Ethics and the Third Person--the waging of sin

Introductory note from Jason Pratt: I am here appending in several parts some excerpts from an unpublished book of mine (not CoJ incidentally), originally composed late 99/early 2000, wherein I work out a progressive synthetic metaphysic. The topic of this Section of chapters is ethical grounding; and in the first several entries I analyzed crippling problems along the three general lines of ethical explanation, including general theism. After this though, I returned to the argument I had already been developing for several hundred (currently unpublished) pages, and used those developed positions to begin solving the philosophical dilemmas I had covered in previous entries. Along the way, I ran into a potential problem last seen back in my (unpublished) Section Three; but slotting that problem into my developing argument allowed me to discover that I should believe that a 3rd Person of God exists. Having covered some introductory inferences regarding the 3rd Person's relationship to the other two Persons in the substantial unity of God, I proceeded to consider some preliminary issues in regard to requirements for personal interaction between the 3rd Person and each of us, as persons; and I inferred that an encouragement to avoid accepting what we perceive to be contradictory, would be the minimum communication we could expect from the Holy Spirit.

After considering what an intention to foster contradictions would entail, at the level of fundamental reality, I proceeded (in my most recent entry) to consider what it means for me to intentionally foster contradictions. And so I reached the topic of enacted human sin.

This entry begins chapter 36, "the consequences of sin", in my original text. Some side commentary I would otherwise relegate to footnotes, is included below in [Footnote] text.

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

In the previous chapter [i.e. the previous couple of journal entries], I began to discuss the reality of evil--not in the abstract, nor for potential special-cases (such as particular individuals who may honestly not recognize any responsibility they have to actual reality)--but in the most concrete and personal way I could find.

I began examining the reality of evil, by examining myself.

The person who thinks ethics are something we humans have created, says that good and evil are what we personally define them to be. I notice that such a person rarely, if ever, admits, "What I have done is evil". Usually, the gist of this sort of person is that we define 'good' as whatever we ourselves want to do, and 'evil' as whatever someone else wants to do (or wants us to do) that threatens our desires. Or he may perhaps say, "Very well, I agree that what I have done is 'evil', taking the average of human opinion into account. Nevertheless, it is what I wanted to do. I may be sorry I got caught, but if I could do it without getting caught (and especially punished) I would. I don't consider it to be something I should not have been doing." [Footnote: a more objectivistic secular ethicist wouldn’t go this route, I think, but would recognize instead that the violation of coherently fulfilling interpersonal relationships would be objectively evil in some sense--including when they themselves do it. Please refer to my chapter [as a pair of journal entries here and here] about this special class or subclass of ethical theory, for more discussion on their position--including important critiques.]

On the other hand, the person who thinks ethics are our irrational responses to our environments (natural, social, whatever), will say that our understanding of what is 'evil' is merely an irrational response that we happen to be suffering at the moment--qualitatively similar to having a headache. Such a person may find herself saying, "What I have done is evil"; but (if she sticks to her theory) she will probably eventually tell herself, "All that happened was that I reacted to the herd instinct, or to the parental instinct, or something of that sort." She will probably figure that if she can get a good night's rest, the feeling (being only a 'feeling') that she has done something wrong will go away by morning; and if not, then she may need to see a doctor.

But the person who thinks there is an objectively real and truly ethical standard that we may possibly willfully violate--for example, we Jews, Christians and Muslims [Footnote: and that special class of secular ethicists, too, to be fair]--shall in theory, and even sometimes in practice, say to ourselves:

"What I have done is evil. There may be excuses for other things I have done, but there is no sufficient excuse for this. I willfully chose to do something I should not have done, and I knew at the time I should not have done it."

This person--a person like myself--may easily agree that there are times when one of the other two explanations for 'ethical' feelings or 'ethical' behaviors do in fact apply. But we also maintain--and at bottom the proponents of the other two theories will also maintain--that those sorts of behaviors were not in fact good or evil.

Except: we ethical objectivists are likely to decide that there is never any such event that falls into the category of 'active ethical subjectivism'--the mere choice to define what is good and evil according to our whim.

We might agree that if such behaviors were possible, then those behaviors would not be good or evil at bottom. But typically what we will infer, and say, about such willful ethical finagling, is likely to be this:

"I did try to set myself up as the final authority for what really is good and really is evil, despite what I knew deep down to be true--and that is precisely where, and how, and why I did the evil thing."

In previous chapters, I have deduced that even though there may very well be 'ethical' situations which (merely) seem to be 'ethical' but are explained by one of the two subjectivistic theories, an objective ethical standard does nevertheless exist--and the standard is God's own interPersonal self-grounding behavior from all eternity.

God (Father, Son and Holy Spirit, in unity of deity) does not act against His own active self-existence--otherwise all reality would cease to exist, including you and me. Therefore He must also prefer for us not to do--not even to intend to do--that sort of thing to each other and/or to Him: to act in violation and non-fulfillment of interpersonal relationships. If, or when, we do so, we are acting against the grounding principle, even against the grounding action, of all reality, including our own derivative existence.

But when God created other free-willed entities--an entity such as I must presume myself to be, or else I cannot legitimately claim any argument or even mere assertion of mine to be reliably worth anything--then He willingly set up a situation where it remains possible for these creatures to actually choose to do what He Himself shall always refuse to do.

The existence of creatures who are not-God and who are not mere sock-puppets for God, entails the necessary possibility that, to a limited extent, these creatures might thwart God's intentions.

I say 'to a limited extent': it was God's enacted choice for them to exist and to have this potential capability. Their--our, my --misuse of that capability does not ultimately defy the power of God. My misuse defies a subordinate intention on His part, this intention being subordinate to the fulfillment of the greater intention on His part: that you and I shall exist as free-willed creatures who are not merely Him.

He set up a special situation, where a limited set of His wishes was within our power, by His own grace, to grant or deny.

That was the honor and dignity He granted to us: He put us in the position where we had some power to complete or deny His wish that He might have true sons and daughters.

I, for one, have denied that wish.

I have, at times, acted in ways which I knew then--and still know now--to be wrong.

I didn't want it to be 'wrong'. I wanted it to be 'right'--without wanting the character of my action to be changed.

I wanted to be the one who ultimately grounded what was true and what was good.

That may not have been the exact 'form' of what I was telling myself when I resolved intentively to do those things. But that is what it boils down to, at bottom.

I wanted not only to be God, but to be over against God.

And, in a way, I got my wish.

God has made it possible for me to do just that.

Not to the degree that I wanted, perhaps; but He made it possible for me to act toward myself, toward other created people (such as you), and toward Himself, with intentions God never chooses to have toward me, toward other created people (such as you), or within the unity of His own transPersonal self.

The way God treats me is based on the principles of the way He (as the substantial unity of Father, Son and Holy Spirit) treats Himself. His application of those principles, toward me, must be somewhat different because I am not one of the Persons of God's Unity; but the principles themselves must still be the same, for God will be self-consistent. It is not intrinsically necessary for Him to do 'good' to me; but He (and everything else) would utterly die if He did choose to do 'evil' to me. Because He grounds all reality, and because I am still here, then I can be certain He never has nor never shall behave that way.

But, what happens to me, if I behave that way?

What happens if, unlike God, I do decide to be false to the best perception I have of what is true; or if I do decide to put my own desires first at the expense of giving love and justice to you? What happens if I willingly break the derivative unity that binds you and I together as people, and that binds God and myself together as people--the unities which are shadows of the self-existent independent Unity of God-to-God that grounds all of reality?

If God shall die if ever He chooses to do this--then what shall happen to me?

If I choose to breach my relationship with God; if I choose to turn my face from Him; if I attempt, insofar as I can, to cut myself off from the ultimate source of my life and power--then what shall happen to me?

Then, I shall die.

It is logically necessary, as a function of the relation of things, that I shall die.

It is ethically necessary, insofar as I have breached the principles of the Personal relationship that grounds the Life of God and of all other lives, that I shall die.

Look at me, you who are my reader. See me: the sinner.

Do you understand, now, the extent of what it means for me to sin? Do you not agree that I should and shall die for what I have done?

Well--I understand, at least.

And the 'size' of my sin does not matter.

Whether I even completed the action I hoped to undertake--but perhaps was thwarted in achieving (by God's good grace!)--does not matter.

I have violated the principles of interpersonal relationships: the principles which root and are rooted in eternity, by the God Who begets Himself in self-existence, and Whose action of self-begetting serves as the preliminary necessary causal ground for all other actions of God, including the creation of you and me, who are derivative creatures with our own interpersonal relationships--and what sort of relationships should those be, but mirrors in their own derivative degree of the love and justice which ground all of reality?

I will not say here that this-or-that particular expression of the relationship--this code or that law--is less or more accurate than others. I am certain there are less and more accurate ones; and whether or not I think I know which one is most accurate, I still am willing to recognize plenty of credit to others.

But establishing such a comparison, is not presently (or really ever will be) my goal. You yourself know some part of The Law; God would not leave you without at least the internal (and eternal) witness: you should choose to reject contradictions and actively work to foster interpersonal relationships of love and justice.

But only you--and God--can answer the question: Have you always done this?

Or, have you even once willingly chosen to disregard the light that you yourself believe you can see?

I know what the answer is, in my own case.

And so I will proceed; hoping that if your honest answer to yourself is qualitatively like my own, you will find the remainder of this book to be of more than merely intellectual interest.

[Next up: regarding the argument from evil.]

[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…
Off-topic: I just realized that somehow I had been totally omitting the link to the HoF essay, for the past several entries: the html code was there, but not the page address! ARGH!

Now fixed. {g} Sorry to anyone who was trying to link to it. Also, HoF links have now been supplied to all entries in this series (so that readers can get at least _some_ idea of what the several hundred pages of prior argumentation ends up at); and I have also built-in a new link to the first entry of the series, so a reader won't have to page back forever to find it. It's now available on all entry pages, too, at the bottom, in the footnote bracket that links to HoF.

(Once I complete the series of entries, I'll also go back and retitle them all with "Part X of Y" as an adder.)
Jason Pratt said…
Except, dang, it _still_ isn't working!! I don't get it--the code is the way it should be, all the other links work...

I hate html. sigh.

Until I fix it, here's the link for cut-n-pasting (I just verified it works from cutnpaste):
BK said…
Powerful stuff, Jason. Thanks.

P.S. I fixed the HoF link for you.
Jason Pratt said…
Thanks! Incidentally, what was wrong with the link?? Could you tell? (I've got to go back and try to replicate it for all the other Eth&t3rdPers entries, too, I think.)

Jason Pratt said…
Okay, I _think_ I've repaired all the links to HoF, by copy-pasting the repair BK made to all 3rdPers entries. (I tested a few of them, and they work; no reason yet to suppose the others won't.)

Still no clue why it didn't work before--except for a _very_ slight shift in the position of the letters in the paragraph when the copy-paste is made, the whole thing is visually identical. Weird. I suspect now, though, that the problem can be traced back to Microsoft Word, which has an annoying tendency to make quote marks into 'dialogue quote' marks automatically. So if I wrote the link in MSWord originally (which I suspect I did), and then copypasted it over here to the blogger engine, it might _look_ like generic quotes but the engine might _read_ it like dialogue quotes. In which case the html code would be spoofed: a link would show up but it wouldn't lead anywhere.

That's my current guess anyway. {shrug!}

BK said…
Yes, you are correct. The quote marks have to be the ones used in blogger. When you transfer something over from Word it often uses a different type of quote mark that needs to be replaced. I don't know why, I just know that's what the problem is.

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