Saturday, July 28, 2012

A Quick Euthyphro Dilemma Reply to Craig's Argument Against Atheistic Significance, Meaning, and Purpose

1. Either (a) the purposes God sets for our lives are significant because God wills them, or (b) God wills them because they're significant.
2. If (a), then what counts as a significant life is arbitrary.
3. If (b), then what counts as a significant life is independent of God
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4. Therefore, what counts as a significant life is either arbitrary or independent of God.



Thanks to Justin Schieber for remarks that got me thinking about this.

10 comments:

Jake said...

Couldn't someone accept (b) without accepting (3) by appealing to the imago dei? I'm thinking along the lines of the following: the purposes God sets for our lives are neither arbitrary nor wholly independent of God because the purposes God decrees reflect the way in which each of us is created in the image of God. It very well could be that God's purposes for our lives are the way we can, as limited beings in historically contingent circumstances, maximally exemplify this quality.

exapologist said...

Hi Jake,

I think you're right that a theist could go between the horns in the way you suggest (in a way analogous to how Robert Adams goes between the horns of the standard Euthyphro Dilemma for the divine command theory of ethics). I guess my main concern, though, with that sort of reply is likewise analogous to a rejoinder to modified divine command theory. We can come at the point by asking what is so special about being made in God's image. Presumably it's that he's a person, and that persons have intrinsic value. But then it follows that, necessarily, anything that instantiates personhood instantiates intrinsic value, in which case human beings would have value and significance whether or not God exists (a point raised elsewhere by Clayton Littlejohn).

And what is it about God's purposes and activities that makes them significant and worthwhile? Presumably such activities are intrinsically worthwhile (e.g., pursuing, engaging in, and sustaining transparent, caring relationships; making beautiful objects and other things that contribute to the welfare of others, etc.). But if these activities are intrinsically worthwhile and significant for persons to engage in, then they are so independent of whether God sets them for us.

Jake said...

Thanks for the reply. I'm sympathetic to the rejoinder, but I think a theist could press further in a way that isn't available to the moral case with some inspiration from the ontological argument.

One route they they could take is to say that ontological perfection is what makes the imago dei valuable. Ontological perfection is intrinsically valuable and yields intrinsic value to a being to whatever degree it is exemplified by that being. God essentially exemplifies this ontological perfection fully, whereas the nature of contingent and created beings is to only exemplify this in degrees. However, being made in the image of God is to have a nature which is more ontologically perfect than those entities which are not so made and to have intrinsic value to that degree.

Now, counterpossibly, if God were not to exist, human beings would still exemplify the degree of ontological perfection that they do and, thus, still be intrinsically valuable. However, there are no possible worlds at which ontological perfection obtains, in any degree, and yet ontological perfection is not fully exemplified via God's existence. (For example, if ontological perfection ought to be fully exemplified, then it is possible to be fully exemplified. But any being which fully exemplifies ontological perfection exists necessarily.)

God's purposes for our lives, then, are significant because they look to the ontological perfection/imago dei, which is intrinsically valuable yet dependent upon God qua exemplification of such perfection.

Of course, I've never been able to make complete sense of the notion ontological perfection myself, so unless one is a fan of the ontological argument this isn't going to mean much.

Dianelos Georgoudis said...

Jake,

Now, counterpossibly, if God were not to exist, human beings would still exemplify the degree of ontological perfection that they do and, thus, still be intrinsically valuable.

One should be extra careful when starting a thought with “if God were not to exist”. I mean God is the metaphysical ultimate - the ground of all being and all value - so it’s not like one can subtract God from reality leaving everything else the same, the way one can, say, imagine the world existing without apples, or without the planet Mars.

So, unless one can explain what “value” means in a non-theistic reality, I think it makes no sense to discuss perfection in such a reality.

Dr. Rizz said...

EA,

Perhaps the theist could argue that if atheism is true, then life is finite, and fewer intrinsic goods are instantiated in the world. Hence, even though God is not conceptually necessary for value, God may be causally necessary to bring about a flood of value.

best,

AR

exapologist said...

Hi Jake,

Are we in agreement on the key point, then? Thus, let's grant arguendo that "ontological perfection" is the standard of value. Then every possible person that has value -- even God -- has it in virtue of exemplifying such perfection. This point suggests a variation on the original dilemma I proposed:

1. Either God has value in virtue of having the properties that constitute ontological perfection, or the properties that constitute ontological perfection have value in virtue of God having them.
2. If God has value in virtue of having the properties that constitute ontological perfection, then the properties are the standard of value -- not God.
3. If the properties that constitute ontological perfection have value in virtue of God having them, then the standards of value are arbitrary.
4. Therefore, either the properties that constitute ontological perfection are the standards of value (irrespective of whether God exists), or the standards of value are arbitrary.*

Do we agree on on at least this much?

Best,
EA

[*] This dilemma is inspired by a main line of reasoning in Wes Morriston's paper, "Must There Be a Standard of Moral Goodness Apart from God?", Philosophia Christi, Series 2, Vol. 3, no.1, 127-138.

exapologist said...

Hi Dr. Rizz,

Interesting. I wonder if that's true, though: Isn't a godless world with immortal creatures experiencing such a flood of value at least epistemically possible? In fact I'm tempted to think there's a sporting chance that it'll prove true of the actual world in about a thousand years hence. ;)

In any case, I'm happy to concede the point for the sake of argument. My main aim is to undercut claims as strong as the sort Craig makes, viz., that life is without sufficient meaning, significance, and purpose unless God exists.

Best,
EA

Jake said...

EA,

I think we are in agreement on those points. I read Morriston's paper some time ago and find it rather persuasive. I think that a theist would want to cut through the horns in Morriston's dilemma just as before, perhaps with an identification of God with his properties (or appropriate second-order properties), but I don't find that to be well-motivated, and I think it would provide nominalists about properties, like myself, with a nice argument...

Thanks for the discussion!

- Jake

exapologist said...

Hi Jake,

Thanks -- likewise!

Best,
EA

exapologist said...

One should be extra careful when starting a thought with “if God were not to exist”. I mean God is the metaphysical ultimate - the ground of all being and all value - so it’s not like one can subtract God from reality leaving everything else the same, the way one can, say, imagine the world existing without apples, or without the planet Mars.

So, unless one can explain what “value” means in a non-theistic reality, I think it makes no sense to discuss perfection in such a reality.


Whether God is the ground of all value is of course one of the claims in dispute, so we can't assume that without begging the question. Relatedly, absent some decent reason to think theism provides an adequate ground of value, I see no burden on the naturalist to give a case for the ground of value that the theist does not likewise share.

If your assumptions about the truth of Anselmian theism and the illegitimacy of counterpossible reasoning are correct, then of course Craig has no argument. For his argument is that if God does not exist, then there is no objective moral right or wrong, life is without meaning or significance, and life is without purpose. But if Anselmian theism is true, then God exists in all possible worlds, in which case the relevant conditional in Craig's argument is a counterpossible conditional. And if that's right, then we can make no sense of Craig's argument if you're right about counterpossible reasoning.