The New Moral Argument

by Max Andrews

The following is an argument David Baggett developed, which argues for the existence of a perfectly moral person. I used this in the VT debate on the existence of God. (I highly recommend Baggett’s book co-authored with Jerry Walls Good God: The Theistic Foundations of Morality.) This version of the moral argument is an abductive version. I believe this argument, when used in an abductive form, is the strongest form of the argument. You’ll usually see it in a deductive form, a la William Lane Craig. I believe this argument is better and I’d like to see it used more often. (See below for my method behind abduction.)

The advantage of this argument is that nature is included in the argument for the morally perfect person. Usually it is depicted as nature vs. God (or a morally perfect person). That argument, I believe, gives too much to the naturalist. Here’s the argument:

  1. There are objective axiological/moral facts that obtain.
  2. Either the world alone or the world and a perfectly moral person best explain these facts.
  3. It is the case that the world and a perfectly moral person best explain these facts.
  4. Therefore, the world and a perfectly moral person best explain these facts.

In essence, it seems that there are objective moral facts and this asks the question, “What’s the best explanation for these facts?”

Premise 1 assumes moral realism. Some actions really are objectively morally abhorrent. By objective I mean that the truth value of such moral facts are true regardless of whether or not anyone recognizes them to be true. For instance, raping and torturing children for pleasure is wrong. The massacre here on campus, which took place nearly five years ago was utterly wicked and evil. Teenage girls being trafficked around the world for sex is abominable. One ought to love others. One ought not to rape and murder.

Now, what is the best explanation for these facts? Well, there are two options for the best explanation. The first is the natural world alone. The world can account for certain moral facts but natural explanations will ultimately be insufficient in explanatory scope and power. It does seem to be the case that the natural order can account for some things due to certain features of this world:

  • Intersubjective moral agreement
  • Satisfactions of morality (we feel good when we do good)
  • Creatures with conative, cognitive, and affective capacities as ours
  • Rational apprehension of moral truths
  • Creatures with essential properties we have

The world is metaphysically rich and robust. Human social requirements and/or motivation theory get the ball rolling but it cannot account for it with complete sufficiency. Attempts to ground such axiological facts in socio-biological evolution will ultimately be ineffecient. For an axiological fact to be objective it must be true in all possible worlds. The fact must be necessary. If we were to rewind the film of evolution and allow it to play out again, it’s certainly possible that natural selection acting on random mutations would have brought about a different biological landscape from what we observe today. Additionally, purely naturalistic theories suffer the is-ought problem. Where do obligations come from? Deontology, or duty-based ethics, cannot be accounted for in a purely naturalistic axiology. If ought implies can and one is naturally determined to act contrary to the ought how proficient can such a view be in accounting for these facts? Also, attempts to ground deontic ethics in Platonic terms merely affirms that these facts obtain but it doesn’t explain anything.

In Sam Harris’ recent books, The Moral Landscape and Free Will, he has attempted to redefine normative statements. He equates human well-being with the good and that which does not contribute to human well-being is not the good. In The Moral LandscapeHarris states,

“Questions about values are really questions about the well-being of conscious creatures… I want to develop a science of human flourishing.”[1]

The problem here is equating human flourishing with the good. Why is that? Why not the well-being of cats, dogs, or sponges? Such attempts to ground objective axiological facts leaves one with specieism—a bias and special treatment for the homo sapiens sapiens species and a suppression of other species. Certainly science can account for how we come to know certain axiological facts but it cannot account for their grounding. I’m not saying human well-being isn’t good since good categorically encompasses human well-being but such an account for objective morality does not satisfy the demands of a robust axiology—namely, the problem of deontology. Additionally, how could one know what increases the well-being of conscious creatures? This suffers the same problems as utilitarian ethics. Surely, it could be the case that something dreadful, awful, and painful could produce something good in the future, especially if this is based in the pains of evolution. The problem is that something bad now may not be viewed as maximizing human well-being and thus, may be considered bad when it would really produce the long-term effect of the betterment of the species.

The other option is the world in conjunction with a morally perfect person. This world conjoined with a perfectly moral person makes a fuller case and provides the better explanation of the full range of moral facts in need of explanation. Such an explanation describes a world that has the texture, depth, and thickness it does and is able to exist in the first place because it was imbued with value and meaning by this morally perfect person. It must be a person because a person, a mind, is the only thing that can issue imperatives. A combination of persons, or a social-theory, doesn’t work because persons are equal in imperative actions. Thus, there must be a person that has the authority to issue such denotic imperatives and ground these moral facts.

For more information on related issues that arise from ethics and the moral argument please see the following posts:

 Edit 11/29/12: Whenever we are considering two competing hypotheses, an observation counts as evidence in favor of the hypothesis under which the observation has the highest probability.

The Likelihood Principle of Confirmation theory states as follows.  Let h1 and h2 be two be competing hypothesis (in this case the existence of X and ~X, with X being a first cause, fine-tuner, etc.).  According to the Likelihood Principle, an observation e counts as evidence in favor of hypothesis h1 over h2 if the observation is more probable under h1 than h2.  Thus, e counts in favor of h1 over h2 if P(e|h1) > P(e|h2), where P(e|h1) and P(e|h2) depict a conditional probability of e on h1 and h2, respectively.  The degree to which the evidence counts in favor of one hypothesis over another is proportional to the degree to which e is more probable under h1 than h2: particularly, it is proportional to P(e|h1)/P(e|h2) .  The Likelihood Principle seems to be sound under all interpretations of probability.  This form is concerned with epistemic probability.

The Likelihood Principle can be derived from the so-called odds form of Bayes’ Theorem, which also allows one to give a precise statement to the degree to which evidence counts in favor of one hypothesis over another.  The odds form of Bayes’ Theorem is P(h1|e)/P(h2|e) = [P(h1)/P(h2)] x [P(e|h1)/P(e|h2)].  The Likelihood Principle, however, does not require the applicability or truth of Bayes’ Theorem and can be given independent justification by appeal to our normal epistemic practices. See Robin Collins, “The Teleological Argument,” in The Blackwell Companion to Natural Theology Eds. William Lane Craig and J.P. Moreland (Oxford, UK: Blackwell, 2009), 205 for further information on this method.

This is why I argue for a morally perfect person instead of God. A cumulative case is needed for that. That begs the next question. So, what about the problem of dwindling probabilities in a cumulative case?  When combining probabilities the end product is smaller (.5 multiplied by .5 = .25).  This issue concerns the restricted conjunction rule for probability: (and B) = (A) x (B) (whenA and B are independent).  It also appears in the general conjunction rule of probability: (and B) = (A) x (B given A).  When using a probability calculus the only time you would add probabilities is in disjunctive calculus (.25+ .25 = .5).  This occurs in the restricted disjunction rule for probability and the general disjunction rule for probability, respectively: (A or B) = (A) + (B) (when A and B are mutually exclusive), and (A or B) = (A)+ (B) – (A and B).  Now, in order to avoid the problem of dwindling probabilities the conjunction of arguments must be used as one probability calculus.  Even if these arguments weren’t used in the cumulative case form the converse probabilities would make the probability for the non-existence of God congruently smaller.


*I want to give a special thanks to Dr. Baggett for working with me and helping me prepare this argument for the debate.

[1] Sam Harris, The Moral Landscape (New York: Free Press, 2010), 7.


15 Comments to “The New Moral Argument”

  1. Why would you need to include the world in the argument, since nothing in the world is a perfectly moral person, to which moral facts may correspond (or, which moral facts describe)? All you would need is a perfectly moral person.

    Here is how I would put it, though it wouldn’t be the first time…just different words…:

    1. There are moral facts which can be arrived at through logical reasoning.
    2. Facts, in order to be true, must correspond to reality.
    3. Moral facts, to be true, must correspond to a perfectly moral person.
    4. Therefore, a perfectly moral person exists to which moral facts are true.

    • I would like to amend my previous argument, as it is circular. Please take out the first premise and change the conclusion to “Therefore, if there are moral facts, a perfectly moral person exists to which moral facts are true.”

      • 1. Perhaps, I should have included my explanation for how I use abduction. I’ll put it in there. However, I think you’re confusing what’s being argued for in the premises and in the conclusion. Yes, moral facts obtain–correspond to reality. But part of the argument is arguing for the extent of one’s metaphysical and ontological commitments. So my conclusion: “Therefore, the world and a perfectly moral person best explain these facts” makes a greater metaphysical and ontological commitment than just nature. It’s the same that the naturalist does in saying the objective facts are grounded in nature and correspond to nature. Let’s look at the converse: the best explanation for these facts does not correspond to these facts. I would love to hear what you ground moral facts in that doesn’t correspond to these facts. What arguments do you use as the best explanation that does not correspond to facts. I simply don’t see how your argument follows. Also, Something can be a fact and not obtain–not correspond to reality. For instance, 1 Cor. 15.17, if Christ had not risen then our faith is in vain. That’s a counterfactual. What your saying denies counterfactuals. If you deny counterfactuals then you’d have to be committed to a truth-maker theory of truth and not a correspondence. X is true iff X corresponds to reality. But that doesn’t work with facts. If you try to say X is a fact iff it corresponds to reality then counterfactuals can never obtain. If that’s the case our discussion has radically shifted and your objections and my responses to those objections would radically change.

        2. How can you consistently affirm the ground of facts without the facts corresponding to the explanation? Again, you’d be inconsistent to affirm this objection and 1. Anyways, I’m arguing that the natural world is metaphysical robust, which is a consequent of God (which brings me to your issue about a perfectly moral person. I’m not saying there are morally perfect persons in nature. I think you may have completely misunderstood my argument. Did you think I was trying to ground moral facts in some created person? That’s the whole point of my argument lol. GOD is that morally perfect person. I’m not arguing for God here either and I don’t argue for God in any of my arguments because I think it is unsound since we cannot arrive at GOD in a single argument unless one is arguing the resurrection. For instance, I argue for a fine-tuner and first cause instead of God. That’s the whole nature of a cumulative case.) Anyways, again, I’m not quite sure how I contradicted myself in my argument. Why does the theist always want to throw away a metaphysically robust, rationally imbued to the naturalist? That’s giving away too much. Also, I think there’s too large of a gulf between ontology and epistemology. See my paper: http://arxiv.org/pdf/1205.2896.pdf on why I think so. In that paper you can see my foundation for why I think nature can ground certain facts. If nature is logically and metaphysically antecedent to a morally perfect person, or God, then yes, it cannot ground moral facts. However, being that nature is a consequent of God then I think my argument in that paper works; hence, allowing for the grounding of facts in nature.

        3. Certain moral facts would not obtain and would be counterfactual. However, some facts would obtain because they are counteressential. The moral fact that it is good to be a scientist would not obtain in a world of trees and bushes. If there were a scientist then such value judgments could be made. Hence, counterfactual but still a necessary truth. (A scientist in a general sense and not to conflate categories of evil scientists who create bombs to murder children.) So, I think nature can account for objective moral values (that which is good/bad). However, I think a morally perfect person is need to account for imperatives (that which is right/wrong). There needs to be a qualified morally perfect person to issue imperatives. Such imperatives are that which are counteressential, that would never obtain in any world (i.e. this morally perfect person commanding rape). You can see that argument here: http://maxandrews.files.wordpress.com/2010/02/arbitrariness-in-dct2.pdf

        • You are replying to this:

          1. Abductive arguments can be circular, as well. In your post, you say this “argues for the existence of a perfectly moral person”. Facts by definition correspond to reality. Replace “moral facts” in the first premise with any sort of facts, and conclude with “whatever those facts correspond to, best explains those facts — iow, exists”. That’s circular. You start out saying moral facts are facts (iow, correspond to reality).

          2. The reasons you give say nothing about the world grounding moral facts. The reasons you give talk about how we arrive at those truths, not what grounds those truths. The last item mentions our essential properties, but none of us is a perfectly moral being, and so moral facts describe (correspond to) none of us. You give reasons in your paper why you are wrong in your initial statement that the world can account for certain moral facts. It accounts for none of them, for the reasons you gave.

          3. If the world disappeared, then would moral facts cease to be true? So it seems the world is superfluous in this argument.

          ***I agree with your thoughts on the existence of a perfectly moral person being required to ground moral facts.

          ***********************

          I folded your response from Unbelievable into 1 as well, as it helps clarify.

          Max: 1. Perhaps, I should have included my explanation for how I use abduction. I’ll put it in there. However, I think you’re confusing what’s being argued for in the premises and in the conclusion. Yes, moral facts obtain. Something can be a fact and not obtain–not correspond to reality. For instance, 1 Cor. 15.17, if Christ had not risen then our faith is in vain. That’s a counterfactual. What your saying denies counterfactuals. If you deny counterfactuals then you’d have to be committed to a truth-maker theory of truth and not a correspondence. X is true iff X corresponds to reality. But that doesn’t work with facts. If you try to say X is a fact iff it corresponds to reality then counterfactuals can never obtain. A denial of counterfactuals is a denial of anything in the subjunctive mood. So, you couldn’t say “I would have been at the store if I weren’t on the computer.” That statement could not be true. You’d have to adopt some truth-maker theory of truth or actualism. If that’s the case our discussion has radically shifted and your objections and my responses to those objections would radically change. But part of the argument is arguing for the extent of one’s metaphysical and ontological commitments. So my conclusion: “Therefore, the world and a perfectly moral person best explain these facts” makes a greater metaphysical and ontological commitment than just nature. It’s the same that the naturalist does in saying the objective facts are grounded in nature and correspond to nature. Let’s look at the converse: the best explanation for these facts does not correspond to these facts. I would love to hear what you ground moral facts in that doesn’t correspond to these facts. What arguments do you use as the best explanation that does not correspond to facts. I simply don’t see how your argument follows.

          Maryann: I think that counterfactuals can be true. For example, if you would actually have been at the store if you weren’t on the computer–then that counter-factual accurately reflects reality. It seems counterfactuals are no different than any other if-then statement, like my conclusion: If there are moral facts, then a perfectly moral person exists to which moral facts are true. The opposite is also true: If there is no morally perfect person, then there can be nothing to which moral facts can correspond. It is my understanding that, according to correspondence theory, reality makes facts true (is that not a truth-maker theory?). I’m not sure what you are doing with that converse bit. Are you trying to say something similar my, “If there is no morally perfect person, then there can be nothing to which moral facts can correspond”? When you say, “I would love to hear what you ground moral facts in that doesn’t correspond to these facts.” By “these facts” do you mean “moral facts”? A) What makes you think that I ground moral facts in something to which moral facts do not correspond [I’m assuming that’s what you meant, because, B) it is the facts that correspond to the grounding (perfectly moral person…God), not the other way around]. You ask, “What arguments do you use as the best explanation that does not correspond to facts?” I’m totally confused by that, because B, and because I ground moral facts in God (perfectly moral person). I don’t argue anything differently, so when you say “I don’t see how your argument follows”— you may be thinking I’m arguing something I’m not. So, I’ll restate it, though I’m changing “facts” to “beliefs” in the first statement, since facts are true by definition:

          P1. Beliefs, in order to be true, must correspond to reality.

          P2. Moral beliefs, to be true, must correspond to a perfectly moral person.

          C. Therefore, if there are true moral beliefs (moral facts), a perfectly moral person exists to which moral facts are true.

          It is not an argument that ends in God’s existence, unless a person accepts that there are moral facts and wants their beliefs to be consistent.

          Max: 2. How can you consistently affirm the ground of facts without the facts corresponding to the explanation? Again, you’d be inconsistent to affirm this objection and 1. Anyways, I’m arguing that the natural world is metaphysical robust, which is a consequent of God (which brings me to your issue about a perfectly moral person. I’m not saying there are morally perfect persons in nature. I think you may have completely misunderstood my argument. Did you think I was trying to ground moral facts in some created person? That’s the whole point of my argument lol. GOD is that morally perfect person. I’m not arguing for God here either and I don’t argue for God in any of my arguments because I think it is unsound since we cannot arrive at GOD in a single argument unless one is arguing the resurrection. For instance, I argue for a fine-tuner and first cause instead of God. That’s the whole nature of a cumulative case.) Anyways, again, I’m not quite sure how I contradicted myself in my argument. Why does the theist always want to throw away a metaphysically robust, rationally imbued to the naturalist? That’s giving away too much. Also, I think there’s too large of a gulf between ontology and epistemology. See my paper: http://arxiv.org/pdf/1205.2896.pdf on why I think so. In that paper you can see my foundation for why I think nature can ground certain facts. If nature is logically and metaphysically antecedent to a morally perfect person, or God, then yes, it cannot ground moral facts. However, being that nature is a consequent of God then I think my argument in that paper works; hence, allowing for the grounding of facts in nature.

          Maryann: The facts and the true explanation are synonymous and correspond to what grounds them. I know that you are not stating “there are morally perfect persons in nature”—nothing I have said suggests that. “Did you think I was trying to ground moral facts in some created person?” No. “GOD is that morally perfect person.” I totally agree. “I’m not arguing for God here either and I don’t argue for God in any of my arguments because I think it is unsound since we cannot arrive at GOD in a single argument unless one is arguing the resurrection.” I got the impression you intended this to be an argument for God’s existence when you said at the beginning, “which argues for the existence of a perfectly moral person”. God is the only perfectly moral person, so this argues (you say) for the existence of God (I say in a circular fashion). I have studied enough epistemology to know that I agree with Hume and plato that is (ontology and correspondence/is) and ought (epistemology and justification/ought) cannot pass for each other; we need both separately. If your paper agrees on those points, I will read it, as I am curious to know what difference you think it makes whether nature is antecedent to or a consequent of God (the only morally perfect person)…so let me know :0)

          Max: 3. Certain moral facts would not obtain and would be counterfactual. However, some facts would obtain because they are counteressential. The moral fact that it is good to be a scientist would not obtain in a world of trees and bushes. If there were a scientist then such value judgments could be made. Hence, counterfactual but still a necessary truth. (A scientist in a general sense and not to conflate categories of evil scientists who create bombs to murder children.) So, I think nature can account for objective moral values (that which is good/bad). However, I think a morally perfect person is need to account for imperatives (that which is right/wrong). There needs to be a qualified morally perfect person to issue imperatives. Such imperatives are that which are counteressential, that would never obtain in any world (i.e. this morally perfect person commanding rape). You can see that argument here: http://maxandrews.files.wordpress.com/2010/02/arbitrariness-in-dct2.pdf

          Did you read any of the further reading links?

          Maryann: No, I didn’t, but I might. I don’t think statements about scientists are true unless there are scientists in existence to which they can be true. Likewise, statements about God (or photosynthesis) are not true, unless there is a God in existence (or photosynthesis is taking place). There are no statements about unicorns which are true—unless truth can correspond to a reality that only exists in the imagination—and I deny that. You can only say that “It is true that we think this about unicorns, but this has not actually been shown to be true about unicorns, because no known unicorns exist.” There are higher-level moral facts, like the Golden Rule, that correspond in every possible world, because the morally perfect person (God) exists in every possible world—those are the moral facts that count here. What you mean by “obtain in a world” must mean…we can behave according to it…and it can describe the character of some more than others. But, when we behave according to the Golden Rule, and when someone’s character reflects it better than someone else’s character—those instances of “obtaining” correspond to the grounding (the morally perfect person—God).

          I feel like we may be going on tangents and talking past each other, but if you think I need some education on certain terms and you have the time, I do love to learn.

          • 1’ Honestly, you keep saying conflicting statements about facts and I have no idea what your position is. It seems you want to equivocate them with truth-makers but then you deny that. Truth-maker theory is a type of correspondence theory but maintains that positive existential statements cannot be true unless there is grounding in them, which is why you’re conflating facts with truths. A) You claimed that I was begging the question, No? So you do ground moral facts in something/someone that corresponds to it. I don’t think that’s begging the question, but if that’s what you’re claiming, why are you allowed to do it and not me? B.) Ugh, I don’t see your logic. Facts correspond to a morally perfect person but a morally perfect person does not correspond to the facts? Correspondence is a biconditional claim. You said it yourself: x iff x corresponds to reality. Your logic really doesn’t make sense here. In an abductive argument I have to start with the observations—that moral facts obtain—and then make an inference to the best explanation for why these moral facts obtain. I really don’t see why you’re reading the argument the way you are. It seems you want to bring out hidden premises that aren’t there. I vehemently disagree with your definition of a belief—it’s just wrong. A belief is a conscious state or disposition. For instance, suppose I finish dinner and dessert and put the pie in the fridge. I then go to bed. My wife goes to bed at the same time. Unfortunately, my wife, not being able to sleep, gets up and grabs the last piece of the pie as a midnight snack and then goes to bed. I wake up late and need to get to work so I never grab breakfast or open the fridge. I go to work. I believe the piece of pie is in the fridge. I believe it to be true and I believe I am justified in it because I put it there last night (not knowing the states of affairs that transpired with my wife). Do I have knowledge? No, because the pie is not there. Is my belief that the pie is in the fridge true? No, it’s false. It’s called the Gettier problem. (See my epistemology directory, http://sententias.org/2012/10/18/the-epistemology-directory/ for more information and several posts on epistemology and the Gettier problem.) Have you ever believed something and it turned out to be wrong? I’d imagine so (unless you have omniscience). I don’t know your epistemic position or even your criteria for knowledge, which is traditionally a justified, true belief, because you conflate truth and belief. So, you can’t change beliefs and facts here either. Anyways, I still don’t follow your logic or epistemic method here.

            2’ Mayann: “The facts and the true explanation are synonymous and correspond to what grounds them. I know that you are not stating “there are morally perfect persons in nature”—nothing I have said suggests that.” See above about facts and explanations. You then say, that you suggest that “there are no morally perfect persons in nature.” Now I’m confused. What did you mean when you said, “Why would you need to include the world in the argument, since nothing in the world is a perfectly moral person, to which moral facts may correspond (or, which moral facts describe)? All you would need is a perfectly moral person” in an earlier post? I still don’t see how this is circular. Do you think all abductive arguments are circular? What about my fine-tuning argument:

            1. Given the fine-tuning evidence, a life permitting universe/multiverse (LPM) is very, very unlikely under the non-existence of a fine-tuner (~FT): that is, P(LPM|~FT & k’) ≪ 1.
            2. Given the fine-tuning evidence, LPM is not unlikely under FT (Fine-Tuner): that is, ~P(LPM|FT & k’) ≪ 1.
            Therefore, LPM strongly supports FT over ~FT.

            Is this circular? I think you’re completely misunderstanding the nature of abductive arguments. With abductive arguments it is not the case that the premises strongly support the conclusion. It is the conclusion that supports the premises.

            The American philosopher and logician Charles Sanders Peirce first described abduction. He noted that, unlike inductive reasoning, in which a universal law or principle is established from repeated observations of the same phenomena, and unlike deductive reasoning, in which a particular fact is deduced by applying a general law to another particular fact or case, abductive reasoning infers unseen facts, events, or causes in the past from clues or facts in the present. Consider the following syllogism:
            1. If it rains, the streets will get wet.
            2. The streets are wet.
            3. Therefore, it rained.
            The use of abductive reasoning may seem fallacious at first take. This syllogism commits the fallacy of affirming the consequent. One cannot deduce from the data, that the streets are wet, that it rained because there are many other explanations for why the streets are wet. It could have been the case that a fire hydrant was allowed to flow, a street cleaner came through, a concerned citizen who wanted to clean the chalk off of the streets from the little children drawing pictures or writing words. There are many possibilities that could explain why the road was wet. This was the problem that posed Peirce. How was it that despite the logical problem of affirming the consequent, one nevertheless frequently makes conclusive inferences about the past? The key point is the explanatory scope and power of the explanation. Abductive reasoning does not derive a certain conclusion (for one would then be guilty of affirming the consequent), but it makes an inference to the best explanation. Peirce’s example was whether anyone should believe in the existence of Napoleon. He claimed that the past may be inferred from the study of present effects, namely, artifacts and records. Peirce concluded, “Though we have not seen the man [Napoleon], yet we cannot explain what we have seen without the hypothesis of his existence.” Despite the apparent fallacy, W.P. Alston, W.B. Gallie, and Michael Scriven have observed, such arguments can be restated in a logically acceptable form if it can be shown that Y has only one cause (i.e. X) or that X is a necessary condition (or cause) of Y. Thus, arguments of the form:
            1. X is antecedently necessary to Y,
            2. Y exists,
            3. Therefore, X existed.
            are logically valid by philosophers and persuasive by historical and forensic scientists.
            The suggestion was that a particular abductive hypothesis can be firmly established if it can be shown that it represents the best or only explanation of the “manifest effects” in question. Whatever the best explanation is it cannot be contrived ad hoc or post hoc but must be related to the evidence and must follow from the evidence. Abduction allows for a powerful predictive capability. Abductive reasoning allows for the positing of the best explanation, which may lie beyond, external to, the data. The conclusion does not rest in any of the premises.
            This is a non-controversial use of reasoning. Many inferences are naturally described in this way. Charles Darwin inferred the hypothesis of natural selection because although his biological evidence did not entail it, natural selection would provide the best explanation of that evidence. Astronomers use abduction when they infer that a galaxy is receding from the Earth with a certain velocity because the recession would be the best explanation of the redshift the light from the galaxy emits. Inference to the best explanation is in close contact with the holistic view of explanation. Philip Kitcher argued that this holistic view of inferential reasoning.
            I’m not quite sure what you’re doing with Hume here. The is-ought problem is a meta-ethical problem and not an epistemic problem (moral epistemology?—If so, then it crosses over into meta-ethics). If you’re not using it in the meta-ethical sense then I have no idea what you’re talking about. If you’re using it in the meta-ethical sense, and not an epistemic sense, then sure I agree. I don’t know why you raised this issue. Oughtness refers to deontic imperatives. I’ve already made it quite clear that a morally perfect person is required to account for such imperatives. I’m really not tracking you here, sorry.

            3’ Let’s talk about unicorns. Let a unicorn be a magical horse with a horn protruding from the forehead. Let a unicornex be an existent unicorn. No non-existing thing is a unicornex. So, it’s true by obversion, some existing thing is a unicornex. It seems you think I may be doing something like this, claiming certain things into existence. (Maybe you’re not saying this?—That I’m obverting existential claims regarding moral facts?) Anyways, it seems you’re denying my counterfactual and counteressential claims here. I doesn’t appear that you’ve interacted with that directly or, at least, I’m not reading a corresponding/direct response to what I’ve said. What are higher-level moral facts? Why do you discriminate against lower-level moral facts? Why arbitrarily say we can only talk about “higher-level” moral facts? Additionally, I think you may be confusing the conjuncts as being independent. God would be an independent conjunct but the world is not. Why?—Because it’s a consequent of God creating and imbuing it as such. Thus, the world is a dependent conjunct here.

            In the end this argument does fly in the face of contemporary apologetics, and for good reason. Whyin the world, pun intended, would the theist want to abandon a metaphysically robust world to the naturalist here? What you’re doing, and apologetics today is doing, is treating the natural world as if there is no God that created the world and imbued with such metaphysically, ontologically, and axiologically, rich and robust sense that it has. We know that the world has such properties BECAUSE God created it that way. In my argument, because I know God has already imbued the world in such a way, I use the world and God (the perfectly moral person) in conjunction. If you want to abandon your criticisms against abduction and continue to charge me with begging the question, for the sake of argument I suppose lol, then charge me with it here! I think Christian apologetics needs to stop abandoning a good theology of nature in the usual moral arguments that do not use the world in conjunction with a morally perfect person.

    • This is the reply, posted elsewhere, to which Max is responding below, starting with “1. Perhaps, I should have included…”

      1. Abductive arguments can be circular, as well. In your post, you say this “argues for the existence of a perfectly moral person”. Facts by definition correspond to reality. Replace “moral facts” in the first premise with any sort of facts, and conclude with “whatever those facts correspond to, best explains those facts — iow, exists”. That’s circular. You start out saying moral facts are facts (iow, correspond to reality).

      2. The reasons you give say nothing about the world grounding moral facts. The reasons you give talk about how we arrive at those truths, not what grounds those truths. The last item mentions our essential properties, but none of us is a perfectly moral being, and so moral facts describe (correspond to) none of us. You give reasons in your paper why you are wrong in your initial statement that the world can account for certain moral facts. It accounts for none of them, for the reasons you gave.

      3. If the world disappeared, then would moral facts cease to be true? So it seems the world is superfluous in this argument.

      ***I agree with your thoughts on the existence of a perfectly moral person being required to ground moral facts.

      I will now attempt to reply to Max’s response below his response.

  2. Concerning facts: When I say objective moral facts obtain I thought I was clear when I defend premise 1 that this assumes moral realism. It’s another way of saying “there are objective moral facts” or “moral facts exist” (although I have no idea what the latter means—the existence of moral facts, or truths, is completely Platonic and it really means nothing to me.) Yes, these facts correspond to God’s essential nature for two reasons: the world and God. God imbued the world and God is a necessary condition for the existence of the world.

    Concerning: “God is not needed to explain facts about moral values (as opposed to moral facts/truth) (moral values are in the world, not God’s nature, unless they are moral facts/truth), and the world is not needed to explain moral facts/truth (only God, the perfectly moral person, is needed to ground them).”

    I’m glad my clarification helps but I think we simply disagree on our theology of nature. I’d be curious to hear what your theology of nature is. You’d be surprised that if you abandon the theology I’m proposing your moral epistemology, and other aspects of epistemology, fall silent and unsupported. You won’t be able to consistently hold certain things but I guess this is the dividing line. I want to affirm all my reasons I list for why the world is imbued, and that it is imbued, so I can keep my moral epistemology and the epistemology I advocate in my paper (I assume you still didn’t read, it probably would’ve answered questions for you.) The atheist isn’t going to affirm my theology of nature—that’s obvious, but he’s going to try to steal from my worldview and say that he can ground objectivity in the world because he knows that it’s the way it is—his explanation falls moot.

    I must have misread your statement on beliefs. However, looking back at it, you’ll need to change it up a bit. You’ll need to drop the hypothetical conclusion since you’re distributing terms in the first two premises, which aren’t hypothetical. It’s easy to fix but it’s an invalid argument. Also, changing words doesn’t alter meanings; you could be substituting it for a synonym.

    I don’t see how my argument is confusing when I give the explanation you want when I say moral realism, which categorically affirms what you’re arguing. What’s the problem here?

    Concerning Hume: I, honestly, do not see how the is-ought problem is relevant here. I’ve studied epistemology for a long time, I’ve taken graduate courses on epistemology, I’ve done several papers, and have read several books on epistemology and I have no idea what you’re doing here. I confess, I’m ignorant of this use of the problem. I’ve never seen the is-ought problem in epistemology, especially how you’re using it. I’ve only seen it in meta-ethics. You’ll have to educate me on this and your post is even more confusing. You’re using a meta-ethical issue in a strictly epistemic issue. I’m at a loss for understanding.

    The unicorns were a reference to William Rowe.

    Concerning: “”Do you think all abductive arguments are circular?” No. I’m down with inference to the best explanation.”

    Then why do you say it’s circular? Or, are you saying I’m actually not using abduction?

    The golden rule discussion is just redundant at this point because I don’t see how it answers or interacts with my claims concerning counterfactuals or counteressentials (or my paper on non-standard semantics and DCT).

    • Your above reply is in reply to this comment: http://sententias.org/2012/11/28/the-new-moral-argument/#comment-18388 Things are sort of out of order, since these replies are being transferred from our CAA discussion. I will reply to this soon.

    • Sorry it has taken me so long to reply. There are so many aspects to respond to, and I am going to attempt to narrow the scope.

      I think I can go with the “imbue” aspect of things as far as … we are made in his image…capable of following moral laws (that are facts). But not a single one of us is described (always) by any moral law (that is fact), and nothing else in nature is a “personal” candidate (except when Jesus is physically present)–and skeptics aren’t going to accept any of that. I guess I can also go as far as “whenever we follow a moral law (that is fact)…it is obtaining in nature”. But, a) that would mean moral facts are only true when they obtain, which is not always, and so one wonders why they are ‘ever’ how we ought to be/behave, and b) if that were enough to ground moral facts, then God would not be necessary for moral facts to be true (always true, not just when they obtain in nature). The only way moral facts obtain in the world, is if they are always true to a being outside the contingent world–a being in which they “always” obtain. Until you establish that, you can only say “there are moral values in the world”–you cannot call those values “facts”. They are only always true/obligatory for us if they correspond to a being that is always good, and so they cannot obtain in the world unless that being exists. Saying they obtain anywhere, is saying that being exists. So using “they obtain” (anywhere) to prove “that being exists or explains them” is circular. And since the world did not “always” exist, it is not necessary to ground moral facts.

      If moral facts correspond to (exist in) God’s nature, then they are not merely Platonic. If you think facts cannot exist, but can only correspond to that which exists, then we can avoid saying “moral facts exist” and stick to “there are objective moral facts”. But, for the record, if I were to say “moral facts exist” I would mean “moral facts correspond to reality (God)”.

      When you say, “…you’ll need to change it up a bit. You’ll need to drop the hypothetical conclusion since you’re distributing terms in the first two premises, which aren’t hypothetical. It’s easy to fix but it’s an invalid argument. Also, changing words doesn’t alter meanings; you could be substituting it for a synonym.” –are you talking about this argument:

      P1: Beliefs, in order to be true, must correspond to reality.
      P2: Moral beliefs, in order to be true (iow, in order to be moral facts), must correspond to a perfectly moral person.
      C: Therefore, if there are true moral beliefs (iow, if there are moral facts), then a perfectly moral person exists to which moral facts are true.

      First–what do you mean by distributing terms? Second–I can’t drop the hypothetical conclusion, because it hasn’t been shown that there are true moral beliefs (iow, moral facts). It is not the point of the argument to show that a) there are moral facts, or b) a perfectly moral person exists. It is only the point of the argument to show that, if there are moral facts, there has to be a perfectly moral person (on correspondence theory). Third–which changed words are you referring to, and what was your point there? Fourth–how is it an invalid argument?

      Hume’s is-ought is in meta-ethics because it deals with moral epistemology. Turns out–it deals with ‘any’ epistemology, because IS = metaphysics/ontology, and OUGHT = justification/epistemology. I can’t remember where I brought him up in our discussion, but if you want to know more: http://ichthus77.blogspot.com/2011/07/where-i-am-at-with-humes-is-ought.html However, I’m going to drop it out of the discussion for now, as well as all mention of the Golden Rule. I hope I have narrowed the scope of the discussion enough.

  3. This is in reply to your reply which starts “1’ Honestly, you keep saying conflicting statements…”

    I have not been equivocating on the word fact, but I think your mentioning that helps me understand where we are talking past each other. I have always meant “fact” this way: an explanation, assertion, theory, belief, whatever, which corresponds to reality (is true). It can be meant another way (I found out via google), but I never use this meaning: that to which explanations, assertions, theories, beliefs, whatever, can correspond or be true. That would explain why you said “correspond to the facts” rather than the other way around. You mean facts to be reality, not statements corresponding to reality.

    So, when you say moral facts obtain in the world–do you mean something like “the reality of moral values, subjective to the individual and relative to the culture (unless shown to be in line with God’s essential nature)”? Is everything else on your bulleted list along that sort of line? If so, when you say, “there must be a perfectly moral person to explain (ground) these facts” — that isn’t true–the world grounds those facts (your meaning) that are not in line with God’s essential nature. Such facts (your meaning) do not constitute “moral truth”. Facts (my meaning) that ‘do’ constitute moral truth, are not grounded in the world–they are grounded in God.

    Grounding moral truth in God, in itself, does not beg the question. Here is my argument:

    P1. Beliefs, in order to be true, must correspond to reality.
    P2. Moral beliefs, to be true, must correspond to a perfectly moral person.
    C. Therefore, if there are true moral beliefs (moral facts) (my meaning), then a perfectly moral person exists to which moral facts (my meaning) are true.

    When I say objective moral facts, I do not mean “the reality of moral values, subjective to the individual and relative to the culture (unless shown to be in line with God’s essential nature)”–Instead, I mean only those values that “are” facts (correspond to God’s essential nature). Now–if that is not what you mean by objective moral facts, then I take back my “circular argument” objection. But these objections stand: God is not needed to explain facts about moral values (as opposed to moral facts/truth) (moral values are in the world, not God’s nature, unless they are moral facts/truth), and the world is not needed to explain moral facts/truth (only God, the perfectly moral person, is needed to ground them). I like how you clarified the antecedent/consequent, conjunct bit–but I think the world lacks the moral properties you say God has imbued in it (are you switching on your use of “facts” — because … now it sounds like you mean moral truth?). “We know that the world has such properties BECAUSE God created it that way.” I don’t know that, and an atheist certainly doesn’t. I think God only imbued in us a hunger for those properties. He best explains that hunger…I think an abductive argument can be made there.

    Your argument is confusing, because most people will read the words “objective moral facts” and think you mean “moral truth” when you do not.

    On belief–I never defined it the way you say I defined it. I changed “fact” to “belief” in my first and second premises to avoid a circular argument, because I do not define belief the way you say I define it–I do NOT think it is synonymous with fact (otherwise, why would I change it?). Beliefs are not necessarily true–we agree. I hold to the Plato’s justified-true-belief theory of knowledge. Here are my thoughts on the Gettier problem, which also goes into what I am doing with Hume (and Plato…): http://ichthus77.blogspot.com/search?q=Gettier

    “Do you think all abductive arguments are circular?” No. I’m down with inference to the best explanation.

    “What are higher-level moral facts? Why do you discriminate against lower-level moral facts? Why arbitrarily say we can only talk about “higher-level” moral facts? ” (p.s. I don’t get what you said about unicorns)

    The Golden Rule is the highest-level (absolute), and all … imperatives, you would say? … below it (particular examples) … are all (if “moral truth”) in line with the Golden Rule (which corresponds to, or describes, God’s essential nature…the morally perfect person). If any particular moral rule, or any sort of particular law, is not in line with the Golden Rule (God’s nature), then we are not morally obligated to follow it. The Golden Rule is true in every possible world, whereas certain particular rules require the existence of certain factors in a world. A world with no death would never have a law against murder, for example, but the point behind such a law (the Golden Rule) would be true in every possible world (because it corresponds to God’s nature). We only need to ground the Golden Rule. The particulars (if moral truth) are all grounded in what grounds the Golden Rule. The world can never ground them.

  4. This question might not have anything to do with your new moral argument, but here it goes. If Morality is ordered by God (lets ignore the Euthyphro dilemma and say God only commands that which is ultimately good) doesn’t that make God-given morality a subjective? Isn’t God an agent/mind?

    • Well, you’d be re-introducing Euthyphro’s arbitrariness if it’s subjective. If we’re referring to an Anselmian God–the prime reality, then objectivity doesn’t rest on that.

  5. Congratulations on your new moral argument; I agree with you that it is an improvement over William Lane Craig’s version.

    I have a (hopefully quick) question. You write:

    “The advantage of this argument is that nature is included in the argument for the morally perfect person. Usually it is depicted as nature vs. God (or a morally perfect person). That argument, I believe, gives too much to the naturalist. Here’s the argument:”

    At the risk of asking a stupid question, can you say more about why you think that argument “gives too much” to the naturalist?

    • Hi Jeffery,

      No stupid question here :-)

      When I say that it’s giving too much to the naturalist I mean that theist don’t need to abandon a metaphysically rich creation. For the theist, creation is imbued with such properties that we would normally attribute to it in a good theology of nature. Why must the theist abandon his good theology of nature here? I can understand that one may want to be modest in abandoning it for the sake of argument but I don’t see the advantage in doing so.

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