For our next installment in the quest for a comprehensive moral theory, we turn to Richard's Joyce's The Myth of Morality. Central to his argument are two propositions: 1.) moral discourse is fundamentally flawed and 2.) "morality is a fiction...it embodies falsehood"
Joyce illustrates these two propositions via a historical example. He writes,
"Through the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, the dominate theory for explaining a variety of phenomena - most notably combustion - was to posit a kind of invisible substance in the world: phlogiston. The theory allowed for various chemists, such as Stahl and Priestley, to employ what might be called 'phlogiston discourse' - they asserted things like 'Phlogiston is lighter than air,' 'Soot is made up largely of phlogiston,' etc. In the eighteenth century Lavoisier showed that this discourse was utterly mistaken: there simply was no so stuff as phlogiston."
Richard Joyce, The Myth of Morality (Cambridge university Press, 2001), ix.
In terms of Joyce's propositions the general discourse on morality is fundamentally flawed in large part because there is no such things as morality. Stahl and Priestly represent the moralists in this scenario. Lavoisier represents the moral error theorists.
Notice that Joyce's propositions contain an ontological component [i.e., the existence of morality] and an epistemological component [i.e., is moral discourse true or false]. So we ask, Is moral discourse fundamentally flawed? Is there a such thing as morality? Can the Christian worldview account for Joyce's observations? I think it can.
Let us begin with the ontological question, does morality exist in some unflawed way? Well, seeing that Joyce refuses to posit the existence of God as the prime Source of morality, then from the Christian perspective, Joyce has concluded correctly. From the Christian worldview, morality does not exist in the way or in a similar way that phlogiston does not exist without the existence of God.
The Scriptures record in Proverbs 1:7 that "The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge, but fools despise wisdom and instruction." And why is this? In large part because," The fool has said in his heart, 'There is no God'" [Psalm 14:1]. Again, we read in Proverbs 9:10, "The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom: and the knowledge of the holy is understanding." What then is our result? Proverbs 18:2 that "A fool hath no delight in understanding, but that his heart may discover itself."
Whether an individual or a community, and speaking terms of morality, the Bible agrees with Joyce that without God moral knowledge, moral understanding, moral instruction, and moral wisdom are fictions. In fact, when man goes to speak about his own personal morality phlogiston, seeing he rejects the existence of God, he delights not in that which flows from God but rather delights only in the discovery of his own heart, his own internal moral phlogiston.
But the agreement on this issues does not end here even if you do believe in a god. The Psalmist writes in Psalm 115:4-8,
"Their idols are silver and gold, the work of men's hands. They have mouths, but they speak not: eyes have they, but they see not: They have ears, but they hear not: noses have they, but they smell not: They have hands, but they handle not: feet have they, but they walk not: neither speak they through their throat. They that make them are like unto them; so is every one that trusteth in them."
Man, apart from the living and true God, creates form himself false god's, fictions, if you will. Men then worship these god's which have mouths but do not speak, ears but do not hear, noses, but do not smell, hand but they do not handle, feet but they do not walk, neither do they speak. And yet man goes on and on giving much for these fictions. Their language about morality is fundamentally flawed because their god is a fiction. They claim their gods speak authoritatively and yet they do not - a fiction and a falsehood. This moral religious behavior is so fundamentally flawed that the worshiper becomes like his fiction. He becomes false. He reasons according to this fiction. He moralizes according to it. Indeed, this is the way of all those who reject Jesus as their Savior and Lord. Jesus says in John 14:6, "I am the way, the truth, and the life." Jesus spoke and He speaks. Jesus is the truth. He is no lifeless idol. In short, Joyce has touched on a profound biblical truth regarding morality. But as you can see, Joyce's theory is but a small part of the much larger system of Christian moral theory subsumed under Hamartiology - the doctrine of sin. If there is an ineliminable error in moral ontology, moral duty, and moral discourse, it is that sin pervades the world and the mind of man.
Both Mackie and Joyce have drawn conclusions concerning the perceived non-existence of morality and with certain qualifications, the Bible supports those claims. Unfortunately, Mackie and Joyce's systems are too narrow. Their explanatory force and scope seem to reject all other accounts in a de facto sort of way. But as we will continue to see, Christian moral theory acknowledges and accepts with qualification the best of what so many current moral philosophers have to say while at the same uniting them in a rational cohesive whole. Now that sounds like a supremely robust moral theory to me.
Our next installment in the quest for a comprehensive moral theory takes a look at Expressivism. See you then.
Song of Solomon Chap. 1 (Part II)
In this episode Dr.'s Van Kleeck continue there verse-by-verse discussion of Song of Solomon chapter 1 and a biblical sexual ethic.
To being our discussion on a quest for a comprehensive moral theory we will start with the thought of J.L. Mackie. Mackie claims the perspective of moral scepticism. Mackie writes,
"First, what I have called moral scepticism is a negative doctrine, not a positive one; it says what there isn't, not what there is."
J.L. Mackie, "The Subjectivity of Values" in Foundations of Ethics, 14.
Mackie does not believe and in this case argues against the idea that there are such things as objective moral values and duties. In short, Mackie questions whether there exists a moral standard which binds all humanity throughout all space and time. He writes,
"Second, what I have called moral scepticism is an ontological thesis, not a linguistic or conceptual one."
J.L. Mackie, "The Subjectivity of Values" in Foundations of Ethics, 14.
Instead, Mackie argument proceeds from what he calls relativity and queerness. Mackie asserts first the argument from relativity which
"has as its premiss the well-known variation in moral codes form one society to another and form one period to another, and also the differences in moral beliefs between different groups and classes within a complex community."
J.L. Mackie, "The Subjectivity of Values" in Foundations of Ethics, 18.
Moral sense, moral intuition, and moral judgment are all relative to the time, circumstance, desire, society, and subsequent response of a given subject. When any of these variables change, even by degree, the resulting response is also different, and sometimes radically different. And though they be different they are still held as truly moral or immoral by the subject. Taken in this way it seems obvious that moral sense, intuition, and judgment are indeed multifarious, relative, and subjective. Second to Mackie's argument from relativity is his argument from queerness. Mackie writes,
"If there were objective values, then they would be entities or qualities of relations of a very strange sort, utterly different from anything else in the universe. Correspondingly, if we were aware of them, it would have to be by some special faculty of moral perception or intuition, utterly different from our ordinary ways of knowing."
J.L. Mackie, "The Subjectivity of Values" in Foundations of Ethics, 19.
Note here that Mackie offers a conditional bi-partite issue, one metaphysical and the other epistemological. If there are objective moral values, then they must be unique, sui generous, or as he puts it, "queer." Second is that if such objective moral values were to exist, then we as moral agents would need an equally unique moral apparatus to know these objective moral values. Mackie rejects the existence of such things and the knowledge of the same.
From a Christian perspective, what if we agree with Mackie? What if we agree insofar as to say that that moral phenomena are indeed multifarious at least on the surface and thus at a minimum, appear to be relative. The Scriptures proclaim that there have been times when "every man did that which was right in his own eyes" [Judges 21:25]. In another place the Scriptures teach that "every imagination of man's heart was only evil continually" [Genesis 6:5]. We see in at least these two cases the "relative" good and evil, right and wrong of mankind. Taking the example from Judges, every man's "right" is not the same as his neighbor's and vice versa. Each man regarded his "right" as "right." In the Genesis example, when every imagination of man's heart was evil, it stands to reason that for these people their understanding of that evil imagination was relative to what they regarded as evil, or sort of evil, or not as bad as that guy over there.
What if we agree that if objective moral values do exists then they must be unique and if we are to know these values, then we must have a unique faculty to know them. Christians do agree insofar as objective moral values exist in the mind of a unique being we call God. The Psalmist writes in Psalm 119:137, "Righteous art thou O Lord." Jesus says in Luke 18:19, "No one is good, save one, that is God." So then metaphysically speaking, there exists a unique metaphysical source for objective moral value and that source is the person of the Triune God.
What if we agree further that if objective moral values do exist then there must be a sui generis apparatus for knowledge. The Scriptures teach in Romans 1:18-19, "For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who hold the truth in unrighteousness; Because that which may be known of God is manifest in them; for God hath shewed it unto them." Again, note that God's wrath is revealed against all [i.e., multifarious or subjective] ungodliness and unrighteousness of humankind. Furthermore, humankind suppresses the truth in their unrighteousness.
Why? Because the things we know of the Source of Objective Moral Values [i.e., God] are "manifest" in them, in us. And why is that? Because God showed it to them, to us. The word "manifest" means to make clear. The Source of objective morality makes clear what is objectively moral. The apostle Paul goes on to write that "the invisible things of him [God] from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made [humans], even his [God's] eternal power and Godhead; so that they [humanity] are without excuse." So then God, the Source of objective morality, makes clear morality and the creation clearly sees the same. Christianity claims that we do have a source of objective moral beliefs in a person, the Triune God. Furthermore, it is claimed that we do understand because this Source has taken upon Himself to clearly reveal these moral values to us.
In short, Christianity acknowledges and encompasses the moral phenomena known as moral subjectivity while at the same time positing a solution to the existence and knowledge of objective moral values. Indeed, you may not agree with Christianity, but consider its explanatory force and scope. To this point it is a quite robust moral theory, is it not?
Next time we will continue with Moral Error Theory by looking at Richard Joyce's Myth of Morality. We'll see if Christianity has anything in common or at least in the neighborhood of commonality with his moral theory.
The Song of Solomon is a book of the Christian Old Testament and among the poetry books in both the Jewish Scriptures and the Christian Scriptures. Still, apart from the "Rose of Sharon" passage or the "love is as strong as death" passage this book of the Bible is mostly avoided or unattended. What is more, the Song is often understood in some grand metaphorical sense making its contents an expression of God's love for His people and vice versa.
While there is much to learn from this "grand metaphorical sense" I believe the Song serves an equally powerful role when read as a literary account of the actual King Solomon as he, through his uniquely imparted wisdom, offers a kind of heavenly accounting of marriage and specifically that of physical union between a husband and wife. With that belief as a motivation we took to YouTube and started making our way through the whole book verse by verse. This video is the beginning of that journey.
Peter Van Kleeck Jr. Ph.D.
Informative. Provocative. Compelling.