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July 07, 2015


Why can't moral obligations be physical features of the world? In other words, why do you think moral obligations are different from the laws of nature?

If you jump off a cliff, you are "obligated" to fall. If you stick your hand in a fire, you are "obligated" to burn. In the same way, the punishment for violating a moral law should be a natural and automatic result.

Or, if punishments for moral transgressions are not natural and automatic, why aren't they? What determines how and when you are punished for a moral transgression?

Gravity is indifferent.

Automatic is indifferent.

Punishment "must" happen? That's indifferent.

That's the best that material has.


The fundamental shape of reality is the indifferent.


The fundamental shape of reality, the categorical paradigm there at the end of the line, finds love's ceaseless reciprocity amid three unavoidable vertices of being.

When you say "indifferent," I guess you mean that it's not a living, caring person. But why is that important?

Maybe because a caring person is able to forgive, or to give you a second chance. But that's what I'm asking here - Why would God forgive a moral transgression or refuse to forgive it? Is there some logical cause-and-effect explanation, or is it just a fuzzy, ambiguous "love" thing?

If God's love is fuzzy and ambiguous and unpredictable, then we might be wasting our time trying to figure him out. On the other hand, if God's love is logical and rational and predictable, then it scarcely seems different from natural laws like gravity.

"Moral obligations are only instantiated between persons, and thus, they are a relation between two persons."

This whole concept turns on the word obligations, but it is indeed personal. I'm not sure it is assumed or not but one of the persons must have some form of superiority over the other if the other is obliged to obey. No equals may oblige/obligate another by/from within himself.

Why just between persons? We have laws of nature that apply everywhere to everything, and then we have these special laws that only apply to persons. Couldn't moral laws just be a subset of the laws of nature?

Interestingly the series begins with the subjective "I've always found...". I wonder if at the bottom is a subjective wholly physical based assessment, albeit based on a grand design of the material world.

It seems your conscious thoughts could have emerged from a myriad of layers of physical reality designed to tune into a myriad of physical patterns that coalesce and are brilliantly recursive such as to give rise to self consciousness. Ditto for your ability to consciously recognize a particular rule as “golden” and apply it with respect to God by giving him praise and thus fulfill your purpose for existence. I’m not convinced that pure materiality inherently reduces to unconscious machine like existence; given “mere” dust it seems an all-powerful all-wise God could do better than that.

In any case caution seems in order to avoid underestimating God's ability to make elements, dust if you will, and to construct material beings that can know him within and in terms of a purely material world designed and sustained to function as such. This seems consistent with knowing God as Father, light, maker, and so forth.

Could we therefore alternatively posit that God, in a fully theistic sense, designed the world, including dust from which to say the least he fearfully and wonderfully fashioned into living breathing beings including humans - in order to "naturally" and subjectively recognize social obligations as part of their physical world? The reality of first instinctive and then nurtured social behaviors in mammals and thousands of years of progressive inspiration with respect to higher level ethical human behaviors, including behaviors with respect to God, seem to indicate such a design.

Could not God's design assume universal social behaviors that over the long term and by design evidence success and failure as subjectively recognizable by his living breathing beings? In particular, for those made out of dust to be the image of God in terms of and within the physical world, could not predominately universal and by design subjectively identifiable higher level behaviors be learned, proposed, and defended as ethical Rom 1:20?


Gravity is predictable, it is enslaved and cannot do otherwise, and thus you're back to the automaton constituted of the automatic cause/effect that is the quark's / particle's fundamental nature.

The Theist is more than happy to grant you that stopping point, that categorical paradigm at the end of the line.


Indeed, Man, in Theism, does have an actual / natural Nature, and, Natural Theology would in large part agree with you. Though, such is not so in materialism, that is, “Man”, or, “Table”, or, "Neurologic Reflex", or, “Asteroid, or, “Brain State”, or, “Galaxy”, or what have you are, all, constituted of the same fundamental shape, are all confined to one, singular categorical paradigm, leaving Man per se ontologically nature-less The peculiarities of Natural Theology vs. Natural A-Theology come into play. It’s not the substance that’s critical, it’s the start/stop point. Should (natural) Reason find love’s categorical paradigm at the end of the line, then indeed God fashions one paradigm (Dust, Contingent, Mutable) such that (natural) Reason perceives quite another paradigm in the Immutable Love of the Necessary Being. Whereas, if (natural) Reason hears only the sound of her own voice (on the one hand) and the voicelessness of Indifference (on the other hand), then Hume is correct:

Tis not contrary to reason to prefer the destruction of the whole world to the scratching of my finger. ‘Tis not contrary to reason for me to chuse my total ruin, to prevent the least uneasiness of an Indian or person wholly unknown to me. ‘Tis as little contrary to reason to prefer even my own acknowledg'd lesser good to my greater, and have a more ardent affection for the former than for the latter.” (Treatise of Human Nature

The fundamental shape of reality finds nothing which confronts Reason, leaving Reason justified of her own Self, her own essence. Hume's intellectual honesty on that interface of (natural) Reason "in-here" with the factual shape of reality "out-there" is refreshing.

The Theist does not argue with the Naturalist that morality is, if the Naturalist wants it to be, entirely material as such leaves him (the Naturalist) fundamentally unable to finance the very expensive metaphysical real estate of immutable love. That is to say, love does not precede and out-distance the indifferent, but, rather, the indifferent precedes and out-distances love.

Whereas, Theism speaks towards that which precedes and out-distances the indifferent as the fundamental shape of reality and finds the categorical paradigm there at the end of the line in love's ceaseless reciprocity amid three unavoidable vertices of being.

Brad B, WisdomLover,

The following reminded me of you two.....always helpful:

…..we will have achieved a kind of progress by unification that is sorely lacking in all contemporary moral theories…..

A book entitled New Scholasticism Meets Analytic Philosophy was recently released.

One of its chapters, “The Metaphysics Of Privation”, is by David Oderberg and the link should be the PDF, which can be downloaded.

The PDF of that particular chapter dealing with Privation is 29 pages.

It begins with:

“No theory of the good can be complete without a theory of its contrary, evil (or badness). Suppose, in common with the classical natural law tradition, we think of good as a kind of fulfilment, the completion of some tendency of a thing. It is then natural, following the view famously defended by St Augustine and St Thomas Aquinas, to regard evil as the absence of good – more precisely, as a privation of good. But how exactly are we to understand privation? And, given that a privation is a kind of absence, how should we go about solving the metaphysical difficulties that – as we shall see – bedevil the attempt to treat evil as an absence, as a type of negative reality? In what follows I do not propose definitive answers; rather, I will explore the difficulties and outline the direction their solution should take.”

It ends with:

“What we should say, then, about the propositions above is:

1. Evil is real: true [when opposed to ‘evil is illusory/unreal’]; false [when opposed to ‘evil is conceptual’].

2. Evil is a privation: true.

3. Privations are not real: false [when ‘not real’ is read as ‘illusory/unreal’]; true [when ‘not real’ is read as ‘conceptual’].

4. Evil can be a cause and an effect: false [when evil is considered in itself as a privation]; true [when the positive states on which evil supervenes are considered].

5. No privation can be a cause or effect: true [when the privation is considered in itself as a negative being]; false [when the positive states on which the privation supervenes are considered].”

“What I have offered is no more than the sketch of how a metaphysical explanation of evil should proceed. To be adequate, the explanation should account for all of the plausible intuitions we hold about evil without introducing implausible metaphysical commitments. Embedding our account in a broader theory of negative truth and negative being requires exploration of a number of issues whose surface I have only scratched – in particular, the scholastic distinction between real and conceptual being. If and only if a satisfying account can be produced, can we then begin to consider the place in the world of our ultimate target, that specific kind of evil which we call moral. If the phenomenon of moral evil can be set within a more general theory of evil along the lines sketched here, we will have achieved a kind of progress by unification that is sorely lacking in all contemporary moral theories.” (David Oderberg)

Indeed, Oderberg nicely captures the condition of many contemporary moral theories as unification, convergence, and metaphysical coherence are, so very often, painfully lacking.

WisdomLover and Brad B.,

Recalling your former works/threads on "potential", or, "future potential", and how, exactly, that coherently ties into the question of what makes the unjustified taking of a life “wrong”, the linked essay which posits that Potentiality is not unrealized Possibility proved in part interesting.

A few brief excerpts:

“What is potentiality or in principle capacity in general? How does it differ from (metaphysical) possibility? …….. A potentiality is not the same as a possibility. It is obviously not the same as an actualized possibility, but it is also not the same as an un-actualized possibility………. For example, a human embryo has the potentiality to develop, in the normal course of events, into a neonate. This potentiality is something actual in the embryo. It is not a mere or un-actualized possibility of the embryo. What is a mere possibility is the realization of the potentiality. Just as we must not confuse a disposition with its manifestation, we must not confuse a potentiality with its realization……”

I think it's interesting, John, that you think the law of gravity is material.

It seems quite immaterial to me.

When I see two objects near each other without intervening obstructions, I see that they tend to move toward each other.

It seems to be a claim about physical objects, but how is the claim itself material?

It is always interesting to see Naturalism's attempt at paradigmatic Universals and Forms as it is often clever, even if metaphysically sloppy.

Fincke (an Atheist) writes:

Teleology should not be at all out of bounds for atheists. Teleologists do not need to posit that there is an intelligent goal-giver who gives natural beings purposes to fulfill, as many theists think….. I am an atheistic virtue ethicist requiring no divine agency for the teleological dimensions of my ethics to make minimal sense and have minimal coherence. I am just describing purely naturalistically occurring patterns as universals or forms. I am saying that since humans’ very natures are constituted by a specific set of powers, fulfilling them is incumbent on humans as the beings that we are. It is irrational and a practical contradiction to destroy the very precondition of our own being (all things being equal). We have a rational imperative instead to flourish maximally powerfully according to the powers which constitute us ourselves….

The appeal here is to the evolved Bell Curve of appetites as “universals” or as “forms”. It is called “Naturalistically Occurring Patterns”. Clusters are labeled as Universals and Forms and supposedly ground objective morality in naturalism. It even obligates reason, we’re told.

But there’s a huge problem. Several in fact.

The blind cul-de-sac that is the our blip on the screen called Man finds, per this view, Reason obligated to the chain of links in which each link sums to this, “If I want X, then I should do Y”. This view fails to account for (at least) two things. That is to say, the blind cul-de-sac is not reality, it is rather only a part of reality, and so if “Naturalistically occurring Patterns” is to be the Universals and the Forms which sum to the end-all and the be-all, well then the Naturalist had better raise his line of sight to embrace all of reality.

We find this intellectual cheating on two fronts.

Firstly, only a few ontological slices of the Bell Curve are claimed to be “nature’s objective morality” (the nice and kind parts) while a huge swath of other ontological slices (the unkind parts) are inexplicably not part of “nature’s objective morality”. The brutal facts of human history and the Atheist’s own “There’s too much evil! Therefore no-god!” both fundamentally gut such wishful thinking, such autohypnosis.

Secondly, the Naturalist assumes the behavior of an ostrich when it comes to this blind cul-de-sac, to this blip on the screen, in that he buries his head inside of that cul-de-sac and just pretends, “This Is All Of Reality – Therefore Reality Is Objectively Moral”. But that is not coherent with reality on the grounds that large swaths of (real) ontological slices within his blind cul-de-sac remain intellectually ignored and therefore are unaccounted for in his metaphysics. In the same way, the entire swath of ontological reality beyond his blind cul-de-sac also goes intellectually ignored and therefore is also unaccounted for in his metaphysical statement on reality proper.

The resulting intellectual insolvency:

The metaphysics of Nature’s Objective Morality being “coherent” vis-à-vis “Naturalistically Occurring Patterns” works just so long as one, firstly, intellectually (and thus *meta*physically) ignores huge ontological swaths within the blind cul-de-sac, and, secondly, intellectually (and thus *meta*physically) ignores huge ontological swaths beyond the blind cul-de-sac.

Indifference precedes and out-distances love, and, hence, love is *meta*physically annihilated, leaving only the voicelessness of Indifference. Reason finds, therefore, only Indifference at the head of the line of that annoyingly insolvent chain of ontological IOU's wherein each link is made up of "If I want X I ought to do Y". Hume's conclusion remains metaphysically coherent - yet to find a defeater from his own Atheistic paradigm.

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