1. Joined
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    27 Sep '16 17:49
    KJ, I have read the first chapter of The Divine Conspiracy now multiple times. Unfortunately, I find any arguments contained therein very hard to parse. Willard strikes me as somewhat of a non-linear thinker. What I can parse most clearly is some sort of pragmatic argument for belief in God; actually, more narrowly, some sort of pragmatic argument for belief in some specific Christ-centric narratives. I still don't really understand the argument, so perhaps we can take this slowly and you can help me understand.

    Willard starts the chapter with what I would describe as a restrained diatribe against modern intellectualism, based on little more than some scattered anecdotes regarding higher education and modern society and some deference to Tolstoy’s A Confession. He claims that modern academia is committed to the idea that ethics and morality are not subjects of knowledge:

    "Indeed, in the current world of accepted knowledge one can’t even know the truth of a moral theory or principle, much less a specific rule. You could never grade someone for holding Utilitarianism or Kantianism to be true or false. One can only know about such theories and principles, and think about them in more or less clever ways. You can brightly discuss them. For that the young man got his A’s. But that, of course, had no bearing on his character or behavior because it is only literary or historical or perhaps logical expertise, not moral knowledge."


    I think we can safely say here that Willard is hopelessly confused between the function of a survey course in ethics and the function of an ethical theory. Survey courses give students a broad introduction to many different theories that are of literary, historical, and logical importance. That's just the function of a survey course. In no way at all does that imply that the students and teachers of such courses are somehow committed to the idea that ethical discourse is not a subject of knowledge. This should go without saying, but contrariety of theory on some matter does not imply that no theory can be correct. Survey study can be useful as an introduction to works that are considered seminal, and part of the purpose is to understand how those influential works have shaped the field. But, of course, one can still endorse one particular theory to the exclusion of others; or cobble together one's own theory based on joining together different elements or novel ones. There's nothing mysterious about this.

    To see the folly of Willard's argument here, one can simply note that there are survey courses in theistic ethics, too. Even for something like theological voluntarism, there are so many different flavors of it that it would probably make Willard's head spin. So, now simply apply Willard's own argument to this, and it would end up defeating his own position. Clearly, there's something very wrong with this argument.

    The bulk of chapter 1 (starting I would say with the section "Word from a Different Reality" ) seems to simply presuppose the veracity of biblical narratives and is probably better viewed as an exhortation than an argument. Before we get there, though, there is one other basic objection I have. Again, as best I can tell, Willard's argument is some sort of pragmatic argument to the effect that one's life will go better if one endorses certain specific Christian narratives. But, if you look at what sorts of "slogans" he thinks can fill this, they generally have nothing necessarily to do with specific Christian narratives. He gives some examples on page 10 as slogans that affirm respecting responsibilities, or seeking knowledge, or encouraging practices that promote kindness and beauty, etc. None of that has any fundamental connection with religion or theism, let alone Christianity. So, the obvious objection here is that there are many diverse ways to promote these sorts of appreciations and practices, and there's no reason to think that endorsing some specific Christian narratives is necessary for any of this.
  2. Standard memberKellyJay
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    27 Sep '16 18:48
    Originally posted by LemonJello
    KJ, I have read the first chapter of The Divine Conspiracy now multiple times. Unfortunately, I find any arguments contained therein very hard to parse. Willard strikes me as somewhat of a non-linear thinker. What I can parse most clearly is some sort of pragmatic argument for belief in God; actually, more narrowly, some sort of pragmatic argume ...[text shortened]... reason to think that endorsing some specific Christian narratives is necessary for any of this.
    Okay, I guess my to do list with respect to reading has gotten larger. 🙂 I owe you in both
    threads now.
  3. Standard memberKellyJay
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    30 Sep '16 07:42
    Originally posted by LemonJello
    KJ, I have read the first chapter of The Divine Conspiracy now multiple times. Unfortunately, I find any arguments contained therein very hard to parse. Willard strikes me as somewhat of a non-linear thinker. What I can parse most clearly is some sort of pragmatic argument for belief in God; actually, more narrowly, some sort of pragmatic argume ...[text shortened]... reason to think that endorsing some specific Christian narratives is necessary for any of this.
    I thought when he was discussing the young man it was clearly showing that you can
    study about morals, but that doesn't translate into having them. We can know about up
    and down, but if you do not know your up from your down you run the risk of flying your
    airplane into the ground. I thought that where he was going with it was to show we can
    study morals get an "A" on the topic yet ignore it in life so that the young man could treat
    others as poorly as he did. To study the topic doesn't mean it didn't will translate into
    treating others with respect and honor and acting on good morals in one's daily life.

    This is from memory, I'll reread the chapter.
    I still have some reading to do with the other book, I also threw my back out so sitting isn't
    a lot of fun for me right now. 🙁
  4. Joined
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    03 Oct '16 19:27
    Originally posted by KellyJay
    I thought when he was discussing the young man it was clearly showing that you can
    study about morals, but that doesn't translate into having them. We can know about up
    and down, but if you do not know your up from your down you run the risk of flying your
    airplane into the ground. I thought that where he was going with it was to show we can
    study moral ...[text shortened]... ith the other book, I also threw my back out so sitting isn't
    a lot of fun for me right now. 🙁
    I thought when he was discussing the young man it was clearly showing that you can
    study about morals, but that doesn't translate into having them. I thought that where he was going with it was to show we can
    study morals get an "A" on the topic yet ignore it in life so that the young man could treat
    others as poorly as he did. To study the topic doesn't mean it didn't will translate into
    treating others with respect and honor and acting on good morals in one's daily life.


    And one could likewise ace some survey class on theistic moral teachings and yet ignore those teachings in everyday life.

    That shows nothing. But, at any rate, I think Willard’s argument hinges on something different. His argument rests tacitly on the idea that where there is a plurality of different ethical views, one can have no basis for taking one of them correct to the exclusion of the others. And he has provided no reasons for us to accept that. (And even if he did, that would presumably only end up defeating his own position, since there is a plurality of theistic views on the matter.)
  5. Standard memberKellyJay
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    03 Oct '16 20:36
    Originally posted by LemonJello
    [quote]I thought when he was discussing the young man it was clearly showing that you can
    study about morals, but that doesn't translate into having them. I thought that where he was going with it was to show we can
    study morals get an "A" on the topic yet ignore it in life so that the young man could treat
    others as poorly as he did. To study the ...[text shortened]... end up defeating his own position, since there is a plurality of theistic views on the matter.)
    Do you think the point about flying upside down went to the reality of good morals? If we fail to recognize the truth of it we simply fly until we find the ground where we thought we were flying high?
  6. Joined
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    04 Oct '16 16:16
    Originally posted by KellyJay
    Do you think the point about flying upside down went to the reality of good morals? If we fail to recognize the truth of it we simply fly until we find the ground where we thought we were flying high?
    Yes, more or less.

    The way I see his parallel there is as follows. If one is flying at high speed without an idea of whether one is upside down or right-side up (or under the impression that there is no difference), then things are likely to go badly, (e.g., one will fly into the ground). Similarly, he thinks if one is living at a high speed of life with no idea of what is right or wrong (or under the impression that there is no difference), then things are likely to go badly. The parallel is fair enough, I think. But I guess Willard tries to follow this up with arguments to show that Christians are like the pilots flying with knowledge of their orientation, whereas others are not. And that's where I don’t see his arguments going anywhere.
  7. Standard memberKellyJay
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    04 Oct '16 17:57
    Originally posted by LemonJello
    Yes, more or less.

    The way I see his parallel there is as follows. If one is flying at high speed without an idea of whether one is upside down or right-side up (or under the impression that there is no difference), then things are likely to go badly, (e.g., one will fly into the ground). Similarly, he thinks if one is living at a high speed of life ...[text shortened]... orientation, whereas others are not. And that's where I don’t see his arguments going anywhere.
    I think the point stressed was that there is a real up and down and if we don't get it right
    failure is our outcome. This would only be true if there is a real right and wrong in my
    opinion that does not depend upon man's views. If right and wrong depended only upon
    man alone it doesn't really matter which way we say is up it is what we say no matter what.
  8. Joined
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    04 Oct '16 20:261 edit
    Originally posted by KellyJay
    I think the point stressed was that there is a real up and down and if we don't get it right
    failure is our outcome. This would only be true if there is a real right and wrong in my
    opinion that does not depend upon man's views. If right and wrong depended only upon
    man alone it doesn't really matter which way we say is up it is what we say no matter what.
    That's fine, but there are many God-free secular moral theories that purport to outline a "real right and wrong…that does not depend on man's views". For example, Willard mentions a couple of them in the quote above, utilitarianism and Kantianism. Presumably he mentions these two because one is consequentialist and the other is deontological, which are often taken to be at diametric odds with each other. So, Willard is trying to make the point that a secularist has these different conflicting theories to consider and yet can have no basis for taking one to be correct to the exclusion of another. But what exactly is the support for this last point? A theist has many different conflicting moral theories to consider, too, and yet Willard doesn't seem to think it is a problem for the theist to choose a correct one out of the lot.
  9. Cape Town
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    04 Oct '16 20:34
    Originally posted by LemonJello
    Similarly, he thinks if one is living at a high speed of life with no idea of what is right or wrong (or under the impression that there is no difference), then things are likely to go badly. The parallel is fair enough, I think.
    If I am unwelcome in this thread, let me know.

    I would like clarification on this point. Do you think think that there is some observable goal for a moral theory? What would constitute a 'crash' or 'going badly'? Failure of society? Personal failure of adherents?

    Obviously a moral theory that leads to self contradiction would be an issue, but that didn't seem to be what you are talking about above.
  10. Standard memberDeepThought
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    05 Oct '16 00:301 edit
    Originally posted by twhitehead
    If I am unwelcome in this thread, let me know.

    I would like clarification on this point. Do you think think that there is some observable goal for a moral theory? What would constitute a 'crash' or 'going badly'? Failure of society? Personal failure of adherents?

    Obviously a moral theory that leads to self contradiction would be an issue, but that didn't seem to be what you are talking about above.
    Aristotelian ethics had as a sense of eudaemonia as its objective, so one's actions should naturally foster a sense of eudaemonia in oneself. As far as I can tell eudaemonia is a sort of smug self-satisfaction about how moral one is. I don't think it's much of an issue in modern ethical theories, but one wouldn't expect a moral theory to promote the converse. A moral theory that leaves one feeling bad about oneself could hardly be a moral theory, what does it entail: "All men are evil. So don't think you're any different."?

    There are two possible outcomes that are bad. One is an absence of eudaemonia, one feels bad about oneself because of whatever immoral acts one's conscience is conscious of. The other is the collection of bad outcomes one may have in store, especially if immoral is also illegal. I think the flight analogy is good, especially since becoming disorientated using instrument flight rules because of bad weather is a real risk for pilots. Other than morality or ethics another name for this area of philosophy is 'Practical Reason'. So one has reason to expect that there is a set of ethical ideas which give one a practical guide as to how one should live.
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    05 Oct '16 00:561 edit
    Originally posted by twhitehead
    If I am unwelcome in this thread, let me know.

    I would like clarification on this point. Do you think think that there is some observable goal for a moral theory? What would constitute a 'crash' or 'going badly'? Failure of society? Personal failure of adherents?

    Obviously a moral theory that leads to self contradiction would be an issue, but that didn't seem to be what you are talking about above.
    How do we judge the moral goodness of a moral theory? Or, of following it? Either by some standard that is foundational to the MT, or by one that is not. Either way presents problems. Shall we use a utilitarian standard? Then the moral theory needs be utilitarian, no? And so on with others.
  12. Joined
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    05 Oct '16 02:521 edit
    Originally posted by twhitehead
    If I am unwelcome in this thread, let me know.

    I would like clarification on this point. Do you think think that there is some observable goal for a moral theory? What would constitute a 'crash' or 'going badly'? Failure of society? Personal failure of adherents?

    Obviously a moral theory that leads to self contradiction would be an issue, but that didn't seem to be what you are talking about above.
    Any moral theory has a "goal" in the sense of a function, which is to provide a certain type of account.

    Any moral theory also has a "goal" in the sense of the objective content of rightness or that to which rightness conforms. Different moral theories will postulate different conditions for this. For example, as DeepThought mentioned, virtue ethics may postulate conditions related to eudaimonia or traits that conduce to human flourishing; perhaps for a utilitarian account it will be in terms of intrinsically valuable consequences or states of affairs; for a Kantian deontic account it would be in terms of categorical norms of practical reasoning; for a theological voluntarist it has to do with God's will; and so on and so forth. But at any rate, each moral theory will postulate some condition or other for this, and that can be taken as a "goal" in some sense.

    In terms of the Willard metaphor, I would argue nothing beyond taking 'going badly' as entailing a sizable measure of wrongness on whatever account the moral theory provides. On a basic level, Willard's analogy just seems to depend on a couple things. First, that some moral theory is correct (hence there is a right and wrong, similar to how there is an up and down). And second, that ceteris paribus one is more likely to do wrong by such an account if one is oblivious or indifferent toward it than if one is properly responsive to it (similar to how one is more likely to crash if one is oblivious or indifferent toward up and down than if one is properly oriented). That's all, and I have no objection to these. Objecting to these is a non-starter anyway, since Willard would just take that as supporting his metaphor for modern society divorced from God (see, look, yet another modern intellectual who thinks there is no right or wrong or, worse, that there is no difference between them!) He uses this just to set the stage for his arguments. My problem is with the ensuing arguments.
  13. Cape Town
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    05 Oct '16 08:21
    Originally posted by DeepThought
    There are two possible outcomes that are bad. One is an absence of eudaemonia, one feels bad about oneself because of whatever immoral acts one's conscience is conscious of. The other is the collection of bad outcomes one may have in store, especially if immoral is also illegal.
    So a moral theory that does not lead to those outcomes is wrong? Would you say that Jesus was therefore wrong as his actions lead to illegal acts, his own death and the persecution of his followers?
  14. Cape Town
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    05 Oct '16 08:22
    Originally posted by JS357
    How do we judge the moral goodness of a moral theory? Or, of following it? Either by some standard that is foundational to the MT, or by one that is not. Either way presents problems. Shall we use a utilitarian standard? Then the moral theory needs be utilitarian, no? And so on with others.
    I thought the question we were trying to answer was how to judge a standard, not whether or not a theory meets a given standard. (I am not saying you are wrong, just asking for clarification about what is being discussed).
  15. Cape Town
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    05 Oct '16 08:27
    Originally posted by LemonJello
    In terms of the Willard metaphor, I would argue nothing beyond taking 'going badly' as entailing a sizable measure of wrongness on whatever account the moral theory provides.
    Thanks for the clarification. I thought the analogy had to do with knowing whether or not you have picked the right moral measure whereas in fact you are saying the measure has been chosen and the analogy has to do with whether or not your fleshing out of the theory still fits with the measure, or put another way, you can guide the fleshing out of the theory using the measure.

    So the analogy doesn't help with the age old problem of choosing a measure (which is often the key distinguishing feature between moral theories).
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