Kant categorically rejected any theoretical proofs for the existence of an absolutely perfect or necessary Being.

He did, however, offer in their place a God that must be practically posited in order to make sense of our moral experience. This is not a rational demonstration for Kant but a practical presupposition. His reasoning runs like this:1 1. Felicity (happiness) is the desire of all human beings (what they want). 2. Morality (the categorical imperative) is the duty of all persons (what they ought to do). 3. Unity of these two is the greatest good (summum bonum). 4. The summum bonum ought to be sought (since it is the greatest good). S. The unity of duty and desire (which is the greatest good) is not possible by finite human beings in limited time. 5. But the moral necessity of doing something implies the possibility of doing it (ought implies can). 6. Therefore, it is morally (i.e., practically) necessary to postulate a. deity to make this unity possible (i.e., the power to bring them together) and b. immortality to make this unity achievable (i.e., the time beyond this life to do it). Kant's moral postulate may be stated in another form, which is somewhat more simplified: 1. The greatest good is that all persons have happiness in harmony with duty. 2. All persons ought to strive for the realization of the greatest good. 3. What persons ought to do, they can do. 4. But persons are able to realize the greatest good neither in this life nor without God. 5. Therefore, it must be assumed that there is a future life and God to achieve the greatest good. There are several obvious objections to this as a proof for God's existence. The postulate was not offered as a proof by Kant. And, as he said, it is in no sense rationally necessary. It is only practically required in order to make sense of one's moral experience. Further, if, against Kant's intentions, it is construed as a rational proof, then it has several loopholes. It is possible that the summum bonum is not achievable. Many philosophies have held that it is not. Further, it is possible that ought does not imply can. Some theologians (e.g., Luther) have held that people are indeed incapable of living up to God's moral requirements of them. Some have challenged the premise that duty and desire cannot be achieved in this life. One's duty may be to do the desirable or pleasurable thing, as hedonists and utilitarians contend. Finally, some have argued that the postulate only calls for one to live as if there is a God and an immortal state. That is to say, Kant's argument necessitates only the conclusion that one must live as though there were a God. Kant does not contend that the

From Kant's Critique of Practical Reason (bk. 2, chap. 2, sect. S), in Existence of God, PP. 137-43.

moral experience demands one postulate that there really is a God. These objections will suffice to show that, despite Kant's intents, the argument by no means demands that one conclude that there really is a God. • Rashdall: Positing God Is Rationally Necessary

However, what Kant did not do with the moral argument, others did. Hastings Rashdall, beginning with the objectivity of a moral law, argues that there must be an absolutely perfect moral Mind.230 1. An absolutely perfect moral ideal exists (at least psychologically in our minds). 2. An absolute moral law can exist only in an absolute mind, because a. Ideals can exist only in minds (thoughts exist only in thinkers). b. Absolute ideas exist only in absolute minds (not in individual minds). 3. Hence, it is rationally necessary to postulate an absolutely perfect mind as that in which the absolute moral ideal exists.

In support of the objectivity of the absolute moral idea Rashdall offers the following arguments: 1. Morality is generally understood as objectively binding. 2. The mature mind understands morality as being an objective obligation. 3. Moral objectivity is a rationally necessary postulate [something cannot be judged as better or worse unless there is a standard of comparison]. 4. Objective moral ideals are practically necessary to postulate. If the moral law is objective and independent of individual minds, then it must reside in a Mind that exists independently of finite human minds. It is rationally necessary to postulate such a Mind to account for the objective existence of the moral law. • Sorley: An Expansion of the Moral Argument

The moral argument rests heavily on the objectivity of the moral law, a premise that has not gained universal recognition. It is understandable, then, that the proponents of the argument would offer an expanded defense of this point. W. R. Sorley does precisely this in his statement of the moral argument.3 1. There is an objective moral law independent of humans' consciousness of it and despite their lack of conformity to it, as evidenced by the facts that a. Persons are conscious of such a law.

Ibid., pp. 144-52.


See Sorley, "The Moral Argument," in Philosophy of Religion: A Book of Readings, ed. George L. Abernathy and Thomas A. Langford, 2d ed. (New York: Macmillan, 1968), pp. 201-11.

b. Persons acknowledge its claim on them even while not yielding to it. c. Persons admit its validity is prior to their recognition of it. d. No finite mind completely grasps its fullness. e. All finite minds together have not reached complete agreement on its meaning nor conformity to its ideal. 2. But ideas exist only in minds. 3. Therefore, there must be a supreme Mind (beyond all finite minds) in which this objective moral law exists. Sorley is arguing that since there exists a moral law superior to, prior to, and independent of, all finite minds, then there must be a supreme Mind from which this objective moral ideal is derived. Further, Sorley notes an important difference between the argument from natural law and the moral law argument. Natural laws can be explained as part of the observational universe (having only formal necessity). Not so with the moral law. Being prescriptive on the world and not merely descriptive of the world, the moral law cannot be considered part of the scientific universe. It is more than the way nature is and more than what people do; it is what human beings ought to do whether they are doing it or not. And since this moral ought, unlike a natural law, is beyond the world, it cannot be considered a formal part of the universe. The moral law calls for an explanation beyond the natural world, for it comes from beyond the observable universe. It is a prescription on man's activity which is not descriptively reducible to man's activity. • Trueblood: Further Refinement of the Moral Argument

Elton Trueblood adds some significant dimensions to the moral argument, though his formulation falls generally in the tradition of Rashdall and Sorley. Trueblood formulates the argument in the following way: 1. There must be an objective moral law; otherwise a. There would not be such great agreement on the meaning of it. b. It would follow that no ethical disagreements have ever occurred (each person being right from his own perspective, if there is no objective view). c. No moral judgment has ever been wrong (each being subjectively right). d. No ethical question could even be discussed (there being no objective meaning to any ethical terms). e. Contradiction would result (since opposites could both be right). 2. This moral law is beyond individual persons and beyond humanity as a whole. a. It is beyond individual persons, for they often sense a conflict with it.

b. It is beyond all humanity, for they collectively fall short of it and judge the progress of the whole race by it. 3. This moral law must come from a moral Legislator because a. Law has no meaning unless it comes from a mind (only minds emit meaning). b. Disloyalty makes no sense unless it is to a person. c. Truth is meaningless unless it is a meeting of mind with mind. d. Hence, duty to and discovery of moral law makes sense only if there is a mind or person behind that moral law. 4. Therefore, there must be a moral personal Mind behind the moral law. • Lewis: Further Expansion of the Moral Argument

In recent years the moral argument has gained a wider hearing and reception through the writings of C. S. Lewis. His argument falls in the tradition of Rashdall and Sorley but incorporates additional aspects of Lewis's own thought. Here is a summary of his reasoning:4 1. There must be a universal moral law, or else a. Disagreements would make no sense (as we assume they do). b. All criticisms are meaningless (e.g., "The Nazis are wrong"). c. Promise and treaty keeping are unnecessary. d. We would not make excuses for breaking the moral law. 2. This moral law cannot be herd instinct, or else a. The stronger impulse would always win, which it does not (for the moral law sometimes sides with the weaker impulse). b. We would always be acting from instinct, which we do not. We sometimes act for instinct to bolster the weaker impulse (e.g., to help someone in trouble). c. Some instincts would always be right, which they are not (even mother love and patriotism are sometimes wrong). 3. This moral law cannot be mere convention, because a. Not everything learned is a mere social convention (e.g., math is learned through, but is not based on, society; it is valid independent of society). b. Judgment about the moral progress of a society makes sense only if the basis of that value judgment is independent of human society.


C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity (New York: Macmillan, 1953), chaps. 1-5.

c. Variations in value judgments are largely factual, not moral (e.g., witches are no longer treated as murderers, not because murder is now right but because as a matter of fact witches are not thought to be murderers). 4. The moral law cannot be identified with a law of nature, since a. The moral law is not a descriptive "is" but a prescriptive "ought." b. Situations equally factually inconvenient differ morally (e.g., a man who gets the seat I want in a bus because he was there first versus the man who jumped in front of me to get it). c. Sometimes factually more convenient situations are morally worse than those less convenient (e.g., a man who accidentally trips me is not wrong as is a man who tries to trip me but fails). d. Factually convenient situations can be wrong (e.g., a betrayal of one's friend). e. To argue that something is factually convenient to the whole race does not explain why I should do it when it does not pay me (unless I am under some universal moral obligation to do it, despite the fact that it is not desirable to me). 5. The moral law cannot be mere fancy because a. We cannot get rid of it even though we would sometimes like to do so. b. We did not make it; it is impressed upon us from without. c. Value judgments would be meaningless without it. 6. The person is the key to understanding this moral law because a. He has information that is more than merely descriptive (the prescriptive "ought" cannot be derived from a mere descriptive "is"). a. The source of this moral law must be more like a human (mind) than nature (law). Moral laws come from minds, not from matter. b. The source of the moral law cannot be merely part of the (descriptive scientific) universe any more than an architect is part of the building he makes. 7. Therefore, there is an absolutely perfect power outside of humankind which is more like mind than anything we know, since a. It gives us moral commands. b. It is very much interested in our behavior (i.e., in the keeping of these commands).

c. If it were not absolutely good, then all moral effort would be futile in the long run (e.g., we may be sacrificing our lives for the vain cause of "right" unless there is really an absolute "right"). d. This source of all right must be absolutely good, for the standard for all good cannot be less than completely good himself). Before concluding this argument, Lewis offered a critique of Bergson's creative evolution which would account for the presence of the moral law as a kind of immanent Life-Force within nature. This, said Lewis, has the comfort of believing in God (as opposed to a blind force) without the cost of believing in God (in terms of one's responsibility to a moral Being beyond this world). This view, wrote Lewis, is the greatest achievement of wishful thinking in the world. Furthermore, if the Life-Force can strive and purpose, then it is really a Mind after all, which is precisely what the moral argument contends.

Sign up to vote on this title
UsefulNot useful