Sunday, August 08, 2004

Plato: Is morality an intrinsic good?

I promised more from Plato's Republic, so here I shall deliver. This extract really challenged me when I read it. I was dumbfounded as to how to respond. I'm intrigued to know what you guys would say if someone asked you this. Unfortunately the online translation I've copied here isn't quite as easy to follow as the hard copy I've got (translation by Robin Waterfield). Basically what is being said is this:

The character wants to know whether it is intrinsically better to be moral or immoral. Everyone agrees it is good to be moral in general because people trust you, are nicer to you etc. But the question he wants to explore is: Is morality inherently good or is it just useful for its external benifits? So he does a thought experiment, which contrasts a super-moral person against a super-immoral person. But in this thought experiment, all the people of the city think the saint is a sinner and the super-sinner is a saint: Thus the sinner gets the external benifits that morality would have conveyed and vice versa. In this case is the saint truly better off than the sinner (due to morality being inherently better)? If so, why?


(From Book 2)

Now, if we are to form a real judgment of the life of the just and unjust, we must isolate them; there is no other way; and how is the isolation to be effected? I answer: Let the unjust man be entirely unjust, and the just man entirely just; nothing is to be taken away from either of them, and both are to be perfectly furnished for the work of their respective lives.

First, let the unjust be like other distinguished masters of craft; like the skilful pilot or physician, who knows intuitively his own powers and keeps within their limits, and who, if he fails at any point, is able to recover himself. So let the unjust make his unjust attempts in the right way, and lie hidden if he means to be great in his injustice (he who is found out is nobody): for the highest reach of injustice is: to be deemed just when you are not. Therefore I say that in the perfectly unjust man we must assume the most perfect injustice; there is to be no deduction, but we must allow him, while doing the most unjust acts, to have acquired the greatest reputation for justice. If he have taken a false step he must be able to recover himself; he must be one who can speak with effect, if any of his deeds come to light, and who can force his way where force is required his courage and strength, and command of money and friends.

And at his side let us place the just man in his nobleness and simplicity, wishing, as Aeschylus says, to be and not to seem good. There must be no seeming, for if he seem to be just he will be honoured and rewarded, and then we shall not know whether he is just for the sake of justice or for the sake of honours and rewards; therefore, let him be clothed in justice only, and have no other covering; and he must be imagined in a state of life the opposite of the former. Let him be the best of men, and let him be thought the worst; then he will have been put to the proof; and we shall see whether he will be affected by the fear of infamy and its consequences. And let him continue thus to the hour of death; being just and seeming to be unjust.

When both have reached the uttermost extreme, the one of justice and the other of injustice, let judgment be given which of them is the happier of the two.

Thursday, August 05, 2004

An argument against classical Arminianism

I have for a while been worried that the classical view of God's foreknowledge of the future is problematic. A recent attempt at an argument on Reuben's blogg brought my objection from an unconscious to a conscious level, so here it is:

Firstly it involves two essential ideas which I call "logical dependence" and "finalisation".
Logical dependence also could be called "causal dependence" I suppose and basically if A causes B then B is logically dependent on A. It is important to separate logical dependence from TIME: Say I decide I want to be a good runner in the distant future, and because of that decision I decide to go running tommorrow (starting my training), then my going running tommorrow is logically dependent on my desire being a good runner in the future, but it actually happens first in time: I actually go running prior to becoming a good runner.

Finalisation is the logical point at which actions or decisions are finalised. At some point I decide to go running tommorow and prior to that point I had not decided this: That was the point of finalisation. Note that I am not referring to a temporal point of finalisation, but a logical point. It may very well be that all actions were finalised temporally prior to the creation of the universe. That is irrelevant. At some metaphysical logical moment, our decisions and actions have been or will be finalised (ie decided upon for certain). Of course if there is no free will and the entire metaphysical universe merely follows logical necessity, then the moment of finalisation was at the logical begining of the metaphysical universe.

Now that all sounds horribly complicated, but it's not actually very difficult (just hard to explain) and my argument should clarify it:

1) God's actions affect the future of the temporal world.
God can intervene and do stuff in human history. In doing stuff he changes what is currently happening, and thus what will happen in the future.

2) Thus the future is not finalised until God's actions are finalised.
I take if for granted that if the future is dependent upon God's actions, the future's not certain until God's actions are certain. (In general if A logically affects B, then B cannot be finalised logically prior to A being finalised.)

Now the classical, run of the mill, standard Christian view of the future holds that:
3) God has knowledge of the actual future (and only the actual future) due to his timelessness.

This seems to me to imply (I'll come back to this one later):
4) God's knowledge of the future is logically dependent upon the actual (ie final) future.

But then, by fairly simple logic, we get the following:
5) God cannot have such knowledge until logically after the future is finalised.

And thus, the rather worrying:
6) God cannot use his knowledge of the future when acting in the world, because he doesn't gain such knowledge until after he has ceased acting. (!!!)

This conclusion is super nasty. The only way I can see of escaping it is to deny (4) and rewrite (3) somewhat and thus deny that God's knowledge of the future is causally connected to the actual future. To the casual observer this looks utterly absurd: If God's knowledge of the future isn't connected to the future, then how can he possibly have accurate knowledge?

If God's knowledge is accurate but not causally connected to the truth it must be coincidentally connected to the truth. Thus consider all the possible universes God could create (there are infinitely many), and let God's beliefs in each of those universes vary as well completely independently of the contents of the world. Then in a very few (but still an infinite number) of those possible-universes all God's beliefs happen to, coincidently, be true. God's beliefs about the future, happen to, through shear luck, correspond precisely with the actual future in that possible-world. Therefore, if God in creating the universe, had a choice of possible worlds before him and was able to ensure he created one of those worlds, He would know that His beliefs about the future were coincidentally correct.

However, as I've just realised when writing this, if God is choosing from a set of all possible worlds then that is just Molinism plain and simple... thus classical foreknowledge fails anyway. The only way the classical thinker could escape Molinism would be to assert that God cannot choose among the possible worlds, but CAN ensure that the world that does get created obeys the God-accurately-believes-the-future rule. That seems unlikely in the extreme, and quite an absurd scenario anyway.

Monday, August 02, 2004

Calcidius and stupid multi-linguistic authors

1. Calcidius and the Open View
As some of you may know, the particular area of my interest is the history of theology and specifically first millennia Greek Theology (this, incidently, includes the New Testament since it was written in the first millennia in Greek). And as some of you others may know, I am an Open Viewer (ie. I think the future is uncertain due to human free choice, and that while God knows possible futures, He doesn't know the actual future). However, the trouble is that the early Greek (post-NT) theologians often don't say a heck of a lot on the subject of God's knowledge. Irenaeus for example (the big theological name of the 2nd century AD), clearly believes in human free will and makes a few vague references to some form of predestining which seems compatible with the OV, but he isn't clear enough for us to know for sure what he thinks.

So I was interested to read Greg Boyd saying in passing that the earliest Open Viewer he is aware of was Calsidius in the fourth century. So, I thought I would follow that reference up... unfortunately Boyd had mispelled Calcidius, but due to the all knowing ever-helpful Google I was able to find the correct spelling and track down the reference...

It turns out no one's really sure who exactly Calcidius was save that he was a Christian who lived in either the 4th or 5th century AD and wrote a commentary on one of Plato's works. The following, for my own and others' reference, are Calcidius' most pertinant statements on the subject:
Translation from Calcidius on Fate: His Doctrine and Sources by J. Den. Boeft., 1970, pg 52-53. Calcidius' work is named tractatus de fato. Bracketed numbers in the following represent chapter numbers in the tractatus:
[162] " is true that God knows all things, but that he knows everything according to its own nature: that which is subject to necessity as submissive to necessity, the contingent, however, as provided with such a nature that deliberation opens a way for it. For God does not know the nature of what is contingent in such a way as that which is certain and bound by necessity (for in that case He will be deceived and fail to know), but in such a way that he really knows the contingent according to its nature. So what do we say? That God knows all things and His knowledge is of all time, and further that the things He knows are partly divine and immortal, partly perishable and temporal; that the substance of immortal things is immutable and immovable, that of mortal things changeable and contingent, and that now it has this condition, now another, because of its inconstant nature. Thus also God's knowledge of divine things, which have a sure happiness protected by continuous necessity, is sure and necessary, both because of the certain grasp of the knowledge itself and on account of the substance of the things He knows; on the other hand His knowledge of uncertain things is indeed necessary, viz., His knowledge that these things are uncertain and their course contingent -for they cannot be different from their nature-, yet they are themselves possible in both directions rather than subject to necessity.
[163] So contingent things are not inflexibly arranged and determined from the beginning with the sole exception of the very fact, that they must be uncertain and depend upon a contingent course. Therefore it is completely fixed and decided from the beginning that the nature of man's soul is such, that it now applies itself to virtue, now shows preference for evil (exactly as the body is sometimes nearest to health, sometimes to illness). But it is neither decided nor commanded, which particular person is to be good or bad, and therefore there are laws, instructions, consultations, exhortations, cautions, education, strict rules for nourishment, praise, blame and similar things, because the choice to live rightly is in our power."
2. Stupid Multi-Linguistic Authors
Some authors are just stupid and think that because they can write in a language, it automatically follows that their readers can read that language. Well it doesn't. I used to get annoyed at CS Lewis when, in the middle of explaining a concept would say "to get what I'm talking about just think of the Greek word "xxxxx", which represents the concept perfectly"... which is nice, but to most readers who won't have an education in ancient Greek, he might as well have written gfjljhlfds in place of his Greek word. It used to annoy me. Now I can read (well, decipher anyway) Greek, that's not so annoying... but in reading the Calcidius on Fate book... ARGGGHHHH!

Though the book was supposed to be in English, but frigging author had no qualms about quoting lengthy passages from other works that were in at least (complex) Greek, Latin, French and German. While that shows off his learning, he might as well have filled those spaces with gjklaldsagjkl as far as I was concerned. I know that when you are quoting someone it is good academic practice to quote them precisely but for heaven's sake: Please NOT when they were writing in another language.

In short, if a book is in a certain language, then it should damn well ALL OF IT be in that language. UNLESS, and thes are the ONLY two exceptions:
  • in a translation you are unsure of how to properly translate a word, so you translate it and put in a footnote something like: 'Hebrew unclear "sdfdgsgds"'
  • or you want to note to the reader exactly which word the writer is using so that you can do a comparison of "in which places does the author use X, and based on this what is the precise meaning of X?"