Monday, March 2, 2015

Ethics of love

New Testament ethics holds that loving (God and human neighbor, at least, but maybe the rest of creation as well) is sufficient for fulfilling moral obligations. This could be taken in weaker and stronger ways. The weaker view is that:

  1. Necessarily, anyone who fails morally fails in loving all.
And "necessarily" might not even be metaphysical modality: it might be something "nomically necessarily", or "necessarily in light of God's commands". But there are stronger readings, such as:
  1. Necessarily, every moral failure constitutes a failure in loving all.
For instance, take someone who steals. To have (1) hold of the case of the theft, all we need is that, say, the theft makes perfect universal love psychologically impossible, or that perfect universal love would make the theft psychologically impossible. That's a strong claim but nowhere near as strong as the claim we would get from (2) that the theft constitutes a failure in loving all.

I prefer the stronger view. I don't think the New Testament claims are merely claims about moral failings being correlated, even necessarily so, with failures in love. Given that God is love itself, and we are in God's image and likeness, it is quite plausible that (2) is true.

If this is right, then we can give a sketch of the sorts of questions we would want to answer to get a Christian ethics.

Metaethics:

  • What is the modality in the "Necessarily" in (2)?
  • Why is (2) true? (Is it a brute truth? Is it true in virtue of a divine command? Is it true in virtue of our nature? Etc.)

Normative Ethics:

  • What is it to love?
  • Are there any restrictions on the quantifiers in the "all" of (2)?
  • What is it to fail in loving? (Is it the same as to fail to love, or can one fail in loving x while still loving x but not the right way?)

Applied Ethics:

  • Analyze which particular actions are constitutive of a failure in love in light of the analysis of love and failure in the Normative Ethics section.

I see my One Body book as tackling some of the questions in the Normative and Applied areas. I wish I had the time and wisdom to handle the other questions. Maybe one day I will at least have the time.

2 comments:

M.E. Lastrilla said...

Hi Dr. Pruss,

What do you think of this argument showing that, if the necessary being that explains contingent reality (N) is simple, then N is purely good?

(1) N explains contingent goodness.
(2) Whatever explains contingent goodness is at least partly good.
(3) Whatever is at least partly good is at least partly lovable.
(4) Whatever is lovable does not have badness as an essential property.
(5) So, N does not have badness as an essential property. (1-4)
(6) If N does not have badness as an essential property, then if N has no intrinsic accidental properties, then N is purely good.
(7) So, if N has no intrinsic accidental properties, then N is purely good. (5-6)
(8) If N is simple, then N has no intrinsic contingent properties.
(9) If N has no contingent intrinsic properties, then N has no accidental intrinsic properties.
(10) So, if N is simple, N has no accidental intrinsic properties. (8-9)
(11) So, if N is simple, then N is purely good.

(4) is supported by the idea that love does not desire its object's essential transformation. Jack wouldn't love Jill if he desired her to change into something she essentially is not. But if X is essentially bad, then supposing X is lovable, it would be possible for X's lover to not desire X's ceasing to be bad, which is contrary to love's desire for its object's good. So if X is lovable, X isn't essentially bad.

(6) is supported by (4). If N isn't essentially bad, then if N is bad at all, its badness will be an accidental intrinsic property. So N has no such property, N cannot be bad at all - which is to say N is purely good.

Alexander R Pruss said...

I think that basically something like this should be defensible, but defending something like the premises will take work. Especially: 2 (probably only holds for certain kinds of explanations) and 4 (why couldn't something be lovable and have a little bit of badness as an essential property?).