Kreeft’s Case for God – Part 18: Interpretation of Argument #4

Kreeft’s Case for God – Part 18: Interpretation of Argument #4 March 3, 2018

In Part 17, I analyzed the logical structure of Peter Kreeft’s Argument #4, the Argument from Degrees of Perfection.  That clarification of the logic of this argument, however, is not sufficient to make it possible to rationally evaluate this argument.  The meanings of each and every premise in Argument #4 are UNCLEAR, making it impossible to rationally evaluate the argument as it stands.

 

SERIOUS UNCLARITY IN PREMISES (A) and (B)

Consider premise (A):

A. These degrees of perfection pertain to being.

This sentence can be divided into two parts: the subject and the predicate.  The subject of this sentence is “These degrees of perfection…”.  This phrase is a classic UNCLEAR reference, and it involves an UNCLEAR term “perfection”.  The predicate of the sentence is “…pertain to being.”  The meaning of this phrase is also UNCLEAR.  Thus, both the subject and the predicate of premise (A) are UNCLEAR.  This premise is what logicians refer to as a DSU (a Double Screw Up), because it consists of two UNCLEAR phrases.

Consider premise (B):

B. Being is caused in finite creatures.

This sentence is composed of a subject and a predicate.  The subject is “Being…”.  This is an UNCLEAR term that needs to be defined or clarified.  For example, is Kreeft talking about “coming to exist” or  “current existence” or “ways of being” or something else?  The predicate of this sentence is: “…is caused in finite creatures.”  This phrase is also UNCLEAR. What does Kreeft mean by “finite creatures”?  So, premise (B) is also a DSU, because it consists of two UNCLEAR terms or phrases.

Premises (A) and (B) are both parts of an initial inference in Argument #4:

A. These degrees of perfection pertain to being.

B. Being is caused in finite creatures.

1a. IF these degrees of perfection pertain to being and being is caused in finite creatures, THEN there exists a source and real standard of all the perfections that pertain to being.

THEREFORE:

C. There exists a source and real standard of all the perfections that pertain to being.

So, this initial inference in Argument #4 contains at least two DSUs.  When a single inference or sub-argument contains two or more DSUs, logicians use a special term to characterize such an inference: a CLUSTERFUCK (in polite company: a Charlie Foxtrot).

 

THE PURPOSE OF THIS POST

Now that I have introduced some technical terms of logical analysis, I can clearly state the purpose of this post:

I am going to attempt to un-CLUSTERFUCK the initial inference in Argument #4 of Peter Kreeft’s case for God. 

I honestly have no idea about whether I will be successful at accomplishing this goal, so I make no promises.  All I can say for now, is that I will make a sincere effort to un-CLUSTERFUCK this sub-argument.  In other words, I will try to interpret and to restate the premises of this sub-argument so that they are of significantly greater clarity, and so that they provide a plausible interpretation of this sub-argument.

 

THE SUBJECT OF PREMISE (A)

Once again, here is the doubly UNCLEAR premise (A):

A. These degrees of perfection pertain to being.

What is a “perfection” anyway?  Kreeft gives some hints in the paragraph just prior to the one where he uses the phrase “These degrees of perfection…”.  Kreeft opens that prior paragraph with these words:

Now when we think of the goodness of things… (HCA, p.54)

Kreeft also talks about some “ways of being” that are “better than” other “ways of being”:

…a relatively stable and permanent way of being is better than one that is fleeting and precarious. (HCA, p.54)

Based on these comments, it seems plausible that Kreeft thinks of a “perfection” as a characteristic that can make a being “better than” some other being that lacks that characteristic or that has the characteristic to a lesser degree:

Characteristic X is a perfection IF AND ONLY IF either:

(a) having characteristic X makes a being better than other beings which lack characteristic X (other things being equal),

or

(b) having characteristic X to a greater degree than another being, makes a being better than that other being that has a lesser degree of characteristic X (other things being equal).

 

The subject of premise (A) is an UNCLEAR reference:  “These degrees of perfection…”

My inclination is to look closely at the end of the previous paragraph to try to identify the reference of this phrase:

In other words, we all recognize that intelligent being is better than unintelligent being; that a being able to give and receive love is better than one that cannot; that our way of being is better, richer and fuller than that of a stone, a flower, an earthworm, an ant, or even a baby seal.  (HCA, p.54-55)

The phrase “these degrees of perfection” could refer back to the examples of “intelligent being” vs. “unintelligent being” and a being that is “able to give and receive love” vs. a being that “cannot” do those things.  In other words, an intelligent being has a higher “degree of perfection” than an “unintelligent being”, and a being that is able to give and receive love has a higher “degree of perfection” than one that cannot give and receive love (other things being equal).

The word “degrees”, however, suggests a range or span of different degrees from very low to very high, but Kreeft describes these two characteristics in terms of dichotomies, in terms of ON or OFF,  YES or NO.  Something is either intelligent or unintelligent.  Something is either able to give and receive love or it is not.  So, Kreeft does not talk about these characteristics in terms of degrees.

Nevertheless, it is obvious that intelligence DOES vary in degrees, that some beings have no intelligence, some are of low intelligence, some of moderate intelligence, some have a high degree of intelligence, and some are extremely intelligent.  The same thing goes for the ability to give and receive love.  So, although Kreeft talks about these two characteristics in terms of ON or OFF,  YES or NO, they are clearly characteristics that occur in various degrees in different beings.

The phrase “degrees of perfection” could also refer to an overall evaluation of particular kinds of beings.  This sort of comparison is implied in Kreeft’s evaluation of “our” (i.e. human) way of being in comparison to other kinds of beings: “a stone, a flower, an earthworm…” One being might, for example, have a low degree of intelligence, and a moderate degree of the ability to give and receive love.  Another being might have a moderate degree of intelligence, and a high degree of the ability to give and receive love;  a third being might have both a high degree of intelligence and also a high degree of the ability to give and receive love.  The third being, would have the overall highest “degree of perfection” of the three beings, other things being equal.

Based on the content of the end of the paragraph just before the one where Kreeft uses the phrase “These degrees of perfection…”, this could refer to either (a) the degrees of intelligence and the degrees of the ability to give and receive love, or (b) the overall evaluations of particular kinds of beings in view of their various perfections.  Another possibility is that intelligence and the ability to give and receive love are just two examples out of (c) many examples of “a perfection” that occur in various degrees in different beings.  So, the phrase “These degrees of perfection…” has at least three different possible referents, based on the contents of the end of the paragraph that immediately precedes the paragraph where Kreeft uses this phrase.

Before we try to select one of these possible interpretations, let’s try to clarify the predicate of premise (A).

 

THE PREDICATE OF PREMISE (A)

The predicate of premise (A) is UNCLEAR: “…pertain to being”.

On the one hand, there can be no doubt that we can find beings that have intelligence and beings that lack intelligence, and there can be no doubt that we can find beings with varying degrees of intelligence, from low, to moderate, to high.  The same is true of the characteristic of being able to give and receive love.  The term “intelligent” and the term “intelligence” does apply to some beings (e.g. humans) and not to other beings (e.g. rocks).  So, if the fact that the words “intelligent” and “intelligence” can be used of some beings and not other beings is sufficient to show that the “perfection” of intelligence “pertains to being”, then it is obvious that premise (A) is true.  Premise (A) is true IF we interpret it this way:

A1.  The characteristics of intelligence and of the ability to give and receive love exist in different degrees in different beings.

Although (A) would be true on this interpretation, this seems to be TOO OBVIOUS a point.  If this is the point Kreeft was trying to make, then he would NOT be struggling to make this point; he would not need to argue for the point at all, because it is simply too obvious to need support.  The fact that Kreeft devotes a paragraph or two to supporting (A) is a good reason for rejecting interpretation (A1), because (A1) is too obviously true, and has no need of support or justification.

Even a more general claim about “perfections” (beyond just those of intelligence and the ability to give and receive love) would still be too obvious to be in need of argumentation by Kreeft to support it:

A2.  Various characteristics that we consider to be perfections exist in different degrees in different beings.

Again, if this is all that Kreeft intended to claim in premise (A), then there would be no need for him to provide any argument or justification for (A); this is just too obviously true.  So, we also have good reason to reject interpretation (A2).

Kreeft made a comment that relates goodness or perfection to being, and I think that comment was an attempt to explain an idea that he has in mind when he wrote the phrase “…pertain to being.”  Here is the comment that seems relevant:

Now when we think of the goodness of things, part of what we mean relates to what they are simply as beings.  (HCA, p.54)

However, I don’t know what he means here.  I don’t see what he is getting at.  In the very next sentence, he uses the word “being”, but now uses it in the phrase “way of being”:

We believe, for example, that a relatively stable and permanent way of being is better than one that is fleeting and precarious.  Why? Because we apprehend at a deep (but not always conscious)  level that being is the source and condition of all value… (HCA, p.54)

So, my guess is that when Kreeft used the phrase “…pertain to being.”  he was NOT referring to the OBVIOUS fact that different things that exist have different degrees of various “perfections”, but rather to the “deep (but not always conscious)” belief that “being is the source and condition of all value”.   In other words, Kreeft is referring to a controversial claim of Thomistic philosophy.  If so, then premise (A) asserts or implies, among other things, that goodness or perfection is related to “being” in the way that Thomistic philosophy claims, a view which Kreeft sums up in the claim that, “being is the source and condition of all value”.

I am not an expert on Thomist philosophy, but I am aware of Kreeft’s view of the nature of evil: Evil is a Privation.   The view that evil is a privation, it seems to me, is the other side of the coin that Kreeft presents by claiming that “being is the source and condition of all value”.  So, if we spell out Kreeft’s view that evil is a privation, I think this would help to make sense of his claim that “being is the source and condition of all value” and thus to make sense of the UNCLEAR phrase “…pertain to being.”

 

KREEFT’S CONCEPT OF EVIL

In Chapter 6 of HCA, Kreeft discusses the problem of evil.  On pages 132 and 133, he lays out his concept of evil.  Here are some key comments from those pages:

Evil is not a being, thing, substance or entity.   …all being is good metaphysically, or ontologically, or in its being.  For all being is either the Creator or his creature. He himself is good, and he declared everything he created good (Genesis 1).  And that is all the being there is. 

If evil were a being, the problem of evil would be insolvable, for then either God made it–and thus he is not all good–or else God did not make it–and thus he is not the all-powerful creator of all things.  But evil is not a thing.  Things are not evil in themselves.  For instance, a sword is not evil. …Where is the evil? It is in the will, the choice, the intent, the movement of the soul, which puts a wrong order into the physical world of things and acts: the order between the sword and an innocent’s neck rather than a murderer’s neck or an innocent’s bonds.

Even the devil is good in his being.  He is a good thing gone bad… .  If he had not had the greatest ontological goodness (goodness in his being) of a powerful mind and will, he could never have become as morally corrupt as he is. … To be morally bad, you must first be ontologically good.

Even physical evil is not a thing. The lack of power in a paralyzed limb is physical evil, but it is not a thing, like another limb.  Blindness is a physical evil, but it is not a thing, like an eye. …

Evil is real, but it is not a real thing. It is not subjective, but it is not a substance. …It is a wrong relationship, a non-conformity between our will and God’s will.  God did not make it; we did. …

Here are some key points from these comments:

KP1. Evil is not a thing or a being.

KP2. No things or beings that exist are evil in themselves.

KP3. Every being or thing that exists is good.

KP4. Evil is a wrong order in the physical world of things and acts.

KP5. The choices of persons or agents bring about evil.

KP6. Evil is a non-conformity between our will and God’s will.

These are some key points in Kreeft’s view of evil, and because of the logical relationship between the concept of good and the concept of evil, these are also key points in Kreeft’s view of good.  Because Kreeft’s concept of “perfection” is grounded in the concept of “better than”, his concept of “perfection” is grounded in the concept of goodness.  Therefore, in order to accept Kreeft’s concept of “perfection” we must accept his concept of evil, we must accept (at least) the above six claims concerning good and evil.

Notice that (KP6) assumes that God exists.  This is a problem.  I believe that premise (A) of Kreeft’s argument asserts that Kreeft’s view of the nature of “perfection” is correct.  His view of the nature of “perfection” is based on his concept of good and his concept of evil, but his concept of good and his concept of evil include (KP6).  So, it looks to me like in order to agree with Kreeft’s view of the nature of “perfection”, we must first accept the claim that God exists.  But the whole point of the argument is to PROVE that God exists, so if accepting premise (A) requires that we first accept the belief that God exists, then Kreeft’s argument commits the fallacy of BEGGING THE QUESTION or CIRCULAR REASONING.

Recall the original words of premise (A):

A. These degrees of perfection pertain to being.

I think what Kreeft means here is this:

A3.  These degrees of perfection exist in accordance with my (i.e. Kreeft’s) view of the nature of perfection.

In other words, the phrase “pertain to being” is shorthand for a general theory about the nature of good and evil, in which all beings are believed to be good, and no being is evil, and evil is not a being, and evil is a non-conformity between the will of any agent other than God and God’s will.  It is shorthand for a general theory that INCLUDES the assumption that God exists.  Therefore, (A3) assumes or implies the existence of God, and thus (A3) BEGS THE QUESTION at issue: Does God exist?

If I am correct that premise (A) asserts Kreeft’s view of the nature of perfection, then that is a reason to prefer the broadest interpretation of the phrase “These degrees of perfection…”, because if (A) is asserting Kreeft’s view of the nature of “perfection”, then it makes more sense for him to be talking about perfection in general, it makes more sense that he is talking about making overall evaluations of the goodness of different kinds of beings (e.g. the overall goodness/perfection of a human being as compared with the overall goodness/perfection of “a stone, a flower, an earthworm, an ant, or even a baby seal.”  (HCA, p.55).  Here is my interpretation of premise (A) along those lines:

A4.  The overall degree of goodness/perfection of different beings varies from one kind of being to another kind of being given Peter Kreeft’s view of the nature of perfection, AND Peter Kreeft’s view of the nature of perfection is true.

Once again, accepting (A4) involves accepting (KP6), and thus accepting the belief that God exists.  So, just like premise (A3), premise (A4) BEGS THE QEUSTION at issue.

 

A REPLY TO CONSIDER

One possible reply to my objection that (A4) begs the question is to accept this interpretation of premise (A) but argue for a more limited set of Key Points to represent the view of goodness/perfection that Kreeft had in mind.  In other words, one could try to lay out a concept of goodness/perfection that incorporates some of Kreeft’s Key Points about evil, but that avoids any claims that ASSUME the existence of God.  We would need a neutral or non-theistic formulation of Kreeft’s concept of evil in order for such a reply to be successful.

One potential difficulty in laying out a non-theistic concept of “evil as a privation” is that the justification of this view that originated with Augustine, is a religious or theistic justification, e.g.  God created everything, and declared everything to be good.   So, if the view of “evil as a privation” is re-shaped into a non-theistic theory, it is unclear whether that view could be defended without, again, assuming the existence of God.

"Yes, and in "saying that they are wise" they are saying something that is FALSE, ..."

The Logic of Miracles
"Bradley and all,"Supernatural" and "miracle" are terms that I at least find very problematic, as ..."

The Logic of Miracles
"I disagree. I think the Christians (and their Christ) are clearlysaying that they are wise, ..."

The Logic of Miracles
"“Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like ..."

The Logic of Miracles

Browse Our Archives

Follow Us!


TRENDING AT PATHEOS Nonreligious
What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment