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In Defense of Natural Theology 10: Hume and the Moral Argument

09/02/2011

Copan is critiquing Hume’s theory of morality. For all I know, his critique is correct. I easily admit how difficult the landscape of moral theory is. I wouldn’t be surprised if Hume got it wrong. What I am not satisfied by is the moral theory presented by theism. Copan does try to show why theism can ground morality on page 213:

1. Moral values are properly basic and undeniable. Those who reject them are failing to function properly.
2. The is-ought gap stems from an arbitrary limitation.
3. A theistic explanation for objective moral values and human dignity is superior to a naturalistic one.

Point three is established by saying:
1. There is a more natural fit between God’s existence and natural moral values or human dignity than between valueless processes that produces such value and dignity.
2. The theistic grounding for objective moral values and human dignity is more basic and less ad hoc explanation than is a purported naturalistic grounding.
3. The capacity of theism to unify certain phenomena more adeptly than its rivals gives it greater- and thus preferential- explanatory power.

I still don’t see how Copan jumps from God to objective moral values. How does God explain this oughtness? If God is perfectly good as an essential part of his nature, I don’t see how that somehow provides an explanation for the value of human beings. God magically gives value to humans? What non-circular definition of ‘good’ can Copan give? I think the theistic explanation of ‘goodness’ or ‘oughtness’ is either deeply undeveloped, or it fails to get off the ground. It will probably be good for me to better clarify this in the future.

I disagree with the idea that moral values are undeniable. A naturalistic source of our feelings of moral values gives us reason enough to deny their metaphysical existence. Evolution can provide an explanation for why our moral intuitions exist without a need to appeal to some magical moral sense.

That’s not to say that we have no objective reason to act ‘good.’ Even if metaphysical ‘good’ does not exist, ‘good’ still has much content. I think desirism successfully bridges the is-ought gap in a non-magical way as well.

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