This account is opposed to that of fellow narrativalist, Richard Rorty, who denies moral realism. Since I believe the clash between realists and anti-realists resolves into a clash of intuitions, I don't propose to offer a convincing argument in favor of moral realism. Instead, like Rorty I will draw a word-picture, which stands in stark contrast to the word-picture that he draws about stories; it is my hope that the reader will find my word-picture more compelling than Rorty's word-picture. In the final section I will offer some considerations in favor of moral realism.
C. S. Lewis in The Abolition of Man (1943), chp 3.
Lewis observes that man's increasing power over nature is at the same time the unavoidable empowering of some men over other men, whether it be nation over nation, the majority over the minority, or this generation over the next. "Each new power won by man is a power over man as well. Each advance leaves him weaker as well as stronger." Lewis imagines that day when science conquers the last domain of nature, human nature, and gains the power to determine even what it is to be human. Released thereby from the dictates of the Tao, an ultimate rule that guides behavior and law in conformity with the natural order, we will have recourse only to impulse, to emotion, to whim. "At the moment, then, of Man's victory over Nature, we find the whole human race subjected to some individual men, and those individuals subjected to that in themselves which is purely 'natural' — to their irrational impulses. Nature, untrammelled by values, rules the Conditioners and, through them, all humanity. Man's conquest of Nature turns out, in the moment of its consummation, to be Nature's conquest of Man." Our defeat by nature is the inevitable outcome of making ourselves mere constituents of nature. "Either we are rational spirit obliged forever to obey the absolute values of the Tao, or else we are mere nature to be kneaded and cut into new shapes for the pleasures of masters who must, by hypothesis, have no motive but their own 'natural' impulses." Lewis' Abolition of Man has been widely lauded as one of the great prophetic works of the twentieth century. ~ Afterall
C. S. Lewis in The Abolition of Man (1943), Appendix.
The following illustrations of the Natural Law are collected from such sources as come readily to the hand of one who is not a professional historian. The list makes no pretence of completeness. It will be noticed that writers such as Locke and Hooker, who wrote within the Christian tradition, are quoted side by side with the New Testament. This would, of course, be absurd if I were trying to collect independent testimonies to the Tao. But (1) I am not trying to prove its validity by the argument from common consent. Its validity cannot be deduced. For those who do not perceive its rationality, even universal consent could not prove it. (2) The idea of collecting independent testimonies presupposes that 'civilizations' have arisen in the world independently of one another; or even that humanity has had several independent emergences on this planet. The biology and anthropology involved in such an assumption are extremely doubtful. It is by no means certain that there has ever (in the sense required) been more than one civilization in all history. It is at least arguable that every civilization we find has been derived from another civilization and, in the last resort, from a single centre — 'carried' like an infectious disease or like the Apostolical succession.
C. S. Lewis in The Abolition of Man (1943), chp 1.
Lewis takes as his subject the thesis presented by two unnamed schoolmasters in what he calls "The Green Book": that our value judgments refer only to our own sentiments and never to any intrinsic worth in the objects we judge. He is concerned as to what this will mean for the education of English children, and this essay constitutes one part of Lewis' Abolition of Man, subtitled "Reflections on education with special reference to the teaching of English in the upper forms of schools". In the authors' seemingly innocent and casual subjectification of value there is a subversive outcome: "I do not mean, of course, that [the schoolboy] will make any conscious inference from what he reads to a general philosophical theory that all values are subjective and trivial. The very power of Gaius and Titius depends on the fact that they are dealing with a boy: a boy who thinks he is 'doing' his 'English prep' and has no notion that ethics, theology, and politics are all at stake. It is not a theory they put into his mind, but an assumption, which ten years hence, its origin forgotten and its presence unconscious, will condition him to take one side in a controversy which he has never recognized as a controversy at all." The Green Book's authors analyze a piece of banal and deceptive advertising. But, Lewis notes, the authors have effectively precluded any normative judgment of the ad, for a similiar judgment upon Johnson, Wordsworth, or Virgil could be no less an accurate description of a reader's sentiments, and there is no other quality to which to appeal. Lewis ends with this oft-cited poetic prose: "And all the time — such is the tragi-comedy of our situation — we continue to clamour for those very qualities we are rendering impossible. You can hardly open a periodical without coming across the statement that what our civilization needs is more 'drive', or dynamism, or self-sacrifice, or 'creativity'. In a sort of ghastly simplicity we remove the organ and demand the function. We make men without chests and expect of them virtue and enterprise. We laugh at honour and are shocked to find traitors in our midst. We castrate and bid the geldings be fruitful." His argument continues in "The Way". ~ Afterall
Isaiah 58:6-12, The Bible, New International Version (Biblica: 1984).
Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen: to loose the chains of injustice and untie the cords of the yoke, to set the oppressed free and break every yoke? Is it not to share your food with the hungry and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter — when you see the naked, to clothe him, and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood? ... If you do away with the yoke of oppression, with the pointing finger and malicious talk, and if you spend yourselves in behalf of the hungry and satisfy the needs of the oppressed, then your light will rise in the darkness, and your night will become like the noonday. The LORD will guide you always; he will satisfy your needs in a sun-scorched land and will strengthen your frame. You will be like a well-watered garden, like a spring whose waters never fail. Your people will rebuild the ancient ruins and will raise up the age-old foundations; you will be called Repairer of Broken Walls, Restorer of Streets with Dwellings. » Give here or here.
A Treatise of Human Nature (Longmans, Green: 1909), p. 245.
Examine it in all lights, and see if you can find that matter of fact, or real existence, which you call vice. In which-ever way you take it, you find only certain passions, motives, volitions and thoughts. There is no other matter of fact in the case. The vice entirely escapes you, as long as you consider the object. You never can find it, till you turn your reflection into your own breast, and find a sentiment of disapprobation, which arises in you, towards this action. Here is a matter of fact; but 'tis the object of feeling, not of reason. It lies in yourself, not in the object. So that when you pronounce any action or character to be vicious, you mean nothing, but that from the constitution of your nature you have a feeling or sentiment of blame from the contemplation of it. Vice and virtue, therefore, may be compar'd to sounds, colours, heat and cold, which, according to modern philosophy, are not qualities in objects, but perceptions in the mind: And this discovery in morals, like that other in physics, is to be regarded as a considerable advancement of the speculative sciences; tho', like that too, it has little or no influence on practice. Nothing can be more real, or concern us more, than our own sentiments of pleasure and uneasiness; and if these be favourable to virtue, and unfavourable to vice, no more can be requisite to the regulation of our conduct and behaviour.
Taking Darwin Seriously: A Naturalistic Approach to Philosophy (Prometheus: 1998), p. 253.
The Darwinian argues that morality simply does not work (from a biological perspective), unless we believe that it is objective. Darwinian theory shows that, in fact, morality is a function of (subjective) feelings; but it shows also that we have (and must have) the illusion of objectivity.
John Brown on Biblical Ethics said...
"Discourse X: The Nature and Design of Civil Government and the Christian's Duty in Reference to It" in Expository Discourses on the First Epistle of the Apostle Peter (R. Carter & Brothers: 1851), p. 242.
It has been remarked, that the moral precepts of Christianity are highly valuable, not only when viewed in reference to their primary and direct object, the direction and guidance of the movements of the inner and outer man, the regulation of the temper and conduct, the dispositions and actions, but also when considered in their subsidiary and indirect references, particularly in their bearing on the evidence of the Divine origin of that system of revelation of which they form so important a part. That bearing is manifold. Let us look at it in its various phases. Were a book, consisting partly of doctrinal statements and partly of moral precepts, claiming a Divine origin, put into our hands; and were we to find on perusal the moral part of it fantastic and trifling, inconsistent with the principles of man's constitution, unsuitable to the circumstances in which he is placed, and incompatible with the great laws of justice and benevolence, we should enter on the examination of the evidence appealed to, in support of its high pretensions, under the influence of a strong and justifiable suspicion. ...
Time for Truth: Living Free in a World of Lies, Hype & Spin (Baker Books: 2002), pp. 69-71.
Prisoner 174517 was thirsty. Seeing a fat icicle hanging just outside his hut in the Auschwitz extermination camp, he reached out of the window and broke it off to quench his thirst. But before he could get the icicle to his mouth, a guard snatched it out of his hands and dashed it to pieces on the filthy ground. "Warum?" the prisoner burst out instinctively — "Why?" "Hier ist kein warum," the guard answered with brutal finality — "Here there is no why." ¶ That for Primo Levi, the Italian Jewish scientist and writer, was the essence of the death camps — places not only of unchallengable, arbitrary authority but of absolute evil that defied all explanation. In the face of such wickedness, explanations born of psychology, sociology, and economics were pathetic in their inadequacy. One could only shoulder the weight of such an experience and bear witness to the world. "Never again" was too confident an assertion. You never know was the needed refrain.
Kathryn Tanner (Cambridge University Press: December 2009), 322 pages.
Through the intensely intimate relationship that arises between God and humans in the incarnation of the Word in Christ, God gives us the gift of God's own life. This simple claim provides the basis for Kathryn Tanner's powerful study of the centrality of Jesus Christ for all Christian thought and life: if the divine and the human are united in Christ, then Jesus can be seen as key to the pattern that organizes the whole, even while God's ways remain beyond our grasp. Drawing on the history of Christian thought to develop an innovative Christ-centered theology, this book sheds fresh light on major theological issues such as the imago dei, the relationship between nature and grace, the Trinity's implications for human community, and the Spirit's manner of working in human lives. Originally delivered as Warfield Lectures at Princeton Theological Seminary, it offers a creative and compelling contribution to contemporary theology. ~ Product Description
Normative Ethics (Westview Press: 1998), pp. 26-7.
It is important to understand that in saying that the moral status of an act is determined (at least in part) by its results, this is meant to include all af its results. It is not only the immediate, or short term, results that matter: long term results, side effects, indirect consequences — all these matter as well, and they count just as much as short term or immediate consequences. If, for example, I must choose between an act with a small immediate positive effect — but no other later effects — and an alternative act act that will have no immediate effect, but will eventually produce a lot of good, it is the second act I should perform. Similarly, if an act will have both good results and bad results, then these must all be taken into account. The question is: how good or bad will the results be overall, on balance, taking into account all of the results; and how does this compare to the overall results of the other acts available to the agent?
Shelly Kagan on Morality vs. Law said...
Normative Ethics (Westview Press: 1998), pp. 9-10.
But there is something else normative ethics should not be confused with: the law. Determining what people morally should do is not the same thing as determining what the law says they should do. For the law may permit someparticular act, even though that act is immoral; and the law may forbid an act, even though that act is morally permissible, or even morally required.
Charles R. Beitz (Oxford University Press: October 2009), 256 pages.
The international doctrine of human rights is one of the most ambitious parts of the settlement of World War II. Since then, the language of human rights has become the common language of social criticism in global political life. This book is a theoretical examination of the central idea of that language, the idea of a human right. In contrast to more conventional philosophical studies, the author takes a practical approach, looking at the history and political practice of human rights for guidance in understanding the central idea. The author presents a model of human rights as matters of international concern whose violation by governments can justify international protective and restorative action ranging from intervention to assistance. He proposes a schema for justifying human rights and applies it to several controversial cases—rights against poverty, rights to democracy, and the human rights of women. Throughout, the book attends to some main reasons why people are skeptical about human rights, including the fear that human rights will be used by strong powers to advance their national interests. The book concludes by observing that contemporary human rights practice is vulnerable to several pathologies and argues the need for international collaboration to avoid them. ~ Product Description
C.S. Lewis, Excerpts from "Right and Wrong as a Clue to the Meaning of the Universe", Book One in Mere Christianity (original 1944).
In this oft discussed passage from Mere Christianity, C.S. Lewis spurns the supposed implications of a century's worth of cultural anthropology, arguing that virtually all people possess an innate moral compass that is at bottom similar or the same, in spite of surface differences. He begins by noting that human quarreling presupposes such a shared set of moral norms, that without a common set of "Rules of Human Nature", quarreling would be, in effect, impossible. An interesting thought. Lewis goes on to argue that this set of moral obligations we find in ourselves suggests a moral lawgiver. En route, he comments on the proper limits of science, on what we can infer on the basis of our own self-knowledge, and on the hypocrisy of those who claim no such common moral knowledge exists. Lewis' essay is hardly the most rigorous moral argument for theism on offer, but it does display his knack for drawing on the everyday to illustrate his premises and his argument for a common ethic is especially worth considering in view of the conventional wisdom about the radical diversity of moral norms. The moral differences between persons and cultures is profound. Can Lewis' argument for universal "Rules of Human Nature" be sustained? I'm particularly keen to reflect on the extent to which apparent moral differences should actually be attributed to different beliefs about reality. On this, see his thought provoking comments on the old practice of burning witches at the stake. Also note his observation that the materialistic and religious views of reality are not a bifurcation emerging out of the Enlightenment, but rather a fundamental divergence that turns up "wherever there having been thinking men".
John E. Hare (Wiley-Blackwell: July 2009), 320 pages.
God and Morality evaluates the ethical theories of four principle philosophers, Aristotle, Duns Scotus, Kant, and R.M. Hare and: Uses their thinking as the basis for telling the story of the history and development of ethical thought more broadly; Focuses specifically on their writings on virtue, will, duty, and consequence; Concentrates on the theistic beliefs to highlight continuity of philosophical thought. ~ Product Description • "This is a splendid history of philosophical ethics, with special interest in God’s presence and importance in that perennial enterprise, by one of the leading philosophers of ethics writing today. Hare tops off this surprising, exciting, and unorthodox history with an account of his own that collects together the best features of the theistic ethics of the past. God and Morality is written with crystal clarity and impressive scholarship." ~ Robert Roberts, Baylor University
Walter Sinnott-Armstrong (Oxford University Press: Jul 2009), 192 pages.
Some argue that atheism must be false, since without God, no values are possible, and thus "everything is permitted." Walter Sinnott-Armstrong argues that God is not only not essential to morality, but that our moral behavior should be utterly independent of religion. He attacks several core ideas: that atheists are inherently immoral people; that any society will sink into chaos if it is becomes too secular; that without morality, we have no reason to be moral; that absolute moral standards require the existence of God; and that without religion, we simply couldn't know what is wrong and what is right. Sinnott-Armstrong brings to bear convincing examples and data, as well as a lucid, elegant, and easy to understand writing style. This book should fit well with the debates raging over issues like evolution and intelligent design, atheism, and religion and public life as an example of a pithy, tightly-constructed argument on an issue of great social importance. ~ Product Description