Ethics and the Third Person--a final summary (of sorts)

In past months (though not for several weeks now) I have been posting up chapters from a currently unpublished book of mine (composed back in late 99/early 2000) wherein I work out a progressing synthetic metaphysic, arriving at orthodox Christian belief; and I find I am at a paradoxical point. If I proceed to the end of the section of chapters, I would probably have to continue along with a whole other section of entries concerning redemption and the Incarnation. But while the material has some apologetic value, it doesn’t stand without all the previous argumentation I’ve done in the book--only some of which is reflected in this series of entries. Nor does the further, fifth section involve a historical analysis--a topic far beyond the scope of my work.

Meanwhile, there are many other entries I want to be focusing on contributing, including a series building on the progression of points from my first section of chapters (and then eventually on to the second and third, arriving back at the beginning of this series of entries eventually.)

Consequently, I have decided to sum up some pertinent points established in this series, and leave it at that--for now.

1.) Ethical systems based on appeals to realities that are not themselves intrinsically ‘ethical’, do not succeed as ethical systems per se. They do well enough as explanatory systems of other types, but not of that sort; which, I think, most of their own adherents frankly admit, when it comes down to brass tacks. The reason they are appealed to anyway for such purposes, or pseudo-purposes, is because they require (or seem to require) only entities broadly admitted by all (or most) sides, including oppositional sides, to exist and function in a relatively undisputed fashion. In order for these systems to compete against purportedly objectively ethical systems, the proponents must level tu quoque arguments: okay, so, these systems actually don’t work very well (I would say at all) at really providing ethical grounding, but neither do any other systems, including those that appeal to God (for instance). Since the explanations do meanwhile work for other purposes, we might as well employ them as if they worked for this purpose, too. It may be a convenient illusion, but at least the illusion is based on relatively uncontroversially accepted realities.

2.) This position is inadvertently strengthened by the fact that monotheism--the option typically proposed as a system for providing objectively ethical grounding (for logical reasons I won’t summarize here)--doesn't work either on close analysis! This leaves disputants toiling away in ultimately fruitless fields trying to make the best of situations which (as each side can clearly enough see) don’t hold up to scrutiny. And so criticisms and countercriticisms pile up all around, some of them quite pertinently accurate on all sides.

3.) It can be discerned, from all this, that what is required in order to field-goal between the horns of the Euthyphro Dilemma (so to speak!), is a system where the ethical grounding is: a.) the ultimate ground of reality; and also b.) an interpersonal relationship while remaining a single ultimate ground. (No cosmological dualism or infinite regression or that sort of thing.) Mere monotheism doesn’t provide this. But orthodox Christian binitarian theism (at the least) does. Moreover, binitarian theism can be argued for acceptance as true on grounds prior to the question of ethics; so that in a developing synthetic argument we would discover we have the solution to our ethical-grounding dilemmas already in place and ready to be applied.

4.) Ironically, even most Christian apologists don’t appeal to the actual strengths of our own position when discussing ethics and God. Instead, mere monotheism is routinely presented--and promptly fails, sometimes in a spectacular fashion.

5.) Relatedly, even most Christian apologists routinely advocate what is known as privative aseity--the notion that God’s own self-existence is sheerly ungrounded; when orthodox Christian theism actually involves positive aseity--the notion that God’s own self-existence is actively self-grounded. This becomes a principle handicap in several fashions, including here in the discussion of ethical grounding.

6.) A subtle but important problem involving personal relationships between entities, where at least one entity is not the positively self-grounding Independent Fact, leads to the inferred discovery of a 3rd Person of God, distinctly proceeding from the self-begetting/self-begotten (i.e. Father/Son) unity of the first two Persons while still being the same singular substance as the first two Persons. (Incidentally this answers the millennia-old dispute between Eastern and Western churches concerning the filioque, in favor of Western churches: the Spirit proceeds from the Father and the Son, not from the Father only.) This Person of God is directly concerned with coherent interpersonal relationships between ourselves and God and so also between ourselves and each other (as not-God entities). Thus, incidentally, providing the title of my section of chapters (“Ethics and the Third Person”).

7.) The Holy Spirit routinely prompts normally functioning derivative sentient entities (i.e. persons like us), at least at a minimum basic level of knowing we should refuse to accept contradictions, to do what is ethically right; even when due to misunderstandings and/or lack of data on our own part we can’t always tell what is the ethically best (or even right) thing to do. Any sin, as it happens, is a sin against the Holy Spirit; and as such is not in itself forgivable. The person however remains forgivable, if only the person will repent and resolve to try to do what is right and true.

8.) The operations of the 3rd Person of God are primarily aimed at fulfilling “fair-togetherness”, so to speak (the Greek term often Englished as “righteousness” in Christian scriptures) between persons, whether between God and derivative persons or between derivative persons and each other.

9.) We can expect these operations to continue, and to keep on continuing, even when we rebel against this reality--including in whatever mode of existence we are brought into by God (which we can expect to happen in some way) after we finish dying naturally. Where necessary, the operations will take the form of punishment against us; but the punishment is always directed toward helping us reconcile with God and with each other, either now or later. (It should be noted that this position would be strongly objected to, by most Christian theologians throughout history, including today. My point is that this is a corollary from following out the implications of orthodox trintiarian theism, though.)

10.) All of humanity seems to be in much the same boat together, in regard to sin; and this has been true throughout discoverable human history (so far). But we can infer that God would not have created a sentient species originally in this condition. Therefore we may infer some kind of primordial Fall of Man has occurred; and based on the existence of apparently hereditable results, compared to a reasonably expected handicap of breeding-success with unfallen members of our species, the prevalence of the condition indicates most probably (though not certainly) that an original mated pair of the species ‘fell’ at about the same time.

This brings us up to date with where the series of entries is at. Now for some personal reflections on having done the exercise--by which I mean the whole book, not just the chapters represented by the entries in this series.

I find that the exercise was extremely helpful to me in the matter of discipline and coherency. When I am slowly and carefully tracing out positions and their implications, and eliminating impossibilities, I can see better why various notions should go together and be affirmed.

Also, the exercise allows me to approach the topic of religious beliefs from grounds actually shared by a majority of opponents; even if those grounds are so far back in the stages of argumentation that I cannot easily point to them at any given time. Relatedly, this prepares me to be watching for good sceptical argumentation and criticisms as I continue along; what I normally find is that these criticisms where accepted on their own merits slot in fairly well with a development to orthodox Christian theism.

This was a little surprising to me. What was more surprising, though, was how far I was able to get in directly developing an inferred theology; especially since I began with a few hundred pages of no theology per se at all! Of course, I had some idea when I began of what I thought I might be able to accomplish, but it was limited to deducing that I ought to accept not-atheism instead of atheism, and maybe something to do with ethics and with supernaturalism--and even that expectation was restricted by a resolve in advance not to affirm something I thought I couldn’t arrive at on grounds I would be willing to accept as a sceptic myself.

I was unsatisfied with the salad-bar apologetics I was typically familiar with, where topics are addressed perhaps in some fullness but without any developing connections to each other; but I wasn’t expecting anything more than to discover I could establish a basic theism (if that much!)

Instead, I not only went the distance in developing orthodox trinitarian theism, I actually arrived at an expectation of what God would be doing to save us from our sins via an Incarnation, and even through a ‘chosen nation’ (though that material is not specifically represented in the current entries). And all without appealing to ‘scriptural authority’; indeed, all of it was developed on grounds I would still be prepared to accept as a sceptic, even on grounds I would be prepared to insist upon as a responsible thinker of any belief.

When I can arrive at a highly articulated and wide-ranging metaphysical belief, while leaving nothing behind that I would be prepared to grant or even to insist upon as either an agnostic or as some other kind of believer--then I think I have correspondingly good reason to say that I am going to be exceedingly difficult to ‘root out’ of my belief; not out of obstinacy but because there is nowhere to root me to that would not lead me back here eventually--not in opposition of that belief but in actual respect and critical appreciation of that oppositional belief.

And when that metaphysic points toward a story already told across millennia in a set of religious texts where the authors can be seen to be arriving at the same story but as an interpretation of history and of claimed-revelation, then I find independent confirmation in those sources--and am prepared to treat them (even if critically so) as being specially authoritative, too.

(Note: the first entry in the series can be found here. A sort of topical prequel to the series, "The Heart of Freedom", can be found here.)

Jason Pratt


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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