Metaphysics and the Good: Themes from the Philosophy of Robert Merrihew Adams

Metaphysics and the Good: Themes from the Philosophy of Robert Merrihew Adams
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They exist necessarily, but they are also in need of explanation, and that explanation is God. Although much more could be said about this, I would like to pursue a different line of thinking in order to show that the moral law does indeed require a moral lawgiver. Specifically, my claim is that the fact that morality contains within it a normative or obligatory character does indeed presuppose the existence of a lawgiving, transcendent Personal Being.

Susan Rose Wolf | American Academy of Arts and Sciences

In other words, morality is agent-centered —it requires a thinking being with the authority to issue commands. But before we look at that response in more detail, let us examine briefly the second argument given for the claim that morality is not grounded in God.

At this point, the skeptic has another weapon in his arsenal. For someone who is not philosophically inclined, the subtlety of this argument can easily make it seem quite abstract and irrelevant, not to mention bewildering.

So, once again, I implore you to gird up the loins of your mind. In other words, the fact that we have the obligation to obey commands issued by God is itself an obligation that is simply true—it is not one of the commands God issues. An example might be helpful here. Suppose you are made aware of the command that you must set aside Wednesday as a holy day and you are to do no work on that day.

You ask who issued that command. Would you really feel obligated to do so if you found out that the order to keep the Sabbath on Wednesday came from your next-door neighbor, Bill? Mackie stated the objection as follows:. The commands of a legitimate human ruler do not create obligations: if such a ruler tells you to do X, this makes it obligatory for you to do X only if it is already obligatory for you to do whatever the ruler tells you within the sphere in which X lies. The same applies to God. He can make it obligatory for us to do Y by so commanding only because there is first a general obligation for us to obey him.

His commands, therefore, cannot be the source of moral obligation in general. Given who God is, I am under his authority and I must obey his commands. The crucial point here is this: Just as Bill cannot make it the case that you ought to obey the commands he issues just by issuing that as a command, God cannot make it the case that you ought to obey Him just by commanding you to do so since, if you are not already obligated to obey Him, you would not need to worry about this command either.

You obey his commands because there is an antecedent, independent obligation owed to Him simply because of who He is , whether He has issued any commands or not. But that creates a problem for our original claim that our obligations are commands issued by God. Here is the linchpin of the argument: if it is possible for there to be just one moral obligation that is simply true, i. If that happens, just come back to the next section of this article for a brief but, I believe, effective response.

The first thing to note about the claim being made here is that it can be applied to any moral theory. If we say, for example, that morality is a matter of human convention, then we must assume that we have the prior, independent obligation to obey the directives of the community.

If we say that what is right is determined by the majority, then we must suppose that we are obligated to follow the dictates of the majority. Here is how Mark Schroder states this point:. In other words, we are left with no possible way of offering an explanation for the source of our moral obligations. But the theist is not at all committed to the second statement; all the theist needs is for the first statement to be true.

There is no antecedent, mysterious obligation that needs to be explained. The moral of the story thus far is that even the best of the reasons routinely given for thinking that we do not need to appeal to God to ground morality do not succeed. If there is a moral law, there must be a moral lawgiver. But we can strengthen the argument even further by showing that morality, and specifically moral obligation, is both agent-relative it can only arise in the case of persons and objective it transcends human will.

If moral obligation is grounded in a person or persons and it is not dependent on human beings, then it must be grounded in a supernatural Person, i.

We normally take it for granted that we have obligations to do or not do certain things. When tragedy strikes, our political leaders invoke this sense of obligation to justify the actions they believe we should support. Morality binds us, leaving us with no choice in the matter.

Must the Moral Law Have a Lawgiver?

Shame and guilt are the result of disregarding the dictates of morality. But as far back as , Cambridge philosopher Elizabeth Anscombe argued that the concept of moral obligation in Western philosophy has its roots in Christianity, which conceives of ethics, and especially moral obligation, in terms of laws given by God. When we consider what it means to say that we have moral obligations or duties, we quickly begin to see the validity of the point that Anscombe was making.

The eminent moral theorist John Stuart Mill described the concept of moral duty as follows:. We do not call anything wrong unless we mean to imply that a person ought to be punished in some way or other for doing it—if not by law, by the opinion of his fellow creatures; if not by opinion, by the reproaches of his own conscience…. It is a part of the notion of duty in every one of its forms that a person may rightfully be compelled to fulfill it. Duty is a thing which may be exacted from a person, as one exacts a debt.

Not only are certain things wrong to do, we are prohibited from doing them. Not only are some things good to do, we are required to do them.

Moral Obligation as Agent-Relative

As Mill notes, duty is something we owe in the same way we owe debts. One is hard-pressed to make sense of owing duties and debts to no one in particular. The best way to make sense of talk of duties is in a social context where duties like debts are owed to other persons. One can have very good reasons to do something morally right and still not be obligated to do it. Accountability and responsibility are also needed, and we are responsible to someone. Darwall notes that such diverse philosophers as Suarez in the late 16th and early 17th century, John Stuart Mill, and Nietzsche have defended this view.

He says,. Exactly who is the moral community is itself contestable. Theological voluntarists might believe it is really just God. You and I might believe it is just persons—people who are capable of holding one another morally responsible. As is evident from the quote, Darwall defends a secularist approach to morality. Similarly, Susan Wolf, another secularist philosopher, points out that it is not enough to say that moral requirements are requirements of morality; that to follow moral obligations is simply to do what morality requires of us.

In other words, human beings are the moral community that gives obligation its normative force. But it is important to address a common misconception about the normative character of morality in a more direct way. It is often assumed that reason by itself is adequate to give us all we want in terms of knowing and acting upon our moral obligations. What is moral to do, the claim goes, is what is reasonable to do. But although morality is indeed reasonable, the relationship between the two is not as clear cut as the foregoing claim implies. It is one thing to have good reasons to do something and quite another to be obligated to do it.

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Having reasons to perform an action does not necessarily imbue one with the kind of obligation morality requires. An illustration given by C. Stephen Evans might be helpful here. He would have a very good reason to perform that act. But he would not be considered morally blameworthy should he choose to play golf instead. The point, once again, is that having good reasons to do something is not the same thing as being obligated to do it.

Alternatively, violating rationality is not the same thing as violating moral obligation. As Robert Adams puts it,.

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To the extent that I have done something morally wrong, I have something to feel guilty about. To the extent that I have done something irrational, I have merely something to feel silly about—and the latter is much less serious than the former. The only time when failure to heed the demands of reason bears serious consequences is when there is a moral component involved.

For example, an error of calculation in designing a bridge is more serious than getting an answer wrong on an engineering examination. Moral obligation has a certain, distinct characteristic that gives it its compulsive force with blameworthiness or guilt attached to it.

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Moral obligation has the unique capacity to override any other reasons we may have to do or not to do something. Such a decidedly law-like character of obligation makes sense within a social context where demands or imperatives and accountability are in force. Moral obligation is a social concept: it is based on the assumption that there are persons involved. So far we have seen that we have good reasons to think that moral obligation is a social concept.

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Books edited collections 4. Western philosophy is said to begin in the Greek cities of western Asia Minor with Thales of Miletus , active c. However, the college's constituent poverty and lack of funds owing to its non-conformist history prevented these plans from being executed. All are at the center of gigantic conspiracy theories with incredibly complex and endlessly multiplying twists, turns, highways and byways. To quote the legendary scientist Galileo,.

As already mentioned, many philosophers agree with this conclusion. Some of those who argue that obligation is a social concept claim that human societies can adequately account for it. It is the society, period, that places moral demands on its individual members. But while it is true that we have obligations that are created by the societies to which we belong, the imperatival force of morality makes it doubtful that appealing to the society can account for the entire range of the obligations we acknowledge.

To begin with, societies often err in prescribing behavior for their members. For example, those who obediently followed the laws issued by the Nazis during the Second World War were indeed carrying out their societal obligations. But their society was gravely mistaken about the obligations morality prescribed for its citizens. This suggests strongly that moral obligations are not decided by the society. They are objective—what we are obligated to do transcends individual or the collective human will, desires, or beliefs.

Thus unless there is a law above human law, it is hard to see how we can justify our claim that some things commanded by certain societies are wrong. Philosopher Joel Marks has argued that obligation does indeed require the existence of God, though he sadly rejects morality instead of seeing it as further evidence for God. I had thought I was a secularist because I conceived of right and wrong as standing on their own two feet, without prop or crutch from God.

We should do the right thing because it is the right thing to do, period. But this was a God too. It was the Godless God of secular morality, which commanded without commander—whose ways were thus even more mysterious than the God I did not believe in, who at least had the intelligible motive of rewarding us for doing what He wanted.

Similarly, Yale law professor Arthur Leff concluded his powerful critique of morality without God with the following words,. All I can say is this: it looks as if we are all we have. Given what we know about ourselves and each other, this is an extraordinarily unappetizing prospect; looking around the world, it appears that if all men are brothers, the ruling model is Cain and Abel. Only if ethics were something unspeakable by us, could law be unnatural, and therefore unchallengeable. As things now stand, everything is up for grabs.

The hound of heaven is ever on our trail. Consider the words of the following poem written by A. Housman The speaker acquiesces to the weight of moral obligation that he finds to be undeniable, even though it is foreign to his preferred mode of existence. How is such compulsion to be justified? Why should one yield to such demands?

In Christian terms, we should be moral because we are moral beings made by a moral God in his image. We find our proper telos or purpose when we become what we were originally intended to be. That process begins in this life and continues on to the next, where it will be fully perfected. But if this life is not all there is, then the scales will eventually be evened out, and morality and happiness will one day coincide.

I find it absolutely mystifying that some would choose to deny the reality of morality rather than acknowledge the fact that it indeed points us to God. Thankfully, there are many others who have found their way to the cross after pondering the implications of an objective morality that is simply a part of the fabric of the universe. After discussing some of the points I have raised here with a seemingly hardened, lifelong atheist university professor, he completely caught me off-guard by confessing to me that the argument makes his atheism untenable.

I have seen students give their lives to Christ when they learn how to think clearly about morality and when they consider what the gospel of salvation has to offer them—not just for this life, but also for the life to come, as we will see at the conclusion of this article. Its long existence therefore presupposes some other will behind it. The Theodicy brings together many different strands of Leibniz's own philosophical system, and we get a rare snapshot of how he intended these disparate aspects of his philosophy to come together into a single, overarching account of divine justice in the face of the … Read more In G.

The Theodicy brings together many different strands of Leibniz's own philosophical system, and we get a rare snapshot of how he intended these disparate aspects of his philosophy to come together into a single, overarching account of divine justice in the face of the world's evils. At the same time, the Theodicy is a fascinating window into the context of philosophical theology in the seventeenth century. Leibniz had his finger on the intellectual pulse of his time, and this comes out very clearly in the Theodicy.

He engages with all of the major lines of theological dispute of that time, demonstrating the encyclopaedic breadth of his understanding of the issues. Leibniz's Theodicy remains one of the most abiding systematic accounts of how evil is compatible with divine goodness. Any treatment of the problem of evil must, at some point, come to grips with Leibniz's proposed solution.

This volume refreshes and deepens our understanding of this great work. Leading scholars present original essays which critically evaluate the Theodicy, providing a window on its historical context and giving close attention to the subtle and enduring philosophical arguments.

Leibniz holds that possibilities and possibilia are grounded in the intellect of God. Although other early moderns agreed that modal truths are in some way dependent on God, there were sharp disagreements surrounding two distinct questions: 1 On what in God do modal truths and modal truth-makers depend? It then defends Leibniz against a pair of recent objections by Robert Merrihew Adams and Andrew Chignell that invoke the early work of Kant.

Leibniz: Metaphysics. Spinoza's modal metaphysics Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Spinoza studies have seen a renaissance of interest in his views on modality, from which considerable disagreement has emerged about Spinoza's modal commitments. Much of this disagreement stems from larger interpretive disagreements about Spinoza's metaphysics. After a brief introduction, this SEP article begins with Spinoza's views on the distribution of modal properties, which quickly leads the heart of Spinoza's metaphysics, intersecting his views on causation, inherence, God, ontological ple… Read more Spinoza studies have seen a renaissance of interest in his views on modality, from which considerable disagreement has emerged about Spinoza's modal commitments.

After a brief introduction, this SEP article begins with Spinoza's views on the distribution of modal properties, which quickly leads the heart of Spinoza's metaphysics, intersecting his views on causation, inherence, God, ontological plenitude and the principle of sufficient reason. Although the question of whether Spinoza was a necessitarian is the predominant topic of discussion in the recent secondary literature on Spinoza's modal views, Spinoza also sketches interesting accounts of the nature of modality and the ground of modality that shed fresh light on his modal commitments.

Though understudied by recent interpreters, these latter topics were of interest to Spinoza's peers and remain vibrant research questions in contemporary metaphysics of modality. Baruch Spinoza. One vexing strand of Spinozism asserts that God's nature is more expansive than traditionally conceived and includes properties like being extended. In this paper, I argue that prominent early moderns embrace metaphysical principles about causation, mental representation, and modality that pressure their advocates towards such an expansive account of God's nature in similar ways.

The upshot is that those sympathetic with these early modern projects must embrace a costlier option if they are to successfully escape the orbit of Spinoza. There was a consensus in late Scholasticism that evils are privations, the lacks of appropriate perfections. Alternative Concepts of God: Essays on the Metaphysics. The concept of God according to traditional Judeo-Christian-Islamic theism minimally includes the following theses: i The concept of God according to traditional Judeo-Christian-Islamic theism minimally includes the following theses: i There is one God; ii God is an omniscient, omnipotent, and morally perfect agent; iii God is the creator ex nihilo of the universe and View Product.

Mikhail Alexandrovich Bakunin, the anarchist, was a political thinker; his reputation, based partly on his Mikhail Alexandrovich Bakunin, the anarchist, was a political thinker; his reputation, based partly on his appetite for action and partly on unsympathetic historiography, obscures this. Bakunin's social milieu influenced the manner in which he expressed his ideas, because he tried Charles S. Physicist, mathematician, and logician Charles S. Peirce was America's first internationally recognized philosopher, the Peirce was America's first internationally recognized philosopher, the man who created the concept of pragmatism, popularized by William James.

Peirce: The Essential Writings is a comprehensive collection of the philosopher's writings Holocene Extinctions. The extent to which human activity has influenced species extinctions during the recent prehistoric past The extent to which human activity has influenced species extinctions during the recent prehistoric past remains controversial due to other factors such as climatic fluctuations and a general lack of data. However, the Holocene the geological interval spanning the last This volume gathers leading figures from legal philosophy and constitutional theory to offer a critical