August 20, 2010

Normative Skepticism and the Existence of God

As I discussed in my last post, Sobel argues that the main requirement anything has to fulfill in order to count as a god is that it must be deserving of worship. However, as Sobel argues on pp. 24-25 of Logic and Theism, this requires that it makes sense to talk about something being worthy or unworthy of worship. An error theory of the normative (a view that questioned whether statements about 'worthiness' and other such things were ever correct), such as the view espoused by J. L. Mackie, would have the result that no matter what might exist in the universe - even if there is a being than which none greater can be or be conceived - nothing is a god. Sobel is evidently sympathetic to Mackie's skepticism.

Now, it is very interesting, and no doubt true, that Mackie's error theory has the consequence that there could not possibly be such a thing as a god, at least in Sobel's sense. I just want to make two points. First, this argument requires Mackie's full-blown error theory about morality. Views like moral relativism and expressivism, for instance, which radically reject conventional notions of morality, still have room for ascriptions of moral desert which are 'correct' or 'appropriate' in some sense. Mackie's error theory is a radical one which few have espoused.

Second, even supposing that Mackie's error theory is correct, the question of whether there is some being which, even if it is not strictly speaking a god, has some, many, or all of the other features that have traditionally been attributed to God, is still an interesting one. No doubt Sobel agrees on this second point, and this is why he went on to write another 600+ pages on the subject.

Posted by Kenny at August 20, 2010 10:37 PM
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