New Book Arrival—Being Good: Christian Virtues for Everyday Life


The new book edited by Doug Geivett and Michael Austin has arrived from the publisher! Here’s what three noted Christian thinkers are saying about Being Good: Christian Virtues for Everyday Life . . . .

“Being Good, with its outstanding contributions by frontline Christian thinkers and scholars, is a major contribution to the intellectual and spiritual needs of our times. Hopefully it will become a part of the practice, teaching, and preaching in today’s most prominent ministries.”

— Dallas Willard, University of Southern California

“Being Good contains eleven well-informed, gracefully written new essays on crucial aspects of Christian character, intentionally crafted to aid the reader in the quest to grow in the Christian virtues.”

— Robert C. Roberts, Baylor University

“Here I found a significantly Christian approach to living virtuously, complete with practical suggestions in every chapter for improving the quality of this life. I found myself finishing a chapter and thinking it was the best I had seen so far, only to find the next one equally or even more stimulating. When that happens, you realize that you are holding a quality text!”

—Gary R. Habermas, Liberty University

For more details about the book, follow this link.

Advertisements

Being Good: Christian Virtues for Everyday Life—New Book Announcement


Doug Geivett and Michael Austin have co-edited a new book, to be released by Eerdmans January 2012. Being Good: Christian Virtues for Everyday Life discusses eleven vital virtues from a Christian philosophical perspective. Each chapter is devoted to a particular virtue and is written by a Christian philosopher with special interest in that virtue. Contributors include:

  • Paul Moser, on the virtue of Faith
  • Jason Baehr, on the virtue of Open-mindedness
  • Jim Spiegel, on the virtue of Wisdom
  • David Horner and David Turner, on the virtue of Zeal
  • William Mattison, on the virtue of Hope
  • Steve Porter, on the virtue of Contentment
  • Rebecca Konyndyk DeYoung, on the virtue of Courage
  • Charles Taliaferro, on the virtue of Love
  • Michael Austin, on the virtue of Compassion
  • Doug Geivett, on the virtue of Forgiveness
  • Andrew Pinset, on the virtue of Humility

The book is organized into three parts:

  • Part 1: Faith
  • Part 2: Hope
  • Part 3: Love

Each chapter discusses a particular virtue, with careful description of the virtue, attention to philosophical difficulties related to the virtue, treatment of important Bible passages that deal with the virtue, and practical application of the virtue. Chapters conclude with though-provoking discussion questions to aid in personal reflection or small group discussion.

The book can be ordered now, directly from Eerdmans here.

Elizabeth Anscombe on the Hebrew-Christian Ethic and Utilitarianism


After my post of yesterday about Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Alex Plato tipped me off about this passage from philosopher Elizabeth Anscombe (1919-2001):

Now this is a significant thing: for it means that all these philosophies [i.e., of English thinkers from Sidgwick to the present] are quite incompatible with the Hebrew-Christian ethic.  For it has been characteristic of that ethic to teach that there are certain things forbidden whatever consequences threaten, such as: choosing to kill the innocent for any purpose, however good; vicarious punishment; treachery (by which I mean obtaining a man’s confidence in a grave matter by promises of trustworthy friendship and then betraying him to his enemies); idolatry; sodomy; adultery; making a false profession of faith.  The prohibition of certain things simply in virtue of their description as such-and-such identifiable kinds of action, regardless of any further consequences, is certainly not the whole of the Hebrew-Christian ethic; but it is a noteworthy feature of it; and, if every academic philosopher since Sidgwick has written in such a way as to exclude this ethic, it would argue a certain provinciality of mind not to see this incompatibility as the most important fact about these philosophers, and the differences between them as somewhat trifling by comparison.

—From “Modern Moral Philosophy,” 1958

Thanks, Alex!

Points of Interest:

Books of Interest:

Note: Anscombe first presented her essay, “Modern Moral Philosophy,” to the Voltaire Society in Oxford. It was published in the journal Philosophy, vol. 33 (1958): 1-19.

Comment on “Euthyphro’s Lament”


Portrait of Socrates. Marble, Roman artwork (1...

Image via Wikipedia

Roger Morris has kindly referred me to a blog where the relation between God and morality is discussed in two unsigned posts: “Euthyphro’s Lament” and the briefer “One Other Thing” (in which the author promises that this is “the Absolute Bloody Final word from me” on the issue he raises).

The “Euthyphro problem” lies at the heart of a dialogue recorded by Plato, between Socrates and one called Euthyphro. This dialogue has a fitting title: Euthyphro; it is sometimes called The Euthyphro. Euthyphro is a great introduction to the Socratic method on a topic of broad interest because it concerns the nature of ‘piety.’ Socrates presses the question, “Is the pious loved by the gods because it is pious, or is it pious because it is loved by the gods?” This is called a ‘dilemma’ because it seems to present Euthyphro with stark choices, both of which are troubling in their own way.

Let it be noted that the problem of the nature of piety is not resolved in this dialogue of Plato’s. Nor is it definitively settled that both lemmas set forth in Socrates’ question are impossibilities.

It’s worthwhile keeping this in mind when considering a modified version of the problem in contemporary discussions of the relation between God and morality. The question in this context differs from the original in two main respects: (1) the dilemma now assumes some version of monotheism, and (2) the dilemma may be expressed in terms of the will or commands of God, rather than in terms of what is loved or hated by God. Another possible difference is that (3) the dilemma is now less concerned with piety as a character trait than with moral actions (in obedience to divine commands).

Here’s a characteristic statement of the new form of the dilemma, expressed as a question:

Is a morally right action right because it is willed or commanded by God, or is it willed or commanded by God because it is morally right?

If an action is morally right because it is willed or commanded by God, then whatever God wills or commands is right, and would be right just in virtue of his willing or commanding it. It’s supposed to follow that God could will or command anything whatsoever—including actions we rightly abhor, such as rape and murder—and what is willed or commanded would be (for that reason alone) morally right.

On the other hand, if a morally right action is willed or commanded by God because it is right, then it’s supposed to follow that God, who is otherwise thought to be utterly sovereign over all things, is subservient to an ontologically independent (objectively existing) standard of right and wrong.

So we have it that either (a) the goodness of any right act is arbitrary, subject to divine whim, or (b) God is less than sovereign because subject to an independent moral authority.

From these stark choices it is sometimes argued that God does not exist, or that the concept of God is incoherent.

Consider the first horn of the dilemma. Why is the morality of a right act thought to be arbitrary? Because its rightness is linked to the will or commands of God. But that, it seems, is tantamount to saying that God’s will and commands are themselves arbitrary. But why think that? I see no reason to seize the other horn of the dilemma in order to avoid this supposed implication.

What about the second horn? Most of its formulations use terminology without clear delineation of their significance. We must know, for example, in what sense God is presumed to be sovereign, in what sense ultimate moral authority is thought to be independent or external to God (or God’s character), and in what sense God is to be considered subservient to this external standard. The burden of making these notions precise is weighty. It is also frequently ignored.

In “Euthyphro’s Lament,” the author attempts the required clarification by saying that “there is an objective standard – logically prior to God’s character – that constrains God’s character.” But I must say that the notion of an objective (moral) standard as “logically prior” to anything (be it God or something else) is less than clear, and the suggestion does little to illuminate the supposed problem. Further, we must understand this vague notion of “logical priority” before we can make any sense of the claim that some logically prior standard “constrains God’s character.” How does it “constrain”?

I think it also needs to be said that the formulation of divine command theory in the essay is awkward. The author says,

Briefly, Divine Command theory states that it is good to obey God’s commands.

A more adequate formulation is needed. Here’s a better approximation, I think:

What makes a morally right action right is that it is commanded by God, and what makes a morally wrong action wrong is that it is prohibited by God.

From this it does follow, I suppose, that it’s (morally) good to heed God’s commands. But that is a different matter.

On the divine command theory, God’s will determines the rightness or wrongness of morally significant human actions. The theory, as a theory of morality, is concerned with the moral character of human actions. It is a separate question why God wills what God wills.

I conclude with three brief points.

First, this post is not a defense of divine command theory, but an attempt to impose clarity in relation to a less than clear statement of the associated problems in a particular blog post.

Second, it is odd if the envisioned dilemma concerning God’s relation to morality implies that God does not exist. It is so odd, in fact, that it’s far more likely that the proposed dilemma is a clever contrivance with less bite than is often imagined.

One may say that the dilemma is not the mainstay of an argument against theism, that it is merely rhetorical, a challenge to the theist to explain precisely what is God’s relation to morality. Ah, and if the theist falters? What then? Surely this is supposed to mean something.

Or one may say that the dilemma showcases a problem for theism that—whether or not it entails that theism is false—delivers the naturalist from the threat of any moral argument for God’s existence. The proper answer to that is that there are varieties of arguments from morality for theism, some better than others (and some no good at all). The best arguments are invulnerable to the dilemma we have been considering. And they have the further advantage of highlighting severe limitations of utterly naturalistic conceptions of ethics.

Third, adapting the dilemma posed in Plato’s Euthyphro to current discussions of God and morality may preempt proper consideration of what is “logically prior” (if that means anything), namely, the question, “Why does God will what God wills?” The answer to that must depend on what sort of being God is. Suppose God is such that he is neither subject, in any meaningful sense, to some external standard of morality, nor good in some merely arbitrary sense. Is there really anything deeply disturbing about such a conception? Mysterious perhaps. But disturbing?

Suggested Reading:

%d bloggers like this: