DCT, Concepts, Properties
October 7, 2010 — 14:20

Author: Andrew Moon  Category: Concept of God Divine Command  Tags: , , ,   Comments: 29

I’ve been trying to work out what I think about God’s relationship to morality. Recently, I’ve been enjoying Philip Quinn’s nice article in the Oxford Handbook of Ethical Theory. One question is exactly how God’s commands relate to wrongness. He quotes Robert Adams: “My new divine command theory of the nature of ethical wrongness, then, is that ethical wrongness is (i.e., is identical with) the property of being contrary to the commands of a loving God.” (p. 69).
Quinn responds, “I do not find [Adams’ view] attractive because it is ruled out by fine-grained criteria of property identity of a sort I consider metaphysically plausible. An example is of the criterion that property P is identical with property Q only if whoever conceives of P conceives of Q and vice versa. According to this criterion, being ethically wrong is not identical with being contrary to the commands of a loving God, since many people, especially nontheists, typically conceive of being ethically wrong without conceiving of being contrary to the commands of a loving God.” (p. 69) Quinn goes on to express his friendliness to a view on which wrongness supervenes on or is causally dependent on or made wrong by God’s commands; identity is too strong.
So, I was wondering about this criterion: property P is identical with property Q only if whoever conceives of P conceives of Q. Does anybody happen to know of any arguments for this claim?
Also, is it a possibility that when nontheists conceive of wrongness, they are conceiving of being contrary to God’s commands, but they just don’t realize that that’s what their conceiving? Maybe this is straining the notion of conception, but then Adams’ identity view could meet Quinn’s criterion.
Anyway, these are some areas in metaphysics and philosophy of language that I’m not too strong in, so I’d like to receive some help and perhaps references to literature.

Comments:
  • I think we either should strain the notion of conception like you suggest or we should reject the principle. It seems very plausible that being made of water and being made of (liquid?) H2O are the same property. (The “liquid” query is based on the fact that yesterday I interviewed a whole bunch of people, and could find no agreement on whether ice and steam count as “water”. So include or don’t include the “liquid” depending on where you stand on this.) So either we should say that one can conceive of something as being made of H2O without knowing that that’s how one’s conceiving of it, or else we should simply reject Quinn’s principle.

    October 7, 2010 — 15:03
  • christian

    I’ve spent *way* too much time thinking about this particular issue. It’s really hard.
    I can send you papers, if you like. Read Frank Jackson “From Metaphysics to Ethics” and Graham Oddie’s “Value, Reality, and Desire”. Lewis discusses this issue in “On The Plurality of Worlds” and there’s a recent paper by Bart Streumer in AJP called “Are Their Irreducible Normative Properties?”
    The way I see it, you have to take a stand on your concept of properties *of things*. Are they sparse or abundant. Then you need to get clear on hyperintensionality and the grounding relation. I personally think that necessarily coextensive properties can be distinct.

    October 7, 2010 — 15:26
  • Kraig

    Christian,
    I have a question regarding your opinion that “necessarily coextensive properties can be distinct.” That seems obvious to me. As far as I know, most people accept that claim that it is possible for one property to strongly supervene on another property (I say “strongly”to indicate that I mean a metaphysical supervenience, not just a causal necessity relative to this world) . But, if that is true, doesn’t it follow that there can be distinct and coextensive properties? Or am I missing something? Maybe when two properties supervene, but are not coextensive, the absence of the dependent property does not entail the absence of the independent?

    October 7, 2010 — 16:46
  • Mike Almeida

    An example is of the criterion that property P is identical with property Q only if whoever conceives of P conceives of Q and vice versa.
    This view can’t be right, if I’m following it. It seems to say that P is identical to Q iff. it is apriori necessary that x is P iff. x is Q. But then the property of being H2O is not the property of being water, since it is obviously not apriori that x is H2O iff. x is water. On the other hand, these are pretty clearly the same property.

    October 7, 2010 — 16:52
  • Mike Almeida

    oops. ignore that redundant comment. it’s essentially Alex’s point.

    October 7, 2010 — 16:53
  • Andrew Moon

    Christian,
    Thanks for the references.
    Mike and Alex,
    Well, I was taking it that water could be identical to H20 even if the properties being water and being H20 are distinct properties.

    October 7, 2010 — 17:00
  • Mike Almeida

    Is your strong supervenience (ss) Kim’s ss? Kim says something like this
    SS. An A-property strongly supervenes on a B-property if and only if for any possible worlds w1 and w2 and any individuals x in w1 and y in w2, if x in w1 is B-indiscernible from y in w2, then x in w1 is A-indiscernible from y in w2.
    But that makes it possible for x and y to be discernible with respect to the B property and and indiscernible with respect to the A property. So the ss properties are not necessarily co-extensive. That is, strong supervenience does not entail necessary co-extension.

    October 7, 2010 — 17:07
  • Mike Almeida

    Well, I was taking it that water could be identical to H20 even if the properties being water and being H20 are distinct properties.
    So, the stuff W picked out by ‘water’ just is the stuff H picked out by ‘H20’, but for something to be W stuff is not for it to be H stuff? Puzzling. Is that supposed ot be intuitive, or is this you biting the bullet?

    October 7, 2010 — 17:55
  • Andrew Moon

    Mike,
    Right, the properties are coextensive (exemplified by the same objects or stuffs) in all possible worlds but are themselves distinct. I have a clearer intuition about triangularity (the property of being three-angled) and trilaterality (the property of being three-sided), where it seems to me that they are distinct properties, but they are had by the same object in all worlds. If that seems intuitive, then that leads me to think that being H20 and being water could also be coextensive but distinct, and water is still identical to H20. I think that that’s what Christian was saying in the last sentence of his comment.

    October 7, 2010 — 18:13
  • Mike Almeida

    I have a clearer intuition about triangularity (the property of being three-angled) and trilaterality (the property of being three-sided), where it seems to me that they are distinct properties, but they are had by the same object in all worlds.
    But that’s an event stronger claim, since it is apriori necessary that something is triangular iff. if it trilateral. It’s just a geometrical theorem. So, even properties P and Q such that, apriori necessary (x is P iff. x is Q) are not necessarily identical? That I can’t believe.

    October 7, 2010 — 19:01
  • Kraig Martin

    Mike,
    Thanks. That helps me.

    October 7, 2010 — 20:14
  • Christian

    Andrew,
    Yes, that’s right. I agree with what you’re saying. But I agree with Mike (and Alex?) that the test of identity you mentioned won’t work.
    Kraig,
    A number of philosophers deny that properties that must be had by the same things can be distinct. Jackson and Streumer and Oddie are just a few.
    Mike,
    I think I believe what you can’t believe. I think a case like Andrew’s works. Pleasure is intrinsically good and merits desire. I think necessarily, x is intrinsically good iff x merits desire. I think this is a priori too. These properties are necessarily co-instantiated, but with Blanshard, I think something merits desire because it is intrinsically good. But ‘because’ here expresses an irreflexive relation, arguably, and so these properties are distinct.

    October 7, 2010 — 21:38
  • Mike Almeida

    I think necessarily, x is intrinsically good iff x merits desire. I think this is a priori too.
    Christian, that’s neither true nor apriori. Lots of things are intrinsically good and do not merit desire. Lots of things are intrinsically good and insturmentally bad, for instance, and so unworthy of desire. Let x be a pleasurable experience. Pleasurable experiences might be intrinsically good, but it is not worthy of desire if Smith will kill me at my very next pleasurable experience. Let y = life-shortening experience. Suppose it turns out true that, necessarily, pleasurable experiences are intrinscially life-shortening. The experiences are intrinsically good and intrinsically bad. No reason to think x’s such that x = y, merit desire. It is certainly not apriori that it merits desire.

    October 8, 2010 — 7:03
  • Mike Almeida

    It is difficult not to confuse epistemic issues with the metaphysical one here. That is, the reason one thinks that necessarily co-extensive properties might be distinct, I think, is that we can conceive of something having one of the properties without conceiving that it has the other. But this is a bad way to individuate properties. To use the cliched example, I can concieve of Hesperus having the property of being identical to Hesperus without thinking that it has the property of being identical to Phosphorus. But that’s only because of an epistemic limitation. I later discover that they are the same property. Someone could also think that 2+2 has the property of being identical to 4, but also think that it does not have the property of being identical to 12/3. Does that mean being identical to 4 is a different property from being identical to 12/3? That can’t be right. I think it’s just letting your epistemology govern your metaphysics.

    October 8, 2010 — 8:18
  • Heath White

    Well, nobody thinks that anyone who conceives “x is morally wrong” must necessarily conceive “x is contrary to the commands of God.” A fortiori, a smart philosopher like Adams did not think that. So that must not have been what he was thinking when he claimed these properties were identical. Consequently I am reluctant to take Quinn’s objection as a serious objection to the view held by Adams, rather than as an objection to the way Adams expressed it.
    The above discussion demonstrates, if nothing else, that “property identity” is a pretty slippery concept. So perhaps the thing to do would be to specify what relations hold between things which are morally wrong and things which are contrary to the commands of God. We can perhaps do semantics last.

    October 8, 2010 — 8:22
  • Wait Mike. An angle is a different thing than a side, right? If so, it seems that the property of having a side is different than the property of having an angle. So wouldn’t triangularity (the property of having 3 angles) be different than trilaterality (the property of having 3 sides)?
    But Andrew, the two properties aren’t necessarily coextensive, are they? They’re coextensive only if you confine yourself to closed plane figures–imagine a square and take away one side, isn’t that something that’s trilateral but not triangular?

    October 8, 2010 — 8:54
  • Kraig

    Consider the properties “being conceived of as Hesperus” and “being conceived of as Phosphorus.” These two properties themselves have different modal properties. (The property “being conceived of as Hesperus” necessarily has the property “being conceived of as Hesperus,” but the property “being conceived of us Phosphorus” does not necessarily have the property “being conceived of as Hesperus.”) This might cause one two conclude that these properties are necessarily distinct, and yet coextensive.
    However, consider that Superman has the property “Lois thinks he can fly”, but Clark Kent does not. It doesn’t follow that Superman is distinct from Clark Kent. As I learned recently, intensional properties don’t follow Leibniz’ Law.
    I am not sure if anything I said helps the discussion at all, but I have been thinking about it recently, and I am trying to get it straight in my head.

    October 8, 2010 — 9:22
  • Mike Almeida

    Consider the properties “being conceived of as Hesperus” and “being conceived of as Phosphorus.”
    Are those properties of that object? I don’t think so since ‘conceived of’ is referentially opaque. So, the otherwise referential term–the name ‘Hesperus’–fails to refer to Hesperus when it falls within its scope. For the same reason, the simple version of Descarte’s argument that depends on the premise, “I can doubt that my body exists but not that I do”, fails. On the other hand, if there is a de re reading of the ‘conceived of’ context, then there is no failure of substitutivity. Hesperus is conceived of (de re) as Hesperus if and only if Phosphorus is conceived of (de re) as Hesperus.

    October 8, 2010 — 10:34
  • Christian

    Mike,
    Typically, the relevant desire gets restricted. Something is intrinsically good iff it merits desire for its own sake (or something like that). So, your case is consistent with this. If x is intrinsically good and instrumentally bad, it merits desire for its own sake, but it is unworthy of desire for the sake of its consequences. I can’t wrap my head around the idea of an intrinsically life-shortening experience. In any case, I deny that a state of affairs can be intrinsically good and intrinsically bad (although it may have parts that are either).
    The math case is a good one. Tichy has an awesome paper about it “Constructions” in his collection of papers on Logic.
    Kraig,
    I think something like what Mike is saying is right. But maybe the following example would work for you: I have the property of being such that 2 + 2 = 4. I have the property of being such that nothing is red and green all over at the same time. Surely, these are different properties. But they are necessarily co-instantiated.

    October 8, 2010 — 11:06
  • Mike Almeida

    But maybe the following example would work for you: I have the property of being such that 2 + 2 = 4. I have the property of being such that nothing is red and green all over at the same time. Surely, these are different properties.
    You’ll need some way to determine what is a genuine property. Those are gerrymandered ‘properties’; I wouldn’t call them properties at all.
    I can’t wrap my head around the idea of an intrinsically life-shortening experience. In any case, I deny that a state of affairs can be intrinsically good and intrinsically bad (although it may have parts that are either).
    What we are looking for is something x such that x is intrinsically good and intrinsically bad. x is intrinsically good, on your view, if x has the property of being pleasurable. x is intrinsically bad if x has the property of being deadly or life-destroying. Wouldn’t that be a candidate for an intrinsically bad thing. It is not bad for any further reason than the fact that it is deadly. Suppose x has the intrinsic properties of being deadly and pleasurable. The analysis is false that says that that thing x, which is intrinsically good, is therefore worthy of desire. Here’s the analysis from above.
    IG. Necessarily, x is intrinsically good iff x merits desire. [I think this is a priori too].
    There are liquids X such that X is both pleasurable (intrinsically good)and deadly (intrinsically bad). But X clearly does not merit desire.

    October 8, 2010 — 12:45
  • Andrew Moon

    Tim,
    Sure, that’s right; we should limit ourselves to close-planed figures. Or we could also talk about the conjunctive properties being triangular and close-planed and being trilateral and close-planed, which seem to be different properties. For simplicity and purposes of discussion (and with the proper caveats in place), however, it’ll be easier to just talk about triangularity and trilaterality.
    And I thought the reasons you gave for thinking them to be different properties were moving.

    October 8, 2010 — 13:12
  • Christian

    M:
    “You’ll need some way to determine what is a genuine property. Those are gerrymandered ‘properties’; I wouldn’t call them properties at all.”
    Indeed. This is one of the issues that makes the debate tricky. To the extent that we widen the net to include these properties, the case for necessarily co-instantiated but distinct properties looks hopeful (I think). To the extent that we restrict what we count as a property, the opposite appears to be true. I agree. You won’t be surprised that I think properties are abundant. I accept the existence of gerrymander properties, I think they are simply “derived” or “less-basic” or less “fundamental” than their non-gerrymandered counterparts.
    “What we are looking for is something x such that x is intrinsically good and intrinsically bad.”
    Ok. I think this is like searching for the fountain of youth though. It would be like looking for something that is both 100 degree F and -100 degrees F.
    “x is intrinsically good, on your view, if x has the property of being pleasurable.”
    Oh no, I didn’t mean to imply that. I think that’s clearly false. I think states of affairs have intrinsic value, e.g. Smith’s being pleased, but I don’t think this state of affairs itself has the property of being pleasurable. I think an individual gets pleasure and the state of affairs of this individuals getting pleasure has intrinsic value. Anyway…
    “x is intrinsically bad if x has the property of being deadly or life-destroying.”
    I would say that, in this case, x has the property of being extrinsically bad. I think a preventative account of the badness of death is right, and so, I suspect that the same will be true for “life-destroying events” and “deadly events”. They are bad because of what they prevent, namely, goods. This involves a relation to that which is prevented (however this is supposed to be spelled out). I admit that this too is a tricky issue. Ben Bradley has a nice book on the topic, definitely worth reading.
    I think a candidate for an intrinsically bad thing is someone’s suffering. When such a state of affairs obtains, I say it merits aversion for its own sake (the converse of desire).
    “Suppose x has the intrinsic properties of being deadly and pleasurable. The analysis is false that says that that thing x, which is intrinsically good, is therefore worthy of desire. ”
    I think something can be worthy of desire for its own sake and unworthy of desire for the sake of something else. That’s all your case shows. But, if you could get me on board with thinking that one and the very same thing can be worthy of desire *for its own sake* and unworthy of desire *for its own sake*, I would drop the account above. Supposing something’s being deadly is bad, I’m going to say that it is bad because of what it prevents, and so, it is not bad *for its own sake*, but *for the sake of that which it prevents*.
    “There are liquids X such that X is both pleasurable (intrinsically good)and deadly (intrinsically bad). But X clearly does not merit desire.”
    I don’t think liquids have intrinsic value. They (I guess) might be valued, but I don’t think liquid is going to make it onto a plausible axiology of things that have intrinsic value. At any rate, it’s not on mine.

    October 8, 2010 — 13:33
  • Mike Almeida

    Wait Mike. An angle is a different thing than a side, right? If so, it seems that the property of having a side is different than the property of having an angle.
    Tim,
    The question is whether the property picked out by ‘being trilateral’ might be the same property picked out by ‘being triangular’. The fact that an angle is not a side does not entail that these are different properties. The property of being identical to the square root of 16 and the property of being identical to the number 4 also look like different properties. But they’re not. They’re exactly the same property referred to in different ways, under different descriptions. The property of bieng identical to Superman and the property of being identical to Clark also look like different properties. But again, these are the same property under different descriptions. So you cannot read off the differing property descriptions that you have different properties.

    October 8, 2010 — 13:50
  • Mike Almeida

    I think states of affairs have intrinsic value, e.g. Smith’s being pleased, but I don’t think this state of affairs itself has the property of being pleasurable. I think an individual gets pleasure and the state of affairs of this individuals getting pleasure has intrinsic value.
    I think you might be confusing intrinsic value with all-things-considered value. You tell me. Smith’s getting pleasure is intrinsically good. Smith’s getting his life-shortened is intrinsically bad. Now go to a world (perhaps our own) in which we discover that the state of affairs of Smith’s getting pleasure just is the state of affairs of Smith’s getting his life-shortened. Pleasurable states of affairs are life-shortening states of affairs. Call that state of affairs S. Now don’t confuse intrinsic value with all-in or all-things-considered value. A state of affairs can be intrinsically good witout being all-things-considered good. S is intrinsically good, since it is a pleasurable state of affairs. But S is also intrinsically bad, since S is also a life-shortening state of affairs. Think of the discovery that pleasurable state of affairs are identical to brain-cell-destroying states of affairs. All-things considered–when weigh both S’s intrinsic value and its intrinsic disvalue–S is all-things-considered bad.

    October 8, 2010 — 15:25
  • Christian

    M:
    “I think you might be confusing intrinsic value with all-things-considered value. You tell me.”
    I’m not.
    “Smith’s getting pleasure is intrinsically good.”
    Yes.
    “Smith’s getting his life-shortened is intrinsically bad.”
    No. It is extrinsically bad. I think it’s important to distinguish intrinsic properties from extrinsic properties.
    “Now go to a world (perhaps our own) in which we discover that the state of affairs of Smith’s getting pleasure just is the state of affairs of Smith’s getting his life-shortened.”
    There is no such world, thus, it can’t be our own.
    “Pleasurable states of affairs are life-shortening states of affairs.”
    This identity claim is not possibly true. What is possible is that a pleasure experience might cause one’s life to be shortened.
    “Call that state of affairs S.”
    This involves a false presupposition. There is no such state of affairs.
    “Now don’t confuse intrinsic value with all-in or all-things-considered value.”
    Ok.
    “A state of affairs can be intrinsically good without being all-things-considered good.”
    That’s false. A state of affairs might have a part that is intrinsically good but be all-things-considered not intrinsically good.
    “S is intrinsically good, since it is a pleasurable state of affairs. But S is also intrinsically bad, since S is also a life-shortening state of affairs.”
    There is no such S.
    “Think of the discovery that pleasurable state of affairs are identical to brain-cell-destroying states of affairs.”
    I have. I enjoy drinking whiskey. But there is no identity here.
    “All-things considered–when weigh both S’s intrinsic value and its intrinsic disvalue–S is all-things-considered bad.”
    A state of affairs can be intrinsically good and cause other states of affairs that are intrinsically bad, e.g. like the shortening of one’s life. The entire state of affairs will have good and bad parts. It can be overall bad. This is not a case in which a single state of affairs is intrinsically good and intrinsically bad. I have hand-shaped parts and I have foot-shaped parts. This does not entail that I am shaped like a foot and a hand.

    October 8, 2010 — 15:40
  • Mike Almeida

    A state of affairs can be intrinsically good and cause other states of affairs that are intrinsically bad, e.g. like the shortening of one’s life.
    This is not the case I provided. The problem is that you’re confusing all-things-considered value with intrinsic value. They’re not the same. The state of affairs is S. It is both intrinsically valuable and intrinsically disvaluable. It is both pleasurable and life-shortening. That is, the state of affairs of Smith’s getting pleasure and Smith’s getting his life-shortened. These are not two states of affairs. The life-shortening state of affairs just is the pleasurable state of affairs. Perfectly possible, and perhaps actual. All-things considered it is bad. So we have a state of affairs, namely S, that is intrinsically valuable but not worthy of desire. There’s the sought after counterexample.

    October 8, 2010 — 17:20
  • Christian

    M:
    “The state of affairs is S. It is both intrinsically valuable and intrinsically disvaluable.”
    I’ve denied that this is possible just like I would deny that something can be intrinsically square-shaped and intrinsically sphere-shaped at the same time. Being intrinsically bad is a property that, when possessed, entails that its possessor is not intrinsically good. To assume otherwise would be like saying something can be jointly intrinsically wrong and intrinsically right, intrinsically female and intrinsically male, intrinsically crazy and intrinsically sane, etc. . .
    I think your claim above is analytically false. If you mean something different by ‘intrinsically bad’ I don’t understand the way you’re using the expression. Your case of “life-shortening”, if anything, seems to be an obvious case of an extrinsic bad distinct from the intrinsic good of the pleasure associated with it. So, if you think it’s an intrinsic bad, I don’t know what you mean by ‘intrinsic’. Clearly, had you suffered a “life-shortening” event where it was true that you would have suffered agony without any pleasure afterwards, that event would have been good for you. So, whether the “life-shortening” event is good or bad for you depends upon extrinsic features of the state of affairs which is the “life-shortening” event, namely, how your life would have gone. So, its value or disvalue is extrinsic to it. In any case, I stick with this:
    necessarily, x is intrinsically good iff x merits desire for its own sake.
    moreover,
    x merits desire for its own sake because x is intrinsically good.
    and thus,
    being such as to merit desire is not identical to being intrinsically good.
    and this, even though
    being such as to merit desire is necessarily co-instantiated with being intrinsically good.

    October 8, 2010 — 20:47
  • The question is whether the property picked out by ‘being trilateral’ might be the same property picked out by ‘being triangular’. The fact that an angle is not a side does not entail that these are different properties. The property of being identical to the square root of 16 and the property of being identical to the number 4 also look like different properties. But they’re not. They’re exactly the same property referred to in different ways, under different descriptions. The property of bieng identical to Superman and the property of being identical to Clark also look like different properties. But again, these are the same property under different descriptions. So you cannot read off the differing property descriptions that you have different properties.
    I don’t that the cases are parallel, though. The truth-maker for “X is identical to the square root of 16” and “X is identical to the number 4” is the same–that X is identical to the number 4. So you’re right that, in the case of “being identical to the square root of 16” and “being identical to the number 4,” it’s one property picked out under two descriptions. But it seems to me the the truthmaker for “X is trilateral” is that X has exactly 3 sides, whereas the truthmaker for “X is triangular” is that X has exactly 3 angles, and that “angle” and “side” pick out *different* entities (unlike “Superman” and “Clark Kent,”) and therefore the properties of triangularity and trilaterality are different.

    October 9, 2010 — 10:37
  • Mike Almeida

    But it seems to me the the truthmaker for “X is trilateral” is that X has exactly 3 sides, whereas the truthmaker for “X is triangular” is that X has exactly 3 angles
    In fact, we find that the truth-makers are precisely the same. Go to any state of affairs in any world that verifies ‘x is triangular’. The very same state of affairs verifies ‘x is trilateral’.

    October 9, 2010 — 14:38