Tuesday, April 28, 2009

A metaphysics lunch

One of the students in my metaphysics class (which meets at 12:30 pm) emailed me if it would be OK if she brought in lunch. I thought: well, that's a polite thing to ask--some students will just eat their lunches in class without asking--and so I said yes, if it doesn't disturb people. And then I forgot about it. Imagine my surprise when today she brings big pots full of fragrant dishes, and proceeds to serve up a delicious lunch for all of us. Wow, and thank you, Hannah!


radical_logic said...

Dr. Pruss,

Do you agree(or find intelligible) the following assertion? A necessary being is identical to existence.

radical_logic said...

Sorry, one more question if I may.

Is it metaphysically possible for there to be a non-omnipotent, non-omniscient, and all-good being? In order words, can there be beings who are infinite in some respect (all-good) but not infinite or finite in other respects (not all-powerful, not all-knowing, etc)?

Alexander R Pruss said...

With respect to the first question, I would prefer to say that a necessary being is identical to its existence. I think I have some idea, but not a very clear one, of what this says. I wish I understood Thomistic metaphysics better. I really should. I am thinking that one of my next projects should be the Second Stage of the cosmological argument (the inference from necessary being to God).

With respect to the second, I incline to a negative, but I haven't thought about it before you asked.

I think the answer will be clearly negative if "all good" means being good in every respect, including then in respect of power and intellect. I am not sure if it is possible to delineate some restricted form of purely moral goodness.

Moreover, there is a way in which a being that isn't all-knowing is pretty likely to have the wrong attitude towards someone due to ignorance. That may be an excusable failing in goodness, but may still be a failing in goodness. Thus, if I do not know that x exists, I will fail to love x as x deserves. Etc. So perfect moral goodness might well entail omniscience. It's not so clear whether it entails omnipotence.

Omnipotence entails what one might call "conditional omniscience": a conditionally omniscient being can find out whatever he wants to know (roughly speaking).

There is probably a Thomistic argument that knowledge of future contingents requires being causally related to them in a way that only God can be. If so, then being omniscient entails being God. But I haven't thought much about the premises in this argument, so I don't really know what to say.

Apolonio said...

Hey Alex,

I didn't understand the practical reasoning there..X is polite in asking whether she can eat lunch...therefore, it is okay..etc

Just kidding...

radical_logic said...

What about the idea of an all-good being who is VERY powerful and VERY knowledgeable? I think I can coherently imagine an entity who knows enough to give perfect moral advice to sentient beings, but nevertheless doesn't know everything. Why isn't this being possible?

Alexander R Pruss said...

Depending on what exactly "all-good" means, such a being might be possible. Certainly, it's possible to have a creature that never in fact does wrong.

radical_logic said...

"All-good" in the sense that God is "all-good" with respect to morality--a being who is the embodiment of moral goodness.

If such a being were possible, then God would not be necessary for morality.

Eric Telfer said...

One key is this: to note what follows from simple facts of experience.

Another key is this: to note what is implied by what follows from simple facts of experience.

Take any of Aquinas' Five Ways and get to the conclusion. After doing so, one can then move from that conclusion, many times, to other conclusions by virtue of what is implied by the conclusion itself.

If one cannot fill in all the blanks by implication, one can go back to another of Aquinas' Five Ways and fill in that way.

So, either

(a) climb to the top and then work horizontally at the top without returning to the bottom again, as if moving around a circle linking concept to concept, or,

(b) continue to go up and down the ladder carrying different concepts to the top which can then be connected by implication or entailment later.

Once one gets to the top, even with one concept, I think a lot of work can be done by implication. But, if it cannot all be done, one can simply bring more to the top by returning to simple facts of experience.

graham veale said...

Can we get back to HAnnah and her lunch? What did she bring?


graham veale said...

We're looking for the ground of morality. So we want something that goes beyond the ability not to do wrong. Adam needed God's instruction after all. A being create to simply enjoy the beatific vision, and could do nothing else but enjoy the beatific vision, could be described as all good, but could hardly ground moral norms.

Also maybe we should use a term like like "maximal goodness" rather than "all good" - if we want something that can ground all possible moral norms.

So there could be an argument along the lines of - "Maximal goodness" requires maximal freedom AND "Maximal Freedom" require maximal knowledge and maximal power.
The idea being that "All Good" means that the only constraints on the pursuit of the good are the constraints imposed by logic. And that being morally good requires intentionality. And so forth.

And then what does it mean to ground moral norms? Do we mean something that guarantees that the moral life is rational? That happiness and morality can be reconciled? Or something less?