Can the Objectivity of Morality Be Grounded in Phenomenal Consciousness?

In this paper I will argue that phenomenal consciousness is not sufficient to ontologically ground morality. [1] I will make two arguments for this thesis. First, I will argue that the thesis in question is logically improbable; secondly, I will use the deductive closure principle to make a short argument against phenomenal consciousness as constitutive of objective morality, and thereafter conclude that theism, since highly probable, involves this thesis to be false.

Here is the first argument:

  1. Phenomenal consciousness involves the what-its-like of experience.
  2. Objective morality is experience-independent.
  3. There is no such thing as phenomenal consciousness independent of experience.
  4. Therefore, nothing which can ground morality can be based on experience. (2)
  5. Therefore, phenomenal consciousness cannot be constitutive of objective morality. (1)-(4).

Here is a second argument:

  1. Theism is highly probable. [2]
  2. If theism is highly probable, phenomenal consciousness does not constitute the objectivity of morality (God does).
  3. Deductive closure principle: if S knows P and P->Q, then S knows Q.
  4. Therefore, if theism is true, and theism entails phenomenal consciousness as insufficient to ground the objectivity of morality, it follows that phenomenal consciousness is insufficient to ground the objectivity of morality. (1)-(4).

These are just two reasons I regard this attempt to save the objectivity of morality on naturalism to be unpromising. (Consider as a side argument the following: phenomenal consciousness is more probable on theism than naturalism; theism entails God as constitutive of objective morality, not phenomenal consciousness; therefore, phenomenal consciousness points towards its own inability to be constitutive of objective morality and the truth of theism).

[1] Arguing for phenomenal consciousness as constitutive of objective morality is usually an attempt to save objective morality on naturalism i.e., those denying a reductive ontology. (This is rather strange, though, as most naturalists reject, ontologically, morality).

[2] This second argument is tailored for the person who accepts theism (whereas the first is universal); I do this to reach both audiences (secular and non-secular alike).

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Rape is Wrong, Therefore Abortion is Wrong

The following is an argument for the following subjunctive conditional: if rape is wrong, abortion is also wrong. Now, abortion is not wrong if and only if rape is wrong, since the entailment would be too strong. (One can think of a multitude of reasons why abortion is morally wrong). All that I claim is that if rape is wrong on a particular ground i.e., that human beings are ends-in-themselves, then abortion, for a particular reason i.e., financial difficulty, is necessarily wrong. On Monday, January 25th 2016, during a Lifeline (Western’s pro-life club) meeting, I thought of this argument and so sent it to an executive member of the club afterwards that evening. ( “[x] is someone’s name, made hidden by me). Here is what I thought of:

Hey,

So during our meeting today I thought of a neat little philosophical argument worth exploring (whether or not it is a good one I am sure you will be able to detect). If you would like you can send it to i.e., [], if you think it worth exploring. It is a way in which one can move from the proposition:
1. Rape is wrong.
to
2. Therefore, abortion is wrong.
Here is the argument (constructed as a thought experiment):
Suppose that you encounter a person who argues that abortion is right if and only if rape is the reason for pregnancy.
You can concede the point (that rape is wrong) and argue as follows:
1. Rape is wrong.
2. Rape is wrong because 1) it violates a woman’s autonomy, 2) does not reflect the correct moral responsibility towards her and 3) uses her as a means to an end.
The last reason (3) might be an area that the pro-lifer and objector might agree on; namely, that human persons are ends-in-themselves. (Philosopher Kant and Karol Wojtyla (Pope John Paul II) argue this point). Now, if the objector concedes the proposition:
4. Human persons are ends-in-themselves
then it follows that
5. Rape is wrong
However, it also follows that
6. Any action whatsoever which uses a person as a means to some desired end is wrong
and given that aborting a fetus because he/she is inconvenient i.e., financially, mentally et cetera, is inconsistent with (4), it follows that the person who says ‘it is morally permissible to abort an unborn child if and only if the child was conceived from rape (rape, being wrong because it is using the woman as a means to an end)’ must also concede that aborting the unborn child is itself using a person as a means to an end (i.e., killing the child for selfish reasons i.e., an easier life). Therefore, if rape is wrong so is abortion. (This might only apply to a person who accepts 1) humans are ends-in-themselves, 2) rape is wrong, 3) murdering the unborn is morally acceptable if and only if it was from rape and 4) the unborn is a person–since it seems normal to assume that (3) and (4) are inconsistent, the argument above might serve as a way in which this inconsistency can lead a person from ‘rape is wrong, therefore abortion is wrong.’
Something I thought of.
Feel free to let me know what you think,
Rashad.
Post-Script
To my mind, this argument is sound and valid. However, I am aware that many will reject one or more of my premises and therefore will not see the argument as sound (validity I think is on the safe side). So, this argument, if used in pro-life apologetics, must be understood restrictively since, while it works, only works for people who will accept certain premises i.e., the ones outlined in the aforementioned paper.

The Modal Ontological Argument, A Reductio and Two Non-Ad Hoc Ways Out

In this paper, I will argue that the modal ontological argument succeeds an alleged defeater in the form of a reductio ad absurdum. I have come across a reductio ad absurdum of the ontological argument (St. Anselm’s, anyway) that I have been thinking about for some time. Not really knowing what to do with it, I have thought of two ways out. So, I will lay out the modal ontological argument, the reductio, and then offer two ways out which, I think, minimally succeed in showing how the reductio, even if it is prima facie convincing, does not stand a closer look.

Here is the modal ontological argument as Alvin Plantinga formulates it:

 

  1. It is possible that a maximally great being exists.

 

  1. If it is possible that a maximally great being exists, then a maximally great being exists in some possible world.

 

  1. If a maximally great being exists in some possible world, then it exists in every possible world.

 

  1. If a maximally great being exists in every possible world, then it exists in the actual world.

 

  1. If a maximally great being exists in the actual world, then a maximally great being exists.

 

  1. Therefore, a maximally great being exists. [1]

The crucial premise is (1). For if one denies (1), the whole argument collapses. While even philosopher William Lane Craig admits that (1) is “admittedly very difficult” for the theist to defend, nonetheless I think there can be progress in this area. For instance, take three natural theological arguments: the cosmological argument, teleological and axiological. Even if one rejects all three of these arguments, there are many, many more. For instance, the cosmological argument in the form of a contingency argument, the argument from consciousness and the argument from love et cetera. The intellectually humble approach, I think, is for the non-theist to admit the metaphysical possibility of the existence of God. But, of course, one can always deny (1) for ad hoc reasons.

Here is the reductio:

  1. It is possible that a maximally bad being exists.

 

  1. If it is possible that a maximally bad being exists, then a maximally bad being exists in some possible world.

 

  1. If a maximally bad being exists in some possible world, then it exists in every possible world.

 

  1. If a maximally bad being exists in every possible world, then it exists in the actual world.

 

  1. If a maximally bad being exists in the actual world, then a maximally bad being exists.

 

  1. Therefore, a maximally bad being exists

 

So, in the place of ‘great’, ‘bad’ is substituted. This means that if a maximally great being exists, so does a maximally bad being (which might not be what the theists wants); the theist is then offered an option: Deny the ontological argument or hold it and admit that there exists a maximally bad being. This is an inclusive ‘or’, I should say in passing. And, so, the theist can no longer hold to the ontological argument, so the argument goes.

Here are two responses which I think sufficiently show that this is not so.

(1) The first premise in the reductio is not self-evidently or intuitively true. Consider the justification for (1). There simply isn’t any. Now, one might say that “any natural theological argument can successfully show that the “God” that exists is a “maximally bad being” since many of the arguments do not establish His moral properties.” But this is simply false. What, for instance, the Kalam argument gives you, is a concept of God without moral properties—granted; however, when taken conjunctively [2] with, say, the axiological (moral) argument, things are different, for then the argument does succeed—if true—in establishing (i) the existence of God and (ii) the existence of a moral God. To deny (1) of the reductio can be established on two grounds, though: (i) Deny the coherence of a ‘maximally bad being’ or (ii) show how it is improbable and therefore warranted to reject (1). I do not want to argue as the defender of (i) would want to. For the sake of argument, I will accept (i). But, (ii) seems more promising. Given the plethora of natural theological arguments, (1) in the modal ontological argument seems at least minimally plausible to accept. But, in the reductio, there is simply no reason to accept (1) (asides “I’ll just grant you (1)” reasons).

(2) Take an analogy. Suppose that instead of “maximally bad being” we say “maximally bad book” (i.e., Richard Dawkin’s The God Delusion). While the latter is incoherent, it also does not have the great making property of “existing.” Applied to the reductio, “existing” seems to be a great making property—not a bad one. If one says in defense of (1) that “a bad being would be worse if the being existed”, they do not realize that “existing” is a great making property—and therefore if the “maximally bad being” exists, it is not really a “maximally bad being.” Why? There is a worse being, a “maximally bad being that does not”. So, we have a reductio of the reductio: the “maximally bad being”, in order to exist, has to fail to exist. The law of non-contradiction has it that P & not-P is logically impossible and therefore either the being exists or does not; in order to exist, it must fail to exist, and therefore the reductio is a reductio of itself.

These are just two reasons I see out of the argument, and I hope I have shown that the reductio does not succeed as a successful defeater of the modal ontological argument.

[1] http://www.reasonablefaith.org/misunderstanding-the-ontological-argument Accessed August 7th, 2016.

[2] Natural theological arguments taken conjunctively can raise the probability of God’s existence immensely, as Timothy McGrew, William Lane Craig and Alvin Plantinga argue.

A Current Project

This past year I had the privilege of attending and lecturing orally my research paper “Theistic Explanations of the Ontology of Consciousness” under the title “Consciousness, Theism and Explanation”, at the Western Student Research Conference (2016) under the supervision of Dr. Pietro Pirani. In adjusting to first year of university, my time was necessarily limited as my primary goal was to “get the grades going.”

This year, however, I want to do something different.

Since there is no confirmation of acceptance into the Research Conference until one applies, I am not sure this project will be fully realized as I would like it to be. Nonetheless, I find myself content with the endeavor regardless.

I want to do the conference this year on a “minor” project, perhaps on theistic metaphysical systems i.e., William Lane Craig’s. Or perhaps on something like the work of Richard Swinburne (his recent “Mind, Brain and Free Will” (2013), particularly). Another project I am thinking of is reviewing Craig Keener’s 2. Vol. “Miracles.” If none of these, I am very interested in exploring Bryan Metcalfe’s doctoral thesis “Pedagogy of Mythos” (2013) much more in depth. Perhaps even Charles Taylor’s “A Secular Age.” (And of course I am open to suggestions from readers of this blog). Regardless, for this year I am looking to do a minor project.

But, for the following year (2017/2018), my third year in university, I want to write on analytic Christian philosopher Alvin Plantinga. Why not this year? Simply this: His corpus is massive. His work on metaphysics, philosophy of religion, epistemology and modal logic is extensive. So, if I spend this year and the next focusing primarily on Plantinga, I think (i) I will have spent my time wisely and (ii) I will have developed enough acquaintance with his work to actually write on his work with a good standing on what he thinks.

So, now, I await a professor who will help me with this project and for my “minor” one this year. Blog posts, then, will follow the writings I am reading and thinking of (whereas before they were relatively all over the place–my usual method of thinking!).

As a side note, I am currently brainstorming a layout for a Bioethics Journal for a Western University club and a possible book based on a Teacher’s guide I co-wrote with Patrick Sullivan on his book “Four Monks Walk Into a Pub.” I would also like to take up a Dostoevsky University Syllabus (U of T’s, for instance), to read more of his stuff (and really committ myself to it). Thus, posting will be relatively infrequent, but I hope my work, while definitely now occupied by reading and studying, will be satisfactory.