Saluting the Divine Commander

Ilion said something that made me think, and the more I think about it the more right I think he is.

The gist of it is this: The only reason to make sense of an ought when it comes to morality is self-interest.

Please try and follow this train of thought, because I’m going to elaborate and I hope this makes what I’m trying to say clearer. Don’t start picking on that sentence until you get what I’m trying to say.

Let’s say God exists and he creates a moral law that we can discover. Well and good. But what does it mean for a law to be moral?

It means it has to ought. It means that this is a thing we should do.

But if the moral law is an indifferent deist God, or a Platonic brute fact, why should I care?

To put it another way, if a sociopath feels no guilt when he kills, what’s the problem? There are no consequences for it.

In order for a moral law to make sense, there has to be a consequence. We need to be punished if we break the law, and rewarded if we do not. We have to be, or else there is no reason to follow it.

When the Saints devote themselves to becoming more like God what that means is they’re trying to reach a point where they want what God wants all the time, every time – in other words, to become happier and happier about following the moral law that God created.

Aquinas is dead on that there is a moral law – a natural law – that we can discover by observing the world around us, and we don’t need God to find it. But it also doesn’t matter unless there are consequences for breaking it.

For most people with most things, the consequences are simply inbred. To be forced to the point of an abortion, one must put oneself through all sorts of mental gymnastics, and even then mothers will feel crushing guilt.

In other words, there’s a consequence.

But there’s a problem. Unless there’s a consequence for everyone, we have no reason to condemn the psychopath.

So, we need punishment and reward: Heaven and Hell.

There’s a reason we look at the psychopath as insane. Man is designed to follow the moral law, but the psychopath is broken. And yet, we don’t care unless he starts harming other people.

So the atheist can discover…a thing. He can say, “Hey, it looks as if there’s this thing people are compelled to follow”.

But he has to deny that the law is in any meaningful sense morality, which means there’s no meaning, which means nihilism.

Or, he can become a theist.

Make sense?

I’ll try to elaborate later on.

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8 Responses to Saluting the Divine Commander

  1. vishmehr24 says:

    ” The only reason to make sense of an ought when it comes to morality is self-interest.”
    It is the right thing to do.

    I submit that moral action is defined by the rightness rather than self-interest. Doesn’t Catholic thought define a moral act as a right thing done for right reason?

    CS Lewis remarks in Reflections on Psalms that in Hebrew thought, belief in afterlife was not prominent. They were taught to love the Divine Law for itself. For if you do a thing because it gets good consequences for yourself, you are not doing it because it is a right thing to do.

    Isn’t this also the difference between imperfect and perfect contrition? Imperfectly, we repent of our sins because we fear the consequences but perfectly we repent because we love the good.

    • I submit that moral action is defined by the rightness rather than self-interest. Doesn’t Catholic thought define a moral act as a right thing done for right reason?

      Well, yeah. My whole point is that to make sense of “right” we need consequences. Otherwise what do we mean?

      • vishmehr24 says:

        So are you defining right conduct as a conduct that takes you to heaven?
        The idea of heaven as a reward for righteousness, it is pagan and Hindu and I do not think it Christian
        The Christian idea might be heaven as the climax of a righteous life.
        Why can’t “right” be just known to be right, irrespective of the consequences?
        Don’t we have intellect to tell us right and wrong?
        After all, consequences are not always easily calculated.

  2. Samuel Edwards says:

    Hi Malcolm,
    Are you suggesting that moral laws are nonsensical without consequences for breaking them?

    • Yes. If there are no consequences for breaking the laws, then there’s no obligation to follow them…in which case, they’re not moral laws, are they?

      • vishmehr24 says:

        Often there are ill-consequences for following moral laws. That is precisely why moral life is hard.
        In any case, the obligation does not follow from consequences. After all, I can ask why should I avoid bad consequences?
        The term “self-interest” is very non-trivial. Wherein lies my self-interest? It again requires intellect to perceive self-interest.

  3. Samuel Edwards says:

    I guess I take issue with the understanding that moral laws presuppose consequences. It is more correct to say that moral laws presupposes nature (what is right = what is natural) and consequences presuppose moral laws. There ought to be a distinction of order here, otherwise we are left with moral laws being put into place by an arbitrary god.

    • vishmehr24 says:

      You are correct. One can speak of consequences only when we have concept of “nature” and “laws”. Otherwise, we can only say that event B follows or is subsequent to event A.
      That event B is a consequence of event A presupposes causality and thus nature and laws.

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