Ethics and the Third Person--contradiction and ethical failure

Introductory note from Jason Pratt: I am here appending in several parts some excerpts from an unpublished book of mine (not CoJ incidentally), originally composed late 99/early 2000, wherein I work out a progressive synthetic metaphysic.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 After this though, I returned to the argument I had already been developing for several hundred (currently unpublished) pages, and used those developed positions to begin solving the philosophical dilemmas I had covered in previous entries. Along the way, I ran into a potential problem last seen back in my (unpublished) Section Three; but slotting that problem into my developing argument allowed me to discover that I should believe that a 3rd Person of God exists.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. In my most recent entry 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--which wouldn't preclude us (specifically me {s}) from intentionally accepting what I perceive to be contradictory anyway.

This entry begins chapter 35, "an introduction to the concept of sin", in my original text.

Some side commentary I would otherwise relegate to footnotes, is included below in [Footnote] text. Occasionally, mentioning the footnote in-text would be too disruptive to the flow of the argument, perhaps, and so I have chosen to put those in the journal comments instead. (These will be marked where so.)

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

One especially important part of a discussion of the properties of 'ethics' involves the question of 'evil'. If ethics are only a human invention, or if ethics are only a perceptual illusion based on irrational response to our environment (micro or macro), or if ethics are only a combination of those two general explanations, then any discussion of 'evil' is rendered somewhat moot. 'Evil', in these cases, means only what you and I have been automatically conditioned to treat as 'evil', and/or only what you and I happen to reject (whether for self-practical purposes or aesthetically). [Footnote: "Learning what is evil", in such cases, would mean 'learning what we have been automatically conditioned to treat as evil' or 'learning what other people have opportunistically chosen to treat as evil'.]

We still could discuss something that we (or other people not ourselves) call 'evil', and perhaps even make some rational choices concerning our own perceptions of it. But under those two theories that's as far as the usefulness of the concept would go.

Remember: the shared distinction of those two explanations for ethics, is that what is being either discovered or invented (or both) is not really 'ethical' in an objectively qualitative sense. Ethics, according to those theories, are only what we personally want them to be, or are non-rational reactions to stimuli (or perhaps are a combination of both behaviors).

Consequently, 'evil' is put into the same boat.

This can lead to some amusing inconsistencies from advocates of those two theories: I once again recall the popular atheistic naturalist who explains our concept of justice to be a mere species bias similar to racism, but who goes on later to vent against British settlers for mistreating the Australian aborigines. He expects his readers to agree that the settlers' racism was really unjust, aside from his own mere opinion about it, and thus should be decried!

When I first discussed the general kinds of ethical theory, such inconsistencies might be neither here nor there. But based on what I have argued since then, I am now in a position to fit them into the shape of my metaphysic.

So far in this book [including many chapters currently unpublished and so not found in this series of journal entries], I have argued that God exists; and subsequently I have argued that because God has certain properties necessary for His self-existence (much more for the existence of anything else, such as you or me), He also intrinsically provides the objective ethical standard.

Furthermore I have argued that it would be self-contradictory (and indeed the incurable suicide of all reality) for God to ever set aside His own internal interPersonal standard of behavior--the Personal behaviors that constitute the ultimate standards of what we call 'love' and 'justice'. God's behavior shall, will, remain self-consistent.

Consequently (I have argued), God would communicate an internal witness to all thinking people in all times and places. This witness would, at the minimum, consist of a request or reminder or urge that we as individuals should not accept what we judge to be contradictory as being nevertheless true.

[Footnote: I say 'at the minimum' because God's communication to us internally via the Holy Spirit might entail just about anything more than this. However, this would never abrogate this most basic of requirements; and of course it could never be a full-revelation communication, because you and I are not omniscient. Remember [from a currently unpublished chapter in Section One] that a notion does not need to be fully accurate to be sufficiently adequate.]

Can God force me never to accept nor to intentionally propagate contradictions?

In a way, yes He could; but it would not any longer be 'me' who was 'refusing to accept' or 'refusing to propagate' contradictions: it would only be God Himself directly manipulating (at least my body's) matter and energy to produce an effect that happens (by His choice) to take place through my body. 'I' would have no say in the matter, unless and until God ceased doing this particular action through my body; at which time I might revert back to conscious perception and action. God would have 'short-circuited' "me"; but that proposal also short-circuits the question of whether He could 'force me' to 'act honestly'. [See first comment below for extended footnote here.]

God can act "honestly" through my created form, but it would not be 'me' acting "honestly": it would not be 'me' acting at all!

In such a situation, God would also not be relating to 'me' as Person to person: only as Personal Creator to His creation. I grant that God could do this, if He wanted to; and maybe He even has, to some people, at some times, in some circumstances. But I have argued many chapters ago that He must not do this through me constantly (and also, from what I can perceive, He must not do this through me very much at all, maybe never); because I do not get the impression that I am God. Consequently, either I am God and God is lying to Himself (which is impossible, as it would break the Unity); or I am God and God is mistaken about being God (which is similarly impossible); or I am not God: meaning that I sometimes am responsible for initiating my own (derivative) actions 'myself'.

So, can God force me, personally, never to accept nor to intentionally propagate contradictions? Ultimately, the answer is no: He cannot force 'me', per se.

Does this mean God does not care whether I would do these things? No, for that would violate His own interPersonal and eternal standard of justice (and probably such a lack of care by Him would violate His love, too).

Well then, is it impossible for me to willingly accede to contradictions? Now we are getting very near the question--and the problems--of evil. Perhaps I should put it the other way around: is it possible (and can I figure out how it is possible) that I am capable of willingly acceding to contradictions?

The Golden Presumption (without which any argument by anybody to any conclusion cannot even begin, much less succeed) states that I can act. I have argued that this necessarily implies the existence of God, and that God's existence in turn does not necessarily require that I cannot act. Now, however, I am examining a proposition that seems to entail my capability to do something that, in principle, God cannot do. How feasible is this proposition; and if it is not feasible, what corollary implications does that conclusion entail?

I can distinguish between willingly and accidentally acceding to contradictions. 'Accidentally acceding' means making mere mistakes, perhaps through lack of skill, or perhaps through ignorance of data conditions. This is not something God, in His transcendent omniscience, can do; no more than He can create a boulder too heavy for Him to lift.

But not only does it seem to me that I can make accidental mistakes (I certainly can testify that I do!), it deductively follows from my existence as a non-omniscient derivatively active creature that it is possible for me to make mistakes.

The strength of this particular contention obviously rests on how successful I have been at arguing that it is not contradictory for me to exist as a derivative act-er; but if that property of my existence is not contradictory, then no absurdity would follow from concluding as a corollary that I can possibly make mere mistakes. As an entity who (or even 'which') is less than God, then my abilities would be less than God's.

But making a mistake by accident is not the same as willingly embracing what I know to be incorrect. No absurdity follows from a derivative creature possessing capabilities less than God; an accidental mistake on my part, is not a positive capability I possess.

But God, as the final fact of reality, must be presumed to be necessarily self-consistent. Consequently, God will neither produce nor advocate contradictions.

God can produce and advocate situations that we fallible humans may currently consider to be contradictory; but this is not the same thing as being contradictory. A paradox is not a contradiction; it invites us to discover the properties that resolve and account for it. Again, God can produce a boulder that He chooses not to manipulate in particular ways (for instance He may choose not to lift it); but He cannot produce a boulder that is 'too heavy' for Him to lift. God can produce a derivative creature like myself, and grant me derivative action ability; but He cannot give me free will and at the same time totally manipulate me like a puppet. Nonsense confabulated out of the grammar of language does not suddenly becomes feasible merely by affixing to it the words 'God can'.

Now, it is also utterly impossible for me to do plenty of real actions, including actions God Himself can do. Due to my physical limitations, I cannot reach out and touch the Statue of Liberty from where I am sitting. God can touch the statue from where He 'is', but that is because natural space and time utterly depend upon Him for maintaining their existence. If God incarnated (or otherwise manifested) Himself, He might still be able to touch the statue from anywhere in space/time (while retaining the Incarnated form) by opening a wormhole in space/time and sticking His arm through it. Of course, such a solution might depend on a loose definition of what it means for the Incarnated God to be in one place and not another: His arm would be in New York Harbor, while the rest of Him stood in Palestine or Tennessee or wherever. And I expect God could make a space/time wormhole that allowed me to accomplish the same feat--but that wouldn't be something I can do of my own derivative power (at least as far as I know).

But I am considering a different question: is it possible for me to willingly --not by accident--accede to contradictions?

Let us say that I know--or at least I think I know--that I cannot possibly, with my own inherent abilities, reach the Statue of Liberty from where I am sitting. Is it possible for me to assert to you that I can? Is it possible for me not merely to assert this to you, but to do so in a persistent manner with the intention of convincing you that I can reach the statue, when I know I cannot? Is it possible for me to willfully blind myself to the fact that I cannot, until through habitually active intent to ignore the fact, I delude myself into such a condition that I eventually become ignorant of the fact?

These answers may be discovered by experiment, and by experience. And I find that I certainly can act with the intention of succeeding in the first two examples; and I suspect I am entirely capable of accomplishing the third example. I am even willing to risk an assumption that you, my reader, are already very familiar with examples of this sort. The whole recorded history of the human species is rancid with act after act of intentional outright misstatement of known falsehoods as fact, including examples of pervasive self-deception.

Is God capable of any of these things?

I think that these actions, if God did do them, would be a breach of the interPersonal relationship that establishes God's self-existence and also grounds the existence of all other facts of reality. Such a breach would destroy the self-existent Unity of God's transpersonal reality; God would either no longer beget He Himself fully Himself, or else He Himself fully begotten by Himself would become something other than Himself, and thus incapable of further self-generation. Either way, it would be the suicide of God at the most foundational level possible; a suicide from which there could be no recovery. And with the total self-annihilation of God, all the rest of dependent reality would cease to exist, including all of what we call the past, present and future of our natural space/time system.

Yet you and I are still here.

I therefore conclude that God never has, nor never shall do this.

But, does that mean He cannot do this?

Is it possible for God to utterly and completely kill Himself?

[Next up: freaky but surprisingly important question to be answered there!]

[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…
I thought this footnote would be too disruptive to the flow of the text to include it above in brackets, so I'm putting it here in this comment instead.

.......[footnote begins here]

God might manipulate my body in such a fashion that He takes actions through it, while allowing me to retain consciousness of what is happening; but in that case, my consciousness would include my ability to have personal opinions about what is happening. He could 'make' my body do something 'good'; but so long as my consciousness remains, then I myself might not be choosing to agree with the 'goodness'. If God overrode that part of my self completely, then it would no longer be 'me' choosing to do anything, including having an opinion about the situation. Relatedly, God could find a way to mentally constrain me to certainly behave in certain ways; but then He would not be treating me as a responsible person.

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