Reflections on Chesterton

07.16.2021 / Culture

I’m on a quest to read the complete works of Chesterton.

A foolish errand. But even he wrote a “Defense of Rash Vows.” https://www.gutenberg.org/files/12245/12245-h/12245-h.htm…

I think I’ve read all his novels.

In graduate school, for about two years, I had to drop my Books to Read list and focus only on philosophy. This was a hard sacrifice. I gave up fiction for the first time in my life. After the pain subsided, I reintroduced Chesterton only (Librivox free audiobooks) because reading him restores my sanity. Graduate school is not a sane place. And Chesterton is cheaper (and more effective) than most therapy.

But after the novels, you get into Chesterton’s vast ouevre: essay collections, short stories, poetry, biography, literary criticism, and philosophy. Where to start?

I worked through them all. Eventually, after finishing the novels and books… I had nowhere to turn.

I started on his essay collections: Alarms and Discursions, the Defendant, Tremendous Trifles. I wasn’t super excited about these because I thought they were “second best” to his full novel or book-length works.

Then it struck me – the obvious fact – that Chesterton is an essayist. Even his best novels (Man Who Was Thursday, Ball and Cross, Manalive, etc.) are a series of short stories.

Father Brown is precisely a series of short stories.

Chesterton is a short-form writer. That’s who and what he is. Decades of journalistic writing formed him irrevocably into such. Now I see that Orthodoxy and Everlasting Man are a series of essays. It’s obvious once you see it but I didn’t before.

So now, as a matter of responsible literary criticism, I have to go back to his essay collections and judge them as his primary and preferred medium.

Alarms and Discursions. Tremendous Trifles. The Defendant. All Things Considered. These are the water in which Gilbert is the happiest fish.

Given all that – and you may freely disagree thus far – I ask myself: Which is best? As of right now, I think Tremendous Trifles is the best thing Chesterton ever wrote.

I will always cherish Man Who Was Thursday and Orthodoxy. Don’t get me wrong: they are world-class works. They light me up and restore my sanity.

But Tremendous Trifles is perhaps the most Chesterton-y piece of Chesterton I’ve come across.

It smacks you upside the head with his wisdom, humility, wit, and pithy humor. Each essay, revolving around the theme that small things are great, crashes upon the imagination like wave after wave of the ocean until you wonder why you never knew it before – and then convicts you of the answer: your pride. You did not see the greatness of small things because you (wrongly) assumed you were bigger than them.

I do hope that our separated Roman brethren will canonize Gilbert Keith, and not just because of his middle name.

Finally, I recommend to you, dear reader, the Surrender of the Cockney, which I shall be trying to apply to my life in this new season: I shall try to see my new city (Riverside) as a bumpkin would see it: with awe. https://www.gutenberg.org/files/9656/9656-h/9656-h.htm…






My Final (Oct 27) Prediction -- Trump Will Win

10.27.2020 / Politics

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President Joe Biden?

It’s late October and it seems pretty obvious to many people that Joe Biden is destined for the White House.

So it’s time for my four-year prediction.

Biden is a superior candidate in many ways. He has experience (40 years to Trump’s 4) and he is a fairly normal politician. He’s an insider. He’s predictable. He doesn’t motivate people the way Bernie or even Kamala did. But he’s safe.

It was exceedingly strange that Trump won in 2016. But now that he’s “inside” the Republican party, he’s still less of an insider than Vice President Biden.

In addition to conventional wisdom, there are good reasons to think Biden will win:

Polls

Anti-Trumpism

  • Trump is the most hated president in decades. Just as much or more as they hated him in 2016, many people think he is an evil, clownish, silly, mentally unstable person.
  • Democrats, understandably, hate him. But many Republicans hate him too.
  • Although he has Breitbart and Drudge, most of the media hate him. Even Coulter and Drudge seems to have soured on Trump.
  • Actors still hate him.
  • Comedians and other artists still hate him.

My Bet

Nevertheless, after winning almost $5 on Predictit, I am again putting my money on Trump/Pence. Why?

For some gut reasons, and other more scientific reasons.

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BEST ARGUMENTS AGAINST RELATIVISM

05.14.2020 / philosophy

It’s the time of year again when I prepare to teach an online Intro to Philosophy summer course at Asbury University.

The opening unit is on moral or cultural relativism and moral realism or objectivity. So we have to think about whether morality is real. Are some things really wrong? Or is everything permissible? Does ‘permissible’ depend on what you can get away with in your particular setting? Does it depend on your individual conscience or universal rules?

On the “no, morality isn’t real, it’s a cultural artifact like dress codes, etiquette, and tribal medicine” side we read a nice little article by anthropologist Ruth Benedict outlining the widely varying cultural practices of different societies.

On “yes, morality is real and somethings are really wrong, dummy” side we read a nice little article by James Rachels.

Between these two, Rachels has the upper hand. There are better defenses of a skeptical or cynical attitude toward morality –Thrasymachus, Nietzche, Gilbert Harman, Simon Blackburn’s quasi-realism, and others. There are also better arguments for moral reality.

That got me thinking: What are the best arguments for morality? Here’s my list:

1. Peter Kreeft, Summa Philosophica, Q VII, “Whether there is a Moral Law?”

In 2 pages, Kreeft puts all the best arguments and counter arguments in one place. It’s airtight, and also funny.

#2. Russ Shafer-Landau, Moral Realism

Shafer-Landau’s book is not 2 pages, and it’s more technical, but it includes some persuasive destruction of the anti-realist arguments, along with a full defense of moral reality and one possible explanation of how it all works.

#3. Peter Geach, the Virtues

The first few chapters.

He has to clear the way for his full discussion of the cardinal virtues. He demolishes the paltry line of thought that morality isn’t real because some people act immorally sometimes.

#4. David Enoch, “How is moral disagreement a problem for moral realism?”

Again, this ones a bit technical compared to Geach or Kreeft but this article is the best attempt anyone has ever made (including moral anti-realists and relativists) at actually stating the argument from moral disagreement explicitly. It turns out that being clear makes the argument much less persuasive. Put differently, the argument for relativism depends on innuendo, suggestion. It is sophistry.

#5. CS Lewis, Mere Christianity, Book I.

Lewis lays out an argument, in terms the radio-listening public of 1950’s England could easily follow, for why moral disagreement proves that moral rules are real. (We wouldn’t argue over subjective feelings.)

#6. CS Lewis, Abolition of Man

Lewis’s more mature, robust, and academic offering on a similar topic. Not only does he defend moral realism against specious and shallow appeals to “instinct”, “biology”, or cultural code, but he goes beyond to analyze the real nature of immorality. The Abolition of Man defends the “tao”, a set of universal moral laws that are visible to every morally decent person but invisible to the type of Unman our culture is busy creating.

That’s my list of the best arguments, or those which have had perhaps the most influence on my way of thinking.

What’s yours?






Covid-19 and misfortune

03.24.2020 / philosophy

The Covid pandemic is a great misfortune.

Misfortune is no one’s fault – no human being’s fault that is – it is the will of God, or fate, or chance, or nature. No one person or group can prevent all misfortune. Asteroids, floods, plagues, pandemics, tornados, famines, are all examples. Even when a misfortune (like an oil spoil, a war, a breaking levy) is partially caused by human error, it is also partially caused by factors outside our control.

We cannot decide not to suffer misfortune. We must all suffer misfortune.

We cannot decide not to die, eventually. We must all die, eventually.

There are some misfortunes that are “pincers”, dilemmas that press in on us from both sides. Sometimes we are between a rock and a hard place.

In the present misfortune, consider the facts:

Everyone has a level of wealth: everyone has a livelihood, be they workers, business owners, investors, and those who live on support from others. The first category, the one who works for a living, depend on their job for livelihood. No job, living.

The second category: Everyone who works for someone else works for a business owner, and business owners depend on their employees and buyers and suppliers for livelihood. No businesses, no living (and no jobs).

The third category: investor. Everyone who lives off their investments depends on the success of those investments, be they loans or real estate or stocks or what have you.

The fourth category: those living on support. And everyone who lives on support from others depends on the others being able to support – the government cannot provide programs like unemployment, disability, SNAP, HUD housing, and a thousand others without tax money. Non-profits (including many hospitals) cannot provide charity without charitable donations from workers, business owners, investors and government grants funded by tax money.

In other words, the money circulating through the economy comes from all and to all. If the economy collapses, then all of us will suffer various permutations of poverty: the government and public sectors, the private sector, the non-profit sector, individuals, families, employees, business owners, and investors.

At the same time, everyone has a level of health: whether we are young, middle-aged, or old, and weather we are extremely healthy and strong, average, or weak, sick, and vulnerable. We are all vulnerable to injury, crime, sickness, and eventual death. This is always true, no matter how healthy we may be, for aging is (eventually) the ultimate killer. The Covid crisis puts our mortality front and center of our consciousness, and arouses our very human fear of mortality.

As the virus spreads, it continues to cause suffering and death. As the virus spreads, it continues to cause suffering in the hearts and lives of those who have lost loved ones or who are caring for loved ones. As the virus spreads, news of the suffering and death of others causes even the unaffected anxiety.

The “pincer” here is that we in some cases we are presented with an intolerable dilemma: we can either take courses of action that will cause more poverty, suffering, death, and anxiety or the alternatives which will cause more sickness, suffering, death, and anxiety.

So let’s not pretend that any course of action is the cause of misfortune, nor that any course of action will prevent misfortune.

Let’s take a microcosm example: when shopping for carseats for my first child, we were met with many options in terms of cost and safety. In a very real way, we were deciding how much we could afford to spend (as poor graduate students) and how much risk of death we could tolerate. Imagining losing our child in a car accident because we could have bought a more expensive (and presumably sturdier) carseat is a stomach-emptying type of image. And yet there were economic limits to what we could afford. We struck a balance and fared forward.

We all make these kinds of calls every day. If you don’t have a fire extinguisher in every room in your house, you are proportionally more likely to lose your house (and perhaps your life) in a fire. If you don’t have 1mil+ in life insurance on your life to protect your family, perhaps because you can’t afford it, then you are proportionally risking your family’s safety and health. But if you do buy fire extinguishers (which expire regularly) then there will be a financial cost that could go elsewhere; if you do buy millions in life insurance that money won’t be going elsewhere.

My sick father, when he came down with pancreatic cancer, had to decide how much of his retirement nest egg to spend on treatments. The longer he lived, the more of that money he would use to live – but the more he spent, the less he could pass on to his kids. Thankfully, much of his treatment was covered by tax-funded health insurance he had paid into his whole life. But the dilemma was still there? Increase chances of survival a small amount at the cost of my entire life savings? Not worth it. Increase chances of survival a large amount at the cost of a tiny portion of my life savings? Easy call. But most cases are not that simple.

With the Covid misfortune, there is no simple solution. The way forward for us (from what I am reading and thinking) seems to be a multifaceted approach: increase supply of ventilators and masks and other life-saving supplies, increase isolation and social distancing of the vulnerable, increase testing and scientific innovation for vaccines, treatments, cures, increase economic activity of those who are either low-risk enough to brave exposure or risk-tolerant enough venture forth, so long as they can avoid exposing others who are higher risk.

So what can we do?

  1. Take calculated risks, knowing that we may guess but do not know with certainty the full-impact of our risks to our health and wealth. Trust experts and our own intuition; these are social and personal decisions at the same time and neither expert nor personal opinion automatically trumps the other.

  2. Stay calm. Accept with a kind of Stoic dispassion that death comes to us all and that we must brave it – and some of us indeed hope for something after this life that is even better than this life.

  3. Don’t judge. We most emphatically cannot judge or blame those who are more or less venturesome than ourselves as reckless or cowardly, respectively. Rather, as a whole society we must make our bets with death and poverty and hope for the best, knowing that in the end there is no winning strategy except for hope in the almighty God.






David Foster Wallace Premature Review

01.11.2020 /

A PREMATURE REVIEW OF DAVID FOSTER WALLACE’S INFINITE JEST: HE’S A MIX OF OSCAR WILDE AND NIETZSCHE

Infinite Jest is essentially a comedy.

With a name like “infinite jest”, I suppose the book gives the impression of being a comedy. But who knows until you look inside? The content of the “novel” (if that’s what it is) confirms it.

Last night Lindsay had to listen to me embarrass myself melting into hysterics trying to read (with vision blurred by tears) the endnote detailing the filmography of Dr. James Orin Incandenza. One of the most bizarre and comedic things I’ve ever read.

I’m not sure what the necessary and sufficient conditions are for a thing being a “novel” (as opposed to an epic, or a series of essays, or a random mind-dump, or a made-up history, or a fairy tale) but Infinite Jest is definitely aiming to be funny, and it succeeds in its bizarro, breathless, cynical, sarcastic, unflinchingly obscene sort of way… so I’m going to stick with “comedy”.

So far, exactly zero of the characters are happy, virtuous, wise, or even minimally decent, so I’ll add that it’s a “dark comedy.”

The term “Infinite Jest” is from a line of Shakespeare, in Hamlet (also darkly comic?) referring to Yorrick as a “man of infinite jest” who is now dead, thus further confirming the the combination of both darkness and comedy.

It’s not a particularly edifying novel. “Interesting” doesn’t automatically mean “worth paying attention to.” I may not finish it for that reason.

There’s a trade off in how much Wallace’s cynicism wears off on me as I read. He is completely given over, in his writing, to a spirit of self-harm, numbness, and obsessively sensual descriptions of everything trivial and ridiculous. It’s tiresome.

When I contemplate a new philosophy or idea, my normal strategy I take it into myself through a persistent effort at philosophical imagination. I was a Hegelian for 12 weeks studying Hegel, a naturalist for 2 years studying naturalism, a Marxist for about three minutes while studying Marxism, a feminist for several years studying feminism, etc.

Like a polymer, I eventually bounce back to my natural shape, but while studying I exercise all my empathy to “try on” the way of seeing things.

This is more enjoyable, as it allows for intellectual “travel” around the world, and gets you out of your own biases if only for the moment. But it’s also important when considering the truth of the philosophy or dialoging with philosophers who subscribe to that idea.

That said, I can’t do it very long with Wallace that with Wallace would increase the chances of getting hooked on substances and giving up on life.

If the laughs are worth it, or if there is any genuine insight or wisdom to be gleaned, I intend to finish it. But we’ll see.

Wallace is observant but despairing. The very absence of transcendence and meaning scream from every witty phrase. In his wittiness, he is like a doped-up and obscene Oscar Wilde.

However, in his obsession with vividly describing the details of mundane phenomena (emptied as far as possible from any transcendent meaning or order) the only other author that he reminds me of is the great Friedrich Nietzsche. Nietzsche trolls you for pages and pages with descriptions of his digestion or defining the delicate shades of his reactions to the climate. He makes a mockery of the written word, even as he masters it, by aggressively refusing to write about anything important.

Maybe Wallace will end up on bookshelf next to Nietzsche, whom I also only read for the laughs (and the occasional flashes of insight), not for any wisdom about anything truly important, such as nature, man, God, philosophy, history, or language.






A Summary of One of CS Lewis' Less Read Books on the Psalms

11.29.2019 / Culture

Lewis’ Reflections on the Psalms (1958) is one of his last theological works. It is a collection of short essays revolving around single themes arising from the Psalms. He addresses the most difficult puzzles that might confront a modern Christian reader: the cursing in the Psalms, the self-righteousness, the fawning over God’s laws. How, Lewis asks, can we draw spiritual nourishment from the Psalms? What do we need to know to overcome obstacles to such nourishment?

He completed the Reflections just after Till We Have Faces and just before Studies in Words. [See a timeline of his complete works here.]

In content, it most resembles Letters to Malcom (Reflections is addressed humbly to the reader “as one amateur to another” and not a fictional friend). In style, it perhaps resembles most Studies in Words. One can also hear echoes of Till We Have Faces in chapter XII on the pain of “graduating” from a lower station to a higher station whether on the natural level (as when a young girl marries a powerful monarch) or the supernatural level (as when a human being becomes adopted by God).

Readers enjoy Lewis’ most mature theological reflections in this book, reflections which blessedly don’t restrict themselves only to the Psalms but rove around the Old and New Testaments and also outside Scripture. The only theological essays published later than this one are Letters to Malcom, which, again, are “about” prayer but move comfortably through a range of other topics.

Should you read it?

Lewisophiles should read Reflections on the Psalms for the same reason mountaineers simply must climb Everest: “because it’s there.”

Casual readers may be a bit confused at the abundance of literary references. Lewis’s intended reader seems sometimes to be a “theological amateur”, other times a fellow well-read classics aficionado familiar with the myth of Osiris, the Greek plays of Sophocles, and the philosophical writings of Plato.

That said, any sufficiently curious theological reader will learn much from reading the Psalms over Lewis’s shoulder.

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Re-thinking the Parable of the Lost Sheep

11.14.2019 / Culture

I’m re-thinking the parable of the Lost Sheep.

As you recall, Matthew (in chapter 18) talks that “IIf a man owns a hundred sheep, and one of them wanders away, will he not leave the ninety-nine on the hills and go to look for the one that wandered off? And if he finds it, truly I tell you, he is happier about that one sheep than about the ninety-nine that did not wander off. In the same way your Father in heaven is not willing that any of these little ones should perish.”

In context, it sounds like Jesus’ comment at the end means something like, “God welcomes lost sinners.”

Luke is a bit more clear: “I tell you that even so there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents, than over ninety-nine righteous people who need no repentance.”

Fair enough.

But consider that Matthew’s gospel is built around five “discourses” or long speeches/conversations between Jesus and various audiences. Each discourse, in a way, revolves around the Kingdom of God.

Indeed, Matthew’s gospel is about the kingdom of God:

  1. The first line references Jesus’ descending from David, the first good King of Israel, highlighting Jesus’ royal lineage.
  2. Jesus first words (not spoken to the devil in the Garden) are “repent, for the kingdom of God is at hand,” (4:17). This message echos John’s message (3:2). Jesus is announcing inviting repentance and announcing the kingdom.
  3. The first discourse is the Sermon on the Mount and begins with the beatitudes, which state that certain people are “blessed” (divinely happy) – why? Because “theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” So the first sermon opens with a description of who the kingdom belongs to: the mournful, the poor in spirit, the unjustly persecuted, the hungry after righteousness, etc.
  4. The second discourse is Jesus sending out the disciples to “conquer” Israel (like Joshua sent out armies to conquer the promised land!) by – you guessed it – preaching the kingdom. He tells them what to say (10:7): “proclaim as you go, saying, ‘The kingdom of heaven is at hand.”
  5. The third discourse shows Jesus keen understanding that not all will welcome the kingdom nor enter it. The parables of the Sower and others show how some will reject the kingdom.
  6. Now we come to the fourth discourse. It begins with the disciples “getting it” that the kingdom is here. They know it, and they have accepted it. They are the “good soil” from the Sower parable. But now they have questions: who is the greatest? Again, Jesus defies expectations: it’s people like children who are greatest in the kingdom of heaven – because children are humble. (18:4).
  7. Then then, after a discussion of receiving of temptation, he pivots immediately to talk about the Parable of Lost Sheep, followed by what to do if your brother sins against you; the parable of the unforgiving servant, What’s the transition? How do these connect? Obviously, the interpretation that God welcomes sinners makes sense. But is there more? This is what I’m re-thinking.
  8. Perhaps the fourth discourse is all about how to live in the kingdom: not only be humble, but be forgiving (like God is forgiving). Go seek lost sheep. Forgive your brothers 490 times. Doing these things makes one great in the kingdom.

That’s my hypothesis. Perhaps it’s obvious that the parable of Lost Sheep isn’t just about God’s relationship to sinners, but a kingdom subject’s relationship to fellow subjects in the kingdom, but I never saw it before.

Your thoughts? Know of any Patristic commentary on this matter? What’s Augustine and Chrysostom and Aquinas and Maximos and Lewis say? I haven’t checked these yet.






The Use/Mention Distinction in Sinatra

11.09.2019 / Culture

The stars get red and oh, the night’s so blue And then I go and spoil it all By saying something stupid like [mention] “I love you” [mention] I love you [mention] I love you [use] I love you.”

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For non-philosophy friends, what is the use-mention distinction? Paraphrasing the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy: One of the dangers of quoting terms is that a confusion might arise between their mere mention (quoting) and their use.

Since the time of philosopher Frege (d. 1925), the semantics of quotations have been studied thoroughly. (Semantics is the science of meaning.)

How do these things called quotations work? What is going on when we mention words or phrases without using them? How do we avoid confusion?

Donald Davidson says, ‘When I was initiated into the mysteries of logic and semantics, quotation was usually introduced as a somewhat shady device, and the introduction was accompanied by a stern sermon on the sin of confusing the use and mention of expressions’ (Davidson 1979, p. 79)

A silly example: Asserting that the ‘Bachelor’ has eight letters is different from asserting that the latest Bachelor (John, say) owns some letters, eight to be exact. Catching many use/mention differences are easy. Others are harder.

I think the above song (which I love) plays on the distinction by including the quotation “I love you” at the end of each stanza, then repeating it at the end (with both voices!) until the ‘mentioning’ fades and the ‘use’ arises to replace it.






The Wheel of Time Journey

10.10.2019 / Culture

I just finished reading the Wheel of Time.

At a staggering total of 11,308 pages, Robert Jordan’s masterpiece is longest continuous narrative about a single hero ever written by a human being.

It’s 11x the size of Lord of the Rings (1,000 pages); almost 4 Bibles (3,000 pages) and almost 3 Harry Potters (all seven books combined are about 4,200 pages).

It’s 4 million words.

Robert Jordan (and, after his death, Brandon Sanderson) wrote 4 million words about how Rand al’Thor, the Dragon Reborn, and his friends save the world.

I enjoyed the series, with some serious disclaimers. But this post is not about my review of the content. It’s about the sheer magnitude of the project of writing (and reading!) this beast of a series.

A whole bunch of statistics can be run on this series. For example, from Reddit: “There are 4.41 million words in WoT. The average adult reading rate is 250 words per minute. Thus, the average adult would require 17640 minutes (294 hours) to read it all.” That’s only 48 minutes a day, without fail, for a whole year.

Here’s my statistics. Which books I read when:


1994: Read Book 1, 2, 3. (age 12)
1995: Read Book 4, 5, 6.
1996: Re-read Books 1-6, read Book 7.
1997: N/A
1998: N/A
1999: N/A
2000: N/A (starting college)
2001: N/A
2002: N/A
2003: N/A
2004: N/A (finished college)
2005: N/A
2006: N/A
2007: N/A
2008: N/A
2009: N/A
2010: N/A
2011: N/A
2012: N/A (starting grad school)
2013: Re-read Book 7. Read Book 8.
2014: Read Book 9.
2015: N/A
2016: N/A
2017: N/A (finished grad school)
2018: Read Book 10, 11, 12, 13.
2019: Read Book 14. (age 36)


In a real way, I grew up with Robert Jordan and his characters.

I began the book in my teens and didn’t really pick it up again until a few years ago. (You can see quite the hiatus from 1996-2012.) In 2013 I resolved to read more fiction as a counterpoint to all the academic reading I had to do for school and hence read a few more of the series. Then, in 2018, I resolved to finish the series even if it killed me.

The only thing I will say by way of review is this:

Sanderson’s writing is far superior to Jordan’s, which helped the ending to be satisfying, after all those years.

Fans of the Wheel of Time should be excited for Amazon’s adaptation.

What fantasy or sci-fi series do you recommend for my reading list?






Are we morally obliged to give the poor?

07.05.2019 / Philosophy

Yesterday, I received an email from a reader that asks a question about moral obligation and giving to the poor:

Hi Keith, I came across an argument that I’d like your opinions on in terms of its premises and conclusions. I have my own but I don’t have a lot of experience in philosophy and so I wanted to hear the thoughts of a professional.

“It is sad that some people live in poverty in our country, but what is there to be done? Some people, such as highly educated doctors or visionary business leaders, contribute more to society, and so reap richer rewards. Why should they be under any obligation to give away some of their hard-earned wealth? If the government were to force them to do so in order to help people who contribute less, that would clearly be unfair”

This is the argument that I was hoping to hear your thoughts on. Thank you in advance and hope to hear from you soon.

A summary

As I understand it, the argument quoted includes the following reasonable assumptions:

  • Everyone has a right to the rewards they earn through contributing to society (Assumption 1)
  • Poverty is sad – unfortunate, undesirable, etc. (Assumption 2)
  • It is good and morally praiseworthy for the rich to give some to the poor (Assumption 3)
  • It is bad and morally impermissible for the government to force the rich to give to the poor (Assumption 4).
  • (A fifth, and unstated assumption, is this one) It is morally obligatory to do what is good (Assumption 5)

The paragraph is responding to an argument that might have gone like this:

Premise #1. It is morally obligatory to do what is good (Assumption 5) Premise #2. It is morally good for the rich to give some to the poor (Assumption 3) Conclusion #1. It is morally obligatory for the rich to give some to the poor (from 1-2).

The paragraph responds by questioning the conclusion. Why should the rich be forced to give to the poor? There are two kinds of force: moral force and legal force. Moral necessity arises from people having a conscience and binding themselves to just behavior. Legal necessity arises from a government or ruler enforcing laws. The paragraph argues that neither type of necessity forces the rich to share with the poor because everyone has a right to the rewards they earn through contributing to society.

A response

Here’s my response:

Assumptions 1-4 are all true.

Assumption 5 is false: Not all morally good actions are morally obligatory actions.

For example, it would be noble or honorable for me to quit my job and serve in a non-profit. However, it is morally permissible for me to stay at my day job. It would be honorable and praiseworthy for me to volunteer every evening at the local homeless shelter, but I am morally within my rights not to do so.

The scale or spectrum of moral value has four sections:

  1. morally necessary,
  2. morally forbidden,
  3. morally permissible (but not beneficial); and
  4. morally permissible (beneficial but not obligatory).

For example, it is morally necessary that I raise my kids well and love them; it is forbidden that I beat and abuse my children; it is permissible but not beneficial to yell and scream at them; it is permissible and beneficial but not necessary that I tell them every day, “I love you.” How much affection and unconditional love a parent shows to the child is up to them – obviously, the more the better but each has to do what they can.

So the conclusion the paragraph is refuting is indeed false: it is not morally obligatory for the rich to give away all their money (or even much) to the poor. However, there is a moral necessity that we share some amount with the poor and tithe or donate some amount to God and his workers. The amount is not defined exactly by morality nor by law. It is up to the individual to decide how much of their own hard-earned money to give away – obviously, the more the better but each has to do what they can.







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