In a theistic universe God is himself seen as the supreme good. Indeed, theistic Platonists usually identify God with the Good.
If God is himself a person, then this seems to be a commitment to the idea that personhood itself is something that must be intrinsically good. This argument will of course be found unconvincing to many. Some will deny premise 1 , either because they reject moral realism as a metaethical stance, or because they reject the normative claim that humans have any kind of special value or dignity. Others will find premise 2 suspect.
They may be inclined to agree that human persons have a special dignity, but hold that the source of that dignity can be found in such human qualities as rationality. With respect to the status of infants and those suffering from dementia, the critic might bite the bullet and just accept the fact that human dignity does not extend to them, or else argue that the fact that infants and those suffering mental breakdown are part of a species whose members typically possess rationality merits them a special respect, even if they lack this quality as individuals.
Others will find premise 2 doubtful because they find the theistic explanation of dignity unclear. Another alternative is to seek a Constructivist account of dignity, perhaps regarding the special status of humans as something we humans decide to extend to each other. Perhaps the strongest non-theistic alternative would be some form of ethical non-naturalism, in which one simply affirms that the claim that persons have a special dignity is an a priori truth requiring no explanation.
In effect this is a decision for a non-theistic form of Platonism.
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The proponent of the argument may well agree that claims about the special status of humans are true a priori, and thus also opt for some form of Platonism. However, the proponent of the argument will point out that some necessary truths can be explained by other necessary truths. The theist believes that these truths about the special status of humans tell us something about the kind of universe humans find themselves in. To say that humans are created by God is to say that personhood is not an ephemeral or accidental feature of the universe, because at bottom reality itself is personal Mavrodes As already noted, the most famous and perhaps most influential version of a moral argument for belief in God is found in Immanuel Kant Kant himself insisted that his argument was not a theoretical argument, but an argument grounded in practical reason.
Morality is grounded in pure practical reason, and the moral agent must act on the basis of maxims that can be rationally endorsed as universal principles. Moral actions are thus not determined by results or consequences but by the maxims on which they are based.
However, all actions, including moral actions, necessarily aim at ends. However, I must seek the highest good only by acting in accordance with morality; no shortcuts to happiness are permissible.
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This seems to require that I believe that acting in accordance with morality will be causally efficacious in achieving the highest good. However, it is reasonable to believe that moral actions will be causally efficacious in this way only if the laws of causality are set up in such a way that these laws are conducive to the efficacy of moral action. Certainly both parts of the highest good seem difficult to achieve. We humans have weaknesses in our character that appear difficult if not impossible to overcome by our own efforts.
Furthermore, as creatures we have subjective needs that must be satisfied if we are happy, but we have little empirical reason to think that these needs will be satisfied by moral actions even if we succeeded in becoming virtuous. If a person believes that the natural world is simply a non-moral machine with no moral purposiveness then that person would have no reason to believe that moral action could succeed because there is no a priori reason to think moral action will achieve the highest good and little empirical reason to believe this either.
Even if the Kantian highest good seems reasonable as an ideal, some will object that we have no obligation to achieve such a state, but merely to work towards realizing the closest approximation to such a state that is possible See Adams , Without divine assistance, perhaps perfect virtue is unachievable, but in that case we cannot be obliged to realize such a state if there is no God.
Perhaps we cannot hope that happiness will be properly proportioned to virtue in the actual world if God does not exist, but then our obligation can only be to realize as much happiness as can be attained through moral means. Kant would doubtless reject this criticism, since on his view the ends of morality are given directly to pure practical reason a priori, and we are not at liberty to adjust those ends on the basis of empirical beliefs.
Morality requires me to sacrifice my personal happiness if that is necessary to do what is right. Yet it is a psychological fact that humans necessarily desire their own happiness. Reason both requires humans to seek their own happiness and to sacrifice it. Sidgwick himself noted that only if there is a God can we hope that this dualism will be resolved, so that those who seek to act morally will in the long run also be acting so as to advance their own happiness and well-being.
Interestingly, Sidgwick himself does not endorse this argument, but he clearly sees this problem as part of the appeal of theism. A contemporary argument similar to this one has been developed by C. Stephen Layman The critic of this form of the Kantian argument may reply that Kantian morality sees duty as something that must be done regardless of the consequences, and thus a truly moral person cannot make his or her commitment to morality contingent on the achievement of happiness.
From a Kantian point of view, this reply seems right; Kant unequivocally affirms that moral actions must be done for the sake of duty and not from any desire for personal reward. Nevertheless, especially for any philosopher willing to endorse any form of eudaimonism, seeing myself as inevitably sacrificing what I cannot help but desire for the sake of duty does seem problematic.
The critic may reply to this by simply accepting the lamentable fact that there is something tragic or even absurd about the human condition. The world may not be the world we wish it was, but that does not give us any reason to believe it is different than it is. If there is a tension between the demands of morality and self-interest, then this may simply be a brute fact that must be faced.
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This reply raises an issue that must be faced by all forms of practical or pragmatic arguments for belief. Many philosophers insist that rational belief must be grounded solely in theoretical evidence. The fact that it would be better for me to believe p does not in itself give me any reason to believe p.
Moral Arguments for the Existence of God
This criticism is aimed not merely at Kant, but at other practical moral arguments. For example, Robert Adams argues that if humans believe there is no moral order to the universe, then they will become demoralized in their pursuit of morality, which is morally undesirable , The atheist might concede that atheism is somewhat demoralizing, but deny that this provides any reason to believe there is a moral order to the universe. Similarly, Linda Zagzebski argues that morality will not be a rational enterprise unless good actions increase the amount of good in the world. However, given that moral actions often involve the sacrifice of happiness, there is no reason to believe moral action will increase the good unless there is a power transcendent of human activity working on the side of the good.
Here the atheist may claim that moral action does increase the good because such actions always increase good character. However, even if that reply fails the atheist may again simply admit that there may be something tragic or absurd about the human condition, and the fact that we may wish things were different is not a reason to believe that they are. So the problem must be faced: Are practical arguments merely rationalized wish-fulfillment?
The theist might respond to this kind of worry in several ways. The first thing to be said is that the fact that a naturalistic view of the universe implies that the universe must be tragic or absurd, if correct, would itself be an important and interesting conclusion.
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However, apart from this, it makes a great deal of difference how one construes what we might call the background epistemic situation. If one believes that our theoretical evidence favors atheism, then it seems plausible to hold that one ought to maintain a naturalistic view, even if it is practically undesirable that the world have such a character. In that case a practical argument for religious belief could be judged a form of wish-fulfillment. However, this does not seem to be the way those who support such a practical argument see the situation.
See also — Thus, if rational grounds for belief in God come from practical reason, theoretical reason will raise no objections.
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Human beings are not purely theoretical spectators of the universe, but agents. It is not always rational or even possible to refrain from action, and yet action presupposes beliefs about the way things are For a good interpretation and defense of this view of Kant on the relation between action and belief, see Wood , 17— Thus, in some cases suspension of judgment is not possible. The critic may object that a person may act as if p were true without believing p.
However, it is not clear that this advice to distinguish action on the basis of p and belief that p can always be followed. For one thing, it seems empirically the case that one way of acquiring belief that p is simply to begin to act as if p were true. Hence, to begin to act as if p were true is at least to embark upon a course of action that makes belief in p more likely.
Arguments for the Existence of God
This is obviously the case on pragmatist accounts of belief. But even those who reject a general pragmatic account of belief may well find something like this appealing with respect to religious belief. Thus, a person who is willing to act on the basis of a religious conception, especially if those actions are risky or costly, is truly a religious believer, even if that person is filled with doubt and anxiety.
Perhaps the right way to think of practical moral arguments is not to see them as justifying belief without evidence, but as shifting the amount of evidence seen as necessary. Here is an example of pragmatic encroachment:. A plausible interpretation of this scenario is that ordinarily claims such as the one I made, based on memory, are justified, and count as knowledge.
Pragmatic encroachment is controversial and the idea of such encroachment is rejected by some epistemologists. However, defenders hold that it is reasonable to consider the pragmatic stakes in considering evidence for a belief that underlies significant action see Fantl and McGrath If this is correct, then it seems reasonable to consider the pragmatic situation in determining how much evidence is sufficient to justify religious beliefs.
In theory the adjustment could go in either direction, depending on what costs are associated with a mistake and on which side those costs lie. In any case it is not clear that practical moral arguments can always be clearly distinguished from theoretical moral arguments. The reason this is so is that in many cases the practical situation described seems itself to be or involve a kind of evidence for the truth of the belief being justified.
In other words, the existence of human persons understood as moral beings can itself be understood as a piece of evidence about the character of the universe humans find themselves in. However, it is not clear that only those who already believe in God will find this premise attractive.
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The reason for this is that humans are themselves part of the natural universe, and it seems a desirable feature of a metaphysical view that it explain rather than explain away features of human existence that seem real and important. It seems likely therefore that any appeal to a practical argument will include some theoretical component as well, even if that component is not always made explicit.
Nevertheless, this does not mean that practical arguments do not have some important and distinctive features.
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