Critically assess the significance of Augustine’s teaching on human relationships before the Fall. [40]

This AS question from 2018 is possibly the worst I have seen, and the mark-scheme does little to show that it is a reasonable question to have asked students, let alone AS students, in an examination. Nevertheless, because it is a past question student might encounter it and it is certainly worth considering how it might be answered.

St Augustine taught that human beings existed in a state of CARITAS before the Fall, loving God and loving each other as themselves in an ideal state of AMOR or agape and friendship.  In the City of God Book 14 St Augustine described how God “created man with such a nature that the members of the race should not have died”, such as being IMMORTAL and so in no need of SALVATION.  For St Augustine, human beings had BONA VOLUNTAS before the Fall, much the same as what Kant later describes as a GOOD WILL.  Their choices were directed by REASON and they had, therefore, a UNIFIED WILL and not the DIVIDED WILL that characterizes human nature after the Fall.  It follows that, for St Augustine, the whole blame for the FALL and the evil, suffering and death that it caused, lies within human beings and not with God.  St Augustine’s teaching on human relationships before the Fall is, therefore, a highly significant part of his Theodicy and particularly his Free Will Defence; without his teaching about human relationships before the Fall, St Augustine could not explain how God, being OMNIPOTENT and OMNIBENEVOLENT, allows evil and suffering to exist within His creation.   

Firstly, St Augustine’s teaching on human relationships before the Fall shows that the original choice to disobey God and sin was free in the sense that there were ALTERNATE POSSIBILITIES.  St Augustine is clear that with a unified, good will (BONA VOLUNTAS), human beings would have no reason to disobey… it made no sense to do so.  Although St Augustine saw LUST as the explanation for human beings choosing to do what it made no sense to do, he is also clear that “they are in error who suppose that all the evils of the soul proceed from the body”.  If the body was the source of LUST and what caused us to sin, God as the creator of the body would still be responsible for our sin and its consequences, nullifying St Augustine’s Theodicy.  For St Augustine, it was “the sinful soul that made the flesh corruptible”, so the choice to disobey God was internal to Adam as the agent and not determined by any external factor, even his own body.  The fist sin was man having the PRIDE to live according to his own desire and not God’s, so disobeying God and following his CARNAL WILL.  It follows that St Augustine’s teaching on human relationships before the Fall is highly significant, making his THEODICY and particularly his FREE WILL DEFENCE work.   

Secondly, St Augustine’s teaching on human relationships before the Fall shows that everybody is a SINNER in need of SALVATION through God’s GRACE.  For St Augustine, all human beings were “seminally present” in Adam (God “was pleased to derive all men from one individual”), meaning that all human beings were originally created having BONA VOLUNTAS and existing in CARITAS, not just Adam and Eve, and all human beings sinned against God and earned the punishment for sin which is death (Romans 5), not just Adam and Eve.  This shows that all human beings are capable of CARITAS and that AGAPE as a moral imperative has force, being towards something that our PRE-LAPSARIAN STATE shows that we can do.  In this way, we fully deserve God’s punishment in this life and the next for existing in a state of CUPIDITAS.  Indeed, if God did not punish us (harshly) for our CUPIDITY, God could not be just because then there could be no incentive to change and do what we know we should.  Further, St Augustine’s teaching on human relationships before the Fall supports his teaching about the Fall and Original Sin, which in turn supports his teaching that we depend on God’s GRACE for SALVATION and can in no way deserve or earn it for ourselves.  St Augustine utterly rejected PELAGIANISM, pointing out that it limits God’s OMNIPOTENCE (suggesting that we decide who is saved, not God), OMNISCIENCE (suggesting that the future is open and unknown to God) and OMNIBENEVOLENCE (suggesting that God only saves those who deserves it, when in fact His goodness extends to saving all those who don’t deserve it).  St Augustine agrees with St Paul, who wrote

“For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”  Romans 8:38-39

If we are saved, then we are pre-destined for salvation by God’s Grace, and nothing on earth can change that. For these reasons as well, St Augustine’s teaching on human relationships before the Fall is highly significant in his wider THEODICY and THEOLOGY for that matter.   

Nevertheless and despite is significance, St Augustine’s teaching on human relationships before the Fall is problematic.  

Notwithstanding the damning consequences of accepting the story of the Fall as conveying deep truth about human nature (Centuries of SEXISM, MISOGYNY and repressed SEXUALITIES flow from the story of the fall, including our pre-lapsarian state – being seen as ARCHETYPAL in the way that St Augustine’s teaching encourages) St Augustine’s teaching about human relationships before the fall depends on seeing the Bible as containing deep truth, when BIBLICAL CRITICISM casts doubt on this.  Textbooks are wrong to claim that St Augustine was a naïve literalist in the modern sense, seeing the Fall as historical, when he was fully aware of the different genres that the Bible contained and was amongst the first to develop rules for the interpretation of scripture, and yet St Augustine did rely on the Bible conveying truth, albeit in a more complex way.

Further, St Augustine’s teaching on human relationships before the Fall and how they relate to human nature today depends on an antiquated notion of how human beings reproduce.  Although Aristotle’s theory from “On the Generation of Animals” that the male is the efficient cause of his children (the woman only providing the material causes) was commonly accepted in St Augustine’s day, making his claim that all humanity was “seminally present” in Adam seem plausible, the discovery of the human ovum in the 17th Century undermined St Augustine’s claim.  It may be that the potential for all life was contained within Adam and Eve, but while Adam was fully culpable for his sin in the Fall, arguably Eve was not. Eve’s relationship with God was secondary and God’s command not to eat from the tree given to Adam before she was created. Eve’s sin would in breaking God’s commandment would be towards Adam, who she had been created to help… but then she thought she was helping Adam as the fruit was “as good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom…” If all humanity was not, as St Augustine suggested, “seminally present” in Adam it does not follow that all human beings sinned in his sin or are justly punished in dying for it.

Also, as John Hick pointed out in “Evil and the God of Love” (1966) p173, St Augustine’s attempt to use human nature to explain the fall and justify God in allowing evil and suffering “considered as a contribution to the solution of the problem of evil… only explains obscurum per obscurius.”  Even if we ignore the problems with taking the story of the fall literally in either a historical or scientific sense, St Augustine blaming human nature for the fall – whether in the body or the soul – does little to excuse God from responsibility for the evil and suffering that frail nature causes, because God created that frail nature and God is supposed to be both OMNIPOTENT and OMNISCIENT… in other words he could have done better and should have known how it would turn out.  

It seems that St Augustine’s teaching on human relationships before the Fall is BOTH highly significant AND deeply problematic.   

The extent to which this is true can be seen in Immanuel Kant’s “Religion within the boundaries of reason alone” (1794).  Kant, as a Lutheran, was deeply influenced by St Augustine, but wanted his philosophical system to work without relying on faith.  Like St Augustine, Kant believed that human beings are born FREE, that we choose to do what is wrong against reason and that this has a permanent effect on our moral character, limiting our freedom.  While Kant called what limits the human ability to have a good will RADICAL EVIL rather than ORIGINAL SIN, the concepts are sufficiently similar for Goethe to claim that Kant had “criminally stained his philosophers’ cloak with the shameful stain of original sin.”  For Kant, as for St Augustine, the possibility for human beings to have a good will (BONA VOLUNTAS) is significant, because it ensures that we can do what we rationally know we should do.  Without evidence that it is possible to have a good will, Kant would be arguing that we should do what nobody can do, which is irrational.  Without evidence that it is possible to have a good will, there would be no CATEGORICAL IMPERATIVE or reason to believe that we really are free or that the universe is really ordered as it appears to be.  For Kant, living in an age where Biblical Criticism made taking Genesis literally impossible, Jesus was the evidence that it is possible to have a good will and live in a state of what St Augustine called CARITAS, so in this way through Jesus we are “saved” from despair through the knowledge that in Jesus what we know we should do is possible.  Jesus is the evidence that human nature “before sin” is and can be good and so the evidence that we should be good, despite the otherwise seeming impossibility of having a good will by Kant’s definition.  Despite this, like St Augustine, Kant’s teaching on the good will is deeply problematic because human beings are born and grow up through a state whereby that are not capable of having a good will – childhood.  As children we are bound to do what is right, not out of a sense of duty, but out of fear, deference to authority or habit… all of which would make the “right” action pollute the will as much as an obviously wrong action, and pollute it permanently, holding us back from ever achieving a good will as an adult.  While Jesus shows that it is possible for a human being to have a good will, there is no sense that Jesus was like us subject to ignorance and tutelage as a child or that as an adult his will was encumbered with the effects of childhood choices.  Because of this, Kant’s teaching about a good will is no more convincing than St Augustine’s.  Like St Augustine, Kant asserts our freedom but provides no real evidence that we have ALTERNATE POSSIBILITIES to choose from.  Like St Augustine, Kant asserts that we are morally responsible for not having a good will (BONA VOLUNTAS) and for living in a state of RADICAL EVIL (CUPIDITAS) without evidence that we could ever have done otherwise.  Just as Kant’s teaching about a good will shows that Kant has no basis for postulating GOD (the universe is not fair, so there is no need to believe in God to explain its fairness), St Augustine’s teaching about human relationships before the fall shows that St Augustine has no basis for believing that God is both OMNIPOTENT and OMNIBENEVOLENT in the face of evil and suffering in the world that He created.   

In conclusion, St Augustine’s teaching about human relationships before the Fall is highly significant.  Without this element of St Augustine’s teaching, St Augustine’s THEODICY and particularly his FREE WILL DEFENCE could not work and St Augustine’s wider THEOLOGY of Grace could not work either.  St Augustine’s teaching about human relationships before the fall are crucial in defending the possibility of God being both OMNIBENEVOLENT and OMNIPOTENT, human FREEDOM real and the universe FAIR, so much so that even Immanuel Kant relied on a similar, albeit unsatisfactory and contentious, theory to explain the human condition.  And yet, St Augustine’s teaching about human relationships before the Fall relies on some degree of Biblical LITERALISM and on scientific NAIVITY. It does not provide the needed evidence that human beings are capable of being good or responsible for all the evil and suffering in the world, because as St Augustine put it, all the evils that affect mankind are “either sin or punishment for sin”.  In the end, the very significance of St Augustine’s teaching about human relationships before the fall undermines his wider attempt at THEODICY and THEOLOGY.   

To what extent does Aquinas’ Cosmological Argument successfully reach the conclusion that there is a transcendent creator? [40]

Aquinas’ Cosmological Argument fails to demonstrate the existence of the Christian God.  While the first, second and third ways offer some support to the belief that there must be a Prime Mover, Uncaused Cause and Necessary Being, In the Summa Theologica 1,2,3 Aquinas only asserts that “this is what all men speak of as God.”  Indeed, taking the Prime Mover as an example, it could share only some of the characteristics of God as He is normally understood.  While the Prime Mover is certainly transcendent and immutable, the extent to which it could be omnipotent or omniscient, let alone omnibenevolent or immanent, is slight and unconvincing.  Nevertheless, putting this criticism aside, Aquinas’ Cosmological Argument successfully demonstrates the existence of a transcendent explanation for the Kosmos.

Firstly, in Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion Hume’s character Philo criticised the Cosmological Argument, asking how anybody can be certain that everything has a cause. While it is true that the observed laws of nature which form the premises of Aquinas’ argument depend on observations which are necessarily limited within time and space, questioning whether such observations can be taken to be fair and representative attacks the Cosmological Principle on which all science depends.  Newton was the first to express the Cosmological Principle, the assumption that “viewed on a sufficiently large scale, the properties of the universe are the same for all observers” or in other words that the universe is homogenous and isotropic and more fundamentally, that the way we observe the universe is the way it really is and that this is a fair and representative sample of the whole. In asking whether there might not be uncaused things in the universe despite the fact that these have never been observed, Hume’s criticism of the Cosmological Argument constitutes a sceptical attack on the human ability to use observations as a basis for understanding the Natural Laws which govern the universe, so by accepting this criticism we lose far more than one approach to demonstrating the existence of God.  It follows that Aquinas’ argument survives Hume’s first criticism and demonstrates the existence of a transcendent “creator”. 

Secondly, Hume’s character Philo goes on to ask why the cause of the universe, if such there is, would have to be intelligible.  This criticism is no more effective than the first.  The whole point of Aquinas argument is to show that whatever caused the universe must be transcendent and beyond human understanding, impervious to the laws of motion, causation and contingency that govern everything else.  For Aquinas, the cause of the universe is “neither something nor nothing,” a necessary being that does not exist as things exist, contingently, but rather eternally and immutably outside the framework of spatio-temporal reality.  While Kant argued that necessary existence is so far beyond our experience to be beyond possible knowledge, Aquinas does not claim to be able to know or understand God, only to deduce that He exists, albeit mysteriously.  It follows that Aquinas’ Cosmological Argument survives Hume’s second criticism and Kant’s criticism as well, demonstrating the existence of a transcendent “creator”. 

Thirdly, Hume’s character Philo argues that Aquinas’ argument relies on the Fallacy of Composition, and indeed Aquinas does move from observations of movement, causation and contingency in the universe to claiming that the universe as a whole must be moved, caused and have something to depend on.  Russell used the powerful example of all men having mothers but the human race not having a mother to explain Hume’s point.  However, while it is fallacious to assume that characteristics of the part MUST be true of the whole, it is not impossible that they are true of the whole.  Aquinas (and more recently Craig) appeal to common sense as well as fallacious reasoning when they argue that given that everything in the universe is caused, the universe must also have a cause.  The alternative, that the universe is uncaused or, as Russell put it, a “brute fact” seems unacceptable to most people today, not least because the Aristotelian infinite-universe paradigm has been replaced by Big Bang Theory which shows that the universe had an absolute beginning.  Masses of Scientific evidence now supports the claim that the universe had a cause, even if that cause outside of the normal laws of nature and so transcendent, even if this was not a “creator” as this would normally be understood.  It follows that Aquinas’ Cosmological Argument survives Hume’s third criticism and Russell’s criticisms as well, demonstrating that the universe has a transcendent cause, if not a “creator” precisely. 

On the other hand, Aquinas’ Cosmological Argument falls short of providing rational support for faith in the transcendent creator-God of Christianity.  As Hume rightly pointed out, there is no way to show that there could not be multiple uncaused causes of the universe, let alone that the cause would be omnipotent, omniscient, omnibenevolent or in any sense personal or capable of becoming incarnate in Jesus Christ.  Nevertheless, the question did not ask whether Aquinas’ argument successfully reached the conclusion that God exists, but rather asked whether the argument successfully reached the conclusion that there is a transcendent creator.  A transcendent creator may, but also may not be, the same as the God of Christianity.  In this case, Aquinas’ argument demonstrates the existence of a transcendent entity that is responsible for initiating and sustaining the universe but no more. 

In conclusion, Aquinas’ Cosmological Argument successfully reaches the conclusion that there is a transcendent “creator” but does not demonstrate the existence of God. As William Lane Craig has argued, it is for theologians to determine whether the attributes of the transcendent cause of the universe can be reconciled with those of the object of religious faith.  This is why his Kalam argument stops with the conclusion “the universe must have a cause” rather than making the leap to saying “and this is what all men speak of as God” as Aquinas boldly does. 

Critically evaluate Natural Law as an approach to making 21st century moral decisions. [40]

Natural Law is the most ancient of the normative ethical systems; originating in the work of Aristotle, it was adopted as the basis for Roman Catholic moral philosophy and continues to be applied today. As a result, there are multiple different versions of Natural Law so in critically evaluating it as an approach to making decisions it is important to differentiate between these. Given this, a proportionalist version of Natural Law is a practical approach to making 21st century moral decisions.


Firstly, Natural Law has the great advantage of offering a clear and universal set of norms. 21st Century moral decisions are often complex and emotive, which means that consequentialist approaches to decision making are impractical. Taking Utilitarianism as an example, even Peter Singer has acknowledged that individuals deciding when to end life-support, use a drone to eliminate a terrorist-suspect or invest in an untried technology are not in a position to calculate the outcomes of all their possible actions with sufficient accuracy and objectivity to make an act-utilitarian approach viable. Because of the Problem of Prediction in particular, most Utilitarians advocate a more-or-less strong rule approach to maximising pleasure and minimising pain today. Further, Utilitarians are divided on how to define the outcome to be maximised and most have moved away from the crude Benthamite claim that “all things being equal, pushpin is as good as poetry…” and embrace Mill’s desire to be more Socrates and less pig! In short and in practice most 21st Century Utilitarians recognise the need for clear more-or-less universal norms designed to maximise human flourishing. While they do not support the traditional Roman Catholic version of Natural Law, they are in fact not so far from a proportionalist version of Natural Law. So much so that Proportionalists are often accused of being Utilitarians. However, Proportionalism is a distinct approach to decision making and one with the advantage over utilitarianism that it considers actions in their wider context, including in relation to the effect they have on the moral character in the long-term. Because of this, a Proportionalist version of Natural Law is a better approach to making 21st Century moral decisions than consequentialist approaches such as Utilitarianism.


Secondly, in terms of Proportionalism’s concern to place actions in a broader context and to consider their effects on character, this is nothing new in the tradition of Natural Law. Both the versions of Aristotle and Aquinas Natural Law was intended to sit alongside virtue ethics; actions in themselves and broader character development were intended to be considered side-by-side. While the Roman Catholic Church has often been legalistic in its application of Natural Law, making it inflexible and reducing the role of the individual in making their own moral decisions, this goes against even the thinking of St Thomas Aquinas and was criticised by Pope Francis in his 2016 encyclical Amoris Laeticia…“We have been called to form consciences, not to replace them. … Rather than offering the healing power of grace and the light of the Gospel message, some would “indoctrinate” that message, turning it into “dead stones to be hurled at others”….” Aquinas argued that the first duty of each person is to follow their own conscience, pursuing good and avoiding evil as they see fit. While this does not excuse evil actions, chosen by pursuing an apparent good over the real good, it is worse for someone to go against their conscience because of the effect this has on the wider moral character. This point is emphasised by Proportionalists like Bernard Hoose, who argue that Natural Law should be about “trying to discover what is the morally right thing to do in any particular set of circumstances.” Hoose rejects the idea that 21st century moral decisions are clear-cut and stresses the importance of making decisions in conscience and in relation to the specifics of the case. Because it is able to combine a clear and universal set of norms with a degree of flexibility with regard to complex situations, a proportionalist version of Natural Law, such as that proposed by Hoose, is a practical approach to making 21st Century moral decisions.


A common criticism of Proportionalism from Roman Catholic moral philosophers is that it seeks a proportional way of justifying morally wrong actions. However, Hoose argued that “We should always do only what, in conscience, we judge to be morally right, and we should never do what we judge in conscience to be morally wrong…” pointing out that actions and those carrying them out should be understood and judged as a whole rather than focusing on bits in isolation. Hoose wrote, ‘An evil like pain, death or mutilation is, in itself, pre-moral or non-moral, and should never be described as ‘moral’. It is the act as a whole which is either right or wrong, and it is the person, or the person in his or her acting, who is morally good or morally bad.’ Where a traditional Roman Catholic approach to Natural Law would see the action of terminating a pregnancy as morally wrong in itself, Hoose sees the termination as a non or pre-moral evil, which only becomes moral as part of a whole decision made by a whole moral character and then in context. Where a traditional Roman Catholic approach to Natural Law would see any decision and any person involved in terminating a pregnancy as evil by association, Hoose would distinguish between terminating the pregnancy of a 10 year old rape-victim and of a healthy married woman. The termination may become part of a morally evil action and contribute to the corruption of one or more moral characters – such as when a healthy married woman in India is forced to abort a female foetus – or the termination may become part of a morally good action and contribute to the development of a good moral character – such as in the aftermath of war and with the consent of all concerned. Proportionalism does not attempt to justify morally wrong actions, but rather it rejects the idea that actions are wrong in themselves and insists that they are evaluated in their proper context. So, in this way, a proportionalist version of Natural Law, such as that proposed by Hoose, is sufficiently sophisticated and nuanced to support 21st Century moral decision making.


Further, it is clear that following some of the moral rules laid down by the Church blindly strikes most people as morally wrong in the 21st Century. Take for example the case of Bishop Kevin Dowling in Rustenburg, who came into conflict with the Church for handing out condoms to sex-workers in the middle of an HIV epidemic in his South African Diocese. Church teaching from Humanae Vitae, developed by Germain Grisez on the basis of Natural Law, clearly forbids the use of condoms in any circumstances as they prevent sex from having the potential to create life; promoting human life being the most basic of human goods. Nevertheless, Dowling argued that the sex-workers were engaged in “survival sex”, meaning that selling sex is the only means available not to starve and so to promote the most basic of basic human goods, life. Dowling reasoned that the sex-workers were going to have sex with or without condoms, while without them many lives would be destroyed, so proportionately and in the interests of promoting the basic human good of life it was the right thing to give the sex-workers condoms. This accords with Aquinas own writing on the subject of prostitution, which acknowledged that “those who are in authority, rightly tolerate certain evils, lest certain goods be lost, or certain greater evils be incurred.” Summa II(II) question 10, article 11 and it accords with the Roman Catholic Church’s own teaching on warfare, which again permits “those in authority” to use even lethal force when it is proportionate and necessary to pursue a good cause, such as to protect more lives. It follows that Proportionalism is both faithful to Aquinas’ Natural Law and more consistent than traditional Roman Catholic ethics. In this way also, a proportionalist version of Natural Law, such as that proposed by Hoose, is the best approach to 21st Century moral decision making.


In conclusion, a proportionalist version of Natural Law, such as that proposed by Hoose, is the best approach to 21st Century moral decision making. Proportionalism is more suited to making complex, emotive decisions than consequentialist approaches such as utilitarianism, and more practical, nuanced, and consistent than traditional, legalistic Roman Catholic Natural Law. As a result, much more attention should be given to Proportionalism as a way of addressing moral problems as they arise in the future.

Assess Aristotle’s four causes.  [40] 

Aristotle saw philosophy as “a science which investigates being as being” (Metaphysics Book IV, Part I), meaning that it is concerned with understanding what it means for things to exist rather than how particular things exist, which is the role of the “special sciences”.  So, if philosophical “knowledge is the object of our inquiry” (Physics Book II, Part III) then we “must proceed to consider causes, their character and number.” Aristotle set out four types of causes which all things have, namely material causes “that out of which a thing comes to be and persists… e.g. the bronze of a statue”, the formal cause “the form or the archetype, the statement of the essence”, the efficient causes or “the primary source of the change or of coming to rest” and the final cause, “that for the sake of which a thing is done”, sometimes called the telos of the thing.  Aristotle’s theory of causation has been enormously influential, giving rise to natural law and virtue ethics on one hand and to the cosmological and teleological arguments for God’s existence and the Catholic concept of God on the other. Nevertheless, and despite this, Aristotle’s four causes fail to explain “being as being”.   

Firstly, Aristotle’s focus on material and efficient causation as important aspects of what makes something what it is has led to a naïve scientific materialism becoming the dominant world-view today.  Although the material causes of an object are often incidental and secondary, meaning that an object can be made out of many different materials while still being that object, Aristotle’s focus on the senses as the primary source of knowledge led those influenced by Aristotle to focus on sense-experience and downplay the role that reason has in processing it.  Although Aristotle himself acknowledged the important role that reason plays in enabling us to access knowledge and even warned that “if only the sensible exists there would be nothing if animate things were not, for there would be no faculty of sense…” (Metaphysics, Book V, Part V) this did little to stop the slide towards materialism and beyond into reductionism, the scientific tendency to reduce complex things and explain them only in terms of their physical parts.  In this way, logical positivists Moritz Schlick and AJ Ayer argued that the only possible knowledge is based on sense-data and that any claim that is unverifiable (or not a tautology and logically necessary) is “meaningless” – claiming that claims about beauty, morality and religion are just expressions of personal feeling and emotion and without content beyond that.  Further, Richard Dawkins in “The Selfish Gene” described human beings as “survival machines – robot vehicles blindly programmed to preserve the selfish molecules known as genes.” This sort of naïve materialism and reductionism, myopically focused on the five empirical senses, has been criticised by Thomas Nagel and John Polkinghorne for being an artificially narrow view of human experience and leading scientists to ignore other possible sources of knowledge and understanding about our universe.  In this way, Aristotle’s four causes and particularly his focus on material and efficient causation, fails to explain “being as being”.   

Secondly, like Plato Aristotle argued that things exist by participating in a formal cause – although unlike Plato, Aristotle did not see the formal cause as “real” or having any independent existence.  The idea that there is a formal cause or archetype for everything, including for human beings, has had an overwhelmingly negative effect on women.  In his “Generation of Animals” Book IV, Aristotle argued that the formal cause of the human being is male, reasoning that females are defective males.  Despite the fact that science has since shown Aristotle’s observations to be mistaken and his reasoning faulty, it went on to influence scientists and wider society to the present day.  In 2020 the feminist writer Caroline Criado Perez published “Invisible women: exposing data bias in a world designed for men”, providing hundreds of horrifying ways in which women are still disadvantaged by Aristotle’s assumption that there is a single “formal cause” or archetype for humanity, which is male.  The fact that Aristotle relied on limited observations and went on to misinterpret his observations in line with the dominant misogynistic prejudices of his day points to two other weaknesses in Aristotle’s approach.  Firstly, seeking knowledge through sense-experience means that knowledge is based on necessarily limited and ever-changing data.  Secondly, that sense-experience is subjective and subject to confirmation-bias and to being interpreted within a paradigm.  By contrast, Plato’s focus on rational reflection as the primary source of knowledge means that the limitations of our senses and the tiny slice through time and space that is available for them to experience don’t matter.  Also, Plato’s focus on reason means that there is more incentive to examine our prejudices and paradigm than there is when we are using reason only to interpret observations.  In this way as well, Aristotle’s four causes and particularly his understanding of the formal cause fails to explain “being as being”.   

Thirdly, Aristotle argued that all things have a “final cause” or telos, which they tend to fulfil, flourishing.  This includes human beings and indeed the universe as a whole.  Aristotle’s teleological world-view and his concept of the final cause is flawed because it is a product of how we as human beings tend and want to see things, rather than how they really are.  The existentialist Philosopher Jean Paul Sartre argued that the whole idea that the universe is efficient and tends towards flourishing is wrong. In his novel “Nausea” he reflected on a chestnut tree root, writing “absurd, irreducible, nothing – not even a profound and secret delirium of nature – could explain it…” Reality is, for Sartre, fundamentally chaotic.  We gloss over reality with a fairy-story of order, purpose, efficiency and flourishing, in order to cope with the aimless, random and meaningless chaos of existence.  Sartre rejected Aristotelian ethics, arguing that “all human activities are equivalent and all are on principle doomed to failure.”  While we may not agree with Sartre’s bleak vision of human existence, his argument shows that Aristotle’s teleological world-view is not entirely consistent with human experience and particularly with the prevalence of suffering in the natural world.  Further, Sartre raises a legitimate question over whether the final cause might not be a human projection rather than a property of existence.  If the final cause of a chair is to be sat on, it is fair to say that the designer of the chair – a human mind – allocates the final cause.  Why could not the same be true of the final cause of an animal, or of human beings?  If this is indeed the case, there is little basis for Aristotelian Ethics (Natural Law and Virtue Ethics) or for Aristotelian arguments for God’s existence, such as the cosmological and teleological arguments.  In this way also, Aristotle’s four causes and particularly his understanding of the final cause fails to explain “being as being”.   

Of course, Aristotle’s four causes remain influential and reflecting on them remains an important part of investigating “being as being”.  Certainly, Aristotle’s widening of philosophy to investigate the material and efficient causes of things as well as their formal cause, had positive effects on philosophy as well as negative effects.  His focus on observations inspired generations of scientists to document the natural world and to investigate the laws by which it operates.  Of course, Aristotle never intended his work to inspire the descent into naïve scientific materialism and reductionism and didn’t appreciate the unfounded and potentially damaging nature of his work in his “Generation of Animals”.  Nevertheless, this question doesn’t ask for an assessment of Aristotle’s contribution to Philosophy as a whole, but only for an assessment of his four causes and, as this essay has shown, a focus on the four causes that Aristotle identified, as he understood them, has led to an artificially narrow, misogynistic and unrealistically optimistic world-view, while also leaving unanswered questions.  How can material causes contribute to being while being interchangeable?  How can everything have efficient causes while the universe does not – either because it is infinite or because there is no time and space or possible causation before it?  Might not the formal and final causes be a product of how we see things rather than how they really are?   In this way as well, Aristotle’s four causes fail to explain being as being”.

In conclusion, Aristotle’s four causes fail to explain “being as being”.  This is because they are not fully supported by experience and/or might more be a function of how we understand being than a function of being itself.  In consequence, philosophers must continue to “investigate being as being” by examining the causes of things anew rather than relying on Aristotle’s 2500 year old categorization of causes.   

Critically evaluate Situation Ethics as an approach to making decisions about euthanasia. [40]

Situation Ethics: The New Morality is a book written by Joseph Fletcher, an American Episcopalian Moral Philosopher with a strong interest in medical ethics who lost his faith around the time the book was first published in 1964.  Like many Christians, Fletcher was concerned about the decline in moral standards and the growth of radical relativism which had let to genocide during WWII and was fuelling the sexual revolution and the collapse of family values in the 1960s.  Fletcher rejected such relativism for being antinomian and leading to chaos, as well as being unchristian.  Fletcher was influenced by Utilitarianism, the dominant, consequentialist approach to ethical-decision-making in the 1960s.  While it was a relativist ethic, decisions were made relative to an absolute, namely human happiness or pleasure.  While Fletcher (like many other Moral Philosophers) was critical of basic happiness or pleasure as the only desirable end, he liked the flexibility of Utilitarianism and its focus on making decisions situationally, as well as its respect for the individual moral-agent and their ability to make decisions for themselves rather than just following rules.  Fletcher was critical of the traditional, absolutist ethical systems employed by Christian Churches.  As he saw it, Roman Catholic Natural Law was guilty of legalism – being too focused on the letter of the law rather than its spirit and insufficiently focused on persons – to be truly a Christian Ethic.  Protestant Biblical Ethics were often similarly inflexible and based on narrow interpretations of ancient texts that neglected the most important ethical teaching in the Bible in Mark 2:28-32 – the need to love our neighbour as ourselves and therefore act out of agape, non-preferential humanitarian love.  For Fletcher, Christians and non-Christians alike should move forward and adopt a “new morality” which would make persons the focus, making decisions situationally and relative to agape-love.  This “new morality” is Situation Ethics.  As an approach to making personal decisions about Euthanasia it is a useful guide in countries where Euthanasia is legal, but it is not very useful for religious people or in countries where Euthanasia is illegal. 

Firstly, Fletcher characterises Situation Ethics as an approach which has four working principles – Pragmatism, Relativism, Positivism and Personalism.  The first working principle of Situation Ethics is pragmatism or practicality, so it is undeniable that the legal status of euthanasia will impact on any assessment of the usefulness of Situation Ethics as an approach to decision-making.  Where Euthanasia is illegal and where effective enforcement exists, people are not really free to make their own decisions situationally.  Personalism and relativism – putting people and agape-love first – will deter anybody from deciding to help somebody end their life if such help will probably result in prosecution and punishment.  Prosecution and punishment will not only affect the person convicted of course, but also their family, friends and wider society as well, so on this basis it would be difficult to argue that breaking a law against euthanasia could be situationally justified, except perhaps in the most extreme cases of suffering.  Of course, Fletcher believed that “sometimes you’ve gotta put your principles to one side and do the right thing” and he rejected the use of the words “always” and “never” in moral decision-making, but still cases in which stopping the suffering of one person but with the consequence of causing pretty intense suffering to somebody else, their family, their friends as well as burdening the tax-payer with the expense of a long prison-term, will be pretty rare.  Additionally, by encouraging individuals to think this through and make the decision for themselves when they are in the stress of the situation and when the law prohibits euthanasia anyway is far from helpful.  In the heat of the moment, people are liable to focus on immediate consequences and the persons in the room with them and to neglect longer-term consequences and people outside the room who will also be impacted.  In this way, situational decisions, however well-intentioned, are liable to be poor decisions even with respect of the agape-love they try to promote, and often result in more people suffering than would be the case if people just followed the law. Because of this, Situation Ethics is not very useful in countries where Euthanasia is illegal. 

Secondly, despite the fact that Situation Ethics makes decisions relative to agape-love and takes this as an end on the grounds of theological positivism and Christian faith, rather than any rational argument or evidence, Fletcher’s “new morality” has been roundly rejected by all the major Christian Churches.  Even before Fletcher wrote, Pope Pius XII condemned the idea that Christians should make decisions situationally, as individuals, in 1952.  The Pope pointed out that using the individual conscience to make a decision for oneself rather than deferring to the authority of the Church and its rules risked plunging that individual into sin, with its eternal consequences.  Again, in the heat of the moment people usually focus on immediate consequences and forget or downplay long-term consequences, including of course the fate of their eternal soul (and that of the person euthanatized of course).  Because of this, Situation Ethics represents a real threat to Christians in tempting them to make decisions when they are likely to make poor decisions with the most severe of consequences.  While St. Thomas Aquinas argued that Christians must prioritise following their consciences and so make decisions for themselves rather than mindlessly deferring to absolute rules, in practice he saw the conscience in terms of synderesis or practical reason, a faculty which needs to be trained if it is to make good decisions, perhaps especially in traumatic situations.  In a way, Fletcher agreed with Aquinas; while he rejected Aquinas focus on reason as the only appropriate basis for the conscience to operate upon, Fletcher did see conscience as a decision-making faculty and process rather than as the source of moral intuition.  As Fletcher wrote “there is no conscience, “conscience” is merely a word for our attempts to make decisions…”  Aquinas was only too aware of the human tendency to pursue apparent goods over real goods and so to fall into error with the best of intentions.  It was because of this that in 1956 the Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith banned Catholic institutions from teaching or even teaching about Situation Ethics.  Fletcher was more positive about the individual’s ability to make good decisions situationally, through their consciences, than was either Aquinas or the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, but perhaps he would have been well to be more cautious given the eternal consequences poor decisions have, at least for Christians using Situation Ethics.  Any suffering that people ease by making a situational decision in favour of euthanasia is after all, temporary… but for Christians the consequences probably will be eternal suffering.  Because of this, Situation Ethics is not a useful approach to making decisions about euthanasia for religious believers. 

Thirdly, taking the example of euthanasia, in 1994 Dr Cox decided to act situationally and help his suffering patient Lilian Boyes to die by giving her a lethal injection.  As it turned out, this decision ruined his career and his life and the resultant media-storm led to a tightening of UK monitoring of physicians and enforcement procedures in cases of suspected euthanasia, making it more difficult for doctors to ease the deaths of their patients.  While Dr Cox was prioritising Mrs Boyes and showing great agape-love for her and her family, he could not have predicted the consequences his decision would have for others, including himself and his own family.  This is a major weakness of Situation Ethics as well as other consequentialist approaches to moral decision-making. As Peter Singer admits, all consequentialist decision making depends on our ability to predict the consequences of our actions accurately (the Problem of Prediction)… and consequences are often, even usually, unpredictable.  Because of this, as a Consequentialist approach to making decisions about Euthanasia, Situation Ethics is of limited usefulness.  Despite this, in countries where euthanasia is legal – such as in Canada, New Zealand, the Netherlands and in some Australian states – Situation Ethics might still be a useful guide when people are making decisions, whether about whether to request euthanasia or whether to help somebody to die.  This is because Situation Ethics encourages people to consider the persons involved in the decision ahead of their own principles and to focus on maximising agape-love rather than on the actions used to achieve this.  Where doctors might not wish to get involved in euthanasia on principle, Situation Ethics encourages them to consider each situation on its own merits and to prioritise the needs and wishes of their patients rather than sticking to “always” or “never” beliefs.  As Fletcher wrote “Situation Ethics keeps principles sternly in their place, in the role of advisors without veto-power…” (page 55) For Christian doctors, or for other Christians considering becoming involved in euthanasia, Situation Ethics encourages them to reflect on the two most important commandments (Mark 12:28-32) and to consider how their love for God relates to their love for neighbour and self.  As William Temple said – and as Fletcher would have agreed – “on freedom all spiritual life depends, and it is astonishing and terrifying that the Church has so often failed to understand that.”  Just as Jesus made decisions on the basis of persons, pragmatically and on the basis of agape-love… sometimes breaking laws, rules or norms in the process and sometimes sacrificing his own reputation to do so… so Situation Ethics encourages Christians to follow Jesus’ example and in the process helps them to develop spiritually and morally.  Of course, this is not to say that situational decisions will always or even often support euthanasia.  As Fletcher’s own examples show, the cases in which it is right to do something Christians would normally conceive of as wrong are rare and extreme.  Situation ethics would not, as Fletcher conceives it, endorse the wide-scaled legalisation of abortion or its use as a form of contraception… but it might support a doctor in terminating the pregnancy of a mentally ill teenager who had been raped.  Situation ethics would not, as Fletcher conceives it, endorse people killing themselves for no reason… but it might support a man in hastening his own inevitable death in order that his family suffers much less by his loss.  Because Situation Ethics encourages Christians to become active moral agents, it might be a useful guide in countries where euthanasia is legal.  However, the usefulness of Situation Ethics will depend a lot on the individual and the extent to which their conscience is developed and trained as a decision-making faculty.  It is probably fair to worry about the effects of using Situation Ethics in relation to issues like Euthanasia on any Christian – or indeed any person – who is unaccustomed to independent moral-decision making. 

In conclusion, as an approach to making personal decisions about Euthanasia Situation Ethics may be a useful guide in countries where Euthanasia is legal, but it is not very useful for Roman Catholics or those who believe in judgement and hell, or in countries where Euthanasia is illegal.  While Fletcher’s Situation Ethics was a sincere attempt to democratise Christian Ethics, perhaps Fletcher was too optimistic about peoples’ ability to cope with the responsibility he demands of them.  In relation to emotive, high-stakes issues like euthanasia most people are ill-equipped to predict consequences or weigh up consequences rationally and often make poor decisions as a result of Situation Ethics.  In these issues, a rules-based approach like Natural Law is more helpful to most people.   

Human freedom is not compatible with divine omniscience. Discuss [40]

The tension between divine omniscience and free-will matters because without free-will God becomes responsible for the consequences of human actions and cannot justly use evil and suffering to punish “sinful” choices, to deter people from sinning or to teach them to make better choices in future, falsifying the both the theodicies of St Irenaeus and St Augustine and making the logical problem of evil seemingly insurmountable.  Both Boethius and St Anselm acknowledged the apparent contradiction between believing that God has omniscience and that humans have free will, at least sufficient to make them morally responsible for the consequences of their actions.  In Book V Part III of The Consolations of Philosophy, Boethius wrote “if from eternity He foreknows not only what men will do, but also their designs and purposes, there can be no freedom of the will”.  In De Concordia 1.1 St. Anselm wrote “for it is necessary that the things foreknown by God be going to occur, whereas the things done by free choice occur without any necessity.”  Nevertheless, both Boethius and St. Anselm believed that they had succeeded in reconciling divine omniscience and human free will and in showing that there is no contradiction between them.  As St. Anselm wrote “the foreknowledge from which necessity follows and the freedom of choice from which necessity is absent are here seen (for one who rightly understands it) to be not at all incompatible.” Nevertheless, while Boethius and Anselm succeed in showing that there is no necessary contradiction between God’s omniscience and human freedom, they do so only by highlighting the limited meaning that words like omniscience have when applied to God to such an extent that by attempting to solve one challenge to religious belief, they open up another. 

Boethius approached the task of reconciling divine omniscience and human freedom by arguing that God’s knowledge is timeless and therefore while God knows what free beings do, this in no way causes their actions because there is no sense of temporal progression or causation within in God’s knowledge.  Boethius wrote “[God’s] eternity is the possession of endless life whole and perfect at a single moment… since God abides for ever in an eternal present, His knowledge, also transcending all movement of time, dwells in the simplicity of its own changeless present, and, embracing the whole infinite sweep of the past and of the future, contemplates all that falls within its simple cognition as if it were now taking place.“ (Book 5, Part VI) For God therefore, knowledge of what (for us in time) precedes a free choice, of the choice itself and of its consequences are all concurrent and there is no sense of process, of one thing leading to or causing another.  Further, God’s knowledge does not in itself precede what God knows, since God exists timelessly and the whole creation exists in the simple, changeless present to God.  Because God’s knowledge doesn’t in fact exist before what happens, God’s knowledge can’t be said to make what happens logically necessary.  As Boethius explains, God’s knowledge of what happens is not simply necessary, but rather conditionally necessary.  Just as my sight of the bus arriving at its stop at 3.14pm does not make the bus arrive at that time, so God’s sight of what happens in His eternal present depends on what happens and does not necessitate what happens or take away from the freedom of those people who make it happen.  Boethius’ attempt to reconcile human freedom with divine omniscience casts some doubt on the assumption that God’s knowledge of what, to us, is in the future causes what happens and so dilutes human freedom.  Nevertheless, in practice the difference between it being logically necessary that something will happen and being only contingently necessary that something will happen is more of a technical and less of a pastorally satisfying argument.  Christians believe that God is omnipotent as well as omniscient, so the fact that God knows that suffering happens and does nothing to stop it is the heart of the matter.  For the free-will defense to work as a defense of God’s goodness and justice in allowing suffering, God’s creation of free-beings must be justified by this being part of the best possible world and yet Boethius’ argument only serves to make this more difficult to believe.  If God created the world containing free-beings simultaneously with knowing all the suffering this action would cause, there is no way that human freedom can justify God in creating at all.  There was never a possibility that human freedom could exist without the holocaust or the sorts of gratuitous innocent child or animal suffering outlined in papers by William Rowe and Gregory S. Paul, so the idea that God is justly punishing human beings for misusing free-will seems void and the Christian salvation narrative falls flat.  While Schleiermacher, drawing on St. Paul’s argument in Romans 5, argued that God would be justified in causing us to fall into sin, evil and suffering because this facilitates and enlarges God’s gift of grace in saving us, as John Hick pointed out in Evil and the God of Love (1966), a doctor would not be so justified by causing injuries to patients because this facilitates and enlarges their actions in healing these same injuries.  In this way it seems that Boethius’ attempt to reconcile human freedom with divine omniscience, while interesting on a technical level, only serves to open Christian belief to further challenges. 

Secondly, as William Lane Craig explains in his article “St. Anselm on Divine Foreknowledge and Future Contingency” (1986) St Anselm began by agreeing with Boethius, arguing that the proposition “If God foreknows something, necessarily this thing will occur” is logically equivalent to the proposition “If this thing will occur, necessarily it will occur.” Because the proposition contains an “if” the event is conditionally, not simply, necessary.  However, in his “De Concordia” St. Anselm went beyond Boethius with the result that he argued that God foreknowing that something will happen contingently (i.e. as a result of a free choice) actually ensures that human beings have a free choice rather than taking human freedom away.  As St Anselm wrote “Now, on the assumption that some action is going to occur without necessity, God foreknows this, since He foreknows all future events. And that which is foreknown by God is, necessarily, going to occur, as is foreknown. Therefore, it is necessary that something is going to occur without necessity. Hence, the foreknowledge from which necessity follows and the freedom of choice from which necessity is absent are here seen (for one who rightly understands it) to be not at all incompatible.”  Nevertheless, this argument is unconvincing because God’s timeless knowledge must be both of the fact that something happens contingently and of what actually happens.  To be meaningful, most people would demand that human freedom consists of being able to effect different outcomes – known as the Principle of Alternate Possibilities – but if God knows the outcome of a choice (whether or not that he also knows that that outcome is only contingently necessary) there is no alternate possibility, no freedom and no moral responsibility for that outcome.  Because God knows the outcome, that outcome will happen, whether or not it results from a choice that felt free.  Take an example; a person is offered a range of identical boxes and they are told that each contains something different.  They “freely” choose one box… but it then turns out that all the boxes contained the same thing, so the outcome of their action was in fact pre-determined.  Was the choice really a free choice?  Compatibilists like Harry Frankfurt try to argue that human freedom and moral responsibility do not in fact depend on the ability to effect different outcomes (the Principle of Alternate Possibilities).  Frankfurt uses the example of Jones, Smith and Black to show that Jones could still be free and morally responsible for shooting Smith even if Black had decided to make sure Smith died if Jones chickens out.  Nevertheless, there is a crucial difference between Frankfurt’s example and the case of human freedom and moral responsibility in relation to an omnipotent, omniscient and omnibenevolent God; Black is not omnipotent, omniscient or omnibenevolent!  Black does not know what Jones will do or whether he will have to step in and shoot Smith… or even whether he will miss.  God, on the other hand, knows what Jones will do and what He will do and what will happen simultaneously as part of his timelessly simple knowledge of creation.  God is omnipotent and omniscient and needs to be omnibenevolent as well if freedom is going to work as a theodicy but because God, unlike Black, knows what Jones will “freely” choose, that Smith will die and what He will or won’t have to do to square those facts. Because there really are no alternate possibilities in God’s case (where there still are some in the case of Jones, Smith and Black) Human beings cannot be said to be morally responsible for what they do, leaving God’s goodness compromised.  It follows then that St. Anselm’s attempt to reconcile human freedom with divine omniscience, however sophisticated it is, gets us no closer to a resolution to this problem than did Boethius’. 

Nevertheless, using God’s eternity to reconcile omniscience and human freedom demands that God’s eternity is understood in the sense of God existing wholly simply, outside time, rather than eternally and aware of the passage of time as Theistic Personalists like Richard Swinburne would prefer.  As both Swinburne and Wolterstorff have argued, this model of God’s eternity is problematic because it renders God’s knowledge so different from human knowledge that it ceases to be recognizable as knowledge at all.  As Anthony Kenny observed, for a timeless eternal God, “my typing of this paper is simultaneous with the whole of eternity. Again, on this view, the great fire of Rome is simultaneous with the whole of eternity. Therefore, while I type these very words, Nero fiddles heartlessly on.” (Kenny, The God of the Philosophers (Oxford, Clarendon Press) 1979, 38–9) If God really has no sense of progression or causation, then in what sense does he really know or better understand anything at all?  Swinburne points out that God can still have omniscience provided his knowledge extends to his knowing everything that it is logically possible that God can know.  If God exists timelessly-eternally, then what is logically possible for God to know is extremely limited, given that all sense of time as well as space must be removed.  Perhaps the best way to imagine it is that God’s knowledge of the universe can only extend to being aware of the singularity that gave rise to the Big Bang – within this infinitely small, infinitely dense particle the whole universe, all time and all space, all matter and all energy was contained, but in itself it would be far, far removed from the universe as it has ever existed since the beginning of time.  To use another analogy; a person’s genome is contained within the nucleus of a single cell, but knowing the genome is far removed from knowing the person (or people) the genetic instructions could give rise to.   If God’s attributes are so limited by his timeless-eternal nature, then the meaningfulness of religious language and of any religious claim about God is called into question.  Consequently, while Boethius and Anselm succeed in showing that there is no necessary contradiction between God’s omniscience and human freedom, they do so only by highlighting the limited meaning that words like omniscience have when applied to God to such an extent that by attempting to solve one challenge to religious belief, they open up another. 

Clearly, Classical Theists from Boethius through Anselm to Aquinas and later Thomists would disagree, arguing that seeing God’s eternity in terms of His existing timelessly and wholly simply is the only possible model of God.  A God who exists eternally in the sense of being everlasting and aware of the passage of the present moment cannot be said to be immutable, because even if God knows past present and future, if God’s knowledge is changed from being knowledge of the future into being knowledge of the present and then into being knowledge of the past by the passage of the present moment, then God’s knowledge is changed by and must depend on time to some extent.  While Classical Theists would accept that the content of religious claims such as “God is omniscient” is limited and certainly that the word knowledge cannot be used univocally, they deny that there is no content such claims.  St Thomas Aquinas’ doctrine of analogy attempted to demonstrate how claims about God contain meaning because concepts take their primary meaning in the being of God and only their secondary, analogical meaning from things in the world. For Classical Theists like Boethius and St Anselm then, using God’s timeless-eternity to reconcile divine omniscience and human freedom is rational and presents no insurmountable problems to religious believers.  Nevertheless, God’s immutability is hardly the most important attribute of God for Christians.  Immutability is in itself difficult to reconcile with Christian beliefs about the Fall, the Incarnation, the action of the Holy Spirit in the world and life after death.  As Nelson Pike pointed out, the scriptures are “unavoidably tensed” and so it is difficult to conceive of how they could retain the meaning and authority that Christian doctrines imbue them with while making so many claims about God that cannot be true if God is timelessly-eternal.  As Oscar Cullman observed in 1950 “in the biblical picture, God’s eternity is not qualitatively different from our temporality.” For Theistic Personalists like Richard Swinburne and Nicholas Wolterstorff, Scripture and the Good News that it contains must be the starting point for and not a potential embarrassment to Christian faith in an eternal, omniscient God.  It follows then that the attempt to use God’s eternity to reconcile God’s omniscience with human freedom comes at too high a price… and yet there is no other satisfactory way to reconcile God’s omniscience with human freedom.  Putting God as everlasting-in-time preserves God’s goodness – as well as essential Christian doctrines – but doing this in effect limits what God knows, compromising His omniscience and through that His omnipotence as well.  The passage of the present moment would at the very least change what God knows from future to present and present to past, making God’s knowledge depend on time, changable and not immutable or perfect. Arguing that God’s knowledge in time is further limited by logic, so that God can’t know the future insofar it is effected by free-choices compromises God’s knowledge even further. Realistically, what could God know about the future if all the ways in which free choices might effect that future are removed? In the nuclear age, God’s knowledge of the future couldn’t extend to knowing the world will exist tomorrow, and a God who doesn’t know whether tomorrow come is hardly more omniscient than I am! In the end it comes down to a choice – preserve God’s omniscience (and omnipotence) at the expense of human freedom, God’s goodness and essential Christian doctrines or preserve God’s goodness and essential Christian doctrines at the expense of his omniscience (and omnipotence).  There is no way to make logical sense of the “inconsistent triad” of Christian beliefs about God or to make human freedom compatible with God’s omniscience.

In conclusion, human freedom is not compatible with divine omniscience… unless freedom isn’t really freedom or omniscience isn’t really omniscience.  Indeed, there is no way to reconcile real freedom to effect alternate possibilities with timeless-eternal-omniscience, while everlasting-in-time omniscience is not really omniscience, because time at the very least changes what is known.  The implications of this are significant and show that there is no way to really resolve the logical problem of evil and that classical theodicies yield nothing.  Christians are left with an inconsistent set of beliefs about God, which they may well be willing to live with on an individual level… but which inconsistency can only cast doubt on the role of reason and philosophy in faith. 

Critically evaluate St Augustine’s attempt to resolve the logical problem of evil. (40)

The logical problem of evil was most famously expressed by David Hume when he wrote “Is [God] willing to prevent evil, but not able? then is he impotent. Is he able, but not willing? then is he malevolent…”  The existence of evil seems to demonstrate that Christian faith rests on what Hume called “an inconsistent triad” of beliefs, namely that God exists and is omnipotent, God exists and is omnibenevolent and that Evil exists.  While writing many centuries before Hume, St Augustine repeatedly responded to this same problem and developed a complex, multi-layered theodicy.  While St. Augustine is best remembered for his free will defence, he also proposed that evil is a lack of good (privatio boni) and so not a positive part of God’s creation and reasoned that God allowing there to be privations of good is justified with reference to the principle of plenitude, in that they facilitate diversity in nature which is awe-inspiring and beautiful, pointing to the glory of God and the need to worship Him. Nevertheless, and despite the sophistication and importance of St. Augustine’s attempt to resolve the logical problem of evil, his attempt was not successful.

Focussing first on the free-will defence argument, St Augustine argued that evil results from the human misuse of free-will and is therefore our fault, not God’s.  God, being omnibenevolent, is beholden to create the best possible world and this, St Augustine reasons, contains free beings who can choose the good, rather than achieving it by design.  However, the freedom to choose the good necessarily entails the freedom to choose to sin, causing suffering to ourselves, other people and indeed the whole of creation as God, again being omnibenevolent and so just, is beholden to ensure that evil actions have evil results in order to deter people from choosing them again.  When human beings chose to sin, first corporately at the Fall in Genesis 3 in which all humanity was “seminally present” in Adam, and then as individuals, evil and suffering entered the world not by God’s design, but as a logically necessary consequence of God creating the best possible world. This argument is fraught with difficulties however.  Firstly, as JL Mackie asked in his famous essay “Evil and Omnipotence”, why could not an omnipotent God create a world containing free beings who always chose to do what is right?  Omnipotence suggests that ability to do anything, even (as Descartes reasoned) what seems logically impossible to us, such as making 2+2=5.  Secondly, even if (as St Thomas Aquinas argued) God’s creative action is timelessly simple and cannot, therefore, contain logical contradictions, why shouldn’t an omnipotent God create free beings whose poor choices have less severe consequences than they do in our world.  Is the holocaust a logically necessary consequence of God’s creation of the best possible world?  If it is, the meaning of omnipotence – and of best in the context of possible worlds – seems to be very far indeed from any meaning we can understand. Thirdly, such omnipotence and such a “best” possible world seems incompatible with God’s omnibenevolence; wouldn’t a good God have been better not to create at all than to have created a world in which the holocaust (and perhaps even worse examples of human depravity yet to come) was a logically necessary feature. Fourthly and finally, the whole idea of human beings having free will is inconsistent with the notion of divine omnipotence.  Ass Boethius acknowledged in the Consolations of Philosophy Book V, Omnipotence is usually understood to entail omniscience and, if God knows what we will choose before we choose it, our freedom is not meaningful.  Given that God has both the power to step in to prevent the consequences of our poor choices and the goodness that demands that he should, divine omniscience negates the free-will defence and means that this aspect of St. Augustine’s attempt to resolve the logical problem of evil is unsuccessful.

Moving on to consider St. Augustine’s suggestion that evil is “privatio boni” and therefore not a part of God’s creation for Him to be responsible for.  While defining evil as a privation has been popular through the history of the Church with Philosophers – St Thomas Aquinas also defined evil in this way – as John Hick pointed out, it is deeply unconvincing in a pastoral context.  To those afflicted by suffering saying that child cancer is not a positive part of God’s creation but only results from a justified instance of a lack of good things seems deeply inappropriate as well as being unconvincing.  Medicine has moved on since the 5th Century and we now know that much sickness is not caused by a lack of health but by pathogens which have a very real existence.  Why did an all-powerful, all-good God create coronaviruses, whose only purpose seems to be to infect beings in order to multiply themselves, whatever suffering that causes?  The standard response to this, pointing out that we are criticising God’s creation on the basis of our own perspective, not God’s, falls foul of the central Christian belief that God created the natural world for human beings.  If aspects of creation make it impossible for human beings to do as God commanded, “be fruitful and increase in number, fill the earth and subdue it…” (Genesis 1:28) then this demands an explanation.  If God, being omnipotent and willing human beings to be good, created a world in which the conflicting purposes of organisms naturally and inevitably results in suffering then there is indeed a logical problem.  It is simply not possible to deny the existence of evil or reduce it to a lack of good when “nature is red in tooth and claw”.  In this respect as well, therefore, St. Augustine’s attempt to resolve the logical problem of evil is unsuccessful.

Moving on to St. Augustine’s claim that God allowing evil and the suffering it causes is justified with reference to the Principle of Plenitude, this aspect of his Theodicy is also unsuccessful.  St. Augustine claimed that God is justified in creating, even when creation necessarily involved privations (evil), each of which would cause intense suffering, because of the beauty of creation, which would point towards and express God’s own glory.  For St. Augustine, part of God’s goodness is the need to express his nature creatively, yet this implies a limitation on God.  If God is omnipotent, then why should God have the need to express his nature creatively… and even more so if that creative self-expression would inevitably lead to privations on the scale of the holocaust.  St Augustine also reasons that God’s creative self-expression, including its necessary privations, is justified because it points the human mind to the existence and glory of God.  Yet again, this implies that God has a need to be known, acknowledged, worshipped and glorified in a way that seems to undermine His omnipotence.  If God is omnipotent He must also be omniscient which, as St. Thomas Aquinas argues in Summa Theologica 1,14,2, includes having perfect self-knowledge such as that “God understands Himself through Himself”. If God knows himself perfectly, then why would he have any need to be known, acknowledged, worshipped and glorified by any created being?  In this respect as well, therefore, St. Augustine’s attempt to resolve the logical problem of evil is unsuccessful.

Of course, St Augustine’s theodicy has been enormously influential.  Today Alvin Plantinga’s “God, Freedom and Evil” draws heavily on all aspects of the Augustinian tradition to provide a way for believers to defend themselves against the “defeaters” levelled at faith by atheists.  Plantinga has adapted Augustine’s arguments to address common criticisms, such as by developing his argument for transworld depravity to show that suffering will result from God’s creation of free beings in any possible world without ever having to be part of God’s intention for any world. Nevertheless, despite the continued popularity of the Augustinian-type theodicy, it remains deeply problematic.  Plantinga’s argument still depends on God being both omnipotent and having to create free beings the consequences of whose actions cannot be limited.  He still reasons that God can be both omnipotent and omniscient and not be responsible for the consequences of human choices. He does not so much defeat Mackie’s criticisms of the Augustinian theodicy as deny them. 

In conclusion, St Augustine’s attempt to resolve the logical problem of evil is unsuccessful at every level.  His free will defence fails to reconcile God’s omnipotence with His omnibenevolence, his re-definition of evil as privatio boni fails to do justice to the real experience of evil and its effects in the world and his Principle of Plenitude implies that God, being omnipotent, is still limited.  Despite the fact that St. Augustine’s theodicy continues to inspire writers like Alvin Plantinga, philosophers of religion should look elsewhere if they want to make progress towards a resolution of the logical problem of evil.

Christians should not show favouritism or prioritize one group over another. Discuss. [40]

On first sight it seems that there is little to discuss here.  Showing favouritism seems opposed to treating people fairly and equally, as the Christian principle of the Sanctity of Human Life seems to demand. Famously, Jesus taught “Love your neighbour as yourself” (Mark 12:32), suggesting that Christians should love all people equally and not prioritize one group over another, and his brother James clearly wrote “…believers in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ must not show favouritism…” (James 2:1). Nevertheless, when in 1968 CELAM’s Medellin conference called for what in the same year Fr Pedro Arrupe had called a “preferential option for the poor,” many Christians responded, agreeing that Christian teaching on social justice demands that the Church should prioritize the poor.  Further, in recent months many Christians have supported the “Black Lives Matter” movement, which seeks to prioritize black lives now to address the fact that these lives have long been ignored.  On closer examination it seems that there is a lot to discuss here, not least because the ideas of favouritism and prioritizing one group over another have been conflated in the question, when in fact – as Stephen J Pope argued in 1993 – they are distinct.  In reality, it is true that Christians should not show favouritism, but that does not mean that they should not prioritize one group over another.

In his article “Proper and Improper Partiality and the Preferential Option for the Poor”[1] Stephen J Pope opened by acknowledging that “the preferential option for the poor has become a major theme in contemporary Catholic Ethics.”  The theme is often attributed to the influence of South American Liberation Theology from the late 1970s, but as Todd Walatka argued persuasively in 2015[2], the origins of the preferential option for the poor are really in Vatican II documents “Gaudiem et Spes” and “Lumen Gentium” (1965) and Pope Paul VI’s “Populorum Progressio” (1967), which predate CELAM’s Medillin conference in 1968 and Gustavo Gutierrez’ “Towards a Theology of Liberation” (1971) and far predate the famous articulation of the concept in CELAM’s Puebla conference in 1979.   In this way, Christians have long argued for the poor to be prioritized as a group.  Indeed, there is good Biblical justification for prioritizing the poor.   Arguably, Jesus himself gave a preferential option to the poor and to sinners; he chose to become incarnate of an unmarried mother and to live as and with the poor.  In a society that saw wealth as a reward from God and misfortune, including poverty, as a sign of sin and God’s displeasure, he rebuked those who questioned his spending time with sinners, saying “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners…” Mark 2:17.  Of course, he might have meant that the righteous and, by implication in that society, the wealthy were in no need of his help as they would achieve salvation anyway, but in Mark 10: 23, 25 Jesus remarked “How hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of God!”…  25 It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God…” as if wealth is a barrier to salvation.  This suggests that God gives a “preferential option” to the poor, making it easier for them to enter His Kingdom.  Nevertheless, in Romans 2:11 St Paul teaches that “God shows no partiality” and in Galatians 3:28 confirms that “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”  How can it be that Jesus gave the poor a preferential option and taught that God made it easier for the poor to enter His Kingdom, while “all are one in Christ Jesus” and while “God shows no partiality”?  The answer is, of course, that there is a difference between giving the poor a preferential option and showing favouritism, treating the poor equitably and treating them with what Stephen J Pope calls “unjust partiality.” 

As Pope argues, “the preferential option, properly understood, refers to an expansion rather than a contraction of love and wisdom… this form of partiality must not be associated with those forms which encourage a disregard for fairness…”  In this way offering the poor a “preferential option” does not take away from the love God – or Christians – shows to others.  A parent does not love a child less by choosing to have another child; love is not a finite resource but expands to meet the need.  Further, no Christian who proposes giving the poor a preferential option proposes to treat other groups unjustly from now on.  Of course there will be those who perceive any measures taken to curtail their unjust privilege as unjust treatment, but is it unjust to stop a thief from enjoying the proceeds of their crimes? As Marx said, capitalism is theft because the capitalist relies on seizing the means of production and paying the workers less than he charges for their labour.  Even the father of free-market Capitalism Adam Smith agreed that “It is not from the benevolence of the butcher, the brewer, or the baker that we expect our dinner, but from their regard to their own interest.[3]”  In this way, the rich are criminals and justice demands that they should not be allowed to enjoy the proceeds of their crimes with impunity.  Further, as Rawls pointed out “The principles of justice are chosen behind a veil of ignorance.”[4]  Could those who would complain of the injustice of being deprived of unjust privilege say that they would choose for the unjustly privileged to go unchallenged if they did not know that they were so privileged?  As Gutierrez pointed out[5], the poor are in the vast majority, both now and through history.  They occupy the underside of history and have suffered in every possible way because of material deprivation.  Any theory of justice decided on behind a veil of ignorance could not accept Capitalism, because it is only to the advantage of a tiny and shrinking minority. Further, because Capitalism is structurally sinful it causes even to that minority to be dehumanised and distanced from God, both in this life and the next. Oligarchs and ultra-high-net-worth individuals might appear to benefit from Capitalism – and they certainly enjoy the supercars and mansions – but their property and investments force them to be complicit in the oppression of workers and the destruction of the environment and so ensures that so long as they remain rich, they cannot show agape or follow God’s commandments.  By challenging and even by stopping the continuation of a systemic injustice which has so long and so severely oppressed the poor the Christian does not show unjust favouritism, she works for justice – liberating the rich as well as the poor from the structural sin that is capitalism.

In addition, in Luke 6:20 Jesus taught “blessed are the poor”, continuing in verse 24 “woe to you who are rich, for you have already received your comfort.”   In this way Christians who commit to giving the poor a preferential option and so prioritizing the poor seem to do only what Jesus said that God would do.  Further, even if that is to misinterpret Jesus’ teaching about how God will treat the rich, unlike God whose relationship with the poor and other groups is timeless, the preferential option CELAM called for is time-bound and in response to millennia of injustice and oppression.  Where the poor have been given a worse and manifestly unfair option through all recorded human history, addressing this by committing to try to give them a preferential option now is not unfair or unjust.  Just as the Black Lives Matter movement draws attention to the value of black lives now and going forward in the context of addressing the effects of centuries of discrimination and oppression, the preferential option for the poor is a step towards – and only a step towards – combating injustice and not in itself a new injustice.  In calling for some sort of affirmative action to address injustice, Liberation Theology, Black Liberation Theology and other contextual theologies like feminist and Dalit theologies all draw on the thinking of John Rawls, who pointed out that injustice is done when we treat different groups with different needs differently.  He wrote: “The natural distribution is neither just nor unjust; nor is it unjust that persons are born into society at some particular position. These are simply natural facts. What is just and unjust is the way that institutions deal with these facts.”[6] For Rawls, justice demands that institutions focus resources on those who have need, according to their needs, rather than sharing them out equally and giving to those who already have more than they need.  This echoes Marx’ mantra “From each according to his ability, to each according to his needs,”[7] a principle that was previously adopted by the Early Church, as described in Acts 4-5. In this way, by prioritizing the poor over wealthier groups, Christians treat all people equitably and so justly rather than equally and so unjustly.  To treat all people equally when some are, to quote George Orwell “more equal than others” is actually to prefer the rich and treat the already-privileged with favouritism. 

Of course, the title-quote does refer to prioritizing “one group over another” and it is true that this might imply what Pope called “unjust partiality” of the type which takes from one group in order to give to another.  If the title is so interpreted then it is fair to say that “Christians should not show favouritism or prioritize one group over another.”  St Thomas Aquinas taught that a good judge should not show any favouritism for or discrimination against the poor when passing sentence[8] and indeed, impartiality seems to be a condition of justice.  For example, Immanuel Kant taught that a “good will” must “treat humanity, whether in the person of yourself or another, always as an end and never as a means to an end,” suggesting that moral decisions should be made in respect of humanity without consideration of any particular characteristic, protected or otherwise.  Nevertheless, Rawls was strongly influenced by Kant and saw no necessary conflict between treating humanity always as an end in itself and demanding that the poor and disadvantaged are prioritized when it comes to resource-allocation. Not giving more to somebody who has enough is not the same as taking from them and so using them as a means to an end of improving conditions for those who lack.  It follows that Christians can prioritize the poor by treating them equitably, without acting unjustly with respect of the rich.

Having said that, those who call for a “preferential option for the poor” often call for the abolition of private property in the same breath, and this could reasonably be seen as using property owners as a means and not as an end in themselves. Kant distinguishes between negative and positive duties, arguing that a negative duty – not to do something evil – always trumps a positive duty – to help.  So, while not giving more to those who already have enough might be consistent with Kantian Ethics, taking from the rich would not be.  This implies that there should be a line for Christians when it comes to giving the poor a preferential option and so prioritizing them and that endorsing the wholesale abolition of private property would cross that line.  Nevertheless, Populorum Progressio confirms that for Catholics at least “the right to private property is not absolute and unconditional…” because “The earth belongs to everyone, not to the rich” and “No one may appropriate surplus goods for their own use when others lack the bare necessities of life.” This relates to 1 John 3:17 “But if anyone has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him?” and to Jesus’ own reaction to the Rich Young Man in Mark 10, in asking why – if he has truly followed God’s commandments – he is still rich.  While Christians should stop short of supporting Marxist revolutions and a legal abolition of private property, that does not mean that Christians should passively accept the capitalist status quo and its concomitant injustices, including the grossly unequal distribution of private property, a large proportion of which was originally appropriated from what was held in common ownership and more would not have been possible without that appropriation. As CELAM affirmed in “A message to the peoples of Latin America” (1979) and as Jon Sobrino reminds us any “solidarity in faith must of necessity pass through solidarity with the poor.”[9]  Christians must choose; even while they should not endorse Marxist revolution, if they want to remain Christians they must divest themselves of their property and stand in solidarity with the poor.  Similarly, the Church must now become a “Church of the Poor” as Gutierrez put it, because there is no way for the Church to passively accept its own wealth and privilege because in doing so it implicitly endorses and seems to advocate for injustice. It follows that Christians should prioritize disadvantaged groups such as the poor and while they should not foment violent revolution as a means of abolishing private property, they should set a positive example, both individually and as a Church institution, in divesting themselves of the spoils of Capitalism as the necessary first step on a journey towards a fair and equitable redistribution of resources. 

So, in conclusion, Christians should not show favoritism in the sense of displaying what Pope calls unjust partiality, giving to one group by taking from other groups, but they still should – must – prioritize disadvantaged groups and show what Pope calls “just partiality” for them to the extent of sacrificing self to work for justice and their equitable treatment.  Jesus’ own example in doing this is one that Christians should follow.  Jesus chose to live poor, in solidarity with the poor, and sacrificed himself to change an oppressive, structurally sinful system which benefited nobody in a real and lasting sense.  In the same way Christians should accept his challenge to “pick up your cross and follow me,” giving all they have to the poor in the knowledge that – if not in the next life then in this one – this is the only way to build the Kingdom of God.


[1] Theological Studies, Vol 54, 1993

[2] Church as Sacrament: Gutiérrez and Sobrino as Interpreters of Lumen Gentium by Todd Walatka, published online by CUP in 2015 https://www.cambridge.org/core/journals/horizons/article/abs/church-as-sacrament-gutierrez-and-sobrino-as-interpreters-of-lumen-gentium/512E3C124F371744588801B105E72C34

[3] An Inquiry into the Nature & Causes of the Wealth of Nations, Vol 1

[4] A Theory of Justice

[5] Towards a Theology of Liberation

[6] A Theory of Justice

[7] 1875 Critique of the Gotha Program

[8] ST 2-2, q. 63, a. 4, ad 3

[9] Jon Sobrino, 1985:37-38

“Kantian Ethics is the most useful approach to making decisions in Business.” Evaluate this statement. (40)

In 1997 Freeman and Evan published an article proposing a Kantian stakeholder theory of corporate responsibility, which was (from 1998) included in “Ethical Theory and Business”, the Cambridge University Press reference work in this area.  This article awakened interest in applying Kantian Ethics to business, using it to improve decision-making, broaden its ethical concern and counterbalance the superficial utilitarianism that had dominated discussions about business ethics in the later 20th Century.  Shortly afterwards in 1999, Norman E. Bowie, one of the editors of “Ethical Theory and Business”, published “Business Ethics: A Kantian perspective,” through which he argued that Kantian Ethics was indeed the most useful approach to making decisions in business.  Since then, a number of other writers have developed their own explorations of how Kant’s ethical principles might inform Business decision making and other scholars have criticised this approach. The major “Kantian Business Ethics: Critical Perspectives” edited by Arnold and Harris, which was published in 2012, outlines the debate.    In short, Norman E Bowie’s argument for a Kantian Approach to Business Ethics falls well short of addressing the true implications of Kant’s work for Business, preferring to characterise Kantian Ethics in simplistic terms as the demand that businesses should act consistently, considering the effect of actions on stakeholders and on the long-term reputation of the business.  While Kant would not disagree with the need for people to act consistently, consider the effect of their actions on those persons directly affected and on the precedent set to society in general, Kant’s philosophy raises deeper questions about the ability of a business to make moral decisions at all and about the morality of any person agreeing to be employed by a business and make decisions on its behalf which Norman E Bowie neglects.  Because of this, while it might be fair to say that Bowie’s ethical guidelines would be a useful way to approach making decisions in Business, it is a stretch to call these guidelines truly Kantian.  Kantian Ethics when properly understood, would be very far from a useful approach to making decisions in business.

In the first place, Bowie argues that a Kantian approach to decision-making demands that businesses act consistently, yet for Kant the Categorical Imperative is about more than mere consistency, it is about always doing what is universally right.  In the Groundwork for the Metaphysics of Morals Kant recommended that people should “always act so that the maxim of your action should become, through your will, a universal law”… this has far wider implications than just choosing to do whatever you do consistently.  The categorical imperative demands that people choose to do only what they could rationally will for all other people to do, ignoring the particular detail of the situation.  When facing a decision about marketing a product, the Kantian should strip away the detail about the decision being made in the content of a business seeking to make a profit and focus on whether the maxim of the action is universalizable.  Kant famously argued that lying to a suspected axe-murderer to save the life of a friend was not universalizable, so it seems probable that he would argue that the exaggerations, selective use of information and misrepresentations that are the heart and soul of advertising could not be universalised.  Both lying to an axe murderer and lying about the efficacy of a face-cream or the healthiness of a yoghurt are based on the maxim of lying… which is not universalizable.   By deceiving the customer-base the business also uses persons as means to the end of making profit.  As Karl Marx observed “capitalism is theft”… the business marketing face-cream relies on using cheap ingredients and paying its workers a lot less than the product finally sells for.  The essence of marketing is in making the consumer believe that the product is worth more than it is.  In this way, Kantian Ethics demands far more than consistency of decision-makers and decisions in business are unlikely to be consistent with the demands of the categorical imperative.

In the second instance, Bowie argues that a Kantian approach to decision-making demands that businesses consider the impact of decisions on stakeholders.  Yet, Kant’s Practical Imperative, the formula of ends and means, demands much more of decision-makers.  In the Groundwork for the Metaphysics of Morals Kant wrote “always act so that people, whether in the person of yourself or another, should be treated as ends in themselves and never as means to an end”.  Notice how Kant speaks of people, not stakeholders.  As Freeman and Evan suggested in their 1997 article, the stakeholders that a business should consider include shareholders, employees, customers and local community.  Even by this relatively generous definition, there are many people who do not count as stakeholders.  Further, Bowie makes little mention of the idea that Kant demands more of decision-makers than an impact assessment.  Treating a person as an end in themselves is not just minimising harm to them, it is about recognising that as a person they have inherent value equal to that of all other persons, including the decision maker.  The person living in the Maldives has the same value as the President of the Corporation and must, by Kant’s logic, be treated as an end in themselves.  If Kantian Ethics are taken seriously, there is no way a business could justify prioritising the short/medium term interests of its shareholders over the longer-term interests of its poorly paid employees or indeed the interests of the person in the Maldives in not having their home flooded by rising sea-levels which result from climate change.  In this way as well, Kantian Ethics demands far more than assessing impact on stakeholders; decisions in business are unlikely to be consistent with the demands of the categorical imperative.

Thirdly, although Bowie suggests that businesses should make decisions on the basis of Kantian principles, Kant’s writings reject the idea that a non-human agent can act morally.  As Matthew C Altman argued in 2007, a business is in itself neither free nor rational and cannot have a “good will” as Kant described it in the opening lines of the Groundwork for the Metaphysics of Morals.  Further, business decisions are made by people, who do have moral agency, but by people who are acting under the principle of limited liability.  For Kant, the idea that a person could sign an employment contract and so limit the extent to which they are morally responsible for their actions would be ridiculous.  For Kant, to be good a will must recognise its freedom and choose to follow the demands of reason anew in every individual moment.  Any action taken out of habit, fear, deference to authority etc, however good it may seem and whatever positive results it might yield, is in actuality an evil action and contaminates the will in a way that seems irreversible and which precludes the possibility of the eternal reward that reason makes us postulate.  By Kant’s understanding, the managers who make decisions on behalf of a business are – both in a moral sense and eternally – responsible for those decisions, whatever legal waiver might be in place.  Further, if a manager makes a decision because they have been trained to do so, out of fear for losing their job, because they have been instructed to do so or to conform with an agreed policy, their action is immoral and their will eternally damned regardless of whether the decision is in itself universalizable or compatible with treating persons as ends.  It seems that Kantian Ethics, when considered in its entirety, would not only make it impossible for a business to act ethically, but would also make it impossible for anybody to be employed by a business to make ethical decisions on its behalf.  In this way Kantian Ethics, when properly understood, is very far from a useful approach to making decisions in business.

In conclusion, Kantian Ethics is not the most useful approach to making decisions in business.  This is not to say that Bowie’s principles might not be a useful basis on which to make business decisions, but it is to say that it is a stretch to call these principles Kantian. 

Critically assess the belief that God is omnipotent. (40)

Omnipotence is a central attribute of the Christian God; as the Nicene Creed affirms

“we believe in One God, the Father, the Almighty…”

Nevertheless, Christians struggle to agree on precisely what it means.  Broadly, there are two approaches to understanding God’s omnipotence.  Classical Theists, including many Roman Catholic scholars, argue that God exists eternally in the sense of being outside time and space and so wholly simple.  By this definition, God’s omnipotence means that he caused everything, even time and space, to exist but it does not necessarily mean that God can act directly in time, such as by performing a miracle in response to prayer.  By contrast, Theistic Personalists reject the timeless-eternal model of God because it makes God too remote for most Christian doctrines and practices to make sense.  If God is wholly simple, how can he also exist in three persons?  If God is beyond time and space, how can he know when He is being worshipped or understand the contents of peoples’ hearts, let alone speak to or appear to people through mystical experiences?  As Nelson Pike observed, the actions of the God of the Bible are “unavoidably tensed”. For Theistic Personalists, including many Protestant Christians, God must be everlasting but within time.  This means that God has the power to act responsively and directly to change aspects of creation, but this comes at the price of making God’s understanding of the world and his actions depend on time and space and events within them, seemingly making him less than supremely powerful.  It is clear, therefore, that both approaches to understanding God’s omnipotence entail God’s power being limited in some way.  Either God’s power to act responsively in time is limited by God’s timeless nature, or God’s power is not supreme because his actions are bounded by time and dependent on events outside of God.  In this way the belief that God is omnipotent is incoherent.

Controversially, Rene Descartes argued that God’s supreme perfection entails omnipotence to the point whereby God could make 2+2=5 if He so wished, suggesting that God can do the logically impossible, such as by creating a stone too heavy for him to lift… and then lifting it anyway.  Descartes wrote, “God could have brought it about … that it was not true that twice four make eight” (Descartes 1984-1991: 2:294).  Nevertheless, even Descartes had to accept that God’s power is limited in the respect that God cannot lie or will his own non-existence.  Tacitly accepting St Anselm’s argument, He wrote to a correspondent “God does not have the faculty of taking away from himself his own existence.”  Later proponents of the Ontological Argument Leibniz and Ross both developed this point, arguing that God exists necessarily in any possible world.  Further, as well as not supporting God’s omnipotence entailing unlimited power, Descartes position suggests that the laws of logic and nature are arbitrary, raising questions about God’s goodness.  As Plato pointed out in Euthyphro and as Bertrand Russell later argued, a God who decides what is good and bad arbitrarily, going on to reward and punish people eternally for jumping or failing to jump through a meaningless moral hoop, is no better than a tyrant and certainly not worthy of worship.  In this way, believing that God’s omnipotence means that he can do the logically impossible is both incompatible with the Christian belief that God is all-good and incompatible with God’s supreme perfection.  This demonstrates that the belief that God is omnipotence is incoherent when defined in this timeless-eternal sense.

St Thomas Aquinas argued that God is eternal in the sense of being wholly simple and outside time.  In this way, God’s creative action must be single, limiting God’s power to what is actually possible, logically possible and compatible with God’s timeless nature.   Much as Descartes later did, Aquinas argued that God could not act in a way that conflicts with his God-like nature, such as by doing what is evil.  For Aquinas, God’s actions are also limited by what is possible in this world, so it is not possible for God to create a square circle or make 2+2=5 within this world. Because his creative act is timeless and so single and simple, God cannot do x and not x in the same timeless act of creation.  Nevertheless, Of course, Thomist scholars like Gerry Hughes SJ have reasoned that God’s omnipotence means that He could have created another world in which different logical rules apply, but only if such a world was consistent with what Richard Swinburne has called the Best Possible World Type. It would not be actually possible (consistent with God’s nature) to create a substandard world, so God’s power to create a world with different logical laws in which 2+2 could =5 depends on that world being equivalent to this in terms of fulfilling God’s purpose for it.  Aquinas’ argument is problematic in this respect.  How could God create more than one world if He is indeed timeless and spaceless?  Multiple acts of creation imply a separation in time and space that is inconsistent with God’s timeless nature, making it not actually possible for God to have created any other world.  In the end, Aquinas’ argument is no better than Descartes when it comes to defending God’s unlimited power.  For both Descartes and Aquinas then, God’s power is significantly constrained by His own nature, making the belief in omnipotence, when understood to mean having timeless-eternally unlimited power, uncoherent. 

Theistic Personalists such as Richard Swinburne, Brian Leftow and William Lane Craig have sought to make sense of the belief that God is omnipotent by arguing that God is everlasting in time.  They reject the Classical Theist argument that God can be timelessly eternal on the basis that such a God is inconsistent with the Bible and tenets of Christian doctrine like God existing in three persons or becoming incarnate and because, as Sir Anthony Kenny argued, the idea of God existing or acting in a timeless way is “radically incoherent” given that the matrix which makes existence and action possible is time.  The idea that God is everlasting in time is supported by the Bible, in verses such as

“The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He does not faint or grow weary” Isaiah 40:28

In this case, God’s omnipotence entails being able to do everything that it is logically possible to do from a point in time.  As Swinburne wrote in 1973

“[God] is omnipotent at time t = if  [God] is able at t to bring about any state of affairs p such that it is consistent with the facts about what happened before t that, after t, [God] should bring about p…”

By this analysis, given the facts the go before the present moment t, in this moment God could not create a square circle or create a rock too heavy for him to lift and nor could God do something evil or act so as to bring about a worse result.  Also, God cannot change the past or, arguably, know the future outcome of free actions. Despite this, both Swinburne and Leftow argue that God is omnipotent.  They reject the claim that not being able to do something logically impossible or inconsistent with one’s nature is a real limitation on power.  Nobody thinks Donald Trump is not powerful because he cannot fly, give birth or make square circles!  By this definition, God being omnipotent entails him having power in much the same way as human beings have power, only to a much greater degree.  Nevertheless, surely this univocal interpretation of God’s omnipotence is unsatisfactory.  Not only does it seem to anthropomorphise God and sell short the belief that he is supremely powerful, but it is also inconsistent with the Bible, as in Isaiah 55:8

“For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,” declares the Lord.

In this way as well, believing in an everlastingly omnipotent God is incoherent. 

Further, when it comes to an everlasting God in time, what evidence is there to support belief in the existence of a God who exists and acts like an invisible superman?  The arguments for God’s existence do nothing to support the existence of such a God and, if William James’ analysis of genuine mystical experience is to believed, neither do Religious Experiences.  It is true that the everlasting God of the Theistic Personalists makes far more sense of God’s actions as recorded in the Bible (if not all of God’s words) than does the eternal God of the Classical Theist tradition, but what is the rational basis for accepting the Bible as the primary, in fact almost the only, authority for the existence of such a God?   Given the insights of Biblical Criticism, it seems that having faith that God exists – and is omnipotent – on the basis of scripture alone (Sola Scriptura) cannot be rational.  Further, even if faith is “assurance about what we do not see.” Hebrews 11:1, the Bible is inconsistent in what it suggests about God’s omnipotence.  In Genesis 2 God searches for a helper for Adam, trying out each animal before settling on making woman out of Adam’s rib… not even very competent!  Yet, in Matthew 19:26 Jesus affirms that “with God all things are possible.”  It seems that believing that God exists and is omnipotent in a way that is everlasting in time on the strength of the Bible is incoherent. 

In conclusion, believing that God is omnipotent remains a central part of Christian doctrine and yet is it an incoherent belief.  This demonstrates the extent to which faith is not a rational position to hold.  Of course, this makes little difference to those believers who understand faith to be non-propositional, constituting…

“confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.” Hebrews 11:1

Yet, for those looking for propositional faith, faith that is well supported by evidence and argument, the incoherence of omnipotence as a key attribute of God and its lack of compatibility with either God’s goodness or the Bible will make it difficult to remain a Christian.