Re: basis for morality

David Campbell (
Mon, 5 Aug 1996 11:50:36 -0500

>Granting for the moment
>that "good" can be taken to mean "reflecting God's character", how
>do you go from the statement "This action is good" to the statement
>"I should carry out this action"? That is, without introducing the
>additional claim "I should do things that reflect God's character",
>a claim that seems to me to be as ungrounded as any in a secular
>theory of ethics. How do you get from "is" to "ought"?

"I ought to do good actions" would also get you from "This action is good"
to "I ought to do this". To me, this seems to be part of the definition of
a good action. Then, if you believe that God is absolutely good, actions
which He endorses are things which you ought to do.

>I mean this: when we say "God is good", we mean something more than that
>God is what God is. Rather, we already have some notion of what "good"
>is, and we're saying that God is (and is the source of) what we mean
>by good. That is a claim, and a potentially false one in principle,
>about the character of God. If, for example, I were to decide that
>there is a creator, but that he delights in malice, deceit and pain,
>then I would say that that god is evil, not that malice, deceit and pain
>are good. That's the only way I can see to use the words "good"
>and "evil" meaningfully.

The problem here lies in the fact that ">> Absolute morality can be
grounded only in God's character." You may decide that such a god is
"evil", but if someone else decides he's "good", you can't say that's
wrong. Evil and good, if defined by what seems right to any one person (or
group of people), are arbitrarily defined. Although many claim to endorse
this principle when their actions are under consideration (i.e., "I can
choose my own values"), everyone wants absolute standards to apply to the
way they are treated by others. This hypocrisy can be resolved only by
total moral anarchy, such as "might makes right", or by the existence of
some moral absolute, such as laws set by God.
From a Christian (especially from a Calvinist) viewpoint, there is
the additional problem of our fallen nature. Although there is an innate
sense of right and wrong in all of us, it is both fallible and
suppressible. Only by accepting God's definition of right and wrong can we
be sure we're correct.

Department of Geology
CB 3315 Mitchell Hall
University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
Chapel Hill NC 27599-3315