The Intrinsic Value of Justice: Socrates’ Descriptive and Normative Response

Conceptions of justice have echoed throughout philosophical texts for centuries. The epitome of the enquiry occurs in Plato’s “Republic” when Socrates praises the intrinsic value of justice despite counterarguments from Thrasymachus, Glaucon and Adeimantus. I will begin by exploring Socrates’ explanation of the intrinsic value of justice. Next, I will use Immanuel Kant’s arguments to argue Socrates does not provide an adequate explanation of the intrinsic value of justice. I will then use philosopher Michael J. Zimmerman’s work to argue the intrinsic value of justice can take a descriptive or a normative form. Finally, I will use arguments by Kant, Zimmerman, John Stuart Mill and philosopher Rosalind Hursthouse’s explanation of virtue to demonstrate while Socrates’ conception of the intrinsic value of justice fails descriptively, it succeeds normatively. My hope is to merely provide a preliminary framework for future conversation.

Socrates’ Explanation of the Intrinsic Value of Justice

When speaking with Thrasymachus, Socrates asserts “the function of each thing is what it alone can do or what it can do better than anything else.”[1] Socrates asserts “it is by means of [each thing’s] own proper virtue that their function performs the things it performs well, and by means of vice badly.”[2] If a thing is denied its proper virtue, then it will function badly. Further, Socrates establishes the function of the soul is living.[3] Therefore, a soul must have a proper virtue and cannot perform its function of living well without its proper virtue.[4] Socrates and Thrasymachus agree “justice is a soul’s virtue and injustice its vice.”[5] Socrates asserts “a just soul and a just man will live well and an unjust one badly.”[6]

Glaucon then joins the conversation on behalf of Thrasymachus. Glaucon and Socrates agree there are goods valued “for [their] own sake” and not for their consequences (e.g. enjoyment), goods valued “for [their] own sake, and also for the sake of [their] consequences” (e.g. health), and goods we would only choose “for the sake of their rewards and other consequences” (e.g. medical treatment).[7] Socrates asserts justice is “the finest” good, “the one that anyone who is going to be blessed with happiness must love both because of itself and because of its consequences.”[8] Socrates asserts justice has both intrinsic and extrinsic value.

Adeimantus asks “How does [justice] −because of its very self− benefit its possessor, and how does injustice harm him?” and implores Socrates to “show what effect each one itself has, because of itself, on the person who has it −the one for good, the other for bad− whether it remains hidden from gods and human beings or not.”[9] Glaucon and Adeimantus question: If justice doesn’t result in benefits from society or the gods, even more if it is detrimental, then why be just? Why should justice be pursued for its own sake?

Socrates asserts there are three parts of the soul, each performing a function and endowed with a virtue: the rational part’s function is to rule aided by wisdom, the spirited part’s function is to protect armed with courage, and the appetitive part’s function is to provide for the appetites regulated by temperance.[10] The virtues of each part of the soul help each part perform its function well. Justice is, firstly, each part knowing its place and performing its own function, and secondly, the harmony of the parts working in unison.[11]  Socrates asserts what is called “just and fine [is] the action that preserves this inner harmony and helps achieve it.”[12] Socrates equates health with justice and asserts just as healthy actions lead to health, just actions lead to justice.[13] To achieve a healthy soul one must perform just actions, while performing unjust actions leads to an unhealthy soul.[14] Justice of the soul is a fourth virtue and “is a sort of health, a fine and good state of the soul.”[15] For Socrates, the virtue of justice is required for the health of the soul and the health of the soul is required for living well. Therefore, Socrates asserts the benefits for being just are a healthy soul and living well.

Applying Kant’s Concept of Intrinsic Value to Socrates’ Response

Socrates’ challenge is to offer a conception of justice that demonstrates how it is valued for its own sake. In response, Socrates asserts the value of justice, even if it is hidden from society and the gods, is its benefits to the soul, which are health and living well. Does Socrates’ response adequately address why justice has intrinsic value?

Kant offers a meaning of intrinsic value. He argues a good will is the only unqualified good, meaning it is intrinsically good regardless of what it achieves.[16] Kant states “A good will is good not because of what it effects or accomplishes, nor because of its fitness to attain some proposed end; it is good only through its willing, i.e., it is good in itself.”[17] Kant asserts “When it is considered in itself, then it is to be esteemed very much higher than anything which it might ever bring about merely in order to favor some inclination, or even the sum total of all inclinations.”[18] If actions originating from good will fail to achieve beneficial consequences, even if the actions achieve harmful consequences, a good will would “still shine by its own light as something which has its full value in itself.”[19] Actions have moral worth when they are based on intentions that are not comprised of inclinations toward an end.[20] Kant asserts actions performed based on inclinations toward an end could be in accordance with duty, and could achieve beneficial consequences, but would not be morally worthy because their “maxim lacks the moral content of an action done not from inclination but from duty.”[21]

Something has intrinsic value when it is admired merely for what it is, not for its beneficial consequences. Actions are morally worthy if they originate from a source of intrinsic value. Actions are not morally worthy if they originate from an inclination toward beneficial consequences. Why should a person be just even if they receive no benefits from society or the gods? Kant’s answer seems to be because their duty, which originates from a good will (a source of intrinsic value), requires it. If so, then justice is an extension of duty, thus has intrinsic value. Socrates’ answer is because the person’s soul is benefited from health and living well. Justice, in Socrates’ view then, is beneficial. Zimmerman defines extrinsic value as that which is valued “for the sake of something else and to which it is related in some way.”[22] To assert justice is beneficial is to assert the value of justice is extrinsic. If one reads Socrates’ explanation of justice as being a description of what justice is, then Socrates has not met the challenge posed because he reduces the value of justice to health and living well.

Descriptive versus Normative Conceptions of Intrinsic Value

However, what justice is (a descriptive explanation of justice) is a different question from why someone acts justly (a normative explanation of justice). Zimmerman defines the descriptive concept of intrinsic value as that which is “nonderivatively good,” meaning that which is non-reducible to some other good.[23] Based on Kant, Socrates fails to give a descriptive explanation of the intrinsic value of justice. However, Zimmerman argues Kant’s application of intrinsic value to a good will is best understood as a normative directive of how we ought to act towards rational beings as opposed to a descriptive account of what a good will is.[24]

Applying Mill’s Concept of Intrinsic Value to Socrates’ Response

Mill also infers intrinsic value could be normative or descriptive. He asserts utilitarians believe “actions and dispositions are only virtuous because they promote another end than virtue,” yet see it as a “psychological fact” that virtue is “to the individual, a good in itself, without looking to any end beyond it; and hold, that the mind is not in a right state, not in a state conformable to Utility, not in the state most conducive to the general happiness, unless it does love virtue in this manner −as a thing desirable in itself.”[25] Mill asserts “besides being means” virtue is a “part of the end.”[26] Like Socrates, Mill asserts virtue has extrinsic and intrinsic value.

Mill is asserting acts can originate from sources of intrinsic value and have extrinsic value. Mill’s point is to act and believe virtue is intrinsically valuable is a part of happiness, even though the effects of doing so are extrinsically valuable. One can read Socrates’ explanation of the value of justice as a normative directive for action, like Zimmerman ascribes to Kant. If Socrates is understood to be speaking normatively of the intrinsic value of just acts, like Mill describes, then Socrates meets the challenge. Socrates shows there is intrinsic value in the virtue of justice because the individual believes and acts as if there is. The extrinsic values of health and living well can only result from believing and acting as if justice is intrinsically valuable, and these extrinsic values don’t detract from the intrinsic value for the individual.

Socrates’ Normative Conception of the Intrinsic Value of Justice

Does reading Socrates as ascribing normative intrinsic value to just actions meet Kant’s criteria for the moral worth of actions? Hursthouse describes the embodiment of virtue as “a multi-track disposition” and a virtuous person as not concerned with consequences, but instead recognizing the “relevant reason” for performing virtuous acts is because to do differently would be un-virtuous.[27] The virtuous person values, even loves, virtue in itself.[28] Like Hursthouse, Mill describes the virtuous person as loving virtue simply for what virtue is. We can equate virtue with justice. A just person performs just acts simply because they love justice. For Kant, the intention, originating from a source of intrinsic value, to perform a just act makes the act morally worthy. If one has an intention, one must also have had considered the matter in order to develop the intention. However, per Hursthouse’s explanation of virtue, if the just person performs just acts, it is because they cannot act otherwise. Just people don’t consider nor intend to perform just acts, they perform the acts naturally. Kant’s most important criteria for moral worth is that the act originates from a source of intrinsic value. So, even if we remove the intention of the person, just acts based simply on the love of justice for its own sake would fit the criteria of moral worth.


Socrates asserts justice has extrinsic and intrinsic value. If Socrates is understood as explaining the intrinsic value of justice as a description of what it is, then Socrates doesn’t adequately describe the intrinsic value of justice because he reduces its value to health and living well. However, if Socrates is understood as explaining the intrinsic value of justice normatively, as meaning the just person cannot not perform just acts by their own very nature of loving what justice is, then Socrates not only meets the challenge posed by Glaucon and Adeimantus, but also meets Kant’s criteria for morally worthy actions.

[1] Plato, Republic, 353a; Morgan, pg. 92

[2] Ibid. 353c; Ibid.

[3] Ibid. 353d; Morgan, pg. 93

[4] Ibid. 353d-e; Ibid.

[5] Ibid. 353e; Ibid.

[6] Ibid.

[7] Ibid. 357b; 357c; 357c-d; Morgan, pg. 93-94

[8] Ibid. 358a; Morgan, pg. 94

[9] Ibid. 367d-e; Morgan pg. 99

[10] Ibid. 441a; Morgan, pg. 144; Lane, online; class notes

[11] Ibid. 443d-e; Morgan, pg. 146; Lane, online

[12] Ibid. 443e; Ibid.

[13] Ibid. 444c-d; Ibid.

[14] Ibid. 444d-e; Morgan pg. 146-147

[15] Ibid.; Lane, online; class notes

[16] Morgan,pg. 947

[17] Ibid.

[18] Ibid.

[19] Ibid. pg. 947-948

[20] Ibid. pg. 949

[21] Ibid. pg. 950

[22] Zimmerman, online

[23] Ibid.

[24] Ibid. Zimmerman argues attributing a descriptive reading to Kant’s conception of the intrinsic value of a good will would lead to inconsistencies in Kant’s overall body of work. He asserts if one were to read Kant’s conception of a good will descriptively, it would result in this world being the best of all possible worlds (because rational beings would have a good will intrinsically, thus infinitely, and this world is populated by rational beings) which Kant explicitly denies in other works.

[25] Morgan,pg. 1087

[26] Ibid.

[27] Hursthouse, online

[28] Ibid.

 Works Cited

Hursthouse, Rosalind. “Virtue Ethics.” Stanford   Encyclopedia of Philosophy. March 8, 2012. (accessed November 25,   2012).

Kant, Immanuel. “Grounding   for the Metaphysics of Morals.” In Classics of Moral and Political   Theory, by Michael L. Morgan, 947-950. Indianapolis/Cambridge: Hackett   Publishing Company, 2011.

Lane, Melissa. “Ancient   Political Philosophy.” Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy.   September 6, 2010.    (accessed November 25, 2012).

Mill, John Stuart.   “Utilitarianism.” In Classics of Moral and Political Theory,   by Michael L. Morgan, 1087. Indianapolis/Cambridge: Hackett Publishing   Company, 2011.

Plato. “Republic.” In Classics   of Moral and Political Theory, by Michael L. Morgan, 92-94; 99; 144;   146-147. Indianapolis/Cambridge: Hackett Publishing Company, 2011.

Zimmerman, Michael J.   “Intrinsic vs. Extrinsic Value.” Stanford Encyclopedia of   Philosophy. December 17, 2010.  (accessed November 25, 2012).


William Paley’s Teleological/Design Argument

Paley’s teleological argument is a form of Natural Theology. Natural Theology is based on empirical observations about nature and, when applied to argumentation, is a posteriori in that it relies on both reason and experience (class notes). Paley’s teleological argument at first examines at nature, independent of theism, and asserts we can know simply by reason and experience that the way nature works seems to be indicative of being intentionally designed toward some purpose (class notes; Ratzsch, online). Paley’s argument utilizes an analogy to make its point. Suppose you are walking along an isolated path and you find a watch (212). You would not assume, like you would perhaps for a rock, that the watch has just naturally developed on its own (212). The reason why, asserts Paley, is because upon examining the watch you see that it has several intricate, complicated, parts all working together in synchronicity in order to serve a purpose, and if any of the parts had been altogether different, they could not have performed the purpose (212). Paley asserts the natural world exhibits such intricate, complicated, synchronicity in its workings and these workings are in order to serve purposes, therefore, the natural world must have had a designer “who comprehended its construction and designed its use” (212-213). Even if we never experienced a watch being made, nor even knew what a watch was, we would know the watch had a designer because it is ordered, complex and has a purpose (class notes). Paley then draws a specific analogy between manmade things, such as a telescope, to natural things, the eyes, to assert the intricacies and complexities of the eyes must have been designed (114). The analogies offered by Paley are anthropomorphic, in that they implicitly assert the intelligent designer is human-like (class notes; Ratzsch, online).

Paley’s argument takes two forms, as an Analogical Design Argument and an Abductive Design Argument (class notes; Ratzsch, online). The analogical form of the argument is as follows (class notes; Ratzsch, online):

(P1) A watch is complex, ordered and purposeful.

(L2) A watch is designed. [P1]

(L3) A watch is complex, ordered, purposeful and designed. [P1+L2]

(P4) Organs are complex, ordered and purposeful.

(L5) Organs are designed. [L3+P4]

(L6) A watch is like organs in that both are complex, ordered and purposeful. [P1-L5]

(P7) Things that are alike typically have causes that are alike.

(P8) A watch has a human intelligent designer.

(L9) It is probable organs have a human-like intelligent designer. [L6-P8]

(P10) The designer of organs must be supernatural.

(P11) God is intelligent, supernatural and human-like.

(C) It is highly probable God is the designer.

The analogical form of the argument is inductive, meaning it takes certain observations and reaches a most likely, or highly probable, conclusion (class notes; Ratzsch, online). In order to be a strong inductive argument, it must satisfy two conditions: (1) there must be a high degree of similarity between the analogs, and (2) the similarities need to be relevant to the conclusion, meaning to what is trying to be proved (class notes). In the outline above, the analogs are “watch” and “organs.” If “organs” is used as the analog, it is not entirely certain as to why the designer of organs must be outside of nature as (P10) asserts, therefore, it would weaken the link to the conclusion that God is the intelligent designer (class notes). If “organs” is changed to “life” then it removes the designer more from nature, so it strengthens the link to the conclusion that God is the intelligent designer (class notes). However, at the same time it weakens (P4) making harder to come to (L5) or (L6) because it is not at all obvious that life is purposeful (class notes). The strength of the premises depend on the analog used, in that if “organs” is used it weakens (P10), whereas, if “life” is used it weakens (P4) and both options weaken the argument overall (class notes).

David Hume offered many responses to the analogical version of this argument. Hume argued if the analogy referred to life in general, then it fails, because life is not ordered, but instead seems to be chaotic and without purpose (class notes). Further, Hume asserts “it is impossible for us to tell, from our limited views, whether this system contains any great faults, or deserves any considerable praise” (220). Hume asserts our limited perspective on the “design” affords us no reason to assume the “design” is for some great purpose. Along the same lines, Hume argues there is “no reason […] for ascribing perfection to the Deity […] or for supposing him free from every error, mistake, or incoherence, in his undertakings” because  “There are many inexplicable difficulties in the works of Nature” (219). Hume argues if God did design the world, then he made lots of mistakes, such as diseases or other natural evils (class notes; Ratzsch, online). Therefore, if God was the designer, then it does not seem that God would fit with the traditional notion of God as an omni-being (class notes; Ratzsch, online). Since there are imperfections in the “design,” it leads us to believe the “designer” is not the God of traditional theism, and actually instead may be “an amateur designer or a committee of designers” (class notes; Ratzsch, online).

Hume also asserted the argument commits a categorical error and a fallacy of composition, in that the analogy between a watch and the world is weak (216-218). Hume argues a watch (which is empirically verifiable as human made) and the world (which its creation is empirically unverifiable) are too distant categorically to be used in the same analogy (216-218). He also argues just because the universe is made up of things which have an intentional ordering, it does not mean the whole universe also has an intentional ordering (216-218). Hume argues the examples are not analogous, because, to add to an example to Hume’s argument, living things propagate themselves but watches don’t (class notes). Hume asserts if the watch is made analogous to the world, then the analogy breaks down because the watch is within the world, but the world is all things (class notes). We can experience the watch, but we can’t experience the whole world, just parts of the world, so we can’t say the two are similar (class notes).

Hume’s responses don’t absolutely refute the analogical form of the argument because, for one, “it is simply not true that explanatory inferences cannot properly extend beyond merely what is required for known effects” (Ratzsch, online). In other words, observations based on experience and reasoning can result in generalized scientific findings which extend beyond what is being observed (Ratzsch, online). Secondly, Hume did not have an explanation for why it seems that less complex things in nature become more complex and how such things could happen on their own (class notes). However, at the same time, Hume’s arguments relevantly pointed out how things in the world may have “infinitely many properties in common and also differ in infinitely many” ways, so in order to assert the things are similar in one respect depends on what exactly is being compared and if what is being compared is relevant to the respect being examined (class notes; Ratzsch, online).

The second form of the argument is the abductive version and is as follows (class notes):

(P1) If there is an intelligent designer, then we can explain why life is intricately complex, ordered and purposeful.

(P2) Life is intricately complex, ordered and purposeful.

(P3) The best explanation of life being intricately complex, ordered and purposeful is that there is an intelligent designer.

(C) There probably is an intelligent designer.

The abductive version of the argument rests on a hypothetical premise (P1) asserting the probability of the consequent (P2), meaning, if X exists, then Y is likely to follow (class notes). If the hypothesis X is true, then we would expect Y to occur (class notes; Ratzsch, online). In other words, life being intricately complex “would be a reasonably expectable occurrence” if there were an intelligent designer (Ratzsche, online). Further, the abductive version also rests on the “superior explanatory virtues of a theory” which lend epistemic support to the theory and makes the theory more reasonable to be believed as likely being true (Ratzsch, online). If nothing can adequately replace the antecedent in the hypothetical premise, i.e. the existence of an intelligent designer, as an explanation for life, then one has sufficient reason to believe the argument (class notes)

Hume had no response to the abductive version of the argument because he could not provide any superior explanation as to why life would seem to be intricately complex, ordered and purposeful (class notes). However, Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution arising from natural selection and adaptability provided the superior explanation and provided a practically irrefutable alternative to intelligent design (class notes; Ratzsch, online). Darwin asserts Paley’s argument “fails, now that the law of natural selection” was discovered because “Everything in nature is the result of fixed laws” (Ratzsch, online). Evolution not only provided an alternate explanation for life, but provided a superior explanation in that while an intelligent designer is scientifically unpredictable, evolution is predictable (class notes). Further, evolution explains why there are imperfections in nature, whereas an explanation with an intelligent designer made the imperfections seem like a fault of the designer, which undermined the traditional concept of God or offered no explanation as to why the imperfections would exist if the designer were an omni-being (class notes). Although Hume had no explanation for the abductive version of the argument, he relevantly pointed out the problem with the imperfections, and then Darwin explained the imperfections (class notes).

Darwin’s findings severely weaken the abductive form of this argument. However, another form of design argument, called the Cosmic Fine-Tuning argument, asserts the probability is astronomically minute that (1) the quantum fluctuations which caused the big bang could have happened exactly as they did, and (2) following the explosion planets could have formed, and (3) a planet in which elements formed as they did to create water could have led to life (class notes; Ratzsch, online). So many necessary conditions, meaning intricately complex details, had to occur seemingly synchronously in order for human life to exist. It is argued, an intelligent designer is the best explanation for the improbability of necessary conditions having occurred (class notes; Ratzsch, online). However, some argue the conclusion that an intelligent designer is the explanation is just simply a “God of the gaps” appeal, meaning, just because we don’t know at this time what occurred to make the improbable happen, doesn’t mean we can just put God in to fill in the gaps of our knowledge (class notes; Ratzsch, online). However, to assert such doesn’t offer an explanation. By way of an explanation, some have offered Many-Universe Theories which assert, in line with theoretical physics, if there are multiple universes, perhaps even infinitely many universes, then the probability of the improbable occurring is not so minute (class notes; Ratzsch, online).  While the Many-Universe Theory increases the chances of a universe such as ours existing, some argue it is theoretically simpler, as per Occam’s razor, to espouse the design theory (class notes; Ratzsch, online).

Ultimately, I would have to argue that the design argument, even in the form of the Cosmic Fine-Tuning argument, doesn’t establish there is actually an intelligent designer. It seems like an appeal to ignorance to assert since we have no better explanation, it must be God. Just because we don’t know for certain right now what occurred to result in this universe doesn’t mean God exists and designed the universe this way. As Hume asserted, it doesn’t mean God exists, but is also doesn’t mean the God as espoused by traditional theists exists. It seems like the design argument is taking one scientifically unknown question (the universe) and answering it with a scientifically unknown explanation (God). Both are scientifically unknown because we have no hard evidence or experience of either, nothing concrete we can physically observe with our senses. If the issue was not scientific, but faith based, this would be different as it wouldn’t require scientific verifiability. However, the problem with the design argument, it seems, is it is trying to present a scientifically unknown explanation as a scientific option, when, it really is incapable of being scientific. 

Works Cited

Hume, David. “Critique of the Analogical Teleological Argument.” Michael Peterson, William Hasker, Bruce Reichenbach, David Basinger. Philosophy of Religion: Selected Readings. New York: Oxford University Press, 2010. 215-221.

Paley, William. “The Analogical Teleological Argument.” Michael Peterson, William Hasker, Bruce Reichenbach, David Basinger. Philosophy of Religion: Selected Readings. New York: Oxford University Press, 2010. 212-214.

Ratzsch, Del. “Teleological Arguments for God’s Existence.” 3 October 2010. Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. 21 October 2012.



Thomas Aquinas’ Cosmological Argument (The Second Way)

Aquinas’ Cosmological Argument examines the way contingent phenomena in the world are and seeks to establish God is the reason for such phenomena (class notes). Aquinas’ argument is an a posteriori argument in that it arrives to a conclusion based on reasoning from experience. Aquinas’ Second Way specifically examines causation and the causal contingency of the events in the world (Reichenbach, online). Aquinas utilizes Aristotle’s concept of a Prime Mover, the initial cause of all movement, to make his argument (class notes). Aristotle distinguished between four types of causes: (1) Formal Cause-the form the parts become arranged under, (2) Material Cause-the material the thing is made of, (3) Efficient Cause-generative or the process of how the thing is put together, and (4) Final Cause-the purpose of the thing (class notes). Aquinas’ argument is concerned with what Aristotle considered the Efficient Cause, meaning, what brought the event about (class notes). J. Howard Sobel’s articulation of Aquinas’ argument is as follows (class notes):

(P1) There exists sensible things and every sensible thing has an efficient cause.

(P2) If a thing has an efficient cause, it has exactly one efficient cause.

(P3) Efficient causes of things are prior to them.

(P4) Nothing is prior to itself (priority is irreflexive).

(P5) If X is prior to Y and Y is prior to Z, then X is prior to Z (priority is transitive).

(P6) In efficient causes it is not possible to go to infinity.

(L7) [P1-P7] There is, for all sensible things, a first cause that does not have an efficient cause and is not a sensible thing.

(P8) Such a first cause would be correctly called “God.”

(C) [L7+P8] God exists.

Aquinas is making several assertions. He asserts sensible things are of the natural world and require an efficient cause (class notes). Further, he asserts God would not be a sensible thing of the natural world, so would not require an efficient cause (class notes). Also, most importantly, Aquinas asserts it is impossible for there to exist an infinite regress of causation in the natural world, meaning, there must exist a first, necessary, self-existent cause which caused everything contingent or else nothing would exist now (184-186; class notes). Aquinas asserts an infinite regress of causation is impossible because, firstly, an infinite number of effects cannot be moved in a finite amount of time (184-185). Secondly, one can observe that an effect is initiated by a cause, and if you remove the cause, then you remove the effect (184-185). Therefore, if no first cause exists, then no subsequent effects would exist (184-185). Thirdly, Aquinas asserts all contingent causes require a cause, and if this regressed infinitely, then there would be no initial cause to start the causal chain (184-186). Per Aquinas, the first cause must be necessary and self-existent, meaning, it must not have a cause and it must be impossible for it not to exist, otherwise, it would just lead to an infinite regress (class notes). Therefore, the first cause must be God (class notes).

Aquinas’ argument, as Bruce Reichenbach explains, rests on the notion of the Principle of Sufficient Reason, which asserts contingent effects require “a sufficient reason for why” such effects exist, as they can’t just come into existence out of nothing (188). If an infinite regress of causes and effects occurred, we would never get a full explanation, giving both the reason and cause, of the existence of any effect (class notes; 191). However, it could be argued causation may not be an in depth explanatory concept, as (P1) implies (class notes). David Hume would argue what we mistakenly perceive as cause and effect relationships are merely correlations of events, and this explanation would fit with our experience of the world as well (class notes). Hume argues what are perceived as causes are not definite, these events could go on indefinitely because there is no necessary connection, the events are merely correlated (class notes). Further, Hume argues an explanation of the parts is a good enough explanation because “the uniting of these parts into a whole…is performed merely by an arbitrary act of the mind, and has no influence on the nature of things” (193). Along the same lines, Bertrand Russell “denies that the universe needs an explanation; it just is” (Reichenbach, online). Russell argues “since we derive our concept of cause from our observation of particular things, we cannot ask about the cause of something like the universe that we cannot experience” (Reichenbach, online). Reichenbach ultimately argues an explanation of the parts either refers to the parts in themselves or refers to something else, which would make the parts either necessary or contingent (193). As such, an explanation of the parts would lead to the explanation of the whole and any explanation which does not account for the whole would be incomplete (193-194). Per Reichenbach, God as existing necessarily is the best explanation because he does not depend on anything for his existence and he cannot not exist (194).

Another response to Aquinas is regarding (P6), the assertion that an infinite regress is impossible. Aquinas seems to assert an infinite regress is impossible because no efficient cause can be prior to itself and because if one were to take away the first cause then there would be no efficient causes (class notes). However, this line of reasoning assumes the existence of a first cause in order to argue if there wasn’t a first cause, then there would be no effects (class notes). It assumes there is a first cause in order to argue for a first cause (class notes).

Also regarding (P6), there is a distinction between an actual infinite, as in an infinite chain in the actual natural world, and a potential infinite, which is a theoretical concept (class notes). The difference can be seen when considering and counting numbers (class notes). In the actual world, one could never get a completed set of infinite numbers, because one could never be done counting numbers (class notes). However, potentially, the process of counting numbers never has to end, because it could go on infinitely (class notes). Aquinas, along the lines of Aristotle, argued there could not be an actual infinite (class notes). God could be infinite because he is supernatural, but the causal chain in the natural world could not be infinite (class notes).

William Lane Craig argues, in line with Aquinas, the concept of an actual infinity in the natural world leads to contradictions (class notes; 198). Craig utilizes an example by David Hilbert (class notes; 198). Hilbert’s Hotel asks one to consider a hotel with an infinite number of rooms, the rooms of which are all occupied by an infinite number of guests (class notes; 198). However, suppose one more guest arrives to check in, the hotel of course would accommodate the guest because it is infinite, so every guest adds one to their room number and moves to that new room number (class notes; 198). Essentially what’s happened is the set of the infinite, N, is now equated with the set of N+1, or N=N+1 (class notes). The example shows that N and N+1 are exactly equal, but this is clearly a contradiction (class notes). Now suppose an infinite number of new guests arrive, so every guest would then multiply their room number by 2 and move to the new room (class notes; 198). So now, the set of N is equal to the set of 2N, or N=2N (class notes). Suppose now that all the guests in the odd numbered rooms check out (198-199). In such a case an infinite number of guests would have checked out but there would still be an infinite number of guests still checked into the hotel, meaning, N-N=N (199). According to Craig these sorts of contradictions make an actual infinite impossible (class notes).

George Cantor noticed the problems with infinity prior to Craig utilizing the problems to argue against an actual infinite (class notes). Cantor wanted to figure out why ∞+1=∞ instead of ∞+1 or why ∞+∞=∞ instead of 2∞ (class notes; Weisstein, online). To explain the issues regarding the infinite, Cantor developed a Theory of Transfinite Numbers which distinguishes between ordinals, or numbers representing the elements in the order of the set-the length, and cardinals, or numbers which represent the number of ordinals in the set-the size (Weisstein, online; NYU-Poly, online). In other words, within a set such as {0, 1, 2}, the ordinals are 0, 1, 2 whereas the cardinal number is 3; there are three numbers in the set making the size of the set three. Per Cantor, at the finite level, the cardinal number has a one-to-one correspondence with the ordinals (class notes). At the finite level the ordinals and the cardinals line up, however, at the infinite level they split off and no longer represent a one-to-one correspondence (class notes). In other words, the relationship between subsets of numbers at the finite level, or the relationship between the ordinals and the cardinals, works out (class notes). However at the infinite level, the way of determining the size, i.e. cardinal, of the set of ordinals is different, and this is where Cantor introduces his transfinite numbers (class notes; Weisstein, online). At the infinite level, the words ‘size’ and ‘number’ no longer mean the same thing (class notes). What Cantor’s work arguably shows is that Hilbert’s Hotel is not a contradiction, it is just that numbers work differently at the finite level versus the infinite level (class notes).

I can’t say definitively Cantor’s work demonstrates a link between the theoretical and the physical notions of infinity, simply because I haven’t studied enough regarding the issue, but it would be something I would question the possibility of because there certainly does seem to be examples in physics which allow for absolute infinities in the natural world (Rucker, online). If actual infinities exist in the natural world, then could causation be an actual infinity? It seems the answer to this question may not be obvious. At the same time, Aquinas’ argument seems to be weakened by arguments against the necessity for an explanation at all for the existence of contingent effects, as well as issues with the validity of his premises. However, the biggest difficulty for Aquinas’ argument, and thus Reichenbach and Craig, to overcome is trying to answer why the necessary, first cause must be God. It is arguable that the necessary first cause could be a possible self-existent physical event. It seems even if one grants Aquinas has established the need for a necessary first cause, he hasn’t established why exactly this has to be the theists’ God.

Works Cited

Aquinas, Thomas. “The Classical Cosmological Argument.” Michael Peterson, William Hasker, Bruce Reichenbach, David Basinger. Philosophy of Religion: Selected Readings. New York: Oxford University Press, 2010. 184-186.

Craig, William Lane. “The Kalam Cosmological Argument.” Michael Peterson, William Hasker, Bruce Reichenbach, David Basinger. Philosophy of Religion: Selected Readings. New York: Oxford University Press, 2010. 197-204.

Polytechnic Institute of New York University. “07. Cantor’s Theory of Ordinal and Cardinal Numbers.” n.d. 21 October 2012.

Reichenbach, Bruce. “Cosmological Argument.” 27 September 2012. Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. 21 October 2012.

−.”The Cosmological Argument.” Michael Peterson, William Hasker, Bruce Reichenbach, David Basinger. Philosophy of Religion: Selected Readings. New York: Oxford University Press, 2010. 187-195.

Ruckner, Rudy. “Infinity and the Mind: The Science and Philosophy of the Infinite.” n.d. 21 October 2012. InfinityMind/IM.html.

Weisstein, Eric W. “Cardinal Number.” 2012. Wolfram Math World. 21 October 2012.

—. “Ordinal Number.” 2012. Wolfram Math World. 21 October 2012.

God’s Qualities of Omnipotence and Omniscience as Employed by Classical Theists

God would need to have certain attributes that distinguish him as being worthy of worship, such as necessarily being all powerful and all knowing (class notes). God as a being understood to exist having unlimited perfection, including omnipotence and omniscience, as per Perfect Being Theology, would seem to make God indisputably worthy of worship (class notes). St. Anselm espouses the definition of God, based on Perfect Being Theology, as “the greatest conceivable being” (class notes; Williams, online). Per Anselm, God must be “supreme among all existing things, who alone is self-sufficient” (Williams, online). Anselm asserts there exists in the world a gradation of attributes, meaning, different degrees of any single attribute (Williams, online). Anselm asserts the gradation of attributes must have an original source, the supreme being, and “that which is supremely good is also supremely great. There is, therefore, some one thing that is supremely good and supremely great-in other words, supreme among all existing things” (Williams, online).

God, per Anselm, must not only be omnipotent and omniscient, but must exist and contain these characteristics necessarily (class notes). If God just happened by chance to exist and /or just happened to exist with omnipotence and omniscience, then he wouldn’t be as worthy of worship because his existence and characteristics would have been dependent upon something else. God’s existence with the attributes would have been contingent, and contingency implies the source of existence as being determined by something else. Therefore, whatever gave God existence and his characteristics would be more worthy of worship than God. Further, if God’s existence with his characteristics is not necessary, then he could fail to exist, which would also affect whether he should be worshiped or not because he could not exist any longer, or at least he could exist but not be any more supreme than humans (class notes).

Therefore, per Anselm, God exists necessarily and has the qualities of omnipotence and omniscience necessarily which makes God worthy of worship. However, the notions of absolute omnipotence and omniscience have caused some problems for theists. Aquinas addresses some of the concerns regarding omnipotence. Aquinas addresses objections against God’s omnipotence which assert God cannot “bring about [just] any state of affairs” such as “necessary and impossible states of affairs” (Hoffman, Rosenkrantz, online). For example, a necessary state of affairs would be a square square. A being could bring about a square square only if a square square “would have failed to obtain” if the being didn’t bring it about (class notes; Hoffman, Rosenkrantz, online). But, a square square is necessarily square; it would be square regardless, meaning it couldn’t be not-square. Therefore, God can’t make a square square not-square; he can’t make a round square. An impossible state of affairs is similar, in that it is impossible for God to ever, at any time, in any world, make a round square. Per Aquinas, it would be a contradiction for a being to make the impossible occur, because then the impossible would be possible (Hoffman, Rosenkrantz, online). Aquinas states “God can do all things, is rightly understood to mean that God can do all things that are possible; and for this reason He is said to be omnipotent” (139). Therefore, for Aquinas God is omnipotent in the sense that he can do whatever is logically possible (class notes).

In Aquinas’ view of God, it seems logic is independent of God, and if so, it seems to take away some of God’s omnipotence (class notes). Rene Descartes, it is argued, disagreed with Aquinas by asserting God is not restricted by logic, meaning God can do the logically impossible by bringing about impossible and necessary states of affairs, because God created logic and can make the laws of logic different (Hoffman, Rosenkrantz, online; class notes). However, Aquinas argued logic is independent of God’s will, but not his intellect (class notes). Aquinas argued God’s intellect is necessarily rational, which restricts his will only to his rationality (class notes).

George Mavrodes draws attention to the “paradox of the stone” (141). The paradox of the stone asks simply: Could God create a stone so heavy even he can’t lift it? (141). If God couldn’t create a stone so heavy he couldn’t lift it or if God could create a stone so heavy he couldn’t lift it, then either way God is not omnipotent (141). Mavrodes utilizes Aquinas to answer this paradox, by asserting, firstly, the proposition “x is able to make a thing too heavy for x to lift” is not in itself contradictory, because any human could make something too heavy to be lifted by themselves (141-142). However, per Mavrodes, when the proposition is applied to God, regarding his omnipotence, it does become contradictory (142; class notes). As Mavrodes asserts, it is because “a stone too heavy for God to lift” becomes “a stone which cannot be lifted by Him whose power is sufficient to lift anything” (142). In other words, if God is necessarily omnipotent, then God couldn’t do something that would make him not omnipotent, this would be a contradiction (class notes). If, as Descartes claimed, God could do the logically impossible, then God could create a stone too heavy for him to lift “and still lift it,” however, it seems incoherent to assert the proposition “God creates a stone too heavy for him to lift and still lifts it,” because possibility and impossibility fail to have meaning (Pearce, online). Another response from Richard Swinburne asserts God could give up his omnipotence by creating a stone too heavy for him to lift, but he chooses not to because he is omnibenevolent, and giving up his omnipotence to do an illogical act would be wrong (class notes).

An objection offered against Aquinas’ notion of God involves the “‘McEar’ counter-example” (Pearce, online). Aquinas’ notion asserts God is necessarily perfect, and as such, anything which makes God imperfect wouldn’t take away from God’s omnipotence (Pearce, online). God could do anything that is logically possible for God to do and God’s inability to do something which makes him imperfect doesn’t take away from his omnipotence, because God can’t be imperfect. A definition for such a claim could be “a being X is omnipotent if and only if, for any state of affairs that it is possible for X to bring about, X can bring that state of affairs about” (Speaks, online). However, suppose a being necessarily exists who can only scratch his ear, thus it is impossible for this being to bring about any other states of affairs other than scratching his ear (Pearce, online; Speaks, online). If such a being could exist, then, absurdly, the being would fit the definition given for omnipotence (Pearce, online; Speaks, online).

Regarding omniscience, God would be omniscient if “for every proposition p, if p is true then [God] knows p,” which includes past, present and future propositions (Wierenga, online). If God were omniscient, in an absolute sense, then God would know everything, all of the events in all of time (class notes). The problem asserts that if God knows everything in all of time, then there could be no freewill because God, at the beginning of time, already knew every fact of the matter (class notes). If God is necessarily perfect, then his knowledge is necessarily perfect. Nelson Pike asserts freewill presupposes choice, but if God, having necessarily perfect knowledge at the beginning of time, knew that person X would commit action A at time T, then it would seem that X would have no choice in committing A at T (146; class notes). If X could refrain from committing A at T, then God would not have necessarily perfect knowledge, and thus not be omniscient (class notes). It seems to be a contradiction to assert God is omniscient and humans have freewill (class notes).

Boethius offers one response to this problem by asserting “God is timeless” (150). Per Boethius God exists outside of time in an “eternal now,” meaning, “God sees everything that ever happens all at once” as if it is all present for God (150; Wierenga, online). Therefore, Boethius asserts freewill is preserved because the future human act God sees as present is the act in which the human had already freely chosen to commit the act (151-152). In response, it doesn’t seem Boethius’ answer really solves the problem, because even if God sees everything as present, he is still seeing an act in the future of a human timeline before it was ever freely chosen, and if that is the case, the future act must be done if God is omniscient (class notes; Wierenga, online). Nicholas Wolterstorff proposes instead that God is “everlasting” because God changes and acts within human timelines (153-155). Per Wolterstorff, if God acts within human timelines and changes, then God would have some sense of existing within time, instead of outside of time (155-156). Further, Wolterstorff asserts, it is because God is within time, thus able to change and interact with humans, that God is worthy of worship (159). However, to assert Wolterstorff’s claim, it seems one would have to reject God’s omniscience as being absolute in the sense of foreknowing everything.

Open Theists also reject the notion that God has absolute omniscience regarding foreknowledge of human events, because, “God desires to be in a relationship with His created people in a manner that respects their freedom to respond to Him” and for him to respond back (Rissler, online). Per Open Theism, the future is not set and propositions about future events are not true or false (class notes). God is open is different possible futures and God may know a lot about possible contingencies, but doesn’t know anything that depends on freewill (class notes). One objection to Open Theism is that it takes too much away from God’s omniscience in that God may know all contingencies, but doesn’t know ultimately what action will be chosen. However, a counter response would be, if there is not a fact of the matter yet, because the proposition is not true or false, then it wouldn’t take away from God’s omniscience (class notes). Another objection against Open Theism is that it violates the Law of the Excluded Middle, in that the future propositions are neither true nor false (class notes). Further, if God is outside of time as Boethius asserts, God is independent of time. If God is inside time as Wolterstorff and the Open Theists assert, then God seems dependent on time. Making God more like humans in this sense limits God’s omnipotence, because he is now powerless over time.

Ultimately, the concepts of omnipotence and omniscience, as shown by these philosophers, are debatable. It seems like the theist struggles with trying to maintain a concept of God which makes God worthy of worship. If the theist takes away too much from God’s omni-qualities, then God becomes too much like humans to be worthy of worship. However, if the theist attributes too much to God’s omni-qualities, then God becomes too impersonal to be worthy of worship. Omnipotence seems like more of a coherent idea than omniscience. It seems one could fully accept that God can only do what is logically possible and still assert God is omnipotent, because this seems to resolve, instead of result in, a contradiction. However, if one asserted God is omniscient, it seems they would have to forfeit at least some of their freewill in order to avoid a contradiction. However, it seems the problem with omnipotence is defining what exactly is meant by omnipotence to still be able to attribute it to a God worthy of worship, because as shown with the McEar counter-example, if the definition is too broad it could apply to beings obviously unworthy of worship. Perhaps the theist can get around the problems associated with omnipotence and omniscience by simply rejecting God’s omni-qualities and instead asserting God is more powerful and more knowledgeable than any other possible being because God’s abilities run right up to infinity, but never reaching the infinite.

Works Cited

Aquinas, Thomas. “God is Omnipotent.” Michael Peterson, William Hasker, Bruce Reichenbach, David Basinger. Philosophy of Religion: Selected Readings. New York: Oxford University Press, 2010. 138-140.

Boethius. “God is Timeless.” Michael Peterson, William Hasker, Bruce Reichenbach, David Basinger. Philosophy of Religion: Selected Readings. New York: Oxford University Press, 2010. 150-152.

Hoffman, Joshua and Gary Rosenkrantz. “Omnipotence.” 12 January 2012. Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. 21 October 2012.

Mavrodes, George I. “Some Puzzles Concerning Omnipotence.” Michael Peterson, William Hasker, Bruce Reichenbach, David Basinger. Philosophy of Religion: Selected Readings. New York: Oxford University Press, 2010. 141-143.

Pearce, Kenneth L. “Omnipotence.” 9 November 2011. Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy. 21 October 2012.

Pike, Nelson. “Divine Omniscience and Voluntary Action.” Michael Peterson, William Hasker, Bruce Reichenbach, David Basinger. Philosophy of Religion: Selected Readings. New York: Oxford University Press, 2010. 144-148.

Rissler, James. “Open Theism.” 13 June 2006. Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy. 21 October 2012.

Speaks, Jeff. “Lecture 15-Paradoxes: Omnipotence and Omniscience.” 24 March 2011. 21 October 2012.

Wierenga, Edward. “Omniscience.” 1 February 2010. Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. 21 October 2012.

Williams, Thomas. “Saint Anselm.” 25 September 2007. Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. 21 October 2012.

Wolterstorff, Nicholas. “God is Everlasting.” Michael Peterson, William Hasker, Bruce Reichenbach, David Basinger. Philosophy of Religion: Selected Readings. New York: Oxford University Press, 2010. 153-159.