Sunday, November 20, 2016

Thinking About Socratic Morality

One reader's comments to my previous post (available HERE) got me thinking again about the elements of Socratic morality.

Reader apsterian wrote:

>>I agree w[ith]. Plato/Socrates that no one willingly sins. There's insanity, but no "evil." Why would anyone do something that gets him sent to heck?--only insanity.<<

These are certainly deep philosophical waters. Let's dive in.

Socrates and Plato are provocative thinkers. Of course, what we know of the historical Socrates - who wrote nothing of his own - comes primarily from Plato's dialogues. Those dialogues are generally divided into three groups, the early, middle, and late. Although there is disagreement, the consensus is that Plato's early dialogues fairly accurately represent the views of his mentor, Socrates. In the middle dialogues, Plato begins to experiment with his own ideas. By the late dialogues, Plato simply uses Socrates as a vehicle to deliver his own, mature thought (and, indeed, his criticisms of his own views).

Assuming this threefold categorization, it is clear that Socrates surely did hold that no one willingly does what it is bad. However, it's not at all obvious that "Plato/Socrates" ever said "that no one willingly sins."

Our English word "sin" derives from the Greek word hamartia. Aristotle certainly wrote about hamartia, and subsequent Christians picked it up via the Septuagint (i.e., the Greek translation of the Old Testament). But as far as I know, neither Socrates nor Plato ever used the term "hamartia." Moreover, neither Socrates nor Plato used any other term that straightforwardly maps onto the Christian concept of "sin."

It seems, therefore, that we need to make a distinction between "doing bad" and "sinning."

As I understand it, Socrates's basic position can be sketched (roughly) as follows.[1]

1. If an act, choice or object, x, is bad, then x is harmful.

2. If x is harmful, then x makes the actor or subject, S, more miserable or worse off than he or she was before choosing x.

3. If x makes S more miserable or worse off, then S becomes a failure or unhappy.

4. Therefore, if x is bad, then S becomes a failure or unhappy.

But then Socrates expressly states that:

5. No one wants to fail in life or to become unhappy.

6. Therefore, no one wants what is bad.

Firstly, even if this argument succeeds, I do not think that it shows that no one willingly sins. Rather, if it succeeds, it seems to show that there is no such thing as sin.

Western Christians of almost all theological hues have historically held that "sin" is (bound up with, if not identical to) "willful disobedience." So, for instance, in the Pocket Dictionary of Theological Terms, by Protestants Stanley J. Grenz, David Guretzki and Cherith Fee Nordling,[2] "sin" is defined as "...a person's purposeful disobedience to God's will as evidenced in concrete thought or act" (p. 107).

This is even clearer in Catholicism. In "A Simple Glossary of Catholic Terms," by Fr. Jerome Bertram and Raymond Edwards, we read that (mortal) "sin" is: "A serious violation of the law of God; it must be freely chosen, be an act that is objectively gravely wrong, and the person committing it must be aware that it is gravely wrong" (p. 59).

The problem becomes, then, that if:

7. No one ever willingly does what is bad;


8. "Sin" is willingly doing what is bad;


9. Therefore, no one ever sins.

(That is: 7'. No person is a person who willingly does bad; 8'. All sinners are people who willingly do bad; 9'. therefore, no persons are sinners.)

From a historic Christian point of view this is not correct. So either:

10. At least some people willingly do what is bad;


11. "Sin" is not willingly doing what is bad;

or both.

But as I said, in the historic Christian tradition - as far as I can tell, anyway - "sin" is willingly doing what is bad. But then it follows 10. is true. If 10. is true, then 7. must be false. But if 7. is false, then EITHER one or more of the premises 1. - 6. must be false, OR one or more of the moves from premises-to-conclusion must be invalid.

By my lights, the best candidate for a false premise is 5. Very briefly, I think that 5. ("No one wants to fail in life or to become unhappy.") is not clearly more plausible than it's negation. Some people do appear to me to want to be unhappy.[3]

But also, I think that 6. may not follow. I think that there is an unexpressed assumption that:

12. S wants x.

implies that:

13. S wants everything that follows from x.

Indeed, Socrates is well-known to have held that virtue is a sort of knowledge. He also distinguished "wanting x" from "seeing fit to do x." The difference is that one only "wants x" if one has all the relevant knowledge about x. Else, one only "sees fit to do x."

I doubt that "wants" functions like this. Is it the case that if: S wants A and A implies F; then: S wants F?

For example, from:

14. Jane wants to divorce John;


15. Janes knows that divorce would hurt the kids;

Does this follow?

16. Jane wants to hurt the kids.

Or again, from:

17. Bob wants to buy a bigger house.


18. Buying a bigger house would put bob into debt.

Does this follow?

19. Bob wants to be put into debt.

I just don't think 16. and 19. do follow.

Socrates would probably rejoin by saying that "wants" can be irrational or rational. After all, this is just one way of cashing out his distinction between "wanting" (properly Socratically so-called) and "seeing fit." "Wanting" would be "rationally desiring;" and "seeing fit" would be "irrationally desiring."

If Jane does not "want" to hurt the kids, then Jane should not want a divorce. It wouldn't be rational; she would only be "seeing fit" to get a divorce. Additionally, if Bob does not "want" to get into debt, then Bob should not want a bigger house. He's not rational to want to buy a bigger house if buying it would put him in dire financial straits.

Maybe this is true. Maybe it's not enough that Jane merely "not want to hurt the kids." Maybe she needs to "want NOT to hurt the kids." Likewise, perhaps Bob ought to "want NOT to be in debt."

I am just not sure about this!

I am tempted to say that BOTH "Jane wants a divorce" AND "Jane does not want to hurt the kids" are possibly true and possibly rational, even if getting the divorce would hurt the kids. It even seems likely to me that Jane could BOTH rationally want to get a divorce AND want not to hurt the kids.

Likewise, I would like to say that BOTH "Bob wants a bigger house" AND "Bob does not want to get into debt" are possibly true and rational, even if getting the house would put him into debt.

These issues point to larger ones concerning the difference between theoretical and practical rationality.

An agent, S, is practically rational BOTH:

if BOTH she wants some end, e, and she believes that performing some action (i.e., by φ-ing), she is more likely to bring about e than she would be without φ-ing;


these considerations bring S to begin φ-ing.

Practically, then, if S wants to separate from her husband or pursue another love interest, and S believes that getting a divorce is likely to secure these results, then S will get a divorce.

On the other hand, if S wants to avoid hurting her children, and S believes that NOT getting a divorce is likely to secure this result, then S will NOT get a divorce.

But practical rationality alone cannot adjudicate between these competing desires.

Socrates seems prepared to say that increasing Jane's knowledge should be sufficient to help her to adjudicate between what she merely "sees fit" to do and what she really "wants" to do. I am sympathetic with this. After all, suppose that Jane were to discover – for example by direct divine revelation – that if she pursues one course of action, c, then her life would veer onto a trajectory that would lead to her eternal damnation. For the Christian, this is the ultimate, negative teleological consideration. What can we say?

Can we say that, if Jane is hell-averse, then she would presumably want to avoid c? Or can we say that if Jane is hell-averse, at least she ought to want to avoid c?

I think that we can only say:

If Jane is hell-averse, then she would avoid c – regardless of what she wants.

Of course, perhaps this information, which I have given to Jane via direct divine revelation, would be unavailable to her otherwise. Or maybe she would have to intuit it, or discern it in the voice of conscience, or detect it in some scriptural injunction, or solicit it as advice from a competent pastor, or whatever.

But I suppose that, for me, the philosophical bottom line would be that we are called to exercise our wills in accordance with (our apprehension of) the objective good. Furthermore, we are called to know the objective good – that is, to know the Triune God, whose nature is the Good.

I think that Christians have historically maintained, therefore, that we are called to choose the good - not to want the good. This does NOT mean that it wouldn't be better to want the good also. But this would seem to mean that choosing the good is good enough - regardless of what we want.

The "moral" might then be this. We - none of us - are slaves to our desires. Our will is capable of transcending our desires, whether they be good or bad. When we have strength of will, perhaps through God's grace, we are able to choose the good despite our bad desires. We may even, through sanctification, eventually find that our desires are themselves purified. But when we experience weakness of will (akrasia), we may indeed choose to do what we know is bad.

This, I take it, is what Christianity has historically called "sin": choosing to act on desires that we know (or justifiably believe) are bad. Far from impossible, I also take it that this is constitutive of the human condition.

But this entails that, on this point anyway, Socrates was wrong. We can willingly do bad; we do it all the time.

What do you think?


[1] The following is an adaptation of notes that I took from various lectures delivered by Professor Jon McGinnis.

[2] Downer’s Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity Press, 1999.

[3] See, e.g., articles like "Are You Addicted to Unhappiness?" by David Sack, Psychology Today, Mar. 5, 2014, <>.


  1. What's "Good" Would Depend Upon What's Real, Hence Objective

    Good thing there are so many blogs on Socrates/Plato. "Socrates believed that nobody willingly chooses to do wrong[1]."

    And the footnote [1] is: "[1] Read Plato’s Gorgias." So the quote evidently comes fm Platonic "Gorgias" Dialogue.

    So to make sense of any of this about sin, we must realize that as reality must be objective (otherwise anything goes, in subjectivism), it's determined according to strict cause-effect (God's will). So there's no "good-evil," no perfectly "free" human will. "Sin" makes no sense except as dis-obedience, this applied to children to keeping them obedient, thus safe.

    And "ethics" is simply logic btwn ends and means.

    But since most people have difficulty w. logic and reason, they seek to follow leadership in the parental manner; this was especially true in olden days of yore.

    So politically, it's most expedient and wise to follow the law, and to seem to people generally to being one who follows the law. And strictly speaking, ethics is actually an application of logic to choice (or observance) of means in respect to ends.

    Regarding Christianity, remember it's necessary to cite a relevant passage fm Christ/Gospels who/which basically tells us to treat others as we'd want to be treated. It's wisest and best to keep everyone else thinking and knowing, much as possible, that we're reasonably looking out for their welfare as we want them to see to ours, etc.

    Regarding the statement, fm above, "[o]ur will is capable of transcending our desires...," this doesn't really make sense: will is desire, by definition. And ultimately we must do as we will, it being impossible, indeed inhuman, not to so follow our will/desire.

    Simplest precept to remember is the necessarily objective reality (subjectivism is absurd) is DETERMINED (absolute cause-effect); there's no "good-evil," no perfectly "free" human will, such absolute freedom reserved only for God.

    Occam's razor is best ethics; simplest, easiest is best; objectivity > determinism. Sin is just dis-obedience which isn't necessarily wrong; it's mere tool by which to control children/most people.

  2. Thanks for the attention :-) I don't have much time, presently. But let me comment on a few things.


    >>...[T]o make sense of any of this about sin, we must realize that as reality must be objective (otherwise anything goes, in subjectivism), it's determined according to strict cause-effect (God's will).<<

    You have to do a little more work defining your terms if I am to follow you. Generally, something's being "objective" is cashed out in terms of that thing's existing independently of human minds or human opinions. You seem to be using "objective" as synonymous with "determined." This is not standard usage, nor is it obvious. But I would need some sort of an argument from you linking the two concepts before I could comment upon it further. After all, many philosophical indeterminists and philosophical (as opposed to to political) libertarians hold that the human will is, objectively, indeterministic or libertarian. It might turn out that reality is objectively deterministic. But "reality is objectively deterministic" is hardly a tautology; it's a weighty metaphyiscal thesis, and it requires an argument to substantiate it.


    >>..."Sin" makes no sense except as dis-obedience...<<

    This confuses me, since previously you asserted that "no one willingly sins. There's ...only insanity."

    So, on your view, is sin "insanity" or "disobedience"? Again, it is not obvious (to me) that "insanity" and "disobedience" are synonyms, let alone identical in meaning. I suppose that a person could argue that "insanity" is something like "disobedience to the laws of rationality." But then "sin" would seem, most straightforwardly, to consist in "disobedience to the laws of morality." Thus although, on this view, sin and insanity would both be species of "disobedience," they would not be identical, since they would be both be "disobedience *to*" different sets of laws - unless, one additionally argued that the laws (if there be such) of rationality and morality came to the same thing. But, again, each of these steps needs to be argued. As things stand, they're just unargued assertions, tantalizing though they be be.

    1. Ethics MUST Be Rational

      Determinism, as I understand is simply cause-effect. 1 + 1 always equals 2; water is always 2 atoms of hydrogen bonded to an atom of oxygen. Determinism (absolute cause-effect) is the outcome of every observation, is the observation, and hence by induction the working rule. Hence we say determinism follows objectivity, a subset.

      Insanity and disobedience are not synonyms, but "sin" is taught to control children and people, for practical purposes, dis-obedience. If u go by the Catholic definition, doing something u KNOW is "wrong" would be insane, right?--why otherwise would one do it?

      And why wouldn't rationality be same as morality?--how could it not? Ho ho ho ho Ethics is just logic btwn ends and means.

  3. Finally:

    >>..will is desire, by definition...<<

    I think you should be aware, if you are not already, tha the phrase "by definition" is ambiguous. Number one, there are what philosophers call "nominal definitions." These are basically lexical or "dictionary" definitions. Maybe they simply come down to the ways in people happen to use terms. They might be conventional, for instance.

    Surely, people do sometimes use "will" and "desire" as synonyms. For instance, the luciferian Aleister Crowley (and his Thelemites after him) are fond of the saying "Do what thou wilt." I take it that they mean "Do whatever you want," that is, "Do whatever you desire." So, yes, in some contexts, "will" and "desire" are interchangeable.

    This was not how I have been using the term "will," however.

    By "will," I mean something like "that faculty by which a human being chooses a course of action."

    By "desire," I mean something like "that sort of attitude state characterized by a favorable disposition towards some object."

    The two are related. In the introductory paragraph to the article "Desire" in the online Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, we read: "In spite of ...disputes, it is ...possible to get a fix on desire itself. Desiring is a state of mind that is commonly associated with a number of different effects: a person with a desire tends to act in certain ways, feel in certain ways, and think in certain ways. If Nora desires tea, for example, then Nora will typically make herself a cup of tea; if she does not get herself some tea right away she will nonetheless typically feel the urge to do so; she will find the thought of tea pleasant and will find her current lack of tea unpleasant; she will find her thoughts repeatedly turning to the idea of tea; she will judge that tea seems like a good idea; and so on."

    On this very basic scaffolding we could then say that:

    "Desire" is "a tendency to choose in particular ways."

    But a *tendency to choose* x is not the same as actually choosing x.

    If "will" and "desire" were strictly synonymous, then sentences like these should be incoherent.

    1. Johnny desired both the cookie and the brownie, but he only had enough money to buy one. He therefore had to will to buy one or the other.

    2. Jill desires to get an "A" on her exam, but she also desires to spend time with friends. Since she only has one more evening before the exam, she must will either to study or to hang out with friends.

  4. These sentences appear to make good sense. In fact - to me, anyway - they are entirely relatable. But if "desire" and "will" were, always and everywhere interdefinable, then the sentences should sound like these:

    1'. Johnny desired both the cookie and the brownie, but he only had enough money to buy one. He therefore had to desire to buy one or the other. [But he desired both!]

    1''. Johnny willed both the cookie and the brownie, but he only had enough money to buy one. He therefore had to will to buy one or the other. [I don't even know what "willed both the cookie and the brownie" is supposed to mean!]

    2'. Jill desires to get an "A" on her exam, but she also desires to spend time with friends. Since she only has one more evening before the exam, she must desire either to study or to hang out with friends. [Again, she already desires both!]

    2''. Jill wills to get an "A" on her exam, but she also wills to spend time with friends. Since she only has one more evening before the exam, she must will either to study or to hang out with friends. [Again, even if this is comprehensible English, she already "wills" both!]

    Recall that, for any two propositions p and q, the truth table for "either p, or q" is as follows:

    p | q | p or q
    T | T | T
    T | F | T
    F | T | T
    F | F | F

    "p or q" is always true unless both p and q are false. This means, though, that the truth of "Jill desires to get an 'A' and Jill desires to hang out with friends" guarantees the truth of "Jill desires to get an 'A' or Jill desires to hang out with friends." Mutatis mutandis for "Person S wills x and Jill wills y" guaranteeing "S wills x or Jill wills y."

    All good wishes...


    1. Will Can Be Simple And Complex, Requiring Reason

      So let's take Johnny who wills to (a) live, in general, (b) specifically get something to satisfy his appetite. (c) He also has limited funds, and knows this too. So his will is involved w. a complex, tempered and treated with reason, in order to obtain the resolution of his will, (d) being the willful and rational treatment of his prior will/desires, the conditions and predicates.

      So one wills to live in general, thus wills to think, in order achieve specific will, etc.

      Jill wills, has specific wills/desires, but also the will to reason and resolving the specifics w. general, etc.

      So there's the basic, general, overall will to live, will to enjoy life, etc. Reason then is the instrument by which to achieve such will, much as practicable. Such is the human condition.


  5. Christian Truth Abhors "Good-Evil," Premise Of satanism

    "But as I said, in the historic Christian tradition - as far as I can tell, anyway - "sin" is willingly doing what is bad." -fm above text.

    So what is "bad"?--there has never been any satisfactory definition of "good-evil"--it's sheer subjectivism, purpose being intimidating and scaring children and people, most of whom never emerge fm childish mentality, all this for purpose of controlling the population/citizenry. Tragedy then is this "good-evil" delusion/heresy (Pelagianism) provides pretext for more extreme subjectivism, satanism, hubris, and total degeneracy, collapse of the culture, "Decline of the West," by Oswald Spengler.

    And what's "Christian tradition"?--this is extremely interesting question/issue, but we see the best theologic exposition begins w. New Test., after Christ, esp. that of St. Paul, but also St. JOHN the Gospel writer, and beyond that is highly problematical, mere attempted applications, some more successful than others. St. Augustine was great saint and thinker, but he was no better than anyone else for definition of "good-evil"--a failure.

    And we see every attempt at such definition of this mythical "good-evil" falls to the simple question of WHY, ho ho ho. Take Immanuel Kant, who tells us moral virtue is duty, but doesn't tell us why (question-begging). "Duty" then is regarding absurdity of "categorical imperative" clap-trap, against self-interest, without any (sufficient or satisfactory) explanation for WHY. Kant is surely one of the great jokers of all philosophy, after Aristophanes who gave us the most accurate picture of Socrates.

    In New Test., "good-evil" is always kept at simpleton level of metaphor for children, there's no clear criterion ever given.

    For practical purposes, we see, so often the moralists resorting to the desperate (circular) claim that it's "good" to believe in "good-evil," ho ho ho--how pathetic. And ultimately we see even the Christians can't get past the simple AXIOM of self-interest, the reward/incentive of heaven and avoidance of pain of heck.

    And all this pathetic rigmarole regarding non-existent "good-evil" is obviated by simple metaphysical precept of DETERMINISM--whatever happens had to happen that way, period. Humans are self-interested by nature and Godly design, PERIOD, get over it already. Reason (intellect) is for simple purpose of assuaging one's emotions, esp. in relation to other humans, hence then virtue of discerning the determinist nature; it simply follows logically fm prior premise/assumption of objectivity.

    But gee whiz, say the moralists, this (determinism) then makes life too simple--we don't then have to worry and agonize about what's "good-evil" for the morons of society so as to control and enslave them and keep them fighting one-another, golly.

    Thus it was that even in Book of Genesis, God commanded humans not to eat of Tree of knowledge of good-evil--because it (such "knowledge") is a ruse by which to confound humanity and cause suffering, anguish, etc.

    Very purpose of Christianity was combatting of satanism (extreme subjectivism) of Pharisees who preached subjectivism ("midrash" and "Oral Law Tradition"), pretext for this sort of "good-evil," "good-evil" then being pretext for subjectivism.

    Thus Christ made sure to utterly destroy the satanists and Pharisees at the outset by establishing existence of TRUTH (Gosp. JOHN 14:6, also JOHN 8:32 and 18:37-8), hence the objective reality, hence the determinist nature. Everything else for proper ethics follows fm the metaphysical premise. Absolute worst corruption of Christianity is pretension to "good-evil" which is actually the very NEGATION of Christianity, properly understood.

  6. Dear apsterian,

    Your attention gratifies me. Additionally, you are to be commended for your obvious interest in reflecting upon life's big questions. It's Socratic! After all, it was Socrates who reportedly opined that "the unexamined life is not worth living."

    In the spirit of construction criticism and philosophical exchange, permit me to make a few brief, critical remarks about your most-recent replies.

    Firstly, for all your fulminations against "subjectivism," I was surprised to read that you think "Aristophanes ...gave us the most accurate picture of Socrates." Maybe you were joking! To say that so-and-so's portrait of Socrates was "the most accurate" clearly implies that it was the picture of Socrates that came closest to representing Socrates the way he *really* was - objectively. But unless you have a time machine over there, I assume that you - like I - depend for these sorts of judgments upon those writers who have made it their business to investigate historical persons. But then I wonder: What evidence can you present or gesture towards to establish that Aristophanes depiction of Socrates was "the most accurate" of all extant portrayals? As far as I am aware, the mainstream view of the historical Socrates is that, if any depiction can be credited as "most accurate," it would be Plato's. (Maybe none are accurate!) Of course, if you merely decided that you *like* Aristophanes's sketch better than you like Plato's or Xenophon's, then that starts to look awfully subjective. I trust that you're not doing *that*.

    Secondly and more significantly you ask: "So what is 'bad'?" and profess to deny the "'good-evil' delusion/heresy". Forgive me, but it sometimes seems as if you do not take this seriously. (Or I have misread you!) For instance, you appear to be suggesting that there are no such things as "good" or "evil." (I agree, in a qualified way, with the latter claim!) Yet you also designate St. Augustine as a "great saint and thinker." Unless you mean that he was a *fat* saint and thinker, it almost seems like you want to say that he was "very good" saint and thinker (which is, of course, one of the meanings for "great"). But how could he be "very good" unless there are such things as being "good" and as "good" itself?

    You follow that up with the statement that "he was no better than anyone else" with respect to his ability (or inability, in your view) to "define" "good" and "evil." But what would it be, on your view, for him to be "better"? "Better" is just the comparative form of "good." Shouldn't it be axiomatic on your view that Augustine wasn't "better" than anyone - in any way? How could he be, if there is no such thing as being "good"?

    1. Plato and Xenophon were prejudiced in favor of Socrates; Aristophanes was more objective and seems neither to have much liked or dis-liked dear Socrates. I think u're right for crediting Plato's deeper analysis and exposition of Socrates' ideas.

  7. Thirdly, and somewhat relatedly, you make several comments invoking phrases like "treated with reason" and "rational treatment." But what is "rationality"? As a first pass, one might think that "rationality" has to do with reasoning *well* - that is, with being a *good* reasoner. But, again, this would be impossible if there is no such predicate as "good." (Moreover, what is rationality to be juxtaposed with if not "irrationality" - or reasoning *badly*?)

    Building on this, fourthly, what sense does it make, within the framework of metaphysical determinism, to describe some bit of thinking as "rational" (or "irrational")? You said it: on the "precept of [metaphysical] DETERMINISM--whatever happens had to happen that way, period."

    But this seems to entail that if it happens that I get an idea (e.g., to affirm or to deny determinism), then this isn't "rational" or "irrational," it's simply the idea that I *had* to get, given the total set of antecedent causes that led to it. The "idea" is just so many neurons firing, and these *had* to fire given my personal history, my family's history, the history of the human species, the history of planet earth, and so on all the way back. And it's a long way. On determinism, getting an idea - any idea - is simply a "happening" (or event) and that happening, along with all other happenings, "had to happen that way, period."

    Fifthly, let me say something about what appears to be an argument from you to the following effect. "[T]here has never been any satisfactory definition of 'good-evil'--it's sheer subjectivism..."

    You seem to be arguing:

    If something lacks a "satisfactory definition," then that thing is "sheer subjectivism."
    "Good/evil" lacks a "satisfactory definition."
    Therefore, "good/evil" is "sheer subjectivism."

    Putting aside several not insubstantial questions (e.g., What kind of "definition": nominal or real? Who gets to decide whether a given definition is "satisfactory": you, me, God? How can a "thing" be "sheer subjectivism"? And so on...), one problem - as I see it - with this argument is that it seems that many things that do not seem to be "sheer subjectivism" lack "satisfactory definitions."

  8. Bear two facts in mind. Number one, our word "define" comes from the Latin "definio," meaning "I limit" or "I set a boundary around." To "define" something, historically, meant to de-limit it - set bounds for it. But then, a concept such as "infinity," which marks off a "thing" that has no limit, cannot be "defined," strictly speaking. Does this make "infinity" purely "subjective"? Maybe. But what about God himself? Can we limit God or set boundaries around him? Some say, "No!" and have held, because of this, that God cannot be "defined" either. Would this make God subjective?

    Number two, for much of the historical of thought definitions were given in terms of genus and specific difference. But then sui generis things - again, like God - who are not part of any genus, cannot be "defined." Likewise, summa genera cannot be "defined." *Being itself* which seems to be a prime candidate for the highest genus cannot, for this reason, be "defined." Does that make *being* "subjective"? If so, then it would appear that all reality becomes "subjective." "Something" is difficult to "define." Does that mean that there isn't anything, or that everything is "subjective"? I don't see how.

    I think the problem lies with the argument. Why think that an epistemic failure - like our inability to produce a satisfying (nominal) definition for something - has metaphysical repercussions? I cannot see any reason to think that it would, and surely none to think that it should. Therefore, I reject the first premise. It's simply not true that *If something lacks a "satisfactory definition," then that thing is "sheer subjectivism."* And things like, being, God and infinity are the counter-examples. All (or at least one) of them is clearly objective, yet it is arguable that they are not definable, strictly so-called. (Caveat: With respect to God, I am tempted to think that St. Anselm's famous dictum "God is that than which nothing greater can be conceived," comes close to a definition. But, even so, "being" is plausibly not "satisfactorily definable," we are.)

  9. Sixthly and finally, let me suggest that St. Augustine didn't fare as badly as you think in terms of explicating (if not "defining") "good" and "bad." Number one, "good" is part of a set of properties - including, also, "beauty," "oneness," and "truth" - that, in Medieval thought, were called "absolute universals." Today they are sometimes called "transcendentals." But, clearly, they fall into the same category as "being." To put it differently, none of them can be "defined." Yet they are, equally clearly, ontologically indispensable - and objective. Think of "oneness." If there were a universe with only God, there would still be oneness - for it would still be true that "There is one God." But then we shouldn't give Augustine a hard time for being unable to "define" a transcendental property - since, it may be impossible to do so.

    But number two, all is not lost. For Augustine maintained that the good - that is, what Plato gestured toward as the highest Form - just is God's nature. That, if he is correct (and I think that he is), is what the good *is*. That's its ontological status. But, you're quite correct to inquire about how we can come to *know* the good. This is its epistemic status. A view that I find attractive is this. God's objective, nature as the good grounds moral values for us. God subsequently issues commands to us, arising from his good nature, that become for us our moral duties. Our most basic way of coming to know our moral duties is to pay attention to divine commands. However, since God commands in accordance with his nature - which *is* the good - His commands point toward, and tell us something about, the good.

    That's the best I've got in this brief time and in this short space. What does it say in the Book of Proverbs? "As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another" (Proverbs 27:17). Thanks for all your replies! They've given me a lot to think about. Keep fighting the good fight! Pax vobis.

    1. "Good-Evil" Heresy (Pelagianism) Has Serious Implications, Consequences

      Hmmmmmmmmm, well, after reading through all ur text here, we see u still don't say what's criterion for this mythical "good-evil," but u seem to insist nonetheless that it's "good" and/or virtuous to believe in, or defend such "good-evil" notion or imagination, whatever it might be. Isn't this classic question-begging?

      And think about this: what's a good dog?--a nice, good doggie-dog is one that's well-trained and obedient, right?--it does just what we want and expect, and we're sooooooo happy. And a bad dog is one not obedient and which fails to act in accord w. our wishes, right?--it's so doggone disappointing then. Doesn't same go for humans? When I was small, I remember how desperate I felt to be thought of as "good," ho ho ho ho.

      And don't doubt there are practical, serious considerations for our subject-matter here, including the purpose of dear Christianity--combatting satanism which is extreme subjectivism.

      Seems to me u rather fail for the practical consideration of this satanic problem--what's the source and motivation?--don't we see it most actively in our faces?--ever hrd of George Soros? Have u hrd of the "pizza-gate" child-trafficking of the Podesta bros.?--Agenda-21 genocide and "de-population"? Do u think Trump is in serious danger of assassination at hands of these absolutely psychopathic satanists?

      And doesn't reason and rationality have to do w. REALITY? So I think I've faced, handled, and answered the pertinent issues in most practical manner, w. sufficient and not excessive ref. to abstractness--which abstractness, I submit, u rather seem to indulge in as something of an escape fm our issue, the reality, use, and application of "good-evil" myth, fallacy, and heresy. But of course, correct me if I'm wrong--give a clear, demonstrable criterion for such "good-evil" if u can, which no one in all history has ever done.

      Thus the "freedom" of human will seems quite limited to resolution of emotions w. events of reality and then w. emotions of other humans who are our neighbors, family, and fellow-citizens. Thus we try to predict and calculate events and manage emotions based upon those predictions of ours. Thus there's successful management and incompetent management of such emotions, we valuing success ("pleasure") and seeking to avoid the bad management ("pain")--my philosophy is oriented towards such proper management and understanding.

      Virtuous (or "good," but only in metaphoric sense) management then requires acknowledging the dis-utility (as "Austrian" economists would put it) of the childish "good-evil," despite its devilish attractions, esp. for political and psychologic manipulations. "Good-evil" is merely an attractive but dangerous metaphor--dangerous as it too easily is taken too seriously and then mis-used.

      And honesty of Christian Holy Spirit requires admitting the truth regarding non-existence of any "good-evil"--it's mere metaphor at best w. no actual referent in reality, even if a lot of childish people want to insist upon it. And when such childish, hubristic people become too over-populated bad things happen as we see presently in "Decline of the West," by Oswald Spengler, imminent removal of US Dollar as world reserve currency, hyper-inflation, etc.

  10. From past posts, apsterian, I got the impression that you are a Christian (of some sort or other). But it seems to me that a Christian is simply committed to the existence of objective goodness. So before I make any additional remarks about your (in my view mis-)apprehension of Pelagianism or suggest a non-morally nihilistic answer to the "problem of the criterion," I would like to know:

    Do you believe that God is *worthy* of worship?

    To put it another way, do you believe that God should be worshiped just because of who God is - apart from the teleological threat of hell or the inducement of heavenly reward?

    If you *do* believe that God *is* worthy of worship, then how can this worship-worthiness be explained except by appealing to God's purity, holiness, and *goodness*?

    I mean, would a god be "worthy of worship" if that God is not even good? Frankly, it's hard for me to see how that would be.

    If you do *not* believe that God is worthy of being worshiped, then do you in fact think of yourself as a Christian at all? What subvariety of Christianity, if any, do you align with? (I am unaware of any that flat out denies that God is worthy of worship. But perhaps you can enlighten me.)

    1. Sublime Sympathy Of Christ, Christianity

      Christ surely seems to be sympathetic to humanity, so is that sympathy now what's to be called "good"? But after all, Christ always was known as "Good Shepherd."

      The way I see it is Christ showed how rational ethics (not ur mystic sort) follows fm simple truth, as of objective, (hence) determined reality, one of the great virtues of New Test. literature and Christian philosophy.

  11. Recall that, on the Anselmian conception, necessary goodness is one of God's essential attributes. Here's a thought in the vicinity, more formally stated.

    1. If a being is not good, then that being is not worthy of worship.

    2. But the Christian God *is* worthy of worship.

    (I.e., it is not the case that the Christian God is not worthy of worship.)

    3. Therefore, the Christian God *is* good.

    (I.e., it is not the case that the Christian God is not good.)

    4. But, for the Christian God to *be* good, there has to be objective goodness.

    5. Therefore, there is objective goodness.

    Now this concerns the ontology of goodness. In inquiring about the "criterion" of goodness, you asked the epistemological question of how we can *know* what the good is. This is a separate matter. I will address it, briefly, if you like.

    But again: Do you think that God is worthy of worship?

    If He is, then I think that you're committed to the existence of objective moral values.


    1. If There's Good, WHAT Is It?--Tell Us

      It seems ur dialectic has descended now into mysticism. New Test. is LITERATURE--surely u understand. Christ = truth.

      Further, there's problem, isn't there?--satanism, what do u think that is if not extreme subjectivism?

      And note I simply challenged u to say what "good" is, not how to "know" it, and u can't and won't do it (say what it is), making excuses, wiggling and squirming, diverting upon other subjects, as we see.

      So if u were HONEST Christian, u'd have to admit u've simply failed to say what's "good," and that's because there is none--that's my observation.

  12. So was that a "yes" or a "no" to the question of whether God is worthy of worship?

    "Mysticism"? I sketched for you a deductive argument. If the premises are true, then the conclusion must be true. Since you seem to want to deny the conclusion, tell me, please, which premise is false?

    1. If a being is not good, then that being is not worthy of worship.
    2. But the Christian God *is* worthy of worship.
    3. Therefore, the Christian God *is* good.


    1. Mysticism: Insisting Upon Fallacy

      Why not simply get to whatever pt. there is for this subject of "worship," etc., ho o ho ho ho. I'll beg for my life, I'm sure, if it came to it. I've begged to be relieved of excruciating pain, so why wouldn't I beg for my very life? ho ho ho ho.

      I'd say continuing to begging question is indulging in mysticism. U can't or won't define what it ("good") is, can't or won't give a criterion for it, but u keep insisting, making use of the word--I'd submit that's rather mystical sort of thinking, would u say?

  13. But, just to model for you the courteous behavior of answering questions that are asked of me...

    I would answer, along with Sts. Augustine, Anselm, and Aquinas, that:

    If there is good (and there must be, if "God is good" is true), then it's God's nature.

    "Give thanks to the LORD, for he is good. ..."

    - Psalm 136:1a

    1. Circular Reasoning: More Mysticism

      This is called fallacy of circular reasoning, answering a question which only raises another question. I don't at all question ur courteousness, believe me. But HONESTY would seem to require u admit haven't any serious, substantial idea what "good" is. U cannot say what "good" is.

    2. One problem, here, is that you seem to be requiring that I define "good" in terms of something *else*, that is, that I reduce "goodness" to some more basic stuff. By you haven't given me any reason to think that I should have to do this.

      Look, again, at Psalm 136:1: "...[the LORD] good."

      Firstly, why am I not simply permitted to answer your question the way Scripture does? What is good? The Lord.

      Secondly, this is what I have been trying to say by appealing to the formulation given in the 11th (or so) century by St. Anselm. God is that than which nothing greater can be conceived. Part of what God *is* is good.

      So, what is good? God.

      Notice that I am not answering "who is good"? What *IS* good? Good is God. That's what it is.

      Now, thirdly, you say that I "haven't any serious, substantial idea what 'good' is." But since "God is good," you might as well say that I haven't any serious, substantial idea what "God" is.

      In one sense, this is fair enough. For as St. John Chrysostom once said: "A comprehensible 'god' is no God." I do not have an substance-ial idea of what God is, since God's substance (and His good nature) is sui generis (one of a kind).

      But in another sense, being a Christian, this is not fair. As a Christian, I hold that God has condescended to reveal Himself to humankind. He did this, as you have pointed out, most fully in Jesus Christ (the Incarnate Word), but also through the Scriptures.

      But as I think you have previously alluded: If it's permissible to use John 14:6 to establish that "truth = Christ" (as, if I recall, you have put it once or twice), then tell me, please, what is wrong with using Psalm 136 to establish that "God = good"?

      There are niceties that I would add regarding differences between identity and essential - and other sorts - of predication. But I think that if *you* are honest, you should at least admit that a good start down the road of answering your question.

    3. "Good": Meaningless, Non-Existent

      No, u just indulge in mysticism, and next u glorify it, indulging in it all the more. "Good" should be simple thing, and if u can't do any better than u have so far, u may as well discontinue using it, for u only confirm it's meaningless. And note, this is just ANOTHER in the lesson of all history and philosophy, no one ever being able to say what it, "good," is.

  14. It looks to me like Psalm 136 says it!

    But I wish you all the best :-)