Possible Worlds Semantics

Loux gives a great discussion on the topic of “possible worlds.”  This might seem irrelevant and arcane, but it is a powerful tool that helps us in discussions on the problem of evil, ontological argument, God’s foreknowledge, and human nature.  And it helps us understand Plantinga.

Modal notions: notions of necessity, possible, impossible, and contingent.

The empirical and nominalist traditions view modalities with suspicion (177).

  1. Leibnizian idea of possible worlds.
    1. To say that a proposition is true is to say that it is true in that possible world that is the actual world (181).
    2. Possible World (PW): the way the world might have been.
      1. De dicto: necessity or possibility applied to a proposition taken as a whole. A proposition has a certain property, the property of being necessarily true.
      2. De re: modal exemplification.  It is not talking about propositions, but about a property’s modal status (184).
      3. As propositions can be true or false in possible worlds, so can objects exist or fail to exist.
      4. To say that an object, x, has a property, P, necessarily or essentially is to
  2. Possible Worlds Nominalism
    1. David Lewis. Other possible worlds are “more things of that sort.”
      1. They are just further concrete objeccts.
      2. No causal relations tying objects from distinct worlds.  Hence, no transworld individuals.
      3. World-indexed property: a property a thing has just in case it has some other property in a particular possible world.
        1. Only world-bound individuals.
        2. It’s nonsensical to say, “That could have been me, had this happened” (as usual, nominalism goes against all prephilosophical notions).
  3. Possible Worlds Actualism: Alvin Plantinga
    1. A PW is part of the network of modal concepts and it can be understood only in terms of that network.
    2. We need concepts like de re and de dicto.
      1. Propositions are the subjects of de dicto modality.
    3. We must distinguish the existence of a property from its being exemplified.  We must distinguish the existence of a state of affairs from its obtaining (203).
      1. PWs are just states of affairs (SoA) of a certain kind.
      2. All SoA are necessary beings, so the PWs for them actually exist.  Not all of the PWs, however, obtain.
    4. A PW is a very comprehensive–maximally comprehensive SoA.
      1. One SoA may include or preclude another.
      2. PWs are SoA with a maximality property.
        1. The various PWs are abstract entities.
        2. It could have failed to obtain, but not failed to exist.
    5. Propositions have a property that no SoA does–that of being true of false (206).
      1. To say that a thing exists in a PW is not to say that it is physically contained or literally present in the world.  
      2. It is merely to make the counterfactual claim that had the world been actual, the thing would have existed.
    6. All of this is just another way of saying, “Things could have gone otherwise.”
    7. Leibnizian Essentialism: there are individual essences.
      1. A thing’s essence: the property such that the thing has it essentially and necessarily that nothing other than the thing has it.

Some brief notes on nominalism

Nominalism seeks the simplest explanation in ontology.  One of their confusions regarding realism, though, is that they think universals have spatial location.  But as B. Russell pointed out, the universal “being north of” is not spatial.

The austere nominalist is committed to just one ontological category, particulars.  Austere nominalism runs into problems when it gets to the category of abstract particulars, such as “courage is a virtue.”

Metalinguistic Nominalism

Not universals; just linguistic expressions about nonlinguistic objects.  One of the difficulties, though, is it is forced to rely on type/token distinctions, which start to look like universals. It’s not hard to see connections with postmodernism.

Trope Theory

By far the most interesting.  Concrete particulars have colors, etc., but those attributes are just particulars.  So, if two objects have the color “red,” does that mean they share the universal “redness”?  Not necessarily.  Rather, they have the set of resembling trope red.  But isn’t a set a universal?  Not exactly.  Sets have clear-cut identity conditions.  Universals do not.  Sets are identical just in case all members are identical.  Set, α, is identical with set ,β , when the members of each set are identical with one another.

So this appears to give the trope nominalist an edge over the realist, except for one problem.  Take the referents

“Being a unicorn”

And

“Being a griffin.”

Since there are no such things as unicorns or griffins, they must belong to the set, null.  As Loux points out, “given the identity conditions for sets, there is just one null set,” which would mean both propositions are in fact identical.  But this is clearly false (91-92), as any schoolchild knows.

Other problems with trope nominalism (cf Moreland):

  • membership in a set of tropes is arbitrary (Moreland doesn’t expound)
  • Two red balls (A and B) resemble each other because they have red₁ and red₂ constituents.
    • The copula “is” in question is neither of predication or identity, but set membership.
    • Rejoinder:  why red and not green?  Red tropes resemble each other in a different way than green tropes?  Why?
  • If two tropes, Red and Sweet, are in the same location, how are they not identical on the Trope Nominalist view.

The felicity of Christian Emperors

City of God, Book V.

But we say that they are happy if they rule justly; if they are not lifted up amid the praises of those who pay them sublime honors, and the obsequiousness of those who salute them with an excessive humility, but remember that they are men; if they make their power the handmaid of His majesty by using it for the greatest possible extension of His worship; if they fear, love, worship God; if more than their own they love that kingdom in which they are not afraid to have partners; if they are slow to punish, ready to pardon; if they apply that punishment as necessary to government and defence of the republic, and not in order

to gratify their own enmity; if they grant pardon, not that iniquity may go unpunished, but with the hope that the transgressor may amend his ways; if they compensate with the lenity of mercy and the liberality of benevolence for whatever severity they may be compelled to decree; if their luxury is as much restrained as it might have been unrestrained; if they prefer to govern depraved desires rather than any nation whatever; and if they do all these things, not through ardent desire of empty glory, but through love of eternal felicity, not neglecting to offer to the true God, who is their God, for their sins, the sacrifices ofhumility, contrition, and prayer. Such Christian emperors, we say, are happy in the present time by hope, and are destined to be so in the enjoyment of the reality itself, when that which we wait for shall have arrived.

Situation Ethics (review)

You can summarize Fletcher’s ethic as “Claim love, and then you can use it to fornicate and stuff.”

Even though this book is bad, it isn’t completely bad. The beginning of the book is fairly well-written. I will do my best to outline Fletcher’s position but I will follow with an extended critique.

While Fletcher’s ethics is formally empty, he does explain it (sort of). Situationism: the mean between legalism and antinomianism (Fletcher 26). It has an absolute “norm” (love) and a calculating method (27). All rules are contingent provided they serve agape-love.

What is its method? Fletcher helpfully outlines (33).
1. Only one law, agape.
2. Sophia of the church and culture, containing “rules” which act as illuminators.
3. Kairos: the moment of the responsible self in a situation.

Fletcher identifies his historical pedigree.

1 Pragmatism. In short, he focuses on “satisfaction” as a criterion for truth (41ff). Of course, works toward what? This is the value problem 2. in ethics. Not surprisingly, Fletcher lists “love” as his value.
3. Relativism. To be relative means to be relative to something (44).
4. Positivism. Faith propositions are posited a-rationally. “Every moral judgment is a decision, not a conclusion” (47).
5. Personalism. Love people, not things (50).

First Proposition: Only love is intrinsically good (57).
Second Proposition: “The ruling norm of the Christian decision is love: nothing else” (69).
Third Proposition: Love and justice are the same, for justice is love distributed (87).
Fourth Proposition: Love wills the neighbor’s good, whether we like him or not (104).
Fifth proposition: Only the End Justifies the Means; nothing else (120).

*Fletcher isn’t all bad. He exposes the false promises of historicist ethics. Simply by noting the past one cannot anticipate the right action in the present, given the inevitable unfolding of the past. Basically, Hegel is wrong.

*True, ethical decisions always take place in a situation and context.

*Fletcher reminds us that Victorian social mores are rarely biblical (even if he has the unfortunate habit of labeling his critics as such). Further, though not always called out by him, most of the “horrid” puritanical legalism (in this book) derives not from church law but from secular ethics.

*Fletcher exposes some incoherent moments in Barth’s ethics (62, cf. CD III/4, p. 416-421).

*Fletcher notes some difficulties in Roman Catholic birth-control positions along with some difficulties in NFP (80).

* calls classical pacifism legalistic (83-84). In fact, he has a very perceptive critique of Tolstoyanism: they want love but deny order.

*Says the social gospel is “pietistic” about love (91).

*His criticism of Catholic moralism’s separation of love as a supernatural virtue but justice as a natural virtue is interesting and should have been more developed (93ff).

* He helpfully outlines Chrysostom’s ethics as not confusing ends and means. Fletcher just sinfully rejects it.

The Critique:

(1) Fletcher says we can’t “milk universals from a universal” (27). What he means is we can make principles from “the law of love,” but not rules. But why not? He just asserts this. He doesn’t prove it.

(2) Although this is a minor point, it is worth noting. Fletcher holds to the (debunked) “Biblical vs. Hellenistic” dichotomy (29). The Hebrew is “verb-minded” while the Greek is “noun-minded.” “It doesn’t ask what is the good, but how to do good” (52). But if I don’t know what the good is, rather just labeling it x, then how will I know if I am doing not-good?

(3) Can one really define agape-love without recourse to revelation? Why can we privilege the term agape, itself drawn from revelation, while saying the rest of revelation is off-limits? The apostle John defined love by God’s commandments. Fletcher wants to reject the idea of “unwritten rules from heaven” (30), but without any specific content to “love,” that is just what he has.

(4) Fletcher rejects legalism because of the bad things legalism has done. Francis Kovach draws the following devastating conclusion: “Human laws happen to have had certain undesirable effects; therefore, let’s do away with all human laws” (Kovach 99).

(5) When faced with the obvious question, “So what do I do in situation x,” Fletcher admits the best he can say is, “It depends” (80). Which is another way of saying, “I don’t know.”

(6) Fletcher’s arrogance is obvious. He routinely scorns his opponents as “fundamentalists,” “literalists,” “legalists” and the like. He ridicules those who “Believe in a Fall” (81).

(7) Fletcher holds to utilitarianism and so his position is suspect to all of the critiques of utilitarianism. But more to the point: in his calculus do we evaluate neighbor-good qualitatively or quantitatively? Unbelievably, he even says we can use numerical factors for issues relating to conscience (118). He is actually serious. Even worse, he tells a tale of the god-demon Moloch and sides with Moloch on how many to kill!

(8) More on utilitarianism: who gets to determine what “good” means? Fletcher himself? From where does he get this knowledge? From Jesus and the Bible? Sounds kind of “literalist” to me! Even worse, his position offers no protection to minority viewpoint, since by definition they will never been in the “greater” number. Fletcher defends racial minorities. Good for him, but it’s not clear on his ethics why he can do so, since they are never “the greatest number.”

As Norman Geisler points out, “The definition of “end” is unclear. Do we mean a few years? Lifetime? Eternity? In that case, only God could be a utilitarian and he is not.”

8.1) Another problem with utilitarianism, as noted by Arthur Holmes. What does it mean to “maximize the good?” Do we take the sum of the surplus good or do we just average it across the population? If we talk about the “Greater good,” can we ignore minority rights as long as we maximize the greater good?

“If 100 people each receive 10 bens (units of benefit), then the sum total is 1000 “bens” and the average is 10. But if we increase the benefit for 10 people to 100 bens each, give the next 60 people their original 10 bens, and the remaining 30 no bens at all, then the total benefit is 100 + 600 + 0 = 1600 bens; and the average is up to 16. But the distribution is now extremely unequal. Which of these two is the morally better distribution of benefits” ?

Can the utility principle by itself tell us how to best distribute benefits?

(9) Says Paul was “obscure and contradictory” about the problem of the justice of God (122). In fact, Fletcher formally disagrees with Paul on Romans 3:8. That’s because, per Fletcher, Paul erred in seeing “good” and “evil” as properties, not predicates.

(10) If love is to do the greatest good for the greatest number of neighbors, and Fletcher lists the situation where a group of people are hiding from murderers and a baby starts crying, which would expose the group, then the most loving thing to do is kill the baby. Okay, what if I refuse to kill my baby, did I sin? Corollary: Does Fletcher say I must kill my baby? Corollary #2: What if I refuse? Should the group make me?

(11) Throughout the book Fletcher makes a number of category confusions. This is not surprising, given his lack of ethical knowledge due to his only reading Neo-Orthodox and death-of-God theologians. For example, ethical theories like graded absolutism do not see deception in war as lying.

(12) Fletcher is guilty of circular reasoning:
P1: The end justifies the means
P2: The end does not justify itself
C1: Only love does.
Yet, how can I know the loving action?
P3: Love = greatest good to greatest neighbors. Yet, this is materially the same thing as P1.

Therefore, his argument runs:
P1
P2
Therefore, P1

(13) Fletcher openly ridicules Middle-Class America (137).

(14) He wants to say that “law-based” citizens would have rejected Dr King, yet on what grounds can Fletcher say that? Why can’t the evil-capitalist-white-man say, from his perspective, that the most loving thing to do is uphold segregation? Now, I believe the segregationist is wrong, but I can say, unlike Fletcher, that he is absolutely wrong.

(15) Unless there is advanced cognitive content to what “love” is, then one doesn’t really know what I am commanded to do.

(16) Let’s go back to his consequentialism in ethics. The mainline Protestant denominations more or less adopted Fletcher’s position? How are they doing today, membership-wise? The PC(usa) and TEC are losing members by the tens, if not hundreds of thousands. Seems like they failed Fletcher’s consequentialist test.

Conclusion:

While Fletcher highlights some interesting and difficult issues in ethics, he rarely gives solutions (unless it involves extra-marital sex, in which he is always for it). This is not surprising. He cannot give solutions. He cannot give solutions because his criterion for value, “love,” is empty and meaningless.

Fletcher likes to tell “bleeding-heart” stories to show how wrong his critics are. Okay. Two can play at that game, as one reviewer notes. Fletcher tells the story:

A young woman, jilted by her lover, is in a state of great depression. A married man, with whom she works, decides to have an affair with her in order to comfort her. Some, like Fletcher, would argue that what he did might well have been a noble deed, for the man acted out of concern for his friend. What a perverted viewpoint! Here is the rest of the story. The man’s wife learned of his adulterous adventure, could not cope with the trauma, and eventually committed suicide. One of his sons, disillusioned by the immorality of his father and the death of his mother, began a life of crime, and finally was imprisoned for murder. Another son became a drunkard and was killed in an automobile accident that also claimed the lives of a mother and her two children. Now, who will contend that that initial act of infidelity was the “loving” thing to do?

At the end of the day, not only is Fletcher’s ethics morally depraved, it is logically useless. As Erwin Lutzer notes, “It’s like saying, “The only rules to the game is “Be fair!”” (less)

Situation Ethics, Part 1

Towards a full review.  Joseph Fletcher’s Situation Ethics was the theological justification (ad hoc, no doubt) of the Sexual Revolution during the 1960s.

Three Approaches

Situationism: the mean between legalism and antinomianism (Fletcher 26).  It has an absolute “norm” (love) and a calculating method (27).  All rules are contingent provided they serve agape-love.

What, then, is the place of rules?  Fletcher calls them “illuminators, not directors” (31).  There is an element of truth to this, as it echoes some wisdom literature.

What is its method?  Fletcher helpfully outlines (33).

  1. Only one law, agape.
  2. Sophia of the church and culture, containing “rules” which act as illuminators.
  3. Kairos: the moment of the responsible self in a situation.

Some Presuppositions

In this chapter Fletcher identifies his historical pedigree.  

  1. Pragmatism.  In short, he focuses on “satisfaction” as a criterion for truth (41ff). Of course, works toward what? This is the value problem in ethics.  Not surprisingly, Fletcher lists “love” as his value.
  2. Relativism.  To be relative means to be relative to something (44).  
  3. Positivism.  Faith propositions are posited a-rationally.  “Every moral judgment is a decision, not a conclusion” (47).
  4. Personalism.  Love people, not things (50).
    1. No such thing as value as inherent good.  A value is what happens to something when it “works.”
    2. Values are relative to persons and persons are relative to society.  (Dr Mengele, call your office).  
    3. If all he means by that is persons are persons in relationship—no, I am still uncomfortable with it.
    4. Fletcher says it is bad to “use people,” but what does he mean by “use”?  People are means in one sense–no person is to be loved for that person’s sake, but for God’s.  
  5. Conscience

Love is Always Good

First Proposition: Only love is intrinsically good (57).

Fletcher is a nominalist (57ff).  He continually asserts that love is a predicate, not a property or universal.  As a result, values are extrinsic to a person or thing.

Fletcher’s target in this chapter is Kant’s extreme deontological ethics.

What is a good action:  “whatever is the most loving thing to do” (65).  So what is the most loving thing to do?  Well, it depends on the situation.  Okay, so in Situation (S₁) what should I do?  No answer.  Probably fornicate.  

Love is the only universal (64).

Love is the Only Norm

Second Proposition: “The ruling norm of the Christian decision is love: nothing else” (69).

Fletcher now moves towards a definition of agape-love: goodwill at work in partnership with reason (69).   The essential spirit of many laws has been distilled into love. Fletcher points out that Christian love is not desire (79).

The Good in Fletcher’s Approach

*Fletcher isn’t all bad.  He exposes the false promises of historicist ethics.  Simply by noting the past one cannot anticipate the right action in the present, given the inevitable unfolding of the past.  Basically, Hegel is wrong.

*True, ethical decisions always take place in a situation and context.

*Fletcher reminds us that Victorian social mores are rarely biblical (even if he has the unfortunate habit of labeling his critics as such).  Further, though not always called out by him, most of the “horrid” puritanical legalism (in this book) derives not from church law but from secular ethics.

*Fletcher exposes some incoherent moments in Barth’s ethics (62, cf. CD III/4, p. 416-421).

*Fletcher notes some difficulties in Roman Catholic birth-control positions along with some difficulties in NFP (80).

*calls classical pacifism legalistic (83-84).  

Critique

  1. Fletcher says we can’t “milk universals from a universal” (27).  What he means is we can make principles from “the law of love,” but not rules.  But why not?  He just asserts this.  He doesn’t prove it.
  2. Although this is a minor point, it is worth noting.  Fletcher holds to the (debunked) “Biblical vs. Hellenistic” dichotomy (29). The Hebrew is “verb-minded” while the Greek is “noun-minded.”  “It doesn’t ask what is the good, but how to do good” (52).  But if I don’t know what the good is, rather just labeling it x, then how will I know if I am doing not-good?
  3. Can one really define agape-love without recourse to revelation?  Why can we privilege the term agape, itself drawn from revelation, while saying the rest of revelation is off-limits? The apostle John defined love by God’s commandments.  Fletcher wants to reject the idea of “unwritten rules from heaven” (30), but without any specific content to “love,” that is just what he has.
  4. Fletcher rejects legalism because of the bad things legalism has done.  Francis Kovach draws the following devastating conclusion:  “Human laws happen to have had certain undesirable effects; therefore, let’s do away with all human laws” (Kovach 99).
  5. When faced with the obvious question, “So what do I do in situation x,” Fletcher admits the best he can say is, “It depends” (80).  
  6. Fletcher’s arrogance is obvious.  He routinely scorns his opponents as “fundamentalists,” “literalists,” “legalists” and the like.  He ridicules those who “Believe in a Fall” (81).

Outline of Resurrection Moral Order

Labour of love a long time in the making.

O’Donovan, Oliver.  Resurrection and Moral Order: An Outline for Evangelical Ethics.  Eerdmans, [reprint 1994].

                                                                                                                                  Prologue

Easter Principle

In Christ’s resurrection creation is restored and fulfilment promised; ethics had a foundation (xv).

Difference with Hauerwas:  OO begins ethics with the Christ-event and resurrection; hauerwas with the practices of the Church.

Ethics and final redemption:  Jesus sits at God’s right hand and gives the spirit as a guarantee.  We can be confident about reconciliation because of Christ’s work on the cross.

Sub-thesis: “Love is the principle that confers unifying order both upon the moral field and the character of the moral subject” (226).

The Gospel and Christian Ethics

Resurrection and Creation

“The raising of Christ is representative, not in the way a symbol is representative, expressing a reality what has independent and prior standing, but in the way that a national leader is representative when he brings about for the whole of his people, whatever it is, war or peace, that he effects on their behalf.” (15)

Kingdom ethics/creation ethics:  no dichotomy.   God ushers in the kingdom in the raising of Jesus, which also reaffirms creation.

Natural Ethic

There is an objective reference to the God-made order.

The Spirit and Christian Freedom

The resurrection focuses our participation forward.  It allows me to respond as a moral agent to God’s order (23).   The gift of subjective freedom must be an aspect of our being-in-Christ. The coming of Christ throws off the law as pedagaigos. It makes us adults in God’s order.

OBJECTIVE REALITY

Created Order

creation:  the order and coherence in which the world is composed (31).  It generates an ethical terminology:

  • end–A is ordered to serve B;
  • Creation’s being for Christ is related to being in Christ
  • kind: creates which have generic equivalence in Christ can be ordered to one another teleologically (here O’Donovan avoids the scale of being, but allows at the same time that man is probably more important than rocks).
  • Here OO (34-36) tries to navigate the problems of how creation’s subordinate ends are ordered to each other (per Hegel, Hume, etc).

St Basil’s Two Kinds of Order:  natural and deliberative (37ff).  

The attack upon kinds: the freedom of God

We must not assume a uniform pattern of God’s activity in all ages, for example before and after the coming of Christ (42ff).  

The attack upon ends: the polarity of will and nature

reality without “kinds” is nominalism.  Reality without ends is voluntarism.  Abstracting man from teleological concerns opens the danger to a mechanization of man (52).

ESCHATOLOGY AND HISTORY

Created order cannot be itself while it lacks the Christ-redeemed rule of man that was intended to it (55).  Eschatology answers the question of what creation’s temporal extensions mean.  The ascension is an unfolding of the significance of the resurrection (57).  This means Christian ethics looks both backwards and forwards.  

Natural Ends and History

historicism:  all teleology is time-bound, historical teleology.  It implies that the fulfillment of history is generated from within history (64). The Reformers’ insistence on sola fide/gratia cut this move off at the pass.  “Grace alone” means God is at work from the outside.   

  • Platonic form: per Pannenberg it incorporates not only the Parmenidean arche, but the Socratic arete.   The notion of the good contains an element of futurity.  
  • criticism:  when history is made the categorical matrix for understanding reality, then it can no longer be history.  For a story to be a story, it has to be a story about something (and not just a story about the idea of story).
  • The patristic response:  if creation is extended infinitely in time, then it has infinite possibilities.   By speaking of creation ex nihilo, as finite, they could say the possibilities in history were defined in terms of creation’s being God’s gift (63).  

Historicist Ethics

strong tendency to manipulate and intervene.  Nature does not have meaning from some transhistorical given, but arises from within history by natural forces.  

Western political theology was able to keep a distance from historicist conclusions (for a while, anyway).  It starts from the assertion that the kingdoms of this world are not yet the kingdoms of the Christ, since they do not reflect his judgments.  This allows the believer, who is absolutely subject to Christ, to be relatively subject to earthly powers.  This relative subjectivity opens a “space” between the believer and the powers.  Further, since politics does not have to reconcile the world, it can get along with its own God-ordained business (72).  

If there is no locus of value outside of history, then history will supply its own.  In this case the kingdom of God becomes a form without content.  

KNOWLEDGE IN CHRIST

Knowledge has subjective/objective aspects.  

  • knowledge of things in their relation to the totality of things (77).  Grasping the shape of the whole.
  • The NT contrasts faith/sight, not faith/reason.  
  • subjective aspect: the more encompassing an object is, the harder it is to transcend it and remain neutral.  
  • universals:  our conception of “kinds” (genera) is always open to new particulars. However, the knowledge of the created order from within avoids the empiricist’s dilemma opposed to a knowledge of universals from above.  
  • knowledge is a human way of participating in the created order (81).  
  • knowledge is therefore tied to man’s faithful performance of a task.
  • In summary, knowledge is a knowledge-of-things from within the created order and is vindicated by the resurrection of Christ, who vindicates the created order and gives it back.  Knowledge is a knowledge hidden in Christ.  

Exclusive Knowledge

This knowledge of things in Christ is not of an ethereal Logos, but a particular human.  It is a particular knowledge of the whole order of things created and transformed (85).  

  • Natural Law: how to avoid the ambiguity which attributes universality, not only to knowledge, but to being.  First principles, for Thomas, are self-evident (ST II.I.94.2)
  • It is moral knowledge of the natural order co-ordinated with obedience (87).  It is known by participation, not transcendence.  

Moral Learning

Moral understanding is a grasp of the whole shape of things (90).   Moral learning is all the time “thinking,” the intellectual exploration of a reality (92).

Conflict and Compromise

THE SUBJECTIVE REALITY

Freedom and Reality

Goal of chapter: to show that the redeemed creation does not merely confront us as moral agents, but enables us to participate in it (101).

  1. The Spirit makes the reality of redemption present to us (102)
    1. Any doctrine of the Spirit must first be a doctrine of the Spirit in Christ if it is to avoid the problem of Montanism.  
    2. The Spirit makes the reality of redemption authoritative to us.
  2. The Holy Spirit in John 16:8-11 (105); each of these three moments of judgment is included in the one act of God’s redeeming and fulfilling creation.
    1. crucifixion: the world’s judgment on Christ
    2. resurrection/ascension: The Father’s judgment on Christ
    3. Parousia: Christ’s judgment on the ruler of the world.
  3. The Spirit evokes our free response.
    1. he restores us as moral agents, as the subjects of our actions (106).
    2. freedom is the character of one who participates in the order of creation by knowledge and action (107).  
    3. Freedom is potency, not possibility.This rejects existentialism’s “absence of limits” and libertarianism’s “infinite possibilities.”
    4. Freedom is teleological (Gal. 5.13).
    5. The Holy Spirit restores our access to reality (112).

Alienation and Conversion

  1. Augustine: knowing and willing must be entirely proportionate and coextensive.  The corrupted mind knows something without loving it, or without loving it proportionately (110).  It does not know it in order to justify its love (De Trin. Book 9). The mind in perfect possession of truth loves and wills–reason and will are one.  
  2. The problem of the relationship between reason and will: springs from a disjunction between hearing and doing
  3. Repentance cannot simply realign our will to its continuity with the past.  Something must break that continuity.

Conscience and Autonomy

  1. Guilt: a dividedness of the will with itself.
  2. Conscience:
    1. Thomas Aquinas:  it is bad for the will to be at variance with reason. If you have a mistaken conscience, anything your will does will be sin. Thomas’s larger point, even if we don’t like how he got there, is to caution against an autonomous conscience.
    2. Later 18th century moralists set up conscience as an arbitrary tyrant.

Authority

authority:  something, which by virtue of its kind, constitutes an immediate ground for acting (122).

Christian neo-Platonism: every movement of the human soul is inspired by God; mediated through a diversity of created objects

Natural Authority and the Authority of Truth (cf Ways of Judgment, pp. 131-132).

Political Authority

concurrence of natural authorities of might and tradition (128).  Political authority searches for a compromise while bearing full witness to the truth.

Divine Authority

“What is the relation of the divine command to the created order” (132)?

  • theological rationalism: God speaks through the order reason perceives.  Ps. 104:5; emphasizes the security of the created order.  Emphasizes ontological continuity, tends towards neo-Platonism.
  • theological voluntarism:  God’s command cuts across the rational order.  These psalms emphasize destability (Ps 97.5).  Tended toward immediate contingency of morality upon the revealed will of God.  

Deontic and Teleological Language

Deontic: morality is a matter of command and obedience.  The moral claim is encountered apart from any consideration of the subject’s wish or fulfillment.  

The Authority of Christ

The spirit bears witness to the Resurrected Christ’s authority.  Spontainety and tradition are dual aspects of the same error: failure to critically evaluate the Spirits.  What is tradition but spontaneity in slow motion?  They are not necessarily wrong; just not self-evident.  

The authority of God is located in the public realm (Resurrection).  Moral authority is the authority of the renewed created order where ends and kinds participate.  

Evangelical Authority

*  “When the apostle contrasted law and gospel, he was pointing to the dialectical tension in Israel’s history between the experience of God through promise and the experience of God through command” (151).

  • to experience moral command as “law” is to encounter as from a point in the history of salvation in which God has not yet given the total blessing to his people.
  • “mediated through angels” = the created authority of the community.

Jesus’s authority

  • It is “evangelical” because the moral order he proclaims is the Kingdom of God.
  • Abba prayer:  disciples are invited to share Jesus’s relationship with his father.
  • criticism of externalized morality and religion

Law is command through reciprocal bargain.

Historical Authority

The coming of Christ is the word that re-shapes the events of history (and their teloi).

The Freedom of the Church and the Believer

thesis:  Christ evokes the freedom of the Kingdom of God within us (163).  

  • however, our humanity is destined for the shared life of a city.

The difficulty in classical ethics:

  1. The call of the good, per Plato, meant a solitary and tragic opposition to society.
  2. Aristotle saw that human good always presupposed a social context.
  3. Augustine tries to solve this in City of God: eschatological transcends the tensions between individual and society.

The church isn’t simply a community that speaks to mankind, but is the community that is spoken to.

The Roman view of command and counsel:

  1. it suggested (contra Lk 17:7ff) that God’s demand was limited and less than the total claim of the Good (170).
  2. dangerous wedge between divine command and ultimate realities of good.
  3. Metaphysical ethics must be unitary.  If an act is obligatory, it is so by virtue of its relation to the good, and by virtue of that same relation the performance of it is free.
  4. Therefore, this distinction destroys the very ideas of both freedom and obligation.

Part Three: The Form of the Moral Life

The Moral Field

The form of the moral life is love, the bond of perfection (Col. 3:14).  This section deals with what St Paul calls “The fruit of the Spirit” (182).  

Thesis: The gospel tells us of agents rendered free before the reality of a redeemed universe.  The form their agency assumes will correspond both to the intelligible order which they confront and the freedom in which they act (183).

  • their moral life will be an ordered moral field of action (i.e., human acts)
  • moral ordered subject of action (I.e., human character)

An ordered moral field

Different options

  • to see the moral life as human acts is to see it broken down into a series of discrete and distinct events of human agency, a plurality of responses to the world rather than a single response (183).
  • Fletcher and situation ethics: no matter how problematic Fletcher’s proposal is, it did show the true colors of historicism.  Historicism needs a transhistorical mediation and Fletcher tries to show that doesn’t work.
  • anticipation: divorced from Christian reflection, this is a consequentialist ethic.
    • evaluate acts solely by the consequences they produce
  • Wisdom ethic: “the perception that every novelty, in its own way, manifests the permanence and stability of the created order, so that, however astonishing and undreamt it may be, it is not uttlery incommensurate with what has gone before” (189).
    • Wisdom’s re-presentation as law: declares the central point of Israel’s faith as the meeting of life-in-the-world with life-before-God.

 

indirect voluntary acts: similar to foresight.

direct voluntary acts: intention

the above distinction  advises us that there is a difference between directly intending  an evil effect of one’s action and merely foreesing that it will follow; b) that one may foresee an evil effect of one’s action without desiring it, and c) that one may licitly act in such a way as will foreseeably produce an evil effect (192).

This should be reframed, O’Donovan suggests: it originally arose as a way to understand the differences beween murder and other kinds of killing.  It cannot be used as an ‘analytic a priori” (194).

 

Aquinas’s approach: good and evil in human acts in general

  1. act-as-such
  2. object
  3. circumstance
  4. morality

This demands insight into the craeted order

 

The Moral Subject

Thesis: “Human morality is a series of disclosures in which reality (the heart) forces itself into the realm of appearances (deeds and words) and declares itself, tearing apart the veil of pretense” (206).

 

The Epistemological Priority of Act

  1. The character is known through the acts.
  2. Knowledge of an agent’s character contributes to evaluative moral thought, not deliberative.

The Plurality and Unity of the Virtues

Aristotle: all activities strive for some perceived good, happiness (eudaimion). What is the unifying virtue?  Love.  “True virtue is love for God” (223). The four cardinal virtues are manifestations of this love in typical social relations.

The Double Aspect of the Moral Life

Main point, glossing love your God/neighbor: the love by which we love reality must be twofold in the same way that the reality which we love is twofold: the secondary object derives from the primary object (227).

  • We are to love the neighbor because the neighbor is ordered to the love of God.
  • Yet, love of the neighbor is love of something that is not God (it is also affirming the genuine otherness of creation).

The Ordering of Love

The love to God is not merely one claim among many, but the claim that orders other claims.

Two loves: love to God and love to neighbor

  1. The relation of the two loves is an ordering of means to ends.
    1. Augustine’s “use” and “enjoyment.”
    2. “Res”
      1. Proper objects of “use” (utenda) and proper objects of enjoyment (fruenda)
      2. But Augustine’s reading seems to say that we “use” our neighbor, and O’Donovan rejects this proposal. 235
  2. What is a “person?”
    1. Originally classical Christian thought said that “individuality” resided in reason (nous) or soul (psyche).  When applied to Christ, this was disastrous (238). This either made him two individuals or one individual without a whole range of human attributes.
    2. The solution was to draw a sharp divide between person (hypostasis, individual existence) and nature (a set of attributes).
    3. Modern Kantianism and Hegelianism, in reducing person to “will” and self-consciousness is actually a reversion back to pre-Christian categories.

The End of the Moral Life

The Christian moral life looks to the divine disclosure of God-in-Christ through the Spirit.

Love and its Reward

The idea of reward must always be clarified by something like ipse praemium.  God himself is the gift.  The present hiddenness of God’s new creation demands the public manifestation of the Son of Man in the cosmos.

Love demands that the good be actualized.

Kant downplayed the object of affections/desires/etc in favor of an inner disposition (251).

Various Terminology:

created order: “the structure of the world in its objectivity…its authority to evoke our action” (191).

moral field: “the world as it presents itself to us at any one moment as the context and occasion of our next action.”

Wisdom: “knowledge of the created order.”

casuistry: application of the moral law to action in particular cases.

historicism: the history of an idea is its reality (34). The problem is that the end of a thing is no longer a given ordering-to, which allows free response, but merely historical necessity.

universal in Christ:  his particularity belongs to his divine nature, universal to his human nature (143).  A universe of meaning

 

Augustine, Spirit and the Letter

Initial argument: to respond to Pelagius’s claim that one can live a sinless life.

Other topics addressed: justification by free grace, spiritual interpretation, the nature of human willing and choosing.

Observations:  There are many important topics in this book, yet it is neither an easy nor a pleasant read.  Augustine jumps from point to point, only to return without warning to an earlier point.

  1. The Law as Letter that Killeth
    1. Without the Spirit, the Letter (law) inflames concupiscence.
    2. Whoever obeyed the law without the Spirit, did only because of reward/fear (c.14).
  2. Justification by free grace
    1. Our soul wants to attribute to itself that which it freely received from God (c. 18).
    2. Law: what we do, not simply “external ritual markers” (c.23).
    3. Works do not precede justification, otherwise it is pointless to say we are justified freely by his grace (c. 45).
  3. Human nature and grace
    1. Grace restores nature (c. 47).
    2. Grace establishes free will
      1. When we say we do something “in our power,” we presuppose two things:
        1. Will: the assenting to of something
        2. Ability: the capacity to do it.
      2. The Free Will of man is an intermediate power–it can incline towards faith or unbelief.
      3. The very will comes from God but that is not the same thing as saying, “God made me will it.”
      4. The will probably follows the intellect.  Augustine isn’t clear on this point (c. 60) but it seems to be his argument.