Tag Archives: J. P. Moreland

Utilitarianism and the Moral Life by J. P. Moreland

I found this essay on After All, but it looks like their site is not working well, so I’m just going to steal it and post it here, in case it disappears completely. This is one of my favorite short essays on utilitarianism, and it’s a wonder that the thing can’t stay up somewhere. Well, it will have a home here now. I’d be surprised to see anyone else be this awesome in a measly 1000 words as Dr. Moreland is below.

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Utilitarianism and the Moral Life

What Is Utilitarianism?

Utilitarianism (also called consequentialism) is a moral theory developed and refined in the modern world by Jeremy Bentham (1748-1832) and John Stuart Mill (1806-1873). It can be defined as follows:

An action or moral rule is right if and only if it maximizes the amount of nonmoral good produced in the consequences that result from doing that act or following that rule compared with other acts or rules open to the agent.

By focusing on three features of utilitarianism, we can clarify this definition.

(1) Utilitarian theories of value.

What is a nonmoral good? Utilitarians deny that there are any moral actions or rules that are intrinsically right or wrong. But they do believe in objective values that are nonmoral.

Hedonistic utilitarians say that the only intrinsic good is pleasure and the avoidance of pain. Quantitative hedonists (Bentham) say that the amount of pleasure and pain is the only thing that matters in deciding between two courses of action, I should do the one that produces the greatest amount of pleasure and the least amount of pain (measured by factors like the duration and intensity of the pleasure). Qualitative hedonists (Mill) say that pleasure is the only intrinsic good, but the type of pleasure is what is important, not the amount. They would rank pleasures that come from reading, art, and friendship as more valuable than those that come from, say, a full stomach.

Pluralistic utilitarians
say there are a number of things that have intrinsic, nonmoral value: pleasure, friendship, health, knowledge, freedom, peace, security, and so forth. For pluralists, it is not just the pleasure that comes from friendship that has value but also friendship itself.

Currently, the most popular utilitarian view of value is subjective preference utilitarianism. This position says it is presumptuous and impossible to specify things that have intrinsic nonmoral worth. So, they claim, intrinsic value ought to be defined as that which each individual subjectively desires or wants, provided these do not harm others. Unfortunately, this view collapses into moral relativism.

(2) Utilitarians and maximizing utility.

Utilitarians use the term utility to stand for whatever good they are seeking to produce as consequences of a moral action (e.g., “pleasure” for the hedonist, “satisfaction of subjective preference” for others). They see morality in a means-to-ends way. The sole value of a moral action or rule is the utility of its consequences. Moral action should maximize utility. This can be interpreted in different ways, but many utilitarians embrace the following: the correct moral action or rule is the one that produces the greatest amount of utility for the greatest number of people.

(3) Two forms of utilitarianism: act utilitarianism and rule utilitarianism.

According to act utilitarianism, an act is right if and only if no other act available maximizes utility more than the act in question. Here, each new moral situation is evaluated on its own, and moral rules like “don’t steal” or “don’t break promises” are secondary The moral agent must weigh available alternatives and choose the one that produces the best consequences. Rule utilitarianism says that correct moral actions are done in keeping with correct moral rules, However, no moral rule is intrinsically right or wrong. Rather, a correct moral rule is one that would maximize utility if most people followed it as opposed to following an alternative rule. Here, alternative rules (e.g., “don’t lie” vs. “don’t lie unless doing so would enhance friendship”) are compared for their consequences, not specific actions.

What Is Wrong with Utilitarianism?

Several objections show the inadequacy of utilitarianism as a normative moral theory.

First, utilitarianism can be used to justify actions that are clearly immoral. Consider the case of a severely deformed fetus. The child is certain to live a brief, albeit painless life. He or she will make no contribution to society. Society, however, will bear great expense. Doctors and other caregivers will invest time, emotion, and effort in adding mere hours to the baby’s life. The parents will know and love the child only long enough to be heartbroken at the inevitable loss. An abortion negates all those “utility” losses. There is no positive utility lost. Many of the same costs are involved in the care of the terminally ill elderly. They too may suffer no pain, but they may offer no benefit to society. In balancing positives and negatives, and excluding from the equation the objective sacredness of all human life, we arrive at morally repugnant decisions. Here deontological and virtue ethics steer us clear of what is easier to what is right.

Second, in a similar way, utilitarianism denies the existence of supererogatory acts. These are acts of moral heroism that are not morally obligatory but are still praiseworthy. Examples would be giving 75 percent of your income to the poor or throwing yourself on a bomb to save a stranger. Consider the bomb example. You have two choices — throwing yourself on the bomb or not doing so. Each choice would have consequences and, according to utilitarianism, you are morally obligated to do one or the other depending on which option maximized utility. Thus, there is no room for acts that go beyond the call of morality.

Third, utilitarianism has an inadequate view of human rights and human dignity. If enslaving a minority of people, say by a lottery, would produce the greatest good for the greatest number, or if conceiving children only to harvest their parts would do the same, then these could he justified in a utilitarian scheme. But enslavement and abortion violate individual rights and treat people as a means to an end, not as creatures with intrinsic dignity as human beings. If acts of abortion, active euthanasia, physician-assisted suicide, and so forth maximize utility, then they are morally obligatory for the utilitarian. But any moral system that makes abortion and suicide morally obligatory is surely flawed.

Finally, utilitarianism has an inadequate view of motives and character. We should praise good motives and seek good character because such motives and character are intrinsically valuable. But utilitarianism implies that the only reason we should praise good motives instead of bad ones, or seek good character instead of bad character, is because such acts would maximize utility. But this has the cart before the horse. We should praise good motives and blame bad ones because they are good or bad, not because such acts of praising and blaming produce good consequences.

In sum, it should be clear that utilitarianism is an inadequate moral theory. Unfortunately, ours is a pragmatic culture and utilitarianism is on the rise. But for those of us who follow Christ, a combination of virtue and deontological ethics is a more adequate view of common sense morality found in natural law and of the moral vision contained in the Bible.

Six reasons why you should believe in non-physical souls

(Podcast uploaded, with permission, by ReligioPolitical Talk)

This podcast is a must-listen. Please take the time to download this podcast and listen to it. I guarantee that you will love this podcast. I even recommended it to my Dad and I almost never do that.

Details:

In this podcast, J. Warner examines the evidence for the existence of the mind (and inferentially, the soul) as he looks at six classic philosophical arguments. Jim also briefly discusses Thomas Nagel’s book, Mind and Cosmos and discusses the limitations of physicalism.

The MP3 file is here. (67 MB, 72 minutes)

Topics:

  • Atheist Thomas Nagel’s latest book “Mind and Cosmos” makes the case that materialism cannot account for the evidence of mental phenomena
  • Nagel writes in this recent New York Times article that materialism cannot account for the reality of consciousness, meaning, intention and purpose
  • Quote from the Nagel article:

Even though the theistic outlook, in some versions, is consistent with the available scientific evidence, I don’t believe it, and am drawn instead to a naturalistic, though non-materialist, alternative. Mind, I suspect, is not an inexplicable accident or a divine and anomalous gift but a basic aspect of nature that we will not understand until we transcend the built-in limits of contemporary scientific orthodoxy.

  • When looking at this question, it’s important to not have our conclusions pre-determined by presupposing materialism or atheism
  • If your mind/soul doesn’t exist and you are a purely physical being then that is a defeater for Christianity, so we need to respond
  • Traditionally, Christians have been committed to a view of human nature called “dualism” – human beings are souls who have bodies
  • The best way* to argue for the existence of the soul is using philosophical arguments

The case:

  • The law of identity says that if A = B’ if A and B have the exact same properties
  • If A = the mind and B = the brain, then is A identical to B?
  • Wallace will present 6 arguments to show that A is not identical to B because they have different properties

Not everyone of the arguments below might make sense to you, but you will probably find one or two that strike you as correct. Some of the points are more illustrative than persuasive, like #2. However, I do find #3, #5 and #6 persuasive.

1) First-person access to mental properties

  • Thought experiment: Imagine your dream car, and picture it clearly in your mind
  • If we invited an artist to come and sketch out your dream car, then we could see your dream car’s shape on paper
  • This concept of your dream car is not something that people can see by looking at your brain structure
  • Physical properties can be physically accessed, but the properties of your dream care and privately accessed

2) Our experience of consciousness implies that we are not our bodies

  • Common sense notion of personhood is that we own our bodies, but we are not our bodies

3) Persistent self-identity through time

  • Thought experiment: replacing a new car with an old car one piece at a time
  • When you change even the smallest part of a physical object, it changes the identity of that object
  • Similarly, your body is undergoing changes constantly over time
  • Every cell in your body is different from the body you had 10 years ago
  • Even your brain cells undergo changes (see this from New Scientist – WK)
  • If you are the same person you were 10 years ago, then you are not your physical body

4) Mental properties cannot be measured like physical objects

  • Physical objects can be measured (e.g. – use physical measurements to measure weight, size, etc.)
  • Mental properties cannot be measured

5) Intentionality or About-ness

  • Mental entities can refer to realities that are physical, something outside of themselves
  • A tree is not about anything, it just is a physical object
  • But you can have thoughts about the tree out there in the garden that needs water

6) Free will and personal responsibility

  • If humans are purely physical, then all our actions are determined by sensory inputs and genetic programming
  • Biological determinism is not compatible with free will, and free will is required for personal responsibility
  • Our experience of moral choices and moral responsibility requires free will, and free will requires minds/souls

He spends the last 10 minutes of the podcast responding to naturalistic objections to the mind/soul hypothesis.

*Now in the podcast, Wallace does say that scientific evidence is not the best kind of evidence to use when discussing this issue of body/soul and mind/brain. But I did blog yesterday about two pieces of evidence that I think are relevant to this discussion: corroborated near-death experiences and mental effort.

You might remember that Dr. Craig brought up the issue of substance dualism, and the argument from intentionality (“aboutness”), in his debate with the naturalist philosopher Alex Rosenberg, so this argument about dualism is battle-ready. You can add it to your list of arguments for Christian theism along with all the other arguments like the Big Bang, the fine-tuning, the origin of life, stellar habitability, galactic habitability, irreducible complexity, molecular machines, the Cambrian explosion, the moral argument, the resurrection, biological convergence, and so on.

J.P. Moreland lectures on “Love Your God With All Your Mind”

Dr. J.P. Moreland
Dr. J.P. Moreland

If I had to pick a few lectures that really changed my life, then this lecture by J.P. Moreland would definitely be on that list.

The MP3 file.

Topics:

  • How J.P. Moreland become a Christian
  • How evangelism drove his efforts to answer skeptics
  • How can evangelicals be so numerous, and yet have so little influence?
  • When did the church stop being able to out-think her critics?
  • How studying and thinking can be a way of worshiping God
  • Romans 12:1-2 – what does this passage mean?
  • Are your beliefs under the control of your will?
  • Can you “try” to believe something by an act of will?
  • If not, then how can you change your beliefs?
  • Changing your mind is the only way to change your life
  • Matthew 22:37 – what is this passage saying?
  • How can you love God by using your intellect?
  • How can you defend God’s honor, when it is called into question?
  • In a debate, should you quote sources that your opponent doesn’t accept?
  • Should you only study the Bible, or should you study rival worldviews?
  • 1 Pet 3:15 – what does this passage mean?
  • If you knew you were going to be in a debate, what should you do?
  • How can you be bold in witnessing? Where does boldness come from?
  • What should the church do to make bold evangelists?
  • 2 Cor 10:5 – what is this passage talking about?
  • The passage talks about destroying fortresses – what are the fortresses?
  • List of some of the speculations that we are supposed to be destroying
  • What does the phrase “spiritual warfare” really mean?

And here is a longer version of the same lecture (MP3) presented to an audience of university students and faculty.

By the way, the title of his lecture comes from a book that he wrote, which is now in its second edition.

Six reasons why you should believe in non-physical minds

(Podcast uploaded, with permission, by ReligioPolitical Talk)

This podcast is a must-listen. Please take the time to download this podcast and listen to it. I guarantee that you will love this podcast. I even recommended it to my Dad and I almost never do that.

Details:

In this podcast, J. Warner examines the evidence for the existence of the mind (and inferentially, the soul) as he looks at six classic philosophical arguments. Jim also briefly discusses Thomas Nagel’s book, Mind and Cosmos and discusses the limitations of physicalism.

The MP3 file is here. (67 MB, 72 minutes)

Topics:

  • Atheist Thomas Nagel’s latest book “Mind and Cosmos” makes the case that materialism cannot account for the evidence of mental phenomena
  • Nagel writes in this recent New York Times article that materialism cannot account for the reality of consciousness, meaning, intention and purpose
  • Quote from the Nagel article:

Even though the theistic outlook, in some versions, is consistent with the available scientific evidence, I don’t believe it, and am drawn instead to a naturalistic, though non-materialist, alternative. Mind, I suspect, is not an inexplicable accident or a divine and anomalous gift but a basic aspect of nature that we will not understand until we transcend the built-in limits of contemporary scientific orthodoxy.

  • When looking at this question, it’s important to not have our conclusions pre-determined by presupposing materialism or atheism
  • If your mind/soul doesn’t exist and you are a purely physical being then that is a defeater for Christianity, so we need to respond
  • Traditionally, Christians have been committed to a view of human nature called “dualism” – human beings are souls who have bodies
  • The best way* to argue for the existence of the soul is using philosophical arguments

The case:

  • The law of identity says that if A = B’ if A and B have the exact same properties
  • If A = the mind and B = the brain, then is A identical to B?
  • Wallace will present 6 arguments to show that A is not identical to B because they have different properties

Not everyone of the arguments below might make sense to you, but you will probably find one or two that strike you as correct. Some of the points are more illustrative than persuasive, like #2. However, I do find #3, #5 and #6 persuasive.

1) First-person access to mental properties

  • Thought experiment: Imagine your dream car, and picture it clearly in your mind
  • If we invited an artist to come and sketch out your dream car, then we could see your dream car’s shape on paper
  • This concept of your dream car is not something that people can see by looking at your brain structure
  • Physical properties can be physically accessed, but the properties of your dream care and privately accessed

2) Our experience of consciousness implies that we are not our bodies

  • Common sense notion of personhood is that we own our bodies, but we are not our bodies

3) Persistent self-identity through time

  • Thought experiment: replacing a new car with an old car one piece at a time
  • When you change even the smallest part of a physical object, it changes the identity of that object
  • Similarly, your body is undergoing changes constantly over time
  • Every cell in your body is different from the body you had 10 years ago
  • Even your brain cells undergo changes (see this from New Scientist – WK)
  • If you are the same person you were 10 years ago, then you are not your physical body

4) Mental properties cannot be measured like physical objects

  • Physical objects can be measured (e.g. – use physical measurements to measure weight, size, etc.)
  • Mental properties cannot be measured

5) Intentionality or About-ness

  • Mental entities can refer to realities that are physical, something outside of themselves
  • A tree is not about anything, it just is a physical object
  • But you can have thoughts about the tree out there in the garden that needs water

6) Free will and personal responsibility

  • If humans are purely physical, then all our actions are determined by sensory inputs and genetic programming
  • Biological determinism is not compatible with free will, and free will is required for personal responsibility
  • Our experience of moral choices and moral responsibility requires free will, and free will requires minds/souls

He spends the last 10 minutes of the podcast responding to naturalistic objections to the mind/soul hypothesis.

*Now in the podcast, Wallace does say that scientific evidence is not the best kind of evidence to use when discussing this issue of body/soul and mind/brain. But I did blog yesterday about two pieces of evidence that I think are relevant to this discussion: corroborated near-death experiences and mental effort.

You might remember that Dr. Craig brought up the issue of substance dualism, and the argument from intentionality (“aboutness”), in his debate with the naturalist philosopher Alex Rosenberg, so this argument about dualism is battle-ready. You can add it to your list of arguments for Christian theism along with all the other arguments like the Big Bang, the fine-tuning, the origin of life, stellar habitability, galactic habitability, irreducible complexity, molecular machines, the Cambrian explosion, the moral argument, the resurrection, biological convergence, and so on.

Does the Bible teach government-controlled wealth redistribution to help the poor?

Eric from Ratio Christi posted an essay by famous Christian philosopher J.P. Moreland entitled “A Biblical Case for Limited Government”. 

About the author:

I am the Distinguished Professor of Philosophy at Talbot School of Theology, Biola University in La Mirada, California. I have four earned degrees: a B.S. in chemistry from the University of Missouri, a Th.M. in theology from Dallas Theological Seminary, an M. A. in philosophy from the University of California-Riverside, and a Ph.D. in philosophy from the University of Southern California.

Here’s the intro from the essay:

In what follows, I shall argue that, when properly interpreted, biblical teaching implies a minimal government with a specific function to be mentioned shortly. I will begin by describing the three-way worldview struggle in our country and explain why two of those worldviews have a vested interest in big government. I will then present a biblical methodology for getting at scriptural teaching about the state. I will apply that methodology to support the claim that Israel’s ethical policies in the Old Testament are better analogies for the church/covenant community than for the government, and in this context I will clarify the role that “defining terms of address” plays in my discussion. I will then distinguish negative and positive rights and argue that the best texts for unpacking biblical teaching about the state are two:  four key New Testament texts and the obligations placed on pagan nations by the Old Testament prophets. I will try to show that these key texts depict the state as a protector of negative rights and not a provider of positive rights. Thus the scriptures support a limited view of government and its function.

Next, I will turn to a description of the decisive feature of New Testament ethics in general, and Jesus’s ethics in particular, namely, virtue ethics with voluntary adherence to the love commands. I will show that, given this ethic, the state may be able to show mercy, but it cannot show compassion due to both the nature of the state and the nature of compassion. I will close with a brief treatment of the importance of Natural Moral Law in the state’s fulfilling of its God-given role so as to avoid a theocracy. And I will examine the charge that commitment to the Natural Moral Law makes one an intolerant bigot.

And here’s the best part:

[W]e need to make a distinction between positive and negative rights. A positive right is a right to have something given to the right-holder. If Smith has a positive right to X, say to health care, then the state has an obligation to give X to Smith. In general, positive rights and duties are correlative. That is, if someone has a positive right to something, then a duty is placed on others to provide that right to that person (or class of persons). Thus the state has the moral right to impose on citizens the duty to provide that right to the right-holder. A negative right to X is a right to be protected from harm while one seeks to get X on one’s own. If Smith has a negative right to X, say to health care, then the state has an obligation to protect Smith from discrimination and unfair treatment in his attempt to get X on his own. We learn much if we approach key biblical texts about the state armed with the distinction between positive and negative rights.

Then he brings up the Romans 13 passage that Wayne Grudem mentioned yesterday in the post on the Bible and capital punishment, which talks about how the state can punish evildoers.

More:

A second feature of the Romans 13 text is that it seems to depict the state as the protector of individuals from harm due to negative-rights violations (and as the praiser of those who do not engage in such law-breaking behavior) rather than as the provider of positive rights. In the preceding context (Romans 12:17-21), the issue in focus is someone who has had evil done against him, i.e., has had his negative rights violated. The passage makes clear that in such a case, the individual is not to take revenge and repay evil with evil. This would most naturally raise a question of criminal justice, viz., will the person have to pay for what he/she did to me in this age? Romans 13:1-7 answers that question in the affirmative by stating that such justice is precisely the purpose of the state. Moreover, in the verses that follow Romans 13:1-7 (verses 8-10) the focus is on showing compassion and love to one another, a topic mentioned in Romans 12:20 in the context of providing things (food and drink) for one who has harmed you. Now while compassion, love, and providing for others are mentioned just before and after Romans 13:1-7, it is significant that these topics fall from sight when the nature and function of the state is in view. A good explanation for this is that the state is not to be in the business of showing compassion (for more on this, see below) or providing positive rights for others. That is an  individual moral responsibility. No, the state is the protector of negative rights.

[…]By contrast with the voluntary nature of compassion and genuine ethical action, the state is coercive and forces conformity to its dictates. The coercive approach works well when the state is protecting negative rights, but it raises an ethical problem if the state tries to provide positive rights. While the state can show mercy—it bears the sword and can refrain from using it—the state cannot show compassion. As an individual, a representative of the state can have compassion in his heart as he gives to the poor; but this compassion is exhibited by him qua individual and not qua representative of the state. The state’s care for the poor is coercive since it redistributes wealth by force. It takes from some and gives to others, all by the force of law. Such actions count for very little in God’s eyes because they do not reflect the features of Jesus’s ethic identified above. And because Jesus was not a utilitarian, even if such actions accomplish good ends, the end does not justify the means. In a biblical ethic, helping the poor by the coercive power of the state is of little ethical value. If I am right about this, then it follows that when the state steps outside its role of protecting the violation of negative rights, the state will be incompetent and less effective than private or charitable alternatives.

And J.P. Moreland is right about it. This is a great essay and it helped me to understand how to talk about these issues. I think you should print this out and read it. Send it to everyone, especially young people who seem to be so confused about the free market system.

You can grab the PDF here from the Institute for Faith, Work and Economics (IFWE). It’s only 11 pages long, without footnotes. It took me only 15 minutes to read it.

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