In my discussion with Arif Ahmed on the Unbelievable radio show, Dr Ahmed rejected my position that moral facts are best explained in terms of a non-natural person. Now, he doesn’t accept that there are any moral facts at all, but if there were, he indicated, they wouldn’t suggest the existence of a non-natural person.
Arif’s main argument against this view was an argument via counter-example. He used the counter example of logic. There are norms of logic (just as I think there are norms of morality), but that doesn’t imply that there’s a great, personal, non-natural logician out there. So why should the existence of moral laws imply the existence of a moral law giver?
As you’ll hear in the recording of the discussion, I attempted to offer one kind of reply at the time. That reply was (or at least was meant to be) that the idea of “law” is different in each of these cases. If we engage in a logical error then we’ve made an error of some sort, but people don’t find the same kind of fault with us as when we engage in moral wrongdoing. Stated differently (although I don’t recall using this term at the time), we aren’t blameworthy in the same way, and we don’t have reason to feel guilt in the case of logical error. Logic doesn’t make requirements of us. I wish I’d used this term at the time, because I think it clarifies things even further: There is a kind of social element in moral wrongdoing that just doesn’t seem present in logical blunders. That’s one difference between laws of logic and laws of morality.
As with my previous blog post about this discussion, there was only really time and opportunity for one brief response, but other responses are certainly possible. That response is actually related to my previous blog about this discussion: Laws of logic are analytic truths. A claim like “A = A” is true by definition. As soon as you comprehend the claim, you realise that experience has nothing to do with knowing that the claim is true. It is self evident because the very meaning of the terms involved makes it true. People don’t make analytical truths come about. They are merely matters of the meanings of terms.
Moral claims, by contrast, are not true by definition. When we ask a question like “is it wrong to torture people for fun,” the meaning of the word “wrong” is not at all bound up with the meaning of the words “torture” or “people” or “fun.” A moral claim is not an analytic claim but a synthetic claim, bringing together the idea of wrongness and the idea of torture (in this case). And synthetic claims, unlike analytical claims, are the kinds of claims that people can cause to be true. For example “my car is red” is a state of affairs brought about by the fact that somebody painted my car the colour red. Similarly, since the claim “rape is wrong” is a synthetic claim, it isn’t like a logical axiom. We can note that it is a fact claim about what we ought to do, and then (so say I) we can sensibly ask what makes the act wrong, which is where the moral argument for theism kicks in.
So the mere fact that “moral law” and “law of logic” are both phrases that contain the word “law,” this doesn’t imply that the must either both be things that require a lawmaker or else they must both be things that do not require a lawmaker. That would be a case of equivocation.
- Arif Ahmed, morality and empiricism
- Nuts and Bolts 004: Logical Positivism
- How the queerness argument (possibly) backfires
- Bradley on the alleged contradiction of Christian ethics
- (one of the ways in which) Van Til was wrong