Ethics and the Third Person--a return to the God of Justice

Introductory note from Jason Pratt: I am here appending in several parts some excerpts from an unpublished book of mine, originally composed late 99/early 2000, wherein I work out a progressive synthetic metaphysic. The current topic is ethical grounding; and I have been analyzing problems along the three general lines of ethical explanation. The previous entry, which critiqued a promising variant of the first general ethical theory, can be found here.

Technically this entry begins chapter 32, "the solution to the question of ethics", in my original text; but with some new modifications to take into account the new chapter (31-1/2, so to speak {g}) that I have written in the previous two entries.

Incidentally, this previously unpublished work is not the same as the novel Cry of Justice, which will be released in stores around Labor Day this year, although I am that book's author, too. (The two books are not topically unrelated, of course. {s} But CoJ has more, um, blood and flowers, so to speak. {g})

.......[excerpt begins here]

Even though I still ended with a deadlock on a proposal of merely secular interpersonal ethics, I will reiterate here that I believe it is important to recognize, respect and appreciate the special strength of that theory. Despite its weaknesses, I consider this to be the best secular ethical theory on the market today; and I expect this, in one or another variation, to be the best that secular ethicists can ever really do.

‘And we don’t need God for it!’ the sceptic will emphasize.

Not on the face of it, no; but then again, as I noted in my previous chapter, there are aspects of the theory which, when followed out, might point toward our accepting the existence of God after all!

Which, in essence, is what I had done already, in the chapters before I began this section on ethics. So far, I have presented this section of chapters in a topical vacuum, without regard to arguments and conclusions I had already systematically reached; and I did that, in order to make clearer some of the issues at stake in the topic of ethical theory--far from least of which, were the problems involved in a theistic theory of ethics! Had I not proceeded in this fashion, those problems would have been far more difficult to clearly present. But then, neither could those problems be properly discussed without also contextualizing the topic of discovered rational ethics (exemplified as theistic ethical theory) amidst a discussion of other ethical theories and their claims--and problems.

Yet, my argument is a progressing synthetic metaphysic. And now it is time to go back to where I had left off, prior to beginning this discussion about ethics.

To summarize pertinent points that I had already concluded, then: the Independent Fact that grounds and produces all reality is sentient. God exists and is a Person.

Most importantly (for the next part of my argument), God is the source of all existence, including His own. He must be self-grounding, self-generating. In order to distinguish His own generation from anything else He generates, we may say that God begets (not creates) Himself; for 'to beget' is a special category of generation: to create something of one's own sort.

In the case of the self-generating ground of all reality, His active generation of Himself is the ultimate possible type even of 'begetting': when God generates Himself, what He generates is infinitely more than only 'like' Himself: it is Himself.

Yet there is an action line here, the most primary and basic and fundamental action of God: His own self-generation.

On one side (I don’t mean physically so, of course), there is the intent of the action; on the other side is the result of the action, which at this basic level is also equivalent to the action itself. God the Father begets God the Son; both aspects are Personal, and yet they are also distinctive. And they exist as the ultimate Unity. The Son, the 2nd Person of God, is the Action, the Logos, the Living Word of the Father; I do not even need to refer to 'scriptural authority' to establish this. [Footnote: although Christian scripture does also use such imagery-terms, of course.]

Very well; but so what?

I reply: it makes all the difference in the world.

The basic ground of all reality and of all subsequent creation (including derivative persons such as you and I) is itself, at its core, an inextricably fundamental interpersonal relationship: that of God to God: Father to Son and Son to Father.

I established this (assuming I have done it correctly, of course) in my previous section; before I got to the question of ethics. And now, here I am with a sticky problem; and yet also with the perfect means of solving it, already established on previous grounds as being an ontological necessity.

By going this route, I have avoided the muddle of trying to decide which of the three general 'explanations' of our ethical behavior 'must be true'. In fact, I do not even need to discount the first two theories as contributors to our behavior!--nor do I discount them, as contributors. But as non-ethical contributors.

Yet something does also exist that is objectively ethical, and that can be perceived and understood by us (even if imperfectly, for after all we are not omniscient ourselves).

God can be the reliably objective standard for our interpersonal relationships, because His own existence is itself an interPersonal relationship. The Father does not betray the Son; the Son does not rebel against the Father. These two denials must be true, because it would be suicide for God (and all the rest of reality) if either of them happened. God, as the ground of reality, is eternally self-consistent: He must be, in order for any single section of 'time' to exist. Therefore His interPersonal relationships (Father to Son, Son to Father) will also be eternally self-consistent.

We can trust God, not merely as a metaphysical fact, but as a Person, because His own self-existence grounds the standard of trustworthy personal relationships. Of course, what we think He is going to do, and what He really does do, might be rather different; nevertheless, once we understand this, we can understand further that He is also ultimately trustworthy insofar as personal relationships are concerned, including His relationship to us.

There is a further corollary to be drawn: one I am ashamed to say very many of my brethren, even in the ostensibly Christian Church, ignore or defy.

This willed giving and re-giving on the part of both of God's Persons--the willed giving of reality and the willing giving of loyalty back to the will of the giver--is the purest, most basic, even rawest instance of the action of love. From all eternity, the love of Father for Son and Son for Father provides for the Unity of deity; and the willed choice of loyalty, of fair-togetherness, grounds the principles of positive justice. [Footnote: not incidentally, the Greek word normally Englished as “righteousness” in the Christian scriptures, can be more literally translated as “fair-togetherness”.]

Love and justice are characteristics of God intrinsically, eternally; and neither one will ever, ever, ever be set aside.

God will never act in such a way that He sets aside His love 'to accomplish justice'; and He will never act in such a way that He sets aside His justice 'to fulfill His love'.

It is total nonsense to propose either sort of doctrine; that is, it is total nonsense for someone who accepts the interPersonal unity of God to propose such a thing.

Yet there are many doctrines, and interpretations of scripture, even in Christian Churches--the believers who are supposed to accept and understand the implications of God's interPersonality--which when followed out result in a claim that God occasionally sets aside His love, or His justice, or both. [Footnote: To be more precise, many of those doctrines begin with this schism as a presumption; and so reach such conclusions. The conclusions must be false either way.]

I will not go into examples of those doctrines here; but here is the place to establish the refutation of those contradictions, in my argument. Whatever God does to me, even though He slays me, once I understand this, I can know to the marrow of my bones that God will not ever take an action that does not somehow satisfy, or at the very least does not lead somehow to the satisfaction of, both His love and His justice--for me, and for you, my reader. [Footnote: If, as you read this, numerous evident injustices suddenly occur to you--very good! Keep those in mind; even if they seem evidence against my conclusion here. I will be discussing them eventually.]

As I noted a moment ago, I am by this extension arguing that God must be the objective ethical standard. But must we be capable of detecting the principles of that standard in some fashion? Is it necessary that we are capable of doing this?

[Next up: so, what good, pun quite intended, does any of this do, if we cannot perceive it? And what does it mean ‘to perceive it’? Is this where I’m going to start talking about how you must accept such-n-such a doctrine or be zorched?! Uh, no; I consider gnosticism, salvation by holding doctrine, to be a technical heresy. {g} So, where am I going to go with this?]

[A very abbreviated and incomplete summary of the several hundred pages of argument preceding these chapters, can be found in my July 4th essay The Heart of Freedom.]


Jason Pratt said…
Back when I first posted this chapter, I hadn't realized that without dropping in a comment I wouldn't be registered in the blogger system for comment alerts--despite being the author of the post!

So, here's the registration. {wry g}


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