Criticisms of the Moral Argument

Summer Pearce
Slide Set by Summer Pearce, updated more than 1 year ago
Summer Pearce
Created by Summer Pearce over 4 years ago


AS - Level (Year 1) Philosophy (4d) Traditional Arguments for the Existence of God - Moral) Slide Set on Criticisms of the Moral Argument, created by Summer Pearce on 15/05/2016.

Resource summary

Slide 1

    Criticism of the Moral Argument
    The conclusion of the Moral Argument is one possibility, but it is not certain. We will only know if the Summum Bonum is real after we die. There is no logical reason why our sense of right/wrong comes from God. Moral behaviour doesn't have to be rewarded by happiness. If having a sense of morality is part of average life, then there is no need for God. Kant says that we all agree on some things as objectively right or wrong, however, different societies disagree about morality. e.g) Killing isn't always wrong, because capital punishment and war are allowed by some societies. There is no link between God and the afterlife. There could be a natural migration of souls as in Hindu reincarnation. 

Slide 2

    Sigmund Freud (1856-1939)
    Freud used a psycho-dynamic approach to prove that our upbringing defines the people we become. For instance, children are a product of their parents' treatment of them, not any divine causes. The conscience as described by Kant, is in fact a product of the unconscious mind, instead of being from God. Freud coined the term 'ego' to describe the conscious self, which is the personality of a person which everyone can see. Freud described the concept of the 'super-ego' as a subconscious set of  moral controls given to us by outside influences. We learn societal and moral rules through being praised and punished.  These two aspects of psychological activity represent the moral decision making mechanisms. Moral values are not objective, as Kant claimed, but instead come from our super-ego.
    Although we have the freedom to choose how we behave, the super-ego acts as an inner parent, or moral policeman, which rewards good behaviour and punishes the bad. Acting in accordance with the super-ego makes us feel virtuous, and disobeying it makes us feel guilty. The conscience is the result of the super-ego. Freud sees the super-ego as existing independently of our basic wants or desires, and sometimes at odds with rational thought.  Freud explained what influenced the super-ego, but not where it comes from.

Slide 3

    Freud, Religion and Innate Moral Awareness
    Our behaviour is influenced by psychological causes, and any mystical experiences people might have had are actually regressions into the comforts of their childhood rather than an awareness of an external force. Freud viewed religion as a 'universal obsessional neurosis.' This illness stems from the unconscious mind and incompletely repressed traumatic memories, which invariably stem from sexual trauma. Thus, Freud thought religion was an illusion stemming from seuxal difficulties. Religion provides a way for people to satisfy their desires such as; The world being orderedLife being meaningfulGod existingThe promise of reward for good behaviour after deathThis refutes Kant's argument. The Summum Bonum being achievable, if Freud is right, is a very persuasive human desire, but this in no makes it, or God, a postulate of pure reason or reality. 
    Caption: : The id is the unconscious itself including repressed desires, wishes and memories,. The id is controlled by the pleasure principle that compels us to find gratification and fulfil our desires, such as sexual drive.

Slide 4

    The killers of Jamie Bulger only served 8 years in prison on the grounds of social conditioning, as they were victims of abuse themselves. These ten year old boys were physically abused by their parents, and so, according to Freud, grew up having not properly learned that unsolicited violence is considered wrong. This theory explains why morality differs throughout different cultures and periods of history. e.g) A child that is born on an cannibalistic island may feel no guilt at eating human flesh, however a child raised in Birmingham would suffer immense guilt and crippling nightmares if forced to eat the same meal. If our conscience really is the voice of God, then why isn't it always the same message? The only conclusion is that our social background gives us a sense of morality, and that it doesn't come from God.
    Evidence for the super-ego
    There is no objective moral law because people disagree about the rules laid down by this law. Kant argues that telling a lie is wrong in all circumstances, however, it may be necessary to tell a lie to save someone's life. If the moral law was truly objective, then its demands would be apparent to all in all circumstances. The wide variety of rules of different cultures proves that there is no objective moral law and that morality is based on the expectations of a particular culture. We recognise the importance of certain rules because they meet the needs of a particular situation and facilitate human development in that particular context. In a different context, different rules may apply.

Slide 5

    Problems with Freud's theory
    Freud's psychological theory only used  five case studies to support his conclusion. These case studies were from the limited population of upper class Austrian women living in the strict 1900s.  Freud was challenged by others in his field who claim that his methods were unscientific. If Freud's rejection of an objective moral law is accepted, his explanation of the conscience can be criticised. There are simpler explanations that do not require complex concepts such as the super-ego.  Erikson and Fromm, for instance, trace our moral awareness to our recognition that certain things are of value to us and should be protected. Murder is judged as evil, because we recognise the value of life and justice. This shows that moral obligation is not just a result of other people's expectations, but is informed by our own reason.

Slide 6

    Evolution and Morality
    Richard Dawkins argued that perhaps our moral behaviour has come from how we have evolved. Over millions of years, we have learnt that we have a better chance of survival if we cooperate with each other, by forming alliances and avoiding killing or stealing. Thus, our moral code is not a great mystery. As a species, we have learnt that it pays to be sociable, and had we not learnt this, we would either be solitary animals or extinct. Because this works in our favour, the willingness to work together and avoid making enemies becomes the normal way of behaving. The feeling that working together and not fighting is the best thing to do remains as a powerful instinct inside of us. Our moral attitudes do not come from God, they are evolved attitudes that have helped us to survive. However, if there has been some divine hand at work to provide human beings with morality, then this criticism is ineffective.

Slide 7

    David Hume - 'is-ought' fallacy
    Hume challenged the notion that 'ought' implies 'can,' by stating that we cannot derive an 'ought' from an 'is.'  This is known as the 'is'-'ought' fallacy.  He claimed that we cannot move from a descriptive statement about the universe, such as, 'there is a bookcase in my living room,' to a prescriptive statement or normative claim, like the bookcase having a moral status. Hume challenges the notion that 'ought' implies 'can', which is integral to Kant's moral argument, by stating that it is a leap of logic to move from descriptive statement to a moral one.  Hume believed that morality was nothing more than an emotional response from the individual observing the world around them. If this were the case, then Kant's argument would fail in two ways; firstly the logic of the argument would break down, so much so that we would no longer have an obligation to achieve the Summum Bonum, as 'ought' does not imply 'can', and secondly the source of human morality would be derived from emotional responses to environmental stimuli. In essence, for humans there is no universal, objective moral law.

Slide 8

    Russell's Use of the Euthyphro Dilemma
    Bertrand Russell uses the Euthyphro Dilemma to disprove the existence of God. By definition, God has to be the most perfect being. If there is moral law, it stems either from God, or it does not. If the law comes from God (Divine Command Theory) then God is arbitrary. If it does then God is not subject to it. So God is either not essentially good (as he is arbitrary about what is right or wrong) or he is subject to an independent standard. Neither an arbitrary God nor a less than ultimate God is worthy of worship.

Slide 9

    Other Criticism
    Many philosophers have supported Kant's view that there is an objective moral law, although they do not generally agree with Kant's view that it comes entirely through reason. Aquinas argued that objective moral law comes from God, and that He wrote this law into the design of the world. He reasoned that by examining the world, we can discover the details of this law.  Brian Davies thought it was illogical to aim for the Summum Bonum, as we may never attain it. He also argues that the giver of the Summum Bonum does not have to be God, instead it could be 'a pantheon of very clever, Kantian-minded angels.'
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