Dismiss Notice
Join Physics Forums Today!
The friendliest, high quality science and math community on the planet! Everyone who loves science is here!

Philosophy - Natural law question

  1. Sep 29, 2007 #1
    One question which I was meant to be doing has stumped me. It is "Can the basis of natural law be located other than in social convention?". I have written "Aquinas believed the basis of natural law to be located in God’s will and the fundamental nature of humans not being corrupted." so far but I don't really understand it?

    Does anyone have any input on this problem? Cheers
  2. jcsd
  3. Sep 29, 2007 #2
    Of course, like many things in philosophy it is somewhat a matter of semantics. How about this:

    "Good" is having the desire or behavior to generally increase the order in the universe.
    "Evil" is having the desire or behavior to generally decrease the order in the universe.
    "Order" is interaction.

    Thus "good" is interaction that leads to more interactions, and "evil" is interaction that leads to lesser interaction.

    For example, Nazism might be said to be based on the attitude that the more advanced (orderly) creatures should destroy the less advanced, so that following generations will be more advanced. The fallacy in this thinking, however, is that this selfish attitude in general eventually leads to less order, for two reasons: 1) There is no reliable and well-accepted way to judge which creature has more order and 2) when the philosophy is applied to all social settings (nation-nation, race-race, individual-individual) it removes trust from society, and trust, if it is anything, is a force that creates interaction between people.

    This fits in well with my definition of "God", which is infinite order. The atheist is obliged to explain that mechanism that he claims has placed a limit to the order of reality.
    Last edited: Sep 29, 2007
  4. Sep 29, 2007 #3
    If moral things are good because 'God' wants it, then morality is a meaningless concept.

    http://www.philosophyofreligion.info/divinecommandtheory.html [Broken]

    "The arbitrariness problem is the problem that divine command theory appears to base morality on mere whims of God. If divine command theory is true, it seems, then God’s commands can neither be informed nor sanctioned by morality. How, though, can such morally arbitrary commands be the foundation of morality?

    The emptiness problem is that on the divine command analysis of moral goodness, statements like “God is good” and “God’s commands are good” are rendered empty tautologies: “God acts in accordance with his commands” and “God’s commands are in accordance with his commands”.

    The problem of abhorrent commands is that divine command theory appears to entail that if God were to command abhorrent acts—malicious deception, wanton cruelty, etc.—those acts would become morally good."
    Last edited by a moderator: May 3, 2017
  5. Sep 29, 2007 #4
    This boils down to ambiguity in the definition of "God". If "God" is just some really smart and powerful entity, yet still guided by emotions as are men, then you are right; and there is no absolute definition of natural law. Therefore we need a definition of "God" that is not ambiguous. In my previous post, I give one. Now it is true we cannot fathom what infinite order might be. However, we can point in its general direction: We can know that infinite order requires that order be created rather than destroyed. Thus infinite order wants finite entities like us (which to some extent may be a part of that infinite order) to contribute to order rather than attack it.
    Last edited by a moderator: May 3, 2017
  6. Nov 2, 2007 #5
    I cannot see an unambiguous definition in your OP. Natural law can certainly be established if we look at evolutionary psychology and the biological origins of morality.
  7. Nov 6, 2007 #6
    Not really, 'evolutionary' just tells us what random developments ended up being selected for. Not what is best or right or good in anything but but a very limited way. Adaptation is basically the antithesis of 'morality', unless you are completely relativistic.
  8. Nov 6, 2007 #7
    They where selected for because they worked the best. Selection is not random, it is a non-random process. Add the ability of the human brain to use logic, being able simulate decisions and discussion and voilà, you have objective morality. There is no is-ought problem. It works the best (is), therefore we should follow it (ought). This applies to the largest questions on morality (descriptive, not prescriptive, which is called ethics), such as killing and other counterproductive actions.
  9. Nov 7, 2007 #8
    But the thing is, we still need a definition of the word "best" as you use it above. "Best" is that which lets us attain a goal the fastest and most efficiently--even if that goal is mayhem. We still must debate what goal it is that the word "morality" should imply. Of course, we are welcome to give any definition we like to any word, but I think this thread includes an underlying presumption that "morality" has something to do with increasing order rather than decreasing it--this is the common definition of the word I've seen throughout my life, and (especially after we well define "order"!) has the potential of being objective and unambiguous. At any rate we can't take the debate too far because it will end up being disagreements over the best definition for a word, which certainly is subjective.
  10. Nov 7, 2007 #9
    Not at all. What works the best is simply those biological morals that have had the highest reproductive benefits and those actions that our combined brains would simulate as the most logically successful in supporting people, the economy etc.

    Take murder for instance. Humans have biological instincts against it and one can logically deduce that living in a society where murder was deemed okay would be more harmful to your reproductive success and survival than a society where murder was frowned upon or punished.
  11. Nov 7, 2007 #10
    We're basically saying roughly the same thing, I think--"good" is that which leads to more order, and so does evolution. We only differ on whether "morality" should be defined as an ideal or as pursuit of an ideal. Evolution is a pursuit that is certainly never complete. For example we still have many attributes that helped us survive in a tribal/feudal/clan society which hinder our progress in a national/global society. We even still have attributes that helped our distant ancestors survive within a tribe of much competition between its members (i.e. selfishness). So I guess I'm saying, for my subjective idea of what the definition of "morality" should be, we should not use anything about our current evolutionary condition to define "morality" except to say that the direction evolution takes is toward something we define as moral. I'm just saying I think the definition of morality should be an ideal--which, again, is only my subjective opinion for what its worth.
  12. Nov 7, 2007 #11
    No, it provided an advantage in a certain situation. There could be some other trait that did not 'randomly' occur that would have been better. In any case its completely situational. Its not best, its simply what happened. Evolution works on the population level, not the individual level.

    I never said selection was random.


    Maybe not for you. But if what is, is what ought to be, then you are saying things like rape, murder and genocide are moral. They is, after all.
Know someone interested in this topic? Share this thread via Reddit, Google+, Twitter, or Facebook